Sunday, 29 September 2013

Independence Day

In a couple of days we will be 53. As is the custom, Mr President will say a few comforting words about the nation’s imminent greatness as seen from the safety of Aso Rock, which is where he will deliver this year’s homily, what with the recent carnage in Nairobi and the miraculous resurrection of Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram leader otherwise presumed dead. As on a previous occasion, he might allow himself to be dressed up in military fatigues, being the commander-in-chief and all, although any self-respecting general might have wanted to use the occasion to make a point about where he can and can’t go in his own country, to say nothing of justifying this year’s N1tr security budget. It might even be that Mr President will believe all the fine words in his prepared speech and why not? There’s little point being head of the seventh largest etc etc unless you think you’ve actually done something; and so, as we look forward (or not) to this year’s offering, it might be worth revisiting last year’s.
We can safely skip all the stuff about how ‘our founding fathers’ of blessed memory restored our ‘dignity and honour’ when they ‘won’ independence for our ‘great’ country, and of how, since then, Nigerians have demonstrated ‘unfailing optimism and resilience’ in the face of enormous challenges (no kidding!), the result, apparently, of that ‘special spirit that enables us to triumph over every adversity as a people’, thereby remaining ‘proud of our national identity’. All of this is to presume a great deal and might even be thought inadvisable given the levels of hunger in an over-endowed nation but then he could hardly have said otherwise and power was ever thus, especially in Nigeria, where 600 people recently followed him to New York so that he could deliver a lacklustre speech to the UN.
But rhetoric is easy so let us stick to the facts. Here was Mr President last year commending his administration’s success in at least one of the goals of its so-called Transformation Agenda (those abstractions again!), to wit:
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has disclosed that, as at July 2012, 249 new members across the country had joined the Association, and that capacity utilization has also improved. The multiplier effect of this development on our job creation programme cannot be over-emphasized.
It so happens that just the other day the president of this same MAN gave a speech in which he explained that in the 20 months to last August his members spent over N42bn to fuel 5,480 generators, representing 40 per cent of their overheads and generating between them 5,150MW against PHCN’s 1,018MW; and added:
This amount is apart from the average monthly PHCN bills paid by members, which again run into hundreds of millions of naira per month. This has resulted to low production capacity and inability to compete effectively with our foreign counterparts; inability to contribute optimally to the Gross National Product, which currently stands at about four per cent; poor return on investment; closure of factories and migration to greener fields by manufacturers as well as uncertainty on investment in Nigeria.
Clearly, there is a mismatch here, but what then will we say of the following?
We have put an end to several decades of endemic corruption associated with fertilizer and tractor procurement and distribution. We have exposed decades of scam in the management of pensions and fuel subsidy, and ensured that the culprits are being brought to book.
I am not personally aware of any corrupt official in Nigeria who has been ‘brought to book’, as Mr President would have it, although I would welcome being disabused of what one person recently called my cynicism in all matters of politics PDP-style; as for the notorious subsidy, our Harvard-educated, World Bank-employed coordinating minister recently disclosed that the seventh-largest etc etc will spend a whopping N971bn on imported fuel this calendar year, while at the same time losing $5bn to stolen crude in Mr President’s own backyard, this backyard being the sole justification for his presidency in the first place, as certain ex-militants never tire of reminding us now that they are also safely ensconced in the Aso Rock which their oil built.
In the meantime, there is fire on the mountain, at least if we are to believe the claims of Mr President’s own party, which is now in comical disarray at the first sign of a serious opposition party otherwise unfairly dubbed by one commentator (although I agree with him) the Association of Past Criminals:
As at today, the states are being owed N336bn, with the N75bn being the balance of the July 2013 arrears, N121bn from June augmentation and over N90bn as July augmentation. The implication of this unfortunate development is that the 36 states have become impoverished and unable to meet up with basic obligations, including the payment of workers’ monthly salaries, which many of the states have been unable to do due to lack of funds.

It is perhaps meaningless to call this administration the most corrupt ever, as many have done, if only because such comparisons have by now become themselves meaningless. He stole, she stole: they all stole. Jonathan’s gang is no different from any of the others, only that our ‘unfailing optimism and resilience’ is at last beginning to run out, and brought into sharper relief by that other birthday we are about to celebrate in a few weeks from now: the centenary of our amalgamation, Nigeria being in the unusual position of having two separate birthdays, perhaps itself the reason for our identity crisis as a nation. Many events have been planned to celebrate this ‘historic moment’ because, as Mr President opined, ‘The unity of Nigeria is indivisible and non-negotiable, we must remain the forward-looking people that we are,’ which is a clear enough case of piling on the rhetoric even as things continue to fall apart.
Happy Independence Day!
© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

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