Time Ticks For Nigerian Ruling Elite


Dec 12, 2023


By Suyi Ayodele

I take a bet. The judgement of God and of the people is nigh! Check your neighbourhood. For weeks, and in some cases, months, there is no electricity. But in your houses, you run your generator. Neighbours come around to charge their phones, rechargeable lamps and what have you in your compound. How do you tell them that you are not part of the oppressors? What about water? As early as 5 am, neighbours are already on the queue in front of your house to fetch water. They don’t have the boldness to knock on your gate to wake you up. They know that they are at your mercy, and so, they wait until you wake up to turn on the tap for them. Many of these people grew up with functional water corporations and dams in their towns and villages. We are already in the festive period. How many Nigerians have what to eat during this season? How many can afford a bag of rice? How many will be able to buy clothes for their children and wards? How many are already calculating the school fees for the second term which begins by the first week of January 2024? When you consider these, you will realise that there is no time to postpone fixing Nigeria. The elite just have to fix Nigeria now or Nigerians will fix them, and permanently too. The masses are like the sheep. Those are the most gentle of all animals. But they have the most poisonous teeth ever! You can read me again. Sheep have teeth. Just pray they don’t bite you with them. There is no anti-rabies vaccine that can cure that.

Dr Kashim Shettima, the vice president, is a brilliant man. As a politician, he may not be a good man. No Nigerian politician of this inglorious era is good. I make no bones about that. I saw Dr Shettima a couple of times on television during the 2023 campaigns. I enjoyed his dramas when he served as the Director General of the Tinubu Campaign Organisation during the All Progressive Congress (APC), presidential primaries. He was blunt and assertive. He appeared then to know what he wanted, or what he was briefed to do. In the delivery of his mandate then, he did not spare anyone. He took no prisoners. He insulted as many as he could. He befriended those he considered useful to the project at hand. He was acerbic in his dealing with the then Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Fortune smiled on Shettima at the end of the primaries. His principal, Tinubu, picked him as his running mate. The duo went ahead to win the general election. Today, Shettima occupies the office he once said was only good for selling ice cream and popcorn! Unfortunately, since May 29, 2023, Dr Shettima and the government he serves as the vice president have been serving Nigerians more than ice cream and popcorn. The government of his principal serves Nigerians pains and agony. He is aware of this and the inherent danger. He spoke about it not too long ago.

In his recent outing in Abuja last Saturday, Shettima sounded more of a populist than a realist. He spoke at the graduation ceremony of the Executive Intelligence Management Course 16 participants from different security agencies and nominees of state governments. His submission was that with the present high cost of living, Nigerians “are angry with government officials.” If he expected us to clap for him for saying that, I can tell him for free that he is damned wrong! Absolutely WRONG! The vice-president talked about the parlous condition of the common man in Nigeria of today. He said that the ruling elite had between 10 to 20 years to do something, otherwise, something will give. Here are his exact words:” … But now, as we cruise around in our bulletproof cars, one will see contempt in the eyes of the poor. We have to improve the quality of governance. And what we have is a tiny window of not more than 10 to 20 years. Let’s improve the quality of governance.” He is, again, wrong! With the situation of things in Nigeria, the bomb can go off any moment. Call me an alarmist; the time ticks precariously. Shettima and his gang don’t have five years, not even two years. The time to make corrections and bring back life to the people is now.

The locusts that had before now eaten up of our vegetation had been buying time. The current generation of vampires in power thinks it can buy more time. There is no more time. Things are bad. No! Things are at their worst ebb. The middle class is eliminated, completely. What we have now are two contrasting stratifications of the super-rich, and super- poor. Poverty is shared in equal proportions. Those who have no reasons to beg are now corporate beggars. We are all engaged in ‘fine bara’. I am not exempted. The other time, my laptop collapsed beyond repair. I couldn’t raise the money for a new one. Who did I turn to? My 65-years plus first cousin! I struggled to call him. I felt ashamed calling a 65-year-old man to come to my rescue, when he is supposed to be resting. But I thank God he did what I asked for without hesitation. He must have known that I was at the end of my tether to have called him in far way UK for a laptop. Truth be told; I was at my breaking point before I made that call. I ask this: how many people have cousins or relations who would respond promptly to that type of Macedonia call? How many of such requests can I respond to if occasions demand? This is not because one is wicked or selfish. The means are not just there. Many relationships have broken because of this. We ignore calls we would hitherto have picked with enthusiasm. This is our situation, Dr Shettima. This is the level crass misgovernance has pushed us to. I don’t see the projected 10 to 20 years of redemption as realistic. The time to do it is now!

Why am I so worried about the present situation? Something happened to me last weekend. I was in Ekiti State last weekend. From Ado Ekiti to Odo Oro through Ijesa Usu Ekiti, I saw poverty in its naked form. Driving around the neighbouring Ikole Ekiti axis, at a spot, a big female goat ran across the road, and I slammed the break. The resultant dust from the dusty road attracted curses from the people around. “Rírá lu à rá nú” (may you be lost forever), they pronounced. I recognised two of the people. I parked the car, turned off the engine, and alighted. One of them, who felt that I was coming to challenge them said something in our Ekiti dialect: “Hìn jé ha bò; erun rè à kan (let him come, his mouth will go sour). I approached them. They recognised me. The most elderly of them said: “Hùwo hà hin, Suyi (So it is you, Suyi). We exchanged greetings, and apologised for the dust.

The most aggressive one among them said something similar to what Dr Shettima alluded to. While apologising for the curse, he added: “Hà rò wípé òkàn núnú hìhan olórí burúkú hàn nì ni (We thought it is one of those bad heads). That is the level of aggression in the land. Hunger is already mixing with anger. My screeching of the brake attracted curses and aggression from people, who before now would have shown sympathy and thanked God on my behalf for not damaging the car. As I left them, I kept wondering what had happened. They knew the goat ran to the road. They knew I avoided killing it by applying the brakes Yet, they still cursed me. Now, ask what would have happened if I were not someone they are familiar with. Or, I was to be a top government official, the type the people had already labelled hìhan olórí burúkú (bad heads). If we continue like this, the bullet-proof cars will not be enough. I deliberately employed the plural pronoun, “we”, because whether we like it or not, we shall all be victims of the people’s reaction. It does not matter whether one had been in government before or not. As long as you drive a nice car, put on fine cloth, and you look ‘fresh’; you belong to the ruling elite in the estimation of the poor.

Someone foresaw our situation long ago. He equally forewarned us of the looming danger hanging over us all. His name is Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo. Before he joined the sages on May 9, 1987, he granted an interview on a wide range of issues. Professor Moses Akin Makinde captured some of the things the Avatar, Awolowo, said in that interview in a book: “AWO: The Last Conversation” (2009). The philosopher-politician talked about the attitude of the northern elite to the poverty over there and warned thus: “But I think that sooner than later, the leaders of the north will see the repercussions of their selfishness and carelessness in their attitude towards western education. But the time will be too late, and if they don’t regret it or blame themselves for lack of foresight, the northern youth may ask their leaders some questions when they see the rate of development that goes with education in many parts of southern Nigeria. They may then wonder whether it was in their stars or in the selfishness, carelessness and lack of foresight of their past and present leaders.” If the dead do see the living, Awolowo would have seen that it is not only the northern youths that are asking questions now. All Nigerians do. The questions are too dangerous. The question, ‘how did we get here’? is not asked with joy and happiness. The western education Awolowo donated to the south, particularly the Western Region in the early 50s is now a waste today. Or, what do you make of a child with two post-graduate degrees that has remained jobless for over five years? How useful is that education? What has happened to all the cottage industries established by the founding fathers of the nation? Who wasted them?

Awolowo, in that same interview, talked about the qualities of his ministers and advisers. He said he chose them “strictly on merit and because of their education, standard and discipline.” He added: “Every minister or adviser and top civil servant had to do his homework properly before bringing anything to a cabinet meeting or any other important meeting where it will be subjected to rigorous debate. Where there are grey areas, expert opinion would be sought for the purpose of objectivity…It is because of this service to the public that I often maintained that the office of the President, or Prime Minister is not for pleasure. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, it looks as if the office of the President, Minister or Adviser is for pleasure, like dining and wining and carousing with women of easy virtue both at home and abroad.” Sad! If I should trouble the sage in his rest, may I announce to him that in the Nigeria of today, ministers pay to be given ‘juicy’ portfolios; that members of the National Assembly now rise to sing solidarity songs whenever the president comes calling. May I inform the legend that in the Nigeria he left behind, some felons killed our darling Deborah Samuel on May 12, 2022, at her Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, and they got away with it. But Rhoda Jatau, who condemned the killing, was arrested on May 20, 2022, and spent 18 months in prison custody in Bauchi before she was finally released on bail! And she would still have her days in court for alleged blasphemy, incitement and cyber-stalking.

From Sokoto to Ibadan, Kafanchan to Eduabon; from Okigwe to Jalingo, and from Makurdi to Ode Irele, poverty walks on all fours. On the faces of the people are frustration, anguish and anger. Dr Shettima saw this in his Maiduguri. He once had the opportunity to change the narrative and improve on the lots of the people. He was a governor for eight years. Under his watch, over 280 school children were kidnapped in Chibok. His reaction was to reward the principal of the school with an appointment as a commissioner! Now, in the year 2023, the same man, as the number two citizen in Nigeria, is asking for a moratorium of 10 to 20 years to “improve the quality of governance”. No sir, Mr. Vice President. Do it now for the time ticks!

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