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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Obasanjo: What are the people saying?

By Bolanle BOLAWOLE turnpot@gmail.com

Once in a while I visit the newsstand to feel the pulse of the people. The People’s Parliament is what some call it. When I got there last Thursday, I met them discussing the Ebora Owu.

“Don’t mind Baba. Age is telling on him. We tried the parliamentary system; we tried the military; we tried dictatorship, and we have now tried the presidential system – which was better?”

Another man cut in: “That is why the Baba is saying we should try our own African system”

“Which African system? The type where the king can commandeer your wife and you must not talk or where he can ask them to cut off your head just for the fun of it?”

“Of course, not! The world is more civilized than that now!”

“It is not enough to simply condemn a system that is working elsewhere. The question the Baba must ask is why is it working elsewhere but is not working here”

“He has answered the question! He said it is not working here because we are black. Black man, black ideas, black brains, black stomach, black everything; black behaviour!”

“It means Baba himself is part of the problem. He was a military dictator and he was also civilian president. What were his achievements?”

A third commentator joined the fray: “We should ask him to tell us somewhere in Africa where the system he is advocating is in operation”

“He is advocating a brand new system; we have to invent it ourselves!”

“You see! Baba does not mean well. We should begin to waste time inventing a new system which no one is sure will work?”

A fourth person: “I don’t understand why you people are wasting your time on Baba. Is the same Western model of democracy not working in Rwanda? Since the military coup in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, is military rule not also working in those places better than the previous governments?”

“So, what you are saying is that the problem is not the system but in the operators of the system?”

“Exactly!”

And I remembered Cassius telling Brutus in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings” With Nigeria’s foundations already destroyed, no antediluvian African system of government will perform any magic. Work on the foundations, if they are still repairable.

Keeping abreast of all the arguments from different angles was impossible; so, I let some pass, but not those on Premier League and other foreign leagues. It amuses me that, abandoning their own home leagues and rooting for foreign leagues, the commentators did not understand that they are part of the problem of capital flight and brain drain. I said so but to no one in particular and someone responded:

“I used to support Rangers International but that was when Rangers was Rangers”

Another shouted “ Up Bendel!”

“Bendel don die!” jeered one.

Then I remembered that I used to be a lover of ICCC Shooting Stars of Ibadan. UP SOOTIN! But that was then. SOOTIN, too, is now a shadow of its former self. I cannot remember the last time I watched a local league match. I have also stopped being a supporter of any of Nigeria’s football teams, be they male or female and whether at international or continental level, but I broke with tradition and watched the last Cup of Nations. Was I disappointed!

My reason for being aloof was echoed by one of the men when he said, “If you don’t want to develop high blood pressure and die suddenly, stop following the national team or local league”

”It is true ooo!”concurred another.

“Have you forgotten how many people died when the Super Eagles failed some months ago in Cote D”Ivoire?”

Yes, I knew people died, but so also do people die when the foreign clubs they support fail. The incontestable fact is that our people enjoy foreign leagues better than home leagues.

“If you want to enjoy good football, watch Man. C .”, chanted one as he began to gyrate all over the place with shouts of “Man. C., Man. C”. Not to be outdone, chants of Arsenal, Man.U., Barca for life were raised by those clubs’ own ardent devotees.

Why are our own clubs and local leagues not popular with our own people? The quality is poor! And little or no effort is being made to improve things. Then, of course, our people lack a sense of “our own”. Patriotism is alien here! A people who do not see what they enjoy or benefit from the country, and who have no hope the country is ever going to move in the right direction, will look elsewhere for succour.

Suddenly, someone shouted: “Make dem die finish!”

“Who dem be?”, another inquired. “

“Wu-ko and Fine bara!”

Wike is the one the man called Wu-ko! Wike’s gutteral voice imitates that of someone about to cough, hence “wu-ko” which means “cough” while Fubara is “Fine bara”!

“If I find somebody who puts me in a position to make me dey chop, I won’t struggle with am ooo! Ten percent don do me; make im dey take the remaining 90 percent”

“Na im be say you be mumu. How you go dey a position and another man go dey control you so tay you no go fit breathe again”?

“Na greediness dey worry Fine bara. Him fit get there without Wu-ko?”

“Too much of everything is bad! How can the governor take 10 percent and the former governor go take 90 percent?”

”God that created us, what percentage does he take from us? Is it not 10 percent? Oju-kokoro, greedy eyes, no good!”

So, these people also know the scriptures! Tithe, truly, is 10 percent. But should public funds be sequestered for personal use by political office holders in the brazen manner we have witnessed all over the country, I asked and one of them volunteered: “Oga, it is like that everywhere. Tell me one place where it is not like that?”. I scratched my head as I pondered the question. I called it a day after two hours at the newsstand.

I returned again the next day and met them discussing the Labour-FG tango over a new minimum wage.

“How does that concern me? I am not a salary earner. How do I benefit from any minimum wage nonsense, except that it will fuel inflation again and I will be the worst for it?”

”Don’t be selfish! There must be someone in your family who will benefit”

“Will that person share his or her salary with me?”

“Are you, therefore, saying that there should be no salary increase?”

“I am saying that Labour should also consider those of us who are not salary earners and pursue policies that will benefit everyone, not their members alone”

“Labour is fighting for everyone. Salary increment will have multiplier effects on everyone, including even the market men and women”

“Exactly, the multiplier effects of inflation on house rents, school fees, transportation costs, foodstuffs…”

One man, who had maintained stoic silence since, now interjected: “Please tell us what you think Labour should be doing – fold their arms and pretend there is no suffering in the land?”

“Rara o! Who is talking of folding of arms? I am saying they should fight for benefits that will reach everyone”

”Like what and what?”

“If we go back to agriculture and begin to grow both cash and food crops, food prices will drop and everyone will benefit. If they pump money into the health and education sectors, everyone will benefit”

You would think he was not interested in the discussion but the vendor himself now interjected: “What of public transportation because that is what concerns me most? ”

“Do you know how many millions of vehicles are on Lagos roads alone? How many vehicles can the government provide on Lagos roads alone? Transportation is best left to private initiatives, with the government only providing the enabling environment”.

Until she spoke, I did not notice there was a woman there among what is called the “Free Readers’ Association”. Reading newspapers at the newsstand used to be free but not any longer! To be allowed to read any newspaper, a fee is charged, which varies from place to place.

“When will the government stop spending money on power supply?”

Everyone’s looks expressed surprise at the question. Shouldn’t the government be expected to spend more on power supply so we can have electricity?

“Because”, she continued, “the more money they spend, the more darkness we have”.

The front page news of many of the newspapers on that day was another N3.3 trillion that the Federal Government was spending again on power supply. Casting my mind back, I began to recall the billions of dollars that this same power sector has consumed, from the presidency of Obasanjo to the present administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The more you look, the more peculiar the mess! But are you surprised! The power minister is said to be the scion of First Republic Ibadan politician, Adelabu Adegoke aka Penkelemesi ( Peculiar Mess). Truly, it is a peculiar mess of the highest order when the minister was reported as saying why we are in darkness is because Nigerians waste power by putting on their fridges and freezers days on-end! What a Peculiar Mess!

I got jolted from my thoughts by one fellow: “For as long as our leaders have access to generators and do not feel what we feel, don’t ever expect a solution from them” Sounds plausible! Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s widow, says it is he who feels it that knows it.

The vendor again turned to me and said: “E gbo, when will the price of fuel come down? Or has Dangote refinery not started operations?” I cleared my throat, like Wu-ko, as I pondered what to say. Finally, I said: “There is scanty information out there on this very sensitive matter. Some say the refinery has started full production while some say it has not. Some also say Nigeria is not producing enough crude oil; that we are not meeting our production capacity by more than one million barrels per day. Therefore, our contractual obligations to other customers may have constrained our meeting the Dangote’s crude oil needs and he has had to resort to importing crude to feed itself…” I hadn’t landed when one of them interjected, “So there is no hope that the price of petrol will come down any time soon?”

I said goodbye to the vendor, meandered my way out of the crowd and headed home – filled with floods of thoughts. Even if we meet Dangote’s crude oil needs, will the price of petrol reasonably come down here? With the IMF insisting that subsidies on fuel and electricity be removed, shouldn’t they tell us what the government should subsidize for Nigerians since their own governments subsidize one thing or the other for their own people?

* Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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