By Wale Odunsi
Firstly, a very warm welcome from your week long trip to Switzerland and Ethiopia. How did your parley with the group of ‘Eminent Persons’ go? I hope the same you had with the leaders of Netherlands, Norway and Costa Rica; as well bosses of Huawei, Total and Coca-Cola will yield some interesting results.
My name is Wale Odunsi, male and a Nigerian. I am not a member of a political party, neither am I affiliated with any civil society group. I am one of the hundreds of thousands (elsewise millions) jobless youths that have emerged under your administration. I say this for I was in my final year in the university when the Legislature installed you as acting President, via the now famous “doctrine of necessity”.
The title of this commentary might strike you as the rant of another disgruntled citizen looking for attention; I appreciate such exasperation. I personally sometimes get peeved at the reverberation of the cobbler’s plank or the yell of “pure water” by the poor out-of-school child peddling in traffic. But then, I expect that a scan of the subsequent paragraphs will wipe out that thought.
As you know, the previous year is by far a period which many, especially those who suffered its tragic times, would want to erase from their minds, albeit impracticable. It was a phase we recorded both natural and (particularly) human disasters. These adversities not only claimed the lives of our fellow compatriots but also devastated goods, property, farmland, crops and stocks worth billions of our legal tender.
We were further thumped by the horrid Kano co-ordinated attacks and other myriad Boko Haram killings, Dana plane crash, the distraction effected by your wife’s long sojourn to Germany, the needless concept of N5000 note by our apex bank, road mishaps attributable to bad roads, corruption – both in civil and public service – to mention but a few.
I am young national who believes that a sleeping giant that our nation has grown into will one day return to its lost glory. But for this to be achieved, you and your team will have to do more to convince me, the opposition, the citizenry and in general the entire globe, that you are indeed capable of effectively discharging the duties expected of a democratically elected head of a federal state.
To a large degree, I am yet to greatly feel your presence in Aso Rock. Save for the slightly improved power generation which may plummet except more exertion is infused, the economy is not different from the shape which you met it.
As I jot this dispatch, it crossed my mind that one of our Bretton Woods friends recently proclaimed that our condition of penury has dropped two per cent. I cannot argue with them since my university gradation is beneath the esteemed first class, however, I opine that if that deduction was reached without the consideration of the indigent living in the slums of Taraba or Abia or Bayelsa or Oyo, it is unreservedly fallacious.
On Sunday January 1, 2012, you forced down our spines a most bizarre New Year gift. You dexterously presided over an economic team that believes that an increase in the pump price of petrol by over 100 per cent was the only available policy to achieving a better fiscal growth. You preferred bundling up the masses to the knacker’s yard to substantially cutting down the cost of your over bloated government.
My grouse and the reason I am writing this letter, is to call your attention to the special intervention bureau set up to manage savings from subsidy withdrawal: Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P. The initiative which gradually is looking like a failed project will go down as one of the greatest scam in history by a government against its own people, unless it is wholly implemented. Already, the Legislature is calling for its scrap (The PUNCH – Nov 29 2012).
I and colleagues had completed the mandatory National Youth Service few weeks before SURE-P was announced. The wish was that better days were nigh, we envisaged a grander prospect; we built our optimism on the cusp that the system, if not much, had little to offer. All we yearn for is a platform to harness our entrepreneurial skills; an avenue to play a part in the development of our motherland and not necessarily a white-collar job. Lest I forget, thank a lot for the increase in corps members’ monthly allowance. Still, majority of us at that time held that it was a well-thought out strategy solicit our votes.
In the heat of the opposition to the subsidy uproar, I remember watching the Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, along with her Information counterpart, Labaran Maku (who himself stood against similar policy in his school days) on television stations as they flung a booklet containing what SURE-P has in stock; as they went about defending its content – from the weekly Federal Executive Council briefings to town hall meetings and seminars in Lagos and the nation’s capital.
I recall every bit of loudmouthed Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s argument as he spoke in favour of the plan. I cannot forget Emeka Wogu’s unconvincing speech as he listed goodies the regime would roll out, once the striking action by a jittery NLC/TUC coalition was suspended; I recollect Deziani Allison-Madueke’s assertion that the country will go bankrupt if oil subvention continued. As she spoke, she struck me as someone who pays more attention to her physical appearance than her office or the government she was within.
Alas, in excess of 380 days after organized Labour – fronting threats of treason indictment – called off protest, all I see are insufficient ‘subsidy buses’ plying roads in few states and Abuja; I see endless queues at service stations; I see terrible rural electrical energy; I see waning educational facilities; I see thousands of hectares of land in the tight fist of the government and not farmers; I see people losing faith in themselves and whatever around.
Addressing a joint sitting of the National Assembly, Chairman of the SURE-P Committee, Dr. Christopher Kolade, disclosed his team had received a whopping N135bn (about $880m) as at October 2012. According him, N62bn ($400m) was paid to contractors and beneficiaries of the scheme, while certificates worth N7.5bn ($48m) for contractors on the Abuja-Lokoja and East-West roads are being processed for payment.
Sir, do you honestly think that those of us out here are pleased with how these monies are being used? Do you call for detailed progress report on the scheme? Have you even taken time to critically evaluate your performance in office?
You hold a Ph.D. degree in Zoology and not Statistics but let us do a simple arithmetic of what the people stand to gain if SURE-P pledge on a “massive job creation” was fulfilled. We were told that 10, 000 unemployed persons from each of the 36 federating states and the Federal Capital Territory would be engaged; this add up to a total of 370, 000. We were also informed that an additional 100, 000 under the second component of the programme, labeled Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS), would be employed; this plus our initial sum gives 470, 000. Now assume the persons that make up our new figure are generous enough to accept the responsibility to support two or three other persons, the upshot is food on the table for between 1, 410, 000 and 1, 880, 000 Nigerians. What a significant feat this would be for you.
When I go out these days and come across some guys clad in SURE-P T-shirts, they are either chasing street hawkers or road side traders. So I ask myself: is this what we get after billions of Naira in fuel subsidy cut? A job where a youth is expected to run after pitiable peddlers?
The electorates did not beg for this. They covet quality governance, one that is beset with downright honesty. Enough of the billboard and “PR” style of service rendering. What the common man wants is to see his water pipes running; he wants to ride his bicycle on a tarred road and not on a clay surface; he is old and weak to fetch firewood to make hot water for his pap and as such he favors electric kettle; he wants to know the economy is buoyant so his children can have abundant from which they can send money for his upkeep.
Sir, for the sake of posterity, (re)ignite the dimming fire of your Transformation Agenda. I urge you not to let the opportunity of writing your name in gold pass away. We want to remember you as a man who matched his words with actions and not a man who talked because the moment called for it. We want to remember you as a sensitive leader, not one who tactically backed the construction of a N4 billion ($26m) “mission house” for his wife. We want to remember you as a man who gave a comprehensive riposte to the question of how billions of dollars in foreign reserve was used in his tenure and not a man who sent his appointees to give insubstantial explanations.
I hope that you will promptly act on the issues raised. Perhaps, I and some others in my shoes can finally have a job.