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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Losing support and appealing to hungry people

By: Levi Obijiofor

I start today with a question I posed 11 years ago. If you were asked to rank the following people in terms of unscrupulous conduct or crooked behaviour, which of them would top your list? I list the people in no particular order: Political party leaders; public office holders; presidential advisers and assistants; politicians; state governors; National Assembly legislators; state parliamentarians; ‘419’ swindlers; bank managers; police officers; pastors; lawyers; medical doctors; members of the judiciary; journalists; newspaper and magazine publishers; university and polytechnic teachers; secondary school teachers; carpenters; bricklayers; accountants; advertising executives; public relations/public affairs officers; mortuary attendants; pickpockets, prostitutes, and commercial vehicle drivers.
While I acknowledge the list is not comprehensive, many people are likely to nominate ‘419’ tricksters, pickpockets, and prostitutes, as the most dishonourable, unethical and fraudulent people. That choice could have been made on the basis of public perceptions which may or may not be accurate. The way we perceive people is often based on incredible assumptions, which may be far from reality. By picking on ‘419’ scam masters, pickpockets and prostitutes, we reveal our fundamentally flawed view of the sources of the nation’s economic troubles, including people who contributed directly and indirectly to the downfall of the country and the widening gulf between the rich and the poor.
Every country places a different value on its institutions and the moral conduct of people who drive those institutions. For example, in December 2000, the Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, arguably regarded as the world’s largest selling newspaper, asked 2000 people to record the institutions they considered as most trustworthy. The office of the prime minister was ranked last. The result of the survey showed the extent to which the Japanese people placed little trust on their politicians. A majority of us hold a similar view of our politicians many of whom we perceive as innately corrupt, morally unprincipled and undeniably dishonest.
In the past two weeks, virtually every minister has been talking loosely in the public domain, praising President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance in office and at the same time appealing to distressed and impoverished citizens to be patient with the government, to make sacrifices to help the country to recover from economic recession and to await the elusive “dividends of democracy” the president and his party promised during national election campaigns in 2015.
All these indicate a government in a panic. The government is rattled because the miracle changes the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the president promised more than a year ago now appear to be out of reach, unattainable and more like a mirage. So, when we read reports about Buhari and his ministers, begging Nigerians to support the government, to be patient, to cooperate with the government, you know the government has boxed itself into an uncomfortable corner.
In 2015 many people believed in, and preached the parable of Buhari as the long-awaited magician who could turn Nigeria around for good. How mistaken those judgments and expectations were!
The excitement that accompanied Buhari’s majestic entry into the presidential throne in Aso Rock has subsided. It is either that the miracle is yet to be invented or configured, or that the miracle man has run out of ideas and steam. Against the background of citizens buffeted by economic hardships, I am not quite sure that the President is still seen as a political pearl many people once felt he was.
Why has Buhari’s government and the APC not lived up to public expectations? Why has a political party that enjoyed unprecedented public support and goodwill before and during national elections failed to live up to public hope? Did we expect too much from APC and Buhari within so short a time? Were the citizens unrealistic in what they expected the President to achieve within 16 months in office?
These questions have dominated public conversations in traditional and online media, as well as on social media. Only Buhari and the APC leadership can answer these puzzling questions. Unfortunately, the APC is now engulfed in a major internal warfare between two of its leaders. Last weekend, APC national leader Bola Tinubu deployed hard language against the conduct of party chairman John Oyegun over the chairman’s alleged role in the way the Ondo State gubernatorial primary was conducted. The feud might fracture the perceived unity in a party that had positioned itself as unblemished and invincible. President Buhari’s government that has been fighting an image problem almost since birth now has an additional problem to grapple with inside the APC.
The anger that many people hold against the ruling government is that APC officials, including those in government, made lofty promises last year even when it was obvious they could not fulfil those promises. It has been said that rising expectations long unfulfilled lead to rising frustrations. This statement captures the mood of the nation today. Promises were made to the citizens. Sixteen months later, those promises remain unfulfilled. One presidential adviser even had the temerity to argue recently that everyone must suffer first before they can expect to experience the “dividends of democracy”. He implied that Nigerians would have to experience purgatory before they can get near the Kingdom of good life. How misleading, insensitive, and conceited!
This arrogant statement shows how sycophantic, how grovelling and how obsequious people can be once they are appointed as the president’s adviser. Over the years, presidential advisers have demonstrated an uncanny capacity to make statements that are at odds with public sentiments. Someone once said that fawning adulation of a president or prime minister is not a crime. Perhaps, that is true.
Soon after the government was inaugurated in 2015, some officials made outlandish promises, some of which are now impossible to fulfil. When Buhari was sworn in last year, everyone had hoped his government would signal a new era and new direction for the country. Buhari was promoted as the face of a new Nigeria, a country in which all citizens would be regarded and treated as equals. It was hoped Buhari’s government would usher in a much invigorated economy, an economy in which many foreign investors would be rushing to invest.
While some people continue to debate the APC, Buhari and his style of government, certain views are already entrenched in the minds of citizens. The most dominant view is that the government is insensitive to the plight of the less privileged. This may be true or false but it does not detract from the fact that this perception is widespread regardless of the citizens’ political party affiliation, geographic location, and ethnicity.
The second view is that ministers and advisers are living in an imaginary world quite disconnected from the practical world in which citizens continue to grapple with economic hardships and the difficulties of everyday life.
On account of all these, including unfavourable perceptions of Buhari and the APC leadership, as well as the fiction propagated by government officials, who are shielded from the hardships of life, people believe that Buhari’s bubble has burst. Many people hold the view that ministers are not telling the president the truth about the magnitude, scope or depth of suffering that has overwhelmed ordinary people. If the ministers have been conveying the true picture to the president, the argument goes, Buhari would have changed direction and focus a long time ago to address the needs of the less privileged. Still, no one knows why the government has shut its ears to widespread accounts of misery and deprivation across the land.
It is not a surprise that the needs of ordinary people are not being addressed or discussed. Ministers live in a rarefied world in which common people don’t count. No one thinks of ordinary people because they are expected to look after their own welfare. Government has made the point that people who did not vote for the ruling party in last year’s presidential election should not expect to receive equal federal attention, as the people who voted for the APC. In plain language, that is politics of vendetta. In the government’s language, however, it is nothing but politics of fair and equitable distribution of scarce resources. You make your judgment about the meaning of fairness.
The difficulty the government and APC leaders have today is that a growing number of citizens are expressing unpleasant commentary on the ability of government officials to uphold their promises to the nation. Endless promises underscore why, at this moment, many people have started weighing on their palms the party they are likely to support in the next federal election. The fact that citizens who were heavily weighed down by the sins of the PDP for 16 years are now openly expressing disappointment with the APC shows how disillusioned people are with the ruling party.
These are ominous signs for the APC. But there is still time for the party and the government to initiate a systematic programme of changes that will bring some comfort to the lives of disadvantaged citizens. At the moment, the prices of basic food items are out of reach. Government must do something to halt the situation. You cannot expect people battered by hunger to line up in support of the government.

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