Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.—Oprah Winfrey
Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’—Alfred Lord Tennyson
Not to disappoint my youthful readers who have asked for my views on 2016 Christmas in a year of biting recession, I will comment on making resolutions for the New Year, rather than on an important religious festival that requires insights of professional theologians some knowledge of economics. I will use my end-of-year piece to urge my readers to make resolutions that can make their rulers feel encouraged or compelled to do the right thing to improve their life chances, especially governments’ commitment to nation building for equality, equity, and justice.
About two years ago, this page appealed to readers not to leave Nigeria out of their prayers for progress for individuals and the country, especially its polity and economy. There was no recession then, as petroleum was at the peak of its destiny as a cash cow that could pump enough money into the economy to excuse governments’ fiscal irresponsibility and infrastructure neglect. I am sure most of my readers voted for the regime of change now in power and whose fortune or misfortune it has been to clean the Augean Stables and at a time that recession has reduced by two-thirds the value of the naira in the pocket of each of us—big or small, elite or lowly, Christian or Muslim, Fulani or Yoruba. Nobody ever thought that it would be this soon to make New Year’s resolutions towards improving the wisdom of those governing us, after voting into power the party we saw as having the promise to solve all of the country’s problems.
During the days of Abacha, a Nigerian Juju musician released an album with the theme: Ijoba n se won to le se, omi lo po ju oka lo (the government is doing its best; it is just that water done pass gari). We cannot afford to be this ambivalent this time. The governments—central and subnational—need citizens’ resolve to join hands with each level of government to get Nigeria on the path of political and economic progress. Just as we do as individuals, let us urge those who rule us to make resolutions to do better in the New Year, since there seems to be no alternative for our dear country to realise its huge potential. Let us make a few resolutions that the space of this column can take.
Resolution One: Let us stop begging our lawmakers to desist from allocating 20 per cent of the budget to dig boreholes in the rural areas to convince their constituents that they mean well for them. We should tell legislators in plain language that our villages need treated water, such as people in South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Botswana, etc., get in abundance once they pay the monthly charges. Let your lawmakers know that in countries blessed with leaders having consideration for younger generations, policies about water supply are influenced by principles of environmentally sustainable development. Plead with the executives not to give in to demands by legislators to become borehole contractors, warning further that too many boreholes in the country can wipe out the lives of millions of citizens should the boreholes later induce earthquakes. Choose not to keep silent in the face of irresponsible governance. Building boreholes by the legislature or the executive is a sign of irresponsible quick-fix solutions. It is already common knowledge that our country has the largest number of boreholes and generators, all enemies of the environment.
Resolution Two: Call on your pastors, prophets, imams and marabouts to stop scheming about how to eclipse the secularity of the Nigerian State. Calling for Sharia or Ecclesiastic jurisprudence is an excuse to further divide Nigerians. The law that was used to create Nigeria from various nationalities, cultures, and political systems was neither Sharia nor Ecclesiastical. The country has witnessed enough to know that sectarian conflicts do more damage than good for a country—monolingual or multilingual. From what is happening around the globe including in Nigeria, any effort by one religious group to dominate another or harass adherents of other faiths on the excuse of inevitability of universalising principles of the religion of one is fraught with danger for all. Tell your lawmakers, the president, and governors that Nigeria has too many problems already without adding new sectarian ones to the list.
Resolution Three: Call on your lawmakers to look at old laws, especially those that started as decrees under military dictatorship and review them with the aim of discarding those that have outlived their usefulness or making them comply with demands of the time. Many young citizens in the National Youth Service Corps have become victims of many crises in the country. Many have been killed or maimed by Boko Haram terrorists, many had died assisting in the conduct of elections by INEC; some had lost their lives at the hands of religious terrorists while others had died of infectious diseases during their service year. A letter to General Yakubu Gowon to thank him for introducing the NYSC scheme when he did will be in order from a cooperative of mothers and fathers for change. From all appearances, Nigerians from most walks of life apart from the political market for power are sufficiently united. The average Yoruba or Igbo buys Suya from Hausa or Fulani butchers just as the Fulani buys used motor parts from Igbo traders without feeling uncomfortable. Continuing with NYSC in the name of unity is not cost effective, more so now that every kobo should count. If rulers obsess over NYSC, they should transform it to an adult scheme for the least united demographic group in the country: politicians. Under its new form, those in power or planning to seek power should undergo one-year sensitivity training on ethnic, cultural, and religious otherness before being allowed to run for elections or nominated for political appointments.
Resolution Four: Civil society organisations (not those that depend on funding from abroad) should appeal to President Buhari to stop his image makers from repeating the story that it was Jonathan that caused the problems facing Nigeria today. Nigerians already know this, and this was why they did not vote for Jonathan for a second term. There is something called Noise in communication theory, something that may sound nice without adding any value to the message. This claim has served its purpose and can only be perceived as noise two years into the post-Jonathan presidency. Citizens already know that whatever Jonathan did while in power could not pass for innovation. He met a political culture that was already mature in corruption and was designed to import everything under the sun with revenue from petroleum, including petrol. All the generator companies in the country were already in place to make nonsense of efforts to generate and distribute power to citizens before Jonathan came on the scene. So were illegal foreign accounts owned by practicing and retired politicians—military and civilian.
Resolution Five: The government closest to each citizen is the local government. Resolve to get engaged with this level in the new year, by organising friends to host your local government chair for an evening of Asun (goat barbecue). At this evening of hedonism, present your local government chair with a list of what he has done and not done with funds allocated or released to him by the governor of his state. Assure your LG chair that the 20 persons hosting him to Asun are members of an NGO funded by 10,000 local stakeholders who are bent on calling for international audit of his administration. This will free up time for the EFCC to pursue massive thieves of state. But make sure you organise over 1,000 members of the LG in the first quarter of the year to carry placards demanding an audit.
Like all New Year’s resolutions, none of this will go far if you lack the will to make it happen. The governments may be well meaning but, as a Yoruba proverb says: “Nobody knows how to walk without his head from moving back and forth. And like human beings, governments need to be assisted to make self-improvement resolutions. HAPPY NEW YEAR!