We have had our fill discussing the slapping saga for the last 24 hours. An ugly altercation that eclipsed the planned spartan but highly anticipated inauguration of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo as the chief servant of my beloved Anambra state. Nigerians love noise and distraction. And the dramatic events that feed this appetite are in abundant supply among the leadership.
For a nation plagued with so much insecurity and economic hardship, one would have hoped for other cravings but then these distractions are not entirely useless. They mollify the pain occasioned by the endless difficulties we face. Who wouldn’t cherish a balm of Gilead even if it comes in the form of noise? I‘ve always said that being in the Nigerian social media space alone is enough antidote for depression or high blood pressure.
Be that as it may, we still need to redirect ourselves to more important issues. That is why I may waste time on social media posting about these regular trivialities but when I determine to put pen to paper I often discuss serious socio-political issues. And that is what I want to do now.
About 2 days ago, Tony Elumelu lamented the worsening economic conditions in the country; “This morning, I am listening to my colleagues at the office bemoan the very pressing issues that they face every day in this country, and how things have been getting worse and worse –no electricity for 5 days, hikes in the price of diesel, frightening food inflation..”
He also blamed the poor revenue on theft “How can we be losing over 95% of oil production to thieves,” …“Look at the Bonny Terminal that should be receiving over 200k barrels of crude oil daily, instead it receives less than 3,000 barrels, leading the operator @Shell to declare force majeure…It is clear that the reason Nigeria is unable to meet its OPEC production quota is not because of low investment but because of theft, pure and simple!
And concluded by calling for a more vocal citizenry to hold leaders accountable ahead of the 2023 general elections.“Evil prevails when good people are silent. We need to be vocal about 2023. Let’s focus on Nigeria. Demand and advocate for leaders that deliver..In 2023, Nigeria must be on a strong trajectory for progress and development.”
These are germane lamentations and even the most ardent Buhari supporter cannot argue against the worsening hardship without looking stupid. Yet I have watched APC fans trying in vain to cancel Elumelu for speaking out. Prominent among the litany of accusations thrown at him is that his Transcorp owns the Afam and Ughelli power plants. There were even assertions that ‘they’ desperately want the PDP back because ‘they’ had it easy fleecing the treasury under the party.
As laughable as the comments may appear they still represent the docile but pernicious partisan followership that is pervasive among many Nigerians. Else how can you explain that supposedly educated folks seem to be aloof of the processes involved in power generation? It even gets worse to think that the Buhari who these folks are defending just apologised to the nation about the same issues raised by Elumelu and pointedly mentioned efforts to address shortages in power generation which again was illustrated by Elumelu’s reference to Shell’s abysmal receipt of crude oil from the NNPC. How then can a right-thinking person castigate or blame a man for echoing the position of the administration you are defending?
Tony Elumelu needs no introduction as one of the wealthiest Nigerians. But he is worried about the masses. Notice how he started his tweet; “This morning, I am listening to my colleagues at the office…” This is a man that can afford to sunbathe on a Caribbean island without lifting a finger for the rest of his life. Yet the fact that he employs thousands of Nigerians places a heavy responsibility on his shoulders. Their headache is indirectly his problem too. Added to that he is obliged to help thousands more through the charity works of his foundation.
Now I understand that the current inflation is global and thus it seems that the louder screams by Nigerians may just be a little over the top. I rarely compare Nigeria with the developed countries but let me contextualise the different scenarios. I live in Ireland where the rising cost of living is a topic that has usurped the topmost media agenda from the war in Ukraine. Daily radio talk shows are dominated by lamentations and rants about the difficulties we face. I now fill my tank with €60 weekly. It was €45 a few weeks ago. The cheapest wine in Aldi has jumped from €4 to €7. The prices of practically all essential consumables from energy to medicines to groceries have increased and continue to rise.
But here is the thing. Besides the variety of benefits available to low-income earners and the most vulnerable in the society, the govt reduced excise duty on fuel and there is talk about removing the carbon tax entirely. Truck drivers are paid €100 weekly to ensure that logistics isn’t disrupted. Before now every household got a €100 subsidy on energy bills and another €125 was approved this week. All these are just a few of the emergency measures to cushion the effects of the rising costs across the entire population. I mean, it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you may be, these benefits will get to every member of the Irish society.
Yet, a huge number of people still demand more from the govt. There is talk about reducing the cost of governance via salary cuts and all that and govt has promised an ongoing evaluation and possible improvement of the emergency relief measures.
Now hear this; The Irish PM earns less than €10,000 monthly but a Senator in Nigeria gets a monthly allowance of over €24,000 which the current Senate President Ahmed Lawan considers to be poor. Meanwhile, Nigerians who receive no regular government benefits are being forced to pay more for everything needed to survive. The Minister of Finance recently revealed that they nicodemusly removed subsidies in the electricity sector through periodic and incremental adjustments. She went on to say that the pandemic stalled the planned removal of fuel subsidy in July 2022 as there was intense pushback from the polity.
This is why I have a problem with Elumelu bashers. While elected officials can ride on the taxpayers’ money, Elumelu worked hard in a tough private sector to achieve success and is actually impacting on more Nigerian lives than many of the political leaders we defend. Yes, he threw out some contentious figures — like losing over 95% of oil production to thieves — and I queried the veracity of that claim, but it’s better to interrogate the issues he raised in this manner than to cancel him. After all, he mentioned pertinent challenges faced by every Nigerian today without blaming anybody in particular. Of course, he’s too smart for that. Where will blame lead us? Moreover, he has always been about solutions.
Most of those attacking him on social media will give an arm to swap positions. He is an achiever who employs thousands of Nigerians. He is also a great philanthropist but if you label him an opportunist please go and utilise your own opportunity. He didn’t attain his position by antagonising other ‘opportunists’ rather he worked hard and took the opportunities that came his way because he was ready.
I doubt that Elumelu has a political ambition (which by the way is his constitutional right) because he hasn’t declared any. I also won’t argue that he is not pro-PDP (which again he is well entitled to be) because partisan narratives introduce pedestrian linearity to otherwise complex issues. But what I know is that he has supported and partnered with governments across Africa and is, therefore, amply qualified to be the voice of the masses.
You see, we need to be a lot more circumspect as a people. Elumelu is one of our finest. The man breathes productivity. He has created wealth, jobs and opportunities for young Nigerians. He is speaking out for us and he rarely does so without harping on job creation as a facilitator of development in Africa. People like him must be seen as part of the solution and not the problem. We need to encourage him and hope that the constructive criticism he received -if any- will inspire him and others to speak out more.
As he said, we are in an election year. There will be plenty of politics and little governance, so the hardship isn’t likely to abate anytime soon. But another irrefutable fact is that the nation’s economy needs an urgent surgical operation. Therefore, the best we can do is to ‘shine our eyes’ with regard to those we want to elect in 2023.