Thursday, January 15, 2009

Burden of ‘Take-a-Bow’

This week, we present a rhapsody of sorts, beginning with a matter of urgent importance. We have received a lot of reactions to our work, Government of Indecision, which appeared in this column some two weeks back. Perhaps unwittingly, the first reaction came from the Presidency. As if to confirm everything we said, just about when that material was hitting the newsstand, our Government of Auto-Reverse Gear started the car by engaging the fourth gear and just as the car was struggling into speed, it was abruptly returned to Gear One. Your guess about what happened is as good as anyone’s.
Outsiders have no way of knowing fully what is happening in Aso Rock Villa. Knowing our President for the smooth operator that he is, he may be quietly pointing his men to order each time they commit a faux pas. Or, he might as well have given up on them since they are prone to a lot of mistakes. He, may not want to spend all his time correcting mistakes, thus, acquiescing to the saying, it is folly to be wise where ignorance is bliss.
Otherwise, why would one Presidential Adviser jump into our airwaves and announce to the entire world that the pump prices of petroleum products in Nigeria were going to be brought down by at least 25 percent, citing the downward journey of crude oil in the world market as the justification for the announcement? Just about when we were beginning to celebrate the relief, another independent announcement came from another Presidential Aide, not to correct the earlier announcement, but to inform us that pump prices of petroleum products would remain unchanged because whatever the Nation is now making from the low price of crude oil in the world market would only be used to cushion the effect of the enormous subsidy which Government has been putting in for the citizen.
Who will save this nation from itself? Who wants to coordinate the affairs of the country so that it can sometimes speak with one united voice? In any case, which of the announcements is authentic? Could it as well be that this taciturn man, our President, is busy developing a third and final position on this issue? The issue is important enough to elicit the Administration’s concrete official position. After all, when the prices were on their way up, at every bend there was an increase in pump price, which took the said pump price of petrol from about N22 per liter to its present N70 within a very short time during the Obasanjo years. Again, the logic is simple: The price of crude has fallen to about $45 per barrel from the giddy height of about $148. It is now left for us to remember what we paid for a liter at the pump when crude sold for $45 on its way up. And the pump price should now automatically relocate itself to that level without any debate. Where this position cannot be sustained, it is left for the Administration to tell us why, instead of just remaining silent or dishing out its usual equivocations.
Distinguished Senator Uche Chukwumerije is our Legislator of the Year. On a number of occasions, he has distinguished himself from that big crowd. He has demonstrated beyond measure that the majority is not always right, even where it is able to bully its way through. In just the same way that he endeared himself to all people of goodwill during the Third Term debacle, he rounded up the past year with his noble stand on the bold attempt of his colleagues to place all Senators above the Law: “… Bow and go is anti-intellectual. Bow and go is animation of secret society methods”. (THISDAY, Thursday, December 18, 2008, p.72). On this issue, Senator Chukwumerije fought the Senate to a standstill. We salute you. We salute your courage.
The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has succeeded in shooting itself on the right foot by reducing the “Take a bow” procedure to the point of absurdity. We saw it coming. That was when we issued the early warnings. Yes, in a few exceptional cases, a very prominent nominee who has clearly distinguished himself in society could be asked to take a bow and go without questioning, as a mark of respect. We warned that this favour must be sparingly used or it would lose its lustre. During those early warnings, we opined that perhaps the only person who had merited the honour since 1999 was late Bola Ige. We are a bit reluctant to add the name of Chief Earnest Shonekan to this list, not because the man does not merit the favour but because all those who ideally merit such favour have no business running around, going for presidential messages. Such people should render their advice to Government quietly. They should be seen and not heard. In any case, such men should not be dispatched on errands that require their coming before smaller men. Let’s face it; the power to confirm also implies the power of rejection. Suppose a former Head of State appears before a stubborn Senate and the Senate rejects his nomination, where does that place such a man? Or, at the end of such an assignment the President rejects the report of the Committee headed by such a man, where does that place him? Would it not be better, therefore, to quietly obtain whatever you want from the man and also quietly give him whatever you want to give him?
It is more than five years since we advised the Senate to quickly go and amend that part of its Rules which automatically extends the “Take a bow” to all Senators. It is unjust and undermining of fate in our entire system to ask a man to take a bow and go in what is supposed to be the hallowed chamber of the Senate simply because he was once a Senator; perhaps a failed Senator and particularly in an era when some senators have done some mean things, having been caught in one corruption web or the other. Essentially, the Senate screening is not meant to provide an esprit de corps for the distribution of unmerited favours.
In a recent Address at the convocation ceremony of Anambra State University, Awka, His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, wondered if “It is not time we asked ourselves how and why we allow our sanity to take leave of us at very critical moments of our nation’s history”. This question is very apt. We are aware that the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Development came as an answer to the yearning of the people of the Sub-Region for the development of the area. The original argument has been that the only way to avert the crises in the area was to create the Ministry to develop the area like Abuja and Lagos. If the Ministry will not do that, of course, it is not too late in the day to ask them to take their Ministry. At the budgetary level, history is aware of how Abuja was developed to its present enviable level. We have copies of the annual budgets of the Federal Government in the telling years of Abuja's development, principally from 1979 to 1983. Every budget has its tricks. So does every development. The budget trick that was used to develop Abuja did not lie principally in the annual allocation to the FCDA but more in those sums that were carefully tucked away in the budget of every Ministry for its infrastructural development in Abuja. All those provisions under every Ministry – from Agriculture to Zoning, put together, easily reduced the allocation to the FCDA to fritters. Are we not going to do the same for the Niger Delta sub-region?
Again, history has it that no Niger Deltan, and no Southerner, for that matter, has ever been Minister of Abuja. Why would we now walk history on its head by attempting to make a non-indigene of the area the substantive Minister of that Ministry? It will not work. If we want to be honest about enveloping that Region, indigenes of the area must always head the Ministries of the Niger Delta Development and Petroleum Resources. It can’t be done otherwise.
Here is wishing our esteemed readers compliments of the season and a New Year full of contentment. In this New Year, we promise to keep the menu fresh and crisp. Remain