Thursday, January 15, 2009

The New Mortuary in Town

Perhaps unknown to these children, we now know their nicknames for most of our friends. As they were receding to their apartment, we heard them grumbling aloud: Paddyman’s friend, Aproko, is coming. That man can talk. He jumps from one topic to another, without caring if anyone is listening. He must have a long sermon today and daddy has a way of pretending that he is going along. Let’s escape to our section before he enters.
Aproko: My main man, what’s up? Long time no see….
Paddyman: Oh fine. And you?
Aproko: Fine…. Only that this your country is sick. Did you see those theatricals at the 36th convocation ceremony of Obafemi Awolowo University? In fact, that was the day every thing went wrong. That was the day your people walked protocol on its head. As usual, they soon forgot that a Foreign Head of State, President Boni Yayi of the Republic of Benin was being conferred with an honorary doctorate degree and that he was personally present to receive the award. In that circumstance, normal protocol demands that your friend would have been there to solidarize with his counterpart and if he was too busy, he would have sent the Vice-President to stand in for him. It was bad enough that none of the above was there. It was worse still that they had to step the transformer further down to the fifth rung of the ladder by dispatching Dr Goke Adegoroye, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education to represent your President.
Paddyman: What’s wrong with that? Is a Federal Permanent Secretary in Nigeria not high enough to receive the Head of State of a small country like Republic of Benin?
Aproko: There you go again. We are talking of sovereignty, my dear. All countries are equal. A situation where you leave the President, Vice President, Minister and the Minister of State and ask the Permanent Secretary to meet the Head of State of a foreign nation is akin to that situation where the Governor of one state is visiting another state and the host Governor dispatches the Director of Finance in his office to go and meet him.
The civil servant is always the whipping boy in any situation. I hope Dr. Adegoroye doesn’t earn himself a sack for accepting to go on the errand, which his super-ordinates rejected. We have no way of knowing whether he knew of the assignment before the very morning of the event. We therefore do not know if he had any time to sound out the bosses who sent him.
Apparently, as soon as he knew, he tried to pin a few points together in the form of a key-note address, which he delivered on behalf of your president. In the process, Adegoroye went to town in reeling out the height of corruption in the nation’s University system – he highlighted the problems of sexual harassment on our campuses and went as far as reeling out the current price list for student’s purchase of grades and project supervision from lecturers.
Of course, we trust our media. Adegoroye’s address on behalf of the principal was the cover story in virtually all the media. The President has since disowned Adegoroye’s speech, claiming that it did not originate from him since the draft of it was not submitted to the presidency for vetting…
Paddyman: Yes, what is wrong with that? In all conscience, should a man not disown a statement that he knows nothing about and which has been wrongly credited to him?
Aproko: That is the point! Lack of co-ordination. With this administration, everything is “jaga jaga”. Everyone is on his own. The widespread belief that your President is heading a Government of indecision; a Government of Auto Reverse Gear has been further amplified here. Adegoroye has apparently blown their cover. Most issues are like the tooth paste: Once the tooth paste is pressed out of the tube, it cannot be put back. What really is your friend now disowning? True, that representation may not have been properly coordinated. But where does the President’s denial now leave the embarrassing issues of sexual harassment and blocking in our institutions of higher learning? Are those issues not important enough to be brought to the front burner? For how long are we going to keep pretending that they do not exist? Meanwhile, the blind sees them and the deaf hears them. And they are the very albatross of our educational system. Again, that a convocation ceremony is hardly an appropriate occasion to bring the issues to the fore is another kettle of fish entirely. But we cannot run away from the inevitable conclusion that they are important enough to merit presidential and national attention.
Paddyman: My friend, I am getting bored by your monologue. Why don’t we leave the president alone?
Aproko: Yes, I can change the topic but your friend will still be at the centre of it all, if only he knows that he has turned the entire Estate to a mortuary. My heart bleeds for this country. It is now one year since the House of Representatives instituted a probe on the power sector. All those sordid revelations, like others before them, have now been buried under the carpet. Ideally, apart from improving the quality of legislation, the findings of such probes are supposed to assist the Executive in determining where to beam the searchlight. But not here in Nigeria. NEPA, by whatever name, has become the sick child of every administration. It has also become the drainpipe of every regime. All we now hear is about the number of mega-watts that will be available to us by the year 2056. Meanwhile, things are getting worse by the day.
More than all other years put together, this year alone, in fact in the past few days, NEPA has reduced every home to a malfunctioning mortuary. Most homes that should otherwise be smelling sweet in this yuletide season have now turned mortuaries because the extra meat and food items, which were intended to be frozen, have since decomposed, no thanks to NEPA. In the days and weeks ahead, we are probably going to experience a total outbreak of epidemics as a result of the rotten meat consumed these past few days.
In every situation, Nigerians are fast at developing survival instincts, and survive, they will. As soon as the economic conditions were becoming threatening to the Nigerian workers, many of them went into thrift savings and monthly contributions aimed at their Christmas and New Year festivities. All those who contribute toward the purchase of cows always slaughter their cows as from the 20th of December. Teacher Muda had contributed so much that at the end of this past year, she got the full leg of a cow and was also able to buy a deep freezer. Of what use is a deep freezer when there is no light?
NEPA pretended to be available but its supply of light was so epileptic that Muda’s deep freezer refused to freeze. Before she knew what was happening, the entire meat had gone bad and the whole Estate had become polluted. Her problem has since become that of disposal. What does anyone do with the type of toxic waste, which Muda now has in her hands? Which bus would convey her and the toxic waste to the disposal point without suspecting that she was carrying a human corpse? That was the problem she had when I saw her before Christmas. She must have found a solution, God helping her. Success here means that she has succeeded in burying her hard-earned money, her meat, the joy of her entire family at yuletide replaced by melancholy, and of course, who will blame her if in subsequent years, she becomes phobic to saving and planning for Christmas? After all, is it not true that a burnt child dreads even the ashes?
Muda is not alone. NEPA has rendered many people useless, the billions and trillions of Naira sunk into that sector, notwithstanding. The small artisans who depend on NEPA for their existence have been dispatched to the unemployment line and sometimes sentenced to armed robbery and prostitution. The major production lines have since learnt to put on their plants more than 75 percent of the time, thus pushing up the cost of production – all to the detriment of the consumer!
Paddyman: What a day! For everybody, NEPA provides a no-win situation, even for itself. With the advent of the new meter system, consumers now pay for their little consumption of perhaps seven days in entire month, as against the hitherto atrocious billing system. In turn, the consumer quickly invests the windfall on the purchase of “I better pass my neighbour”, which again has become a greater killer than the much dreaded AIDS pandemic. As we write this essay, there is a report that eight persons have been consigned to their early graves in the Downtown Benin City through this inglorious means. With NEPA, head you lose, tail you don’t win. It’s a sad, sad affair, after all!