I have made it obligatory to devote some time every New Year to seek the face of God in matters that concern my family, business and, of course, Nigeria. I have done this in the belief that there is nothing much one can achieve without recourse to divine guidance. This approach has worked for me. In fact, since I started it in 1996, life has never remained the same for me. This is why I wonder why our leaders are not succeeding if they embark on this kind of soul-searching, meditation and moral and spiritual rejuvenation.
Most of the things I predicted last year came to pass. For instance, I wrote in the New Year edition of this column last year that prices of oil would be relatively stable in the international market and that life would be generally very tough and nostalgic. True to that prediction, prices of oil hovered between 90 and 116 dollars, while life was very tough and rough for most Nigerians. As an election year, cost of running government soared with the attendant sufferings and dislocations in government policy directions.
So, naturally, the masses expected that the incoming year, 2012, would bring on harder and harsher realities. Many had envisioned that the economy would face tougher challenges and increased dislocations. This was the mindset with which many crossed over to the New Year.
But are their fears real or imagined? The answer will not be a straight yes or no, because of the complexities that surround such a question. Looking critically at the performance of the economy last year, it may be right for one to brace oneself for the worst this year. Already the government has given an indication that things are going to be really different from what they used to be. Take for instance, the January 1 bombshell by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA): the sudden removal of subsidy. It was a bombshell because the people were not expecting it at the time it came. Even though many people were savouring the yuletide and New Year festivities at the time the announcement of the removal came, they still found time to register their resentment.
As I have always written in this column, I would not want to be dragged into the subsidy debate, since I do not have certain information the proponents of the subsidy removal have. It takes a deeply enlightened mind to debate the issue as robustly as the occasion demands. But what cannot easily be dismissed is that the removal of subsidy will bring increased sufferings on the masses. The signs are already there: many of those that travelled for the Christmas and New Year celebrations are stranded due to the high cost of transportation. The implication of this development is that some families can no longer meet their obligations. By Monday, the schools will resume and the realities will become manifest.
My concern, however, is how a majority of Nigerians can weather the storms of 2012. If things go on the way they did last year, then we are in for a very horrible year. Generally, 2012 will be unpredictable – full of uncertainties. I have seen through my spiritual prism that the year will experience a few tough fiscal policies by government. Forget the fuel subsidy removal, more decisions that will send cold jitters into the spies of poor Nigerians will come. In short, things will get very tough and rough before they begin to normalise.
I expect the government to take necessary steps to cushion the impact of the subsidy removal by introducing palliatives. The present state of infrastructure in the country is worrisome. Probably, this is responsible for the negative reception the removal has witnessed across the country.
Prices will go up geometrically, leading to collateral impact on the living conditions of an average Nigerian. Already, greedy merchants and traders have hiked the prices of commodities ostensibly in response to the removal of subsidy on petrol. What will happen in the days and months ahead is anybody’s guess.
On security, I expect the year to be generally very peaceful, despite the activities of some militant groups.
Government has demonstrated a strong will to deal with the endless security challenges facing the nation. The declaration of a state of emergency in 15 local government councils in some states in the north is a clear indication of government’s preparedness to take the bull by the horns. Security remains one of the cardinal responsibilities of government. This is why it has to be pursued vigorously and professionally. The harassing and hounding of innocent Nigerians by terrorist groups across the country is something no responsible government should condone. I am particularly irked by the brashness and audacity of the perpetrators of the December 25, 2011 suicide bombing that killed and wounded scores of worshippers at the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State. A majority of the dead and wounded were from the Southeast Geopolitical Zone. Whether this was deliberately planned is yet to be determined by security agencies. But one point is clear: the bombing has opened the eyes of Nigerians to the seething animosity being harboured by some Nigerians against their fellow Nigerians. There is no justification, whatsoever, for anybody to take another person’s life. Life is not only sacred but sacrosanct. Taking it under whatever guise is a sin against God and aggression against humanity.
Government must fish out those that carried out the fatal bombing and bring them to book. If they are allowed to go scot-free, as their cohorts in the past did, then some other persons may be tempted to toe the same infamous and ignominious route.
On infrastructure, I see government embarking on massive road construction and reconstruction, provision of water, electricity and hospitals. The absence of these basic amenities can account for the reason Nigeria is rated globally as a poor country. Agreed, we make so much money from oil, but how much impact does it make on the suffering masses? The answer is simple: little or no impact. Because of the shoddy manner proceeds from oil were handled in the past, some analysts had been forced to suggest that government should hand cheques directly to citizens, representing proceeds from oil. This, they believe, would make better impact on Nigerians. No matter how bizarre or preposterous the suggestion may appear, those promoting this school of thought still believe it can work, citing some countries where it is working. Nevertheless, in my thinking, the idea may be beautiful on paper, but impracticable in real life.
What government should do is to cut waste and not costs.
Cutting costs would have direct negative impact on the economy. The cost of governance in Nigeria remains one of the highest in the world, with almost two-thirds of our national budget going into recurrent expenditure. South Africa runs the same presidential system as Nigeria, yet it does not spend as much money as we do on the running of their system. There is an opportunity in the ongoing constitution amendment process to thinker with the idea of abolishing the bi-camera legislature operational at the moment. A one-chamber legislature, comprising men and women of integrity, has the capacity of meeting the legislative needs of the country. The United States practises a bi-camera legislature, because its democracy has advanced progressively and they have the resources to maintain its structures. Why should we run an expensive system and pay mouth-watering wages to a retinue of lawmakers and their aides when a majority of the people are hungry, sick, ignorant and defenceless?
The ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is having a toll on the citizens, no doubt. The recurrence of the strike is one area of great worry. It is painful that the government and ASUU are yet to reach an agreement on the issues that caused the strike, despite continual meetings between the two parties. A nation as big and complex Nigeria cannot afford two long strikes by ASUU in less than a year. Last year’s strike by the union lasted for five months. Only God knows how long this one will last. However, the tragedy of the whole situation is that the strike is going on alongside other worrisome national matters such as the removal of fuel subsidy, security challenges and minimum wage. These matters have the capacity of grinding the operations of government totally if poorly handled. This is why the present administration should take a holistic view of the current trends in the country to see what it can do to check the continual slide into anarchy.
It is unfortunate that we are by our attitudes giving credence to the prediction of some global personalities that Nigeria would disintegrate before 2015. How can we play into the hands of our enemies when we can do everything possible to stay united as a people? Those who toy with the idea of dividing Nigeria have failed to learn from the experience of other nations. Even in our own country, we knew what we went through during the 30-month civil war. It will amount to a huge tragedy if we allowed primordial sentiments to drive us into another civil war. The circumstances that caused the first civil war may be slightly different from what is happening now, but they share some similarities.
What I think we should do this year is to try and build new alliances that will promote national unity and cohesion. It is clear that some extraneous forces are bent on destroying our nation for their selfish interest. We must resist them by ensuring that we work as a team, shun divisive tendencies and embrace patriotism, honesty and brotherhood. The national development and international recognition we are seeking can only be realized when we collectively and resiliently foster peace and love. The sacrifices of our founding fathers would be in vain if we failed to defend the principle and vision they stood and died for.
I predict that this year, though it started on a very rancorous and despondent note for most Nigerians, will bring good tidings to the nation. There is one fact that nobody can dispute: God loves Nigeria. Imagine what would have happened if God had allowed Nigeria to erupt into another round of internal insurrection with the capacity of causing another war! God has, in infinite love, continued to shield the country from the devious machinations of its enemies.
As a people, our destiny lies in our hands. It is what we sow, that we reap. If we want progress, we should embrace peace; if we want development, we should make personal sacrifices and conduct ourselves patriotically. Those that want Nigeria to break up will be disappointed when they see that we have refused to be cajoled or misled into taking actions that will be inimical to national development.
I see a bright future for Nigeria, even though we are in very distressful times. The present challenges facing us as a nation will pass away in due course. We thank God for his tireless love and mercy upon us, in spite of our sinfulness as we ask him to have pity and save us from annihilation and death.
Once more, happy New Year!