SUNDAY NARRATIVE: Christmas In Season Of Climate Change



THE weather is harsh and dusty. It is dry season no doubt, but not every end of year behaves this unfriendly. Experts have said 2015 has experienced unprecedented warmth, which perhaps, explains the extra dryness out there. There is warning that next year’s sun will burn with more vengeance. It would heat the waters and provoke moist and even heavier rains. There would be floods and many lowlands will be submerged. There would be desertification, and pastoralist would search for greener lands. Usually, the repercussion is heavier on poorer countries. They pay heavier penalties, while industrialised nations that ravage the ozone layer with huge emissions pay less. In the extremes of earth conditions, whether it is heavier rains or sunlight, the poor pay more. Never a fair world.

Poor countries have never benefitted all the time the climate was virgin and clement; they were exploited by powerful countries and used as sources of raw materials to turn Europe and America into industrial clusters. Now, China has overtaken them, burning the chimneys endlessly and furiously, in the overdrive to conquer world economy. The United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) in Le Bourget, Paris, just rounded off, with commitment by all to work towards making the earth a better place. But that is on paper, as implementation is where the challenge has always been. The world has become greedy and consumption has become rapacious. The bigger countries will continue to burn energy and the earth will become hotter. Poor countries will pay dearly when the floods come and the deserts get drier.

As it is in the affairs of the global community, so it is at the domestic level. In the affairs of our dear country Nigeria, the poor receive the butt end of every economic joke. There has never been respite for people outside government, whether under the military or the so-called civilians.

This Christmas season, harsh and inclement as it were, provides a good opportunity to see how millions of Nigerians just manage to get by, while just a few in government, make and enforce their own rules. Most times, there are no debates on how policies would touch the people. The way it happens is like this; as a country we walk with our eyes wide open into some economic dead-end, and poor people are told to pay for the cluelessness and misbehaviour of government. It is always that the people have to pay for services that do not exist or are at best haphazard. Why? Because government is said to be perpetually broke and they have to generate revenue by all means. Except for the era of Gen Yakubu Gowon, when it was said that government had so much money it didn’t know what to do with it. The joke was that the Gowon regime looked for charity abroad to fund, but I think that was an exaggeration. Nigeria never had enough because of poor planning and lack of continuity.

It was so in the Second Republic. In the twilight of that dispensation, which was led by former President Shagari, hapless Nigerians woke one morning and were told to brace up for austerity measures. After the political class that constituted that government had wasted four years without sound economic blueprint, they decided to transfer the hardship to the people. Indeed, it became very tough for even middle class citizens to survive, as many commodities became essential and out of reach of the poor. Across the counter items like toothpaste, beverages and toiletries became scarce and out of reach of the common man. Meanwhile, rice and designer champagne were the choice imports of the political class.

Between 1984 and 1999 when the military ran the economy aground, words like privatisation, belt-tightening, retrenchment, subsidy removal and the like, became commonplace. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) became part of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to help bring on board policies that in their words would make government lean and ultimately transfer the burden to poor people. Meanwhile, those military rulers and members of their families enjoyed the best of existence, here at home and anywhere else on earth. Is it not mind boggling, that 17 years after Gen Sani Abacha left these shores, we are yet to exhaust the loots recovered from where he stashed them? And I ask; were Abacha to be alive today and we are fighting corruption, how are we going to handle him? Well, the man is dead and only dead military leaders are associated with roguery.

After last week’s National Economic Council (NEC) meeting in Abuja, it was confirmed that of the Abacha loot that has taken more than a decade to scavenge, $26.389m and £19.033m of it was left behind by the Jonathan administration. They could not finish spending, so they left all of that behind. The Abacha years were characterised by incessant strikes by workers. The face-off between university workers and those in the health sector with government peaked under both Ibrahim Babangida and Abacha. It was also the season of brain drain, after the health system had collapsed. The excuse by government was that it had no money to fund education and health; and it was ordinary Nigerians who paid dearly for the sleaze and cluelessness.

After we fought for democracy and got it in 1999, we thought all would now be well with the people. Even when revenues from oil had gone on a steady rise, it did not translate to better life. We heard poverty alleviation and such deceptive slogans from government, which brought Keke NAPEP and Okada to limelight. While serious people built speed trains, we imported Okada from China and India. We used mouth to cultivate cassava and rice, while our food imports remained high.

Government, always looking for ways to avoid responsibility came up with jargons like, ‘government alone cannot pay for education’. They came with fraudulent terms such as, rightsizing, downsizing, outsourcing, as excuses to reduce the workforce. They allocated huge sums to revamp road infrastructure, power, but there was nothing to show for it. They sold whatever remained of NEPA and PHCN to themselves and left poor Nigerians with huge bills for services not rendered.

IN 2015 Nigerians were told to clamour for change and they did. After the elections they got change. How to translate that change to good fortune for the people is my concern here. These last two weeks of December remind me of the same period in 2011. After the people voted for Jonathan in 2011, he laid ambush for them on January 1, 2012. He removed what government claimed was the total fuel subsidy and the price went haywire. Now we are confronted with the same issues of subsidy and government is saying too many things that are not decipherable.

Is the Buhari government going to remove subsidy when it knows that it is the failure of government over the years that created the waste called subsidy? This government needs to be fair with itself and with poor Nigerians. According to reports, the 2016 appropriation proposal has just about N63.29b for subsidy, whereas, what is needed to offset subsidy within the budget year is slightly above a trillion. So, why is government dilly-dallying on the subject? Will the government be fair to Nigerians and put the refineries in good shape first before it hands off subsidy payment?

The All Progressives congress (APC) has boxed itself into a corner. When Jonathan took the bull by the horns in January 2012, elements now in the APC cried blue murder and staged rallies. Now they are not telling the whole truth.

Yet, the political climate has changed. Works, power and housing minister, Babatunde Fashola has told Nigerians to get ready to pay more for electricity. He did not bother to explain his findings when he met with owners of DISCOs. Apparently, they convinced him that the failure of government should be transferred to poor Nigerians. He also wants tollgates to return, so that government can earn more to refurbish roads. Whenever Fashola unveils his housing blueprint, I’m sure he will tell Nigerians that modern housing is not for the poor. In Lagos, while he was governor, his government had no room for social housing.

More taxes are coming. VAT might be increased from five to 10 per cent. Many ‘progressive’ states have reviewed their social programmes. No more payment of WAEC fees for candidates in some states; fees have returned in others.

Some have reported bleak Christmas. I would rather report moderate Christmas. It is a time for us to become real and to think more of conservation. Government does not need to be Father Christmas; it was APC that promised what it never had. This is the time to communicate facts with ordinary Nigerians; that our climate has really changed. Not propaganda.

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