Money, noise and sense

DEBOLET me start by setting a few old men against themselves. And watch from the sidelines how much energy is left in them to deliver straight jabs, hooks and uppercuts to bloody each other’s nose.

Just in case I fail in this exercise at incitement and, for daring to exhume some hatchet buried 66 years ago, the two groups chose instead to tell me how much dowry was paid at my mother’s marriage, as wronged elders are wont to do to an insubordinate child, I will gladly take the punches on the chin. I will even wear the bloodied nose as a badge of honour, consoled by the fact that those to whom the dowry was paid departed a long time ago and did so with all the documentation: Account number, cheque book, ATM card and all!
MMTS: More money than sense

That was the nickname the University College of Ibadan class of 1948 gave the immediate junior class of ‘49. The story, as told to me as part of an audience in the Ibrahim Bako Hall in Bauchi many years ago by the sagely and illustrious Akinlawon Mabogunje, professor of professors, was to illustrate the peculiar story of Nigeria as a nation so endowed with much but without the good sense to put its blessings to appropriate use.

As was the practice in those days, the freshman class always resumed school before the seniors and so it was that new intakes into the one year-old University College arrived campus a week ahead of the pioneer students of 1948.

Of course, excited at being university students and loaded with cash, the new students, what you might call JAMBites today, did what anyone so high on a ‘drug’ called exuberance would do: They simply hit the town, buying up anything that caught their fancy to reflect their new status. One of the places they did not spare was the university bookshop. Books they needed, the ones they did not need, relevant to their courses or not, they simply bought up anything, just to fill their bookshelves and put up an appearance of scholarship.

When the seniors resumed, met an empty bookstore and were told what happened, their reaction in fury was the psychoanalytical diagnosis of such spending without thought as led to that nickname for any member of the class of ’49. More Money Than Sense.

If that was Nigeria’s lot uptill a few years ago, of course, even the most deranged of delusion would not permit anyone fancying this nation as anything more than a basket case today.
With most of the states unable to pay their wage bills let alone contemplate any meaningful development project and with the Federal Government trying its hands on various models of financial engineering in the face of poor revenue intake, the days of money are gone and, hopefully, the days of sense are here.

The conventional wisdom until now has been that months after, Muhammadu Buhari’s vision remains unclear. Even if the rhetoric and some gestures have had the ring of change, there is yet little substantive experience of same by the people.  Maybe, many posited, that much clarity would be evident in the cabinet.
Now, it is idle to analyze whether Buhari has assembled an A Team, a Team of Rivals like Barack Obama or a Team of the Best and the Brightest as John F. Kennedy did. Equally idle is the euphoria over who mans what ministry or how much power one minister has that another doesn’t.

For an economically prostrate nation, with infrastructure as dilapidated as Nigeria has now, national morale at its lowest ebb and disillusionment at its highest, with distrust of public officials occasioned by mindless corruption so palpable, Buhari’s work men and women have too much to prove even if all they had been assigned were streets to sweep or dishes to wash.

Tip O’Neill, a legendary Speaker of the United States of America’s Congress, once said it is easier to run for office than to run the office. Qualifying for the job is not the same thing as doing it. Some ministers are supposedly super, others not so super because of the portfolios they have been given, but the ministers will only be super on account of their delivery.

Even if they know nothing else, these ministers ought to know that they would not deliver without being reform-minded. In everything.

Starting with education and finance for example, the reforms must be radical and immediate. The gospel of prudence has been well preached by the President. A nation should only spend what it can afford and the government should live that creed. To consciously jettison the nickname of the class of ’49. Or to avoid a worse one, in Nigeria’s current circumstance: no money, no sense!

And without an appropriate investment in education at all levels, Nigeria’s future is doomed. From the primary to the tertiary level, it is time to turn it all inside out, upside down and rebuild the nation’s structure of acquiring knowledge and building moral character if we would avoid a looming tragedy. “How does one fight fanaticism?” Elie Wiesel once asked, as though he had Nigeria in mind. “Whatever the answer, education must be its principal component.”

After every era, there is naturally a search for culprits. Especially when an era witnessed such mismanagement as the past administration inflicted on the nation, finger-pointing and excuses are justified. But only up to a point and time. In the quest for power, leaders of the ruling party may have made many promises of prosperity with facts and figures that were largely unexamined by them and hardly interrogated by us. Apparently, the reality confronting the new government is disturbing. But equally disturbing to Nigerians is the prospect of promises unfulfilled.

The point now is that work should begin. And at this juncture, a basic truth voiced by Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson at a birthday party for Christopher Oluwole Rotimi, former governor of the old Western State, with former President Olusegun Obasanjo present, is instructive. Illustrating the continuity of governance and the fact that each era will eventually come to judgment especially in the hands of the succeeding ones, Johnson joked in Creole: When you bend down behind a man dey look at him blokos, remember that somebody bend down dey look your own from behind too!

That explained his class’ equanimity at the overthrow of the Yakubu Gowon Administration by the Murtala Muhammed/Obasanjo gang in 1975. And that should inform the new cabinet’s attitude to work, knowing that looking at the past is okay for the present and the future but the present will soon become a past to be looked at too.

The best statement against a gone-by era is the difference the new era makes for the better. Not the noise about the past, understandable as that may be.

With policies and actions, the hands of the Buhari government must of necessity reach more Nigerians than ever for many reasons, not the least being that too many people, more than ever, are owed a debt of equity, a debt of justice within the commonwealth.
This debt must be paid by getting them to part-take of the profits of industry and getting them engaged in the conversation as well as the work for Nigeria’s future security and prosperity. The nation’s prosperity can only come from every part of Nigeria and from liberating the energies of all Nigerians. So a major assignment for members of Buhari’s cabinet is to work to end a certain spectatorial docility, engendered by disillusionment, in which most Nigerians wallow while the nation goes to the dogs.
The President was reported as saying ministers are nothing more than noise makers while the civil servants do the real work. So, it would seem, he has merely fulfilled all righteousness by appointing them and may not necessarily put the ministers to any meaningful use.

However, this cannot be, especially since the clearest hint of his vision for Nigeria is supposed to be this cabinet. It is, indeed, already evident in the game of creating ‘super ministers’ and others that the statement could not have been informed by such intentions.
Buhari may have constituted a Team of Noise Makers as opposed to a Team of the Best and the Brightest, he may have put square pegs in round holes or whatever, Nigerians are nonetheless looking forward to instant service delivery from the team and will judge him by that.

With little or no money left, the country does not have the privilege of the UCI Class of 1949, buying anything in sight and feeling good about itself. The hope is that Buhari’s team would make some sense of the chaos that is Nigeria today in every sphere and work very hard and very smartly at not earning the only nickname now available: NMNS: No money, no sense.

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  • akdeni

    Thanks Debo for this incisive and well-thought-through article.


    Very well written.