Fellow Nigerians, It's Time For Sacrifice

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Fellow Nigerians, It's Time For Sacrifice

 

By

 

Simon Kolawole

 

 

 

culled from THISDAY, October 16, 2005

 

 

The story is told of a white missionary who came to serve in an African leprosarium. He kept preaching "God loves you" to the lepers, but he noticed they were very unenthusiastic about his message. They were very sceptical about the sincerity of his message. Why won't such a man, whose skin was unblemished and whose fingers and toes were in perfect state, find it very convenient to preach God's love to lepers? But after living in the leprosarium for a long time, the missionary noticed, one morning, that his life had changed. While he was making tea, some hot water spilled on his fingers and he did not feel any sensation. That was a sign that he too had caught leprosy.


As he convened a worship session for the lepers later in the evening, he addressed them, this time around more realistically, as "fellow lepers". The lepers got the message immediately and were now in a very good mental and physical state to believe his "God loves you" messages. The missionary too was passing through what they were passing through. He now understood their feelings well, and shared in their faith and doubts. If anybody could preach God's love to them and mean it from the bottom of his heart, the missionary was that person.


Since my childhood, there is one message - preached in different terminologies - that I have been hearing from the government of the day. That message is "sacrifice". I keep on hearing, from different government officials throughout the ages, that we have to make some "sacrifice" for the country to make progress, especially economically. My earliest recollection was of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of state between 1976 and 1979, who preached that we should "tighten our belts", and often demonstrated this by tightening his belt for the camera. It must be noted, however, that at least he left a fairly buoyant economy for the in-coming civilian administration.


The Shehu Shagari government also preached "sacrifice"?. This was after they had mismanaged the economy thoroughly. Chief Obafemi Awolowo had issued a very damning state-of-the-economy statement in which he examined various indices and warned the Shagari government that the Nigerian economy "was going down". He was shouted down, as is very typical of the Nigerian political establishment. The late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, who was then the political adviser to Shagari, described Awo as a "prophet of doom" (he also famously described the Great Zik's complaint about Rigging '83 as "the ranting of an ant"). By October 1983, the economy was spinning out of control. A packet of detergent had gone up to N1.20k, from 50k. A tin of milk, previously sold for 30k, was now selling for N1. Shagari  administration's own terminology for sacrifice was "austerity measures".


When Major-General Muhammadu Buhari took over government, Nigerians soon realised that the preachers of "austerity" had actually looted Nigeria dry. There were reports of raw cash being stashed underground or even in overhead water tanks. The military government changed the colours of our currency to render the looted funds useless. But most disgusting was the fact that the characters who were preaching "austerity" to Nigerians and watching Nigerians suffer unnecessarily were actually busy feathering their own nests. One of Shagari's ministers even said Nigerians were not suffering because they had not "started eating from the dustbin".


The Buhari government tried to sanitise Nigeria, but they were branded too "high handed". The politicians were tried and jailed by military tribunals and their assets were confiscated. The recovered looted funds were used to settle some of the foreign debts accumulated by the agents of "sacrifice". Buhari did not as much as preach "sacrifice". He talked more about War Against Indiscipline (WAI) and fought corruption visibly, even if harshly. When he was overthrown, one of the military officers who went to arrest him confessed to being "shocked" at the modesty of Buhari's personal house. To a large extent, the Buhari government practised what they preached.


General Ibrahim Babangida took over government in 1985 and began to release the jailed politicians. He even returned their seized assets to them. He also preached "sacrifice" for the eight years that he reigned supreme. Sometime in 1986, he launched a national emergency fund. Civil servants were made to contribute a certain amount from their salaries (deducted at source) for a number of months towards this fund. "Sacrifice" was the order of the day. There was a popular line then: "This is the sense in SAP". This was to encourage us to suffer so that our economy could improve. Various eating regimes were invented, notably 0-1-0 and, in not-too-rare cases, 0-0-0. At the end of IBB's tenure, millions of Nigerians were worse off, but members of his government who faithfully preached "sacrifice" were not doing badly in their personal economies. In fact, between August 27, 1985, when IBB took over government, and August 26, 1993, when he "stepped aside"?, a mansion had germinated on the hilltop of Minna. So much for "sacrifice".


General Sani Abacha also preached "sacrifice". But he was more interested in sacrificing us. He enjoyed seeing blood, and Sergeant Rogers & Co. fulfilled his heart desire. At the end of it all, some billions of dollars were found in Abacha's accounts scattered all over Europe. Yet, Abacha ruled at a time when our universities were closed down for months because the lecturers were asking for "too much" salaries. Power generation was abysmally shocking and our refineries were dry and rusty. Our education system scored zero, and Abacha's minister of education, in an open endorsement of illiteracy, said there was a "mad rush" for university degrees by southerners.


Next came General Abdulsalami Abubakar. How many people still remember that this Abdulsalami government preached "sacrifice" while increasing fuel price a few months after coming into power? He actually popularised the word "deregulation", taking it further from IBB's "appropriate pricing". We have seen a lot in this country! Ovation magazine did a photo-intensive story on Abdulsalami's Minna home after he left power in 1999. A key feature was the solar panel in his compound generating electricity. NEPA did not exist in his own world. Sacrifice indeed.


The return to democracy on May 29, 1999 also brought with it a new wave of "sacrifice" messages, from federal to state and local governments. We were told to prepare for "hard times". It is to the credit of this government that it has used many words to describe "sacrifice" more than previous governments. These include "reforms", "deregulation", "liberalisation", "consolidation", "port concessioning" and so on. Nigerians are being rendered jobless and koboless, and they are being implored to be patient with the hard times because the good times would soon roll in.
We must admit that there is nothing wrong with sacrifice. At one stage or the other in everyman's life, he has to make some sacrifice, some crucial adjustment to a biting reality. Adjustments are usually at different levels. I may forgo a meal a day and consider that to be sacrifice for the rest of the family, but sacrifice may be something else to somebody who has to spend his vacation at Obudu instead of Acapulco. Therefore, "sacrifice" is a common phenomenon among human beings. I suspect that even animals make sacrifice too.


To be fair, Nigerians have been very patient with "sacrifice". They have always tagged along, no matter how painful. Many have withdrawn their children from school and sent them to the streets to hawk mangoes and oranges so that the family could feed. They pay more for fuel, pay more for power (or darkness), pay more to bury the dead, pay more for food; in fact, for everything. Many have even decided to take the easiest way out by bowing out of the world through self-help (Gamalin 20 in many cases). Those who decide to stay back are tagging along, and many analysts have concluded that Nigerians are "docile" because they have not violently taken to the streets. But the recent well-organised nationwide protests, which unfortunately claimed the life of Chima Ubani (perhaps Nigeria's most sincere and committed NGO activist), made one or two points. Nigerians may be powerless, but they are not rudderless.


And though Nigerians keep sacrificing, they are still finding this "sacrifice" message difficult to swallow. Why? Could it be that their previous sacrifices have never really yielded much dividends? Could it be that Nigerians cannot see "sacrifice" in the lives of their rulers who are experts in preaching "sacrifice" Are Nigerians discouraged by the fact that the messengers of "sacrifice" are having a good time at our expense (When I say Nigerians, I am not referring to the tiny minority of political jobbers and rent collectors who are having a ball at our expense. I am talking about over 100 million who do not have access to the treasury.)


The sacrifice message is not sinking in very well, no matter how desirable and inevitable sacrifice is. One of the reasons for this, if not the major reason, is that there seems to be two different Nigerians. It's a case of "we and them", or as Robert Nesta Marley once put it, "Them bellyful but we hungry". In "Nigeria, millions of people are homeless; In "Nigeria, there are many mansions built with looted funds, proceeds from over-bloated contracts and kick-backs. In "Nigeria, someone has just lost a child because she could not buy chloroquine tablets worth less than N100; in "Nigeria, the governor is off to Germany to deflate his tummy. In "Nigeria, schools are desolate with no desks and no dusters; in "Nigeria, the secondary school fee per term is N1 million and most of the students are children of civil servants who don't earn N1 million in five years.
Beautiful Nubia, the poet and singer, asked, rhetorically: "Is it fair for one child to be attending a school with exorbitant fees while another child is studying under the trees? If it is fair, then so let it be". It's a case of two Nigerians, with the minority citizens of the one preaching "sacrifice" to the majority citizens of the other. It is always easy and convenient to preach "sacrifice" when you are not at the receiving end. But the messengers of sacrifice are not feeling any pains at all.
If our rulers want us to accept the message of "sacrifice", the time has come to harmonise Nigeria. We have to merge the two Nigerians and "consolidate", in the words of Professor Charles Soludo. "We and them" must work it out. I am not in any way suggesting that they should become like us - that would be asking too much. All I am suggesting is that they should also begin to partake in this "sacrifice". I have listed below a few of the "sacrifices" that they too can make so that Nigeria can "move forward". The list is by no means exhaustive.


All public officers should consider travelling economy class when going on official business abroad. They could also forfeit the non-refundable contingency allowance (in some cases as high as $10,000 per trip). There could be a flat estacode of $100 a day, with meal and accommodation bills settled by the government. I'm sure this will curtail foreign trips and save us a lot in foreign exchange, in the spirit of "sacrifice".
.All public officers should consider enrolling their children in public schools. One of the reasons our public schools have gone bunkers is the I-don't-care attitude of our rulers. How can they care when their own children are schooling abroad? If their children attend public schools here, I bet that those schools will spring back to life in no time. Afterall, a wicked man does not do wickedness to himself.


All public officers should consider receiving medical attention at our general hospitals, except the treatment is not available in Nigeria. Let them be admitted at LUTH or ABUTH. Let mosquitoes bite the hell out of them for one night and they will quickly do something about the torn nets. Let them have to pay mai ruwa to fetch water for them and they will do something about water supply.


Some will argue: "Why should I travel economy class when I used to travel business before I joined government?" But that is the meaning of sacrifice! Sacrifice does not mean you are enjoying the same benefits of yesterday. It means you are forgoing some comfort. I'm almost certain that if my "sacrifice" suggestions are accepted, our rulers will begin to understand the meaning of sacrifice better. I find it very disgusting when someone is appointed a minister or a commissioner and he is throwing a party. What is the meaning of that? I should think that if you are appointed into public office in a country that is so underdeveloped, you would be sober. You should ask questions like: how am I going to handle these problems? How am I going to make my mark? Will my reputation be intact after this assignment?


But what do we see in Nigeria? The appointee's community will send a delegation to the governor or the president to thank him for appointing their son or daughter into a very "lucrative" position. Some will even put up congratulatory and "thank you" adverts in the newspapers! What is the meaning of that? I have gone through newspapers from developed and developing countries and I have never seen a congratulatory advert on someone's appointment. It is peculiar to Nigeria. That is one reason why we are so backward in our thinking, so backward in development. Public office is seen as a meal ticket, an open cheque and a cash cow. That is why we have two Nigerians.


The time has come to "harmonise" Nigeria. We want to see sacrifice in the lives of the "messengers of sacrifice". This will make their message sink in. This will make it very credible and acceptable. Like the missionary, it's time for our rulers to say "fellow Nigerians" and mean it from the bottom of their hearts.

 

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