July 15, 2024

Hunger For Us, Jet For Them

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Hunger For Us, Jet For Them
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“Good morning, sir, what do you think about the southwest governors’ forum and their recent collaboration efforts? Let’s leave Tinubu for a week or two and discuss other things. Man shall not write about Tinubu alone nah! Variety, they say, is the spice of life.” That came from my cousin a few days ago. It was his response to my last week’s piece, “Between our Govt and New York Times.”

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My cousin, a namesake, and a dyed- in-the -wool Emilokan, gave the ‘directive’. But I am going to disappoint him. Bí iná kò tán lórí, èjè kii tán leekáná (as long as one has lice in one’s head, one’s fingernails must remain bloodstained). One interesting thing about this younger cousin of mine is that he did not wait for Tinubu to celebrate his one year in office before he, like the famed Andrew of the Ibrahim Babangida’s national orientation jingle of the 90s, sold all he had, including his boxers, and japaed to the United Kingdom. Anytime he responds to defend Tinubu and his voodoo economic policies, I always draw strength in the saying of our elders that if farming is such an easy venture, no blacksmith will ever sell hoes (Oko dùn ro ni alágbède nro okó tà).

Nigerians are hungry. Many of them have died of hunger and other poverty-induced diseases. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has an answer to the hunger cum poverty in the land. We are not the only hungry or poor people in the world, he told us. He spoke during the celebration of Sallah last week Monday. “Yes, there is poverty; there is suffering in the land. We are not the only people facing such, but we must face our challenges”, are his exact words. President Tinubu went further to lecture Nigerians on how to cope in a situation like this.

He said hungry Nigerians must change their attitude and value system. Don’t allow me to be interpretative here. Even at the risk of doing that, I think what the President was saying is that when Nigerians are hungry, they should show the countenance of people that have eaten and filled. Or how do you interpret this: “The need (for some citizens) to change the rent-seeking mind-set and become more productive to the economy is a challenge?” He equally talked about smuggling, economic sabotage and stealing of public infrastructure. President Tinubu’s Media Adviser, Ajuri Ngelale, told us that his principal made the comments when the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, led the leadership of the National Assembly on an Eid-el-Kabir homage to the president.

President Tinubu is a lucky man. He has so many fans like my cousin above. Many of them who could not cope with the woes that have been the only thing Tinubu administration hawks, and checked out of Nigeria, but keep telling us that we should be patient. This is exactly what the president said while playing host to Akpabio and his gang of amenable legislators during the last Sallah. Tinubu asked Nigerians to face their challenges. One of the most daunting challenges in the country today is hunger. Our culture teaches that once hunger is eliminated from poverty, the rest is easy (tí ebi bá kúrò nínú ìsé, ìsé bùse).

Nigerians have been hungry from time immemorial. Tinubu did not start the hunger in the land; that is a fact. However, I can’t recall, since I knew “how to lift a lady’s skirt”, any government that has inflicted hunger on the people more than the Tinubu administration! But the president does not know this. Those around him who should have told him the home truth about the pain in the country would not do so for obvious reasons. If Tinubu were to know how much agony his one-year administration has caused Nigerians, he would not have alluded to the fact that Nigerians are not the only ones suffering; and the country is not the only poor country of the world.

Leaders have been insensitive for as long as the creation of humanity. If not, our president would not have compared our sufferings and poverty with the situationelsewhere. Did we elect Tinubu to aggravate suffering and promote poverty? The answer is a strident NO! There has been a lot of controversy over the authorship of the French phrase: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, which means: “Then let them eat brioches.” Many theorists attributed the saying to “a great princess”, later identified to be Marie Antoinette, who in the 18th century, when told that the poor people had no bread to eat, retorted: “Then let them eat brioches (cake).”

The controversies notwithstanding, the French political philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, gave life to the phrase in book six of his Confessions (1765). While the phrase is regarded to be the most insensitive response any leader could offer when the masses suffer, it is noteworthy to recall that the lack of bread, the staple food of the masses, led to what is known in history as the May, 5, 1789, French Revolution, which ultimately terminated in the “coup of 18 Brumaire” on November 1, 1799, and the emergence of the French Consulate. The 10 and half years, and four days revolt, is estimated to have claimed between 30,000 to 40,000 French nationals. When the masses are pushed to the wall by the sadistic propensity of their leaders, they do the unthinkable!

There is nothing wrong in leaders calling on the people to face their challenges. But there is everything wrong when the leader who calls on the people to brace up and confront their economic woes is not ready to let go of any of the luxuries he enjoys. This is exactly what President Tinubu is asking Nigerians to do now. A president who admits that Nigerians are facing hard times, and should brace up, should not be the one looking after his own personal comfort every second, and at the expense of the public purse. Mr. President cannot be talking about a new jet for himself and another one for his deputy, Kasim Shettima, while asking Nigerians to face their challenges. President Tinubu should lead the way. One of the challenges facing his presidency at the moment is the issue of mobility.

We are told (we will never have the opportunity to verify the claim independently), that all the aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF), are bad, and “unserviceable”, anymore. In that PAF are a Boeing 737, a Gulfstream GV, two Falcon 7Xs and a Challenger CL605. On the helicopter side are two Agusta 139s and four Agusta189s. All went bad at the same time. The House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence, which initiated the project of new aeroplanes for Tinubu and Shettima, recommended that for the office of the Vice President, Nigeria should purchase a Boeing 747-200, which is like the United States of America’s Air Force Two Aircraft VC-25A. For a one-hour trip in the aircraft, the operating cost is put at 177,000 US dollars. The US Air Force One costs an average of $4 billion. So, which one is Nigeria buying for its president?

Expectedly, there has been outcry against the purchase of these luxuries for the president and his deputy. Many Nigerians, including yours sincerely, feel, and rightly too, that it is most insensitive, callous and an outright disregard to, and for the hardship of the masses, for the presidency to be thinking of such purchases at a time like this. The emotional blackmail, especially in the pitiable statement by Bayo Onanuga, President Tinubu’s Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, that Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), in the 2023 election, wishes President Tinubu dead by his opposition to the purchase of a new aircraft, would not dissuade us from telling the president that this is not the time to be this profligate! Nobody says Tinubu or Shettima should fly about in half-dead aircraft. We are talking about the timing. Tinubu cannot ask Nigerians to manage one irregular meal while he himself is having a seven-course-gourmet-meal! Leaders should learn to lead by example. It is morally wrong for President Tinubu to ask Nigerians to make sacrifices while he himself is not doing so.

How much has this one-year-old administration spent on the comfort of the president, the vice president and their households? Tinubu knew the shape of the economy before he contested. Nigerians expected him to cut down on the cost of running the government. Has he done that? How many ministers did General Muhammadu Buhari have, and how many ministers do we have today? When the president moves around Nigeria, what is the size of his convoy? How many aides does the president have at the moment?

The recommendations of the House of Representatives Committee on the PAF are more of ego trips. It talked about Nigeria’s “leading role in the West African, African, and global scheme of affairs” as one of the reasons we need new aircraft now. You may wish to ask, as I do here, which leading role? What is our position in the African continent? Yes, nobody wants the president, or any other fella dead. They should just stop at that instead of telling us about non-existent leading roles for a country that is struggling to lead itself. Let us do the right thing first.

Records have it that while Buhari promised to reduce the number of planes in the PAF by selling off some of them but never did, he instead, increased the maintenance cost of the fleet by almost 200 percent by committing between $1.5 million to $4.5 million maintaining each of the planes. Can we just ask the Daura General why the fleet which gulped such a humongous amount of money would suddenly become “unserviceable” in just a year after he left the office? Can we also get to know the market value of the “unserviceable” planes, and then subtract it from the cost of the new ones we intend to buy? And if we must buy new aircraft for the presidency, must they be like the ones in the fleet of America’s presidency? Are we as buoyant as the US?

The Tinubu presidency does not need a Peter Obi to tell it that the push for new aircraft currently shows how disconnected the president is from the people. It is something he should know himself. In the last one year, Tinubu has spent billions of naira renovating the vice president’s residence, buying cars for the office of the First Lady, an office that is not recognised anywhere in our constitution, and wasted more on other frivolities. No matter the urgency and necessity of new aircraft for the PAF, Nigerians are not likely to show any support. It does not matter the flowery way, “basic thing any sane government will do”, an Onanuga may couch it; or the appeal to emotion by asking: “Does Peter Obi want the President dead? Is that his wish? Does he want him to continue moving around in a rickety plane and die like the VP of Malawi and Iran President?”, death will come when it will come.

This is where Onanuga’s ally in this attempt to defend the indefensible, Professor Ishaq Akintola of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), has my sympathy over his jaundiced theory of evil wishes for Tinubu and Shettima on the purchase of new aircraft. I recommend, and very strongly too, that the Islamic scholar should read Akogun Tola Adeniyi’s tripartite: “Visit the Mortuary” (1974), “Death, I salute You” (1975) and “Death, Iku” (June 20, 2024), to know that death needs nobody’s prompting for it to act! The timing for these purchases is wrong, and absolutely, wrong! The Tinubu administration has been asking Nigerians to ‘manage’, even when there is nothing on their tables. But he is lucky. Nigerians are not asking him to manage nothing. President Tinubu has six planes and six helicopters to play with in the PAF. Please, Mr. President, face the challenge and ‘manage’ those ones till our economy improves! We are not asking for too much!

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