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Open Letter to President Buhari, By Bernard Balogun

By News Express on 17/03/2018

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•Bernard Balogun (BenPino)
•Bernard Balogun (BenPino)

Your Excellency

This is more or less a personal letter.

Ordinarily, I ought to have forwarded this letter direct to your table at the presidential villa. But I have my reservation. It may not get to you or get to you, by which time some of the issues may have become “burnt-out”.

I, therefore, beg of you to tolerate my impertinence for making it open, and please do not consider it a sign of disrespect or disdain to you and your exalted office. Certainly, this is not my intendment. I understand you want to be simply addressed: Mohammadu Buhari, President, Federal Republic of Nigeria. However, sir, I shall be uncomfortable with that. Therefore, on this occasion, allow me to simply address you as Mr President.

By a way of introduction, Mr President, I am one of your compatriots who proudly gave you his vote in 2015, and do not regret doing so until recently. I am under serious threat, not the kind of Boko Haram threat, but threat from friends and family members. This is not a satiric stuff, but hard truth. And they have a valid reason.

They are unhappy with me because in 2015, I encouraged them to cast their votes for you and the APC. I voluntarily did that and no one encouraged or persuaded me to do so. I did so out of my personal conviction that you are a man of Spartan discipline and integrity; a man of high moral standing. I was further encouraged, when I stumbled on the many good things Prof Tam David-West said and wrote about you on his page in the Google platform. Therefore, with you, sir, on the presidential seat to drive the Nigerian economy, Change, a purposeful change, will become manifest in our individual lives, and the country at large. That dream has become a mirage.

Last week, I wrote an article entitled: The Power Play, Misinformation and Deceit in the Polity ahead of 2019. It was carried by most online publications, including Naij.com. Since then, I have received numerous calls from Nigerians across the country. From Sokoto to Abeokuta, from Ibadan to Kano, Awka, Enugu, Calabar, Uyo, to Lokoja, Okene, Kabba, Suleja, Kubwa, etc. The message is same: Tell Mr President, we are hungry, no job, no light (meaning no electricity) and long queue at filling stations. Is this the change we voted for in 2015?

Permit me Mr President, to proudly tell you that in 2011, I voted against you. My vote went to former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) who, in my human judgment at that time, was a better candidate. In 2015, my decision premise changed and my vote and those of my friends and family members went in your favour, but that does not in any way make GEJ, a bad man. He is certainly not. I have tremendous regard and respect for GEJ, anytime, any day. Just that the pendulum had pulled to the other side and that is the dynamism of nature, it constantly and regularly evolve.

Mr President, I am sad, very sad to say these. My family, friends and admirers are angry with me. They angrily accused me of encouraging them to vote for PMB and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015, with the hope that the economic condition in the country will improve, and change – which was the mantra of APC at that time – will manifest in their total well-being on the home-front. I am afraid I may not have the needed temerity to tell them to vote for PMB or APC in 2019, meaning I have lost my pride, respect and colour. I am, therefore, anxious to redeem my image and respect in the eyes of these worthy family members and friends. I beg you, Mr President, to give me your support so that I can talk with them to hear me clearly.

These compatriots have asked me to ask you, Mr President:

What is the position of the 2018 Budget now?

They are hungry, but the discussion at the National Assembly (NASS) does not reflect the seriousness it deserves, and it is riddled with many talks and discordant voices. Nigerians want to know the status of the budget, but the legislators appear to be insensitive to the hunger in the land. No government functions without money.

When is this nagging and recurrent issue of fuel scarcity come to an end?

 Nigerians think your score-card in this respect is dismally low. This is the feelings of Nigerians, which they asked me to bring to your notice. The people at the top do not feel the heat the common people experience at the filling station during fuel scarcity. Yet, this same common people you find in long queues inside the sun or rain during election days. This “top-to-bottom” approach should be reversed. The pain and load is too heavy at the bottom of the rung.

The power situation in Nigerian is so discouraging and hampers development. It also negates the good purpose of your administration. The small businesses, such as barbers and hairdressing shops, welders, pepper-grinders, including young computer repairers, are grumbling in the harsh economic situation for lack of electricity to propel their businesses and the exorbitant cost of buying fuel to fire their generators. Your government seems not to be taking any concrete steps to improve or alleviate the situation. One example will suffice. There is an injunction sub-station by Dantata Housing Estate, along Arab Road by the overhead bridge, around a place called Byhazin, within Kubwa district. If this substation is functional, power situation in Kubwa, Byhazin area and its environs shall have an improved electricity supply. My source told me, confidently, that they need less than N5 million to put that injunction sub-station into effective use. Hon Minister of Works, Housing and Power, I believe you are listening

Our country men and women, both young and old, asked me, Mr President, to tell you that there is hardship and hunger in the land. Are you are aware of this? And there is no work. Able men and women are roaming from one ministry to another; one construction site to another in search of elusive jobs. The Federal Civil Service Commission is overwhelmed with large numbers of applications, yet no opening in the various ministries.

Traders across the country are bitterly complaining of lack of sales. What is your relationship with the governors across the country? Despite the first and second bail-out funds, first and second Paris Club refunds, CBN loans to some states, and such other relief packages, most of the governors have refused to pay their civil servants, and they do so with impunity. There is a lull in commercial activities all over the country. Consequently, the hue and cry is getting louder by the day. Mr President, what are you doing to reduce the gap between the fantastically rich and the growing number of poor Nigerians?

Permit me to suggest that you invite these governors, individually, to your office and express your displeasure to them as their lackadaisical attitude to pay their respective workers may affect your electoral chances in 2019; if, indeed, you will re-contest. And, I am genuinely concerned, a fact the cabals around you would not tell you sir.

Mr President, are you aware in the heat of unpaid salaries, one of the governors “opened his mansion” in his hometown with funfair? I questioned the timing of “opening the mansion”, but one of his aides ignorantly told me: “The young-man had made his money before he became a governor”. That is true. For me, I feel it is inappropriate to “open the mansion” when his workers are on strike for non-payment of workers’ salaries for many months, and the state, just like other states in the federation, are in serious economic lull. My fear – and this is genuine – would this governor be able to maintain this gigantic structure when he leaves office? Your guess is as good as mine. And this is not bad-belle talk, sir. It amply demonstrates the level of insensitivity of these governors to the welfare of their workers. “The state of mind governs one’s responses to work.

Still on the issue of insensitivity of some of the governors!

One of the South-west governors had just acquired “Cessna 172 Private Aircraft with registration VH-BSV for N1.5 billion. Yet, this governor is owing his workers, across board many months’ salary. God dey!

Mr. President, I understand there is an agricultural loan programme, which the Central Bank (CBN) is currently promoting. Do you know the true story? Beneficiaries are sons and daughters of the “so-called big men in the society”. The children of “nobody”, who are the true target of this programme, are being denied the loan, so I am told.

The litany of complaints is endless. Permit me to share this experience with you: an experience that may not be new to you. In 1945, after the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (after Emperor Hirohito had “announced his country’s unconditional surrender (courtesy Google) decided to give free and compulsory education to all, and then focus on agriculture programme – in rebuilding the two cities endeavour – to provide food for its hungry people. Just two programmes to bring the people out of the sad experience. The people erupted in anger and in utter disagreement with the emperor: Why not focus on reconstruction of the damaged bridges and roads, rebuild the damaged houses and reconnect and provide electricity? The emperor addressed the people: Let us provide food for the people to give them strength and energyLet us educate our children, from them shall emerge engineers to reconstruct and rebuild, get doctors, engineers, etc, who in turn will reconstruct the damaged bridges, roads and buildings. The economists will rebuild the economy, etc. Today, we can get to see the answers to that decision.

Permit me, Mr President, to respectfully advise: Please, devote your next one year to the provision of electricity and make petroleum products available. There will be respite in the country; commercial activities will be boosted, robust and enterprising. Availability of fuel across the country, the effect and benefit will be unimaginable. The citizens will consequently think less of government, as they shall become productively engaged in their respective pursuits and activities. That, in a nutshell, is for the government.

The second leg of this conversation is an appeal to the Nigerian populace for an attitudinal change. As I was concluding this narrative, I got a message about Nigerians and their attitude to work, corruption-induced, just like in other parts of some Africa countries.

Recently, I visited Accra and had a talk with an executive of the Swedish Ghana Medical Centre established in 2013. The centre uses state‐of‐the‐art radiation cancer treatment equipment and techniques that are absolutely not available anywhere in Nigeria.

I was curious: Why Ghana? Why not Nigeria? The story goes that the Swedes originally preferred Nigeria: big country, big market and large number of cancer patients. But demand for bribes by Nigerian officials frustrated the initiative to establish the centre. So, Accra gained, Nigeria lost. Nigerians fly in droves (medical tourism) to Accra to get treatment at the Accra Centre. But this is not an isolated case. There are many such cases. Indeed, during the President Obasanjo administration, strong efforts were made to attract foreign investors to the communication and real sectors.

But bribery and corruption frustrated many of the foreign investors and put paid to industries that ought to generate massive revenues, create jobs and world-class services. Promise of a great national future was sacrificed on the altar of bribery by greedy, corrupt men. To this end, see below, excerpts of the opinions by three foreign investors on their experience of frustration with the bribery that destroyed dreams. Read and be sad:

Lamentation from a UK airline group operator

“We put together a very good airline, the first airline in West Africa that was IOSA/IATA, operational safety audit accredited. But, unfortunately, it got tied down to the politics of the country. We led the airlines for 11 years, we fought a daily battle against government agents who wanted to make a fortune from us; politicians who saw the government's 49 per cent as a meal to seek for all kinds of favours. Watchdogs (regulatory bodies) that didn't know what to do and were persistently asking for bribes at any point. Nigerians are generally nice, but the politicians are very insane. That may be ironic because the people make up the politicians, but those politicians are selfish.”

Lamentation from a foreign network provider

“1 assembled a consortium of 22 mostly institutional investors: leading banks with Lagos and Delta states in 2011. The licence was $285 million. We were number. One, with about 57 per cent market share. Then, I was told that our company must pay $9 million in bribes to senior politicians (in state government), who facilitated the raising of the money for the licence. I refused to authorise the illegal payments. Meeting after meeting was held to try to get me to agree, but I would not. The money would not be paid as long as Econet was the operator and I had signing authority.

“The shareholders met and voted Econet Wireless Nigeria out of management. They cancelled our management contract. I had to withdraw all my staff and their families: 200 people in all. We left Nigeria. Most of our people had to be retrenched. The loss of the contract almost drove us to bankruptcy as a group.”

 Lamentation from a foreign integrated rice farmers

“In August of 2011, I was contacted by the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and begged to come to Nigeria. We were offered 30,000 hectares of land under the Upper Benue River Authority, paved road, low interest government loans, streamlined import procedures, and help directly from the president.

“What was supposed to happen in six months is still in the process over three and half years later. It has been a calamity of failed promises. The promised financing from Taraba State and Government of Nigeria was all talk, but no money. The president gave a waiver for all duty on agricultural equipment for all, not just us. But Treasury and Customs quickly hid the waiver and hid it in their ‘secret files.’

“We fought for a year to get the promised exemptions; and only after tape-recording the direct demands for bribes from high officials in the Treasury did we even find out about the ‘Secret File’. The Treasury attempted direct extortion from our manager and he recorded it and gave the copy to the highest law enforcement agency in the land; but the culprits scoffed at us with impunity. But nobody has been prosecuted to date. In every facet of Nigerian society, money does all of the talking; corruption reigns supreme, and nothing moves without dirty money to grease the way. As our equipment arrived at the ports, bribes were demanded. New rules were put into place as we attempted to bring in 120 shipments of supposedly exempt tractors, rice mills, and the like. The agents ignored the president's directive. The Minister of Agriculture tried to intervene many times, but to little or no avail. In the end, we paid massive amounts of duty not budgeted for, but not one bribe! Delays added up so much demurrage that finally it was necessary to quit the fight.

“We have totally experienced Nigeria. I have been extorted, arrested, detained, lied to, and about anything else one can imagine. We have held to our convictions, not paid bribes, obeyed the law, and kept our dignity, with our frustration levels continuing to rise on every occasion. Nonetheless, we have plodded on through years of delays, because we will not compromise our standards. It has cost us dearly in both interest and in valuable time. We have battled to import around 120 loads of equipment. Virtually everything is finally there for the making of a fantastic farm, but it is years late in getting there. Every shipment was a struggle and a shakedown.

“Nigeria is in a crisis. In reality, it is much easier for an investor to leave Nigeria than to come and invest in such a stressful climate. The people of Nigeria need massive support and huge investments. These precious people lack desperately every need of life. What will you do for them when their children are hungry, and there is nobody to turn to?”

As citizens of this great country, let us, individually and collectively, patriotically do our own bit to grow the country. Finally, our personal interest should be subordinate to the larger interest of the country. With that attitude we, as Nigerians, can proudly raise our heads in the comity of Nations.

This is food for thought.

Balogun (BenPino) writes from Wuse Zone 2, Abuja.

Source News Express

Posted 17/03/2018 2:06:54 PM

 

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