Posted by News Express | 26 January 2017 | 2,543 times
Even when I am not so much into the social media, I have come to like WhatsApp because of the inspirational stories many users pass around on the platform from which I learn several lessons. Unfortunately, in recent weeks, I have also noticed that some Nigerians have been using the platform to spread alarming messages that are full of hate and incitement to violence, even when they still ask you to “pray”, apparently to the God they have created in their own image. But that is an issue for another day.
The story for today is that of a concrete slab in front of an army barracks that for 80 years had four soldiers guarding it at all times. According to the writer, different commanders were at different times posted to the barracks but the tradition remained the same with four soldiers changing shifts to guard the slab. However, a day came when a brilliant new commander was assigned to the barracks. One of the things he did was to ask why soldiers were guarding the slab and he was told, “We’ve always done it this way. It’s our tradition. Our former commanders instructed us to do that.”
Bent on finding out the reason for this practice, the commander went to the Archives to look for answers and in the process, he came across an old document that had the explanation. Almost a century before, the commander of the barracks at the time wanted to build a platform where events could be performed. When the concrete slab was laid, wild animals walked over it at night before the slab could dry thus messing up their work. The soldiers would fix it the next morning but when evening came, the same thing would happen all over again.
To solve the problem, the commander ordered that four soldiers should guard the concrete slab for three weeks to allow it to dry. But as it would happen, a week after giving the instruction, he was transferred to handle another assignment elsewhere. Meanwhile, the new commander brought to replace him at the barracks found the routine of guarding the slab by four soldiers and continued to enforce it without asking any question. And since then, every other commander that came did the same thing. That was how 80 years later, there were still four soldiers guarding the concrete slab!
There are several lessons from the story that will serve our nation, especially at this period. One, leaders who cannot interrogate the past with a view to making positive change will continue to waste scarce human and material resources on inanities. Two, ignorance can make a person, an organisation or a nation work hard with little or nothing substantial to show for the efforts. Three, either for an individual or a nation, without deviations from the norm, as the late American musician, songwriter and filmmaker, Frank Zappa, said most memorably, progress is impossible.
That majority of Nigerians are today in serious distress is to put the situation rather mildly but what worries even more is that there are no indications that the situation will improve anytime soon or that there are serious efforts in that direction. In this day and age, we are still running the economy based on the primitive idea of foreign exchange allocations, apparently being supervised by the Villa. Besides, despite the fact that the current administration came to power on the campaign of “Change”, most Nigerians have not seen any deviation from the norm in the critical areas of our national life. For instance, given how much damage rent seeking practices have done to our country, it is amazing that the policies of this administration are merely reinforcing policy options that led us to the current pass.
In the power sector that has practically collapsed, all we get these days are megawatts of excuses while in several other sectors, Nigerians have become wary of hearing the familiar tales about what President Goodluck Jonathan did or not do. Blaming the past for its inability to proffer solutions for the challenges of the moment no longer works for this administration. In any case, those who preside over our affairs today have not shown to us that the “Change” they tout mean anything beyond “guarding the concrete slab”!
Even in the much touted war against corruption, what you find nowadays are the same hypocrisy, deceit and double standards of the past. Fighting graft in the public arena has become more a weapon to deal with the opposition than an agenda to enthrone transparency and accountability in the system. That explains why a government that would put handcuff on a political party official who collected government funds to which some other people should ordinarily be held accountable, would hide behind subterfuge to defend some powerful “grass cutters” of its own who reportedly feed fat on the misery of the most vulnerable of our citizens in the North-east.
However, if there is any area where this administration has perfected the waste of the past, it is in the budgeting process and I am not even talking about “padding” and all that. If for instance, you critically examine the 2017 budget which is not in any way different from the one we have had over the years, what you find are still the banalities that helped the clamour for “Change”: hundreds of millions of Naira to buy newspapers and kitchen equipment; billions of Naira to buy vehicles and computers aside some scandalous charges for sewage!
There is even a more disturbing development which illustrates the fact that this government is not tasking itself on the path the nation should tread in a season like this when resources are scarce and responsibilities are high. As at 2011, according to Hon Abbas Tajudeen who has done extensive work on the issue, there were a total of 11,886 abandoned projects littered across the country. The total cost of these projects amounts to about N7.78 trillion, going by the figures in the Report of the Presidential Projects Assessment Committee (PPAC) submitted in March 2011.
Ordinarily, you would think that a government that came with all the noise about righting the wrongs of the past would change course. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening. By the end of last year, the number of abandoned projects had increased to about 19,000 with the total cost to the economy estimated at N8.83 trillion!
Considering that most of these projects were started at a period the exchange rate of the Naira to a Dollar was a quarter of what it is today, we can multiply that figure by three or four to understand the gravity of the waste we have in our system today. The sad bit is that while regenerative projects are susceptible to abandonment, those that yield little or no returns have the least tendency for abandonment. But what do we get from the authorities at a time you need fresh thinking to be able to get over the challenges that now seem to overwhelm us?
More of the same!
The foregoing notwithstanding, I do not want to belittle the enormity of the challenges inherited by this administration and the dwindling financial returns from our mismanaged oil and gas sector that limit available options. But then, governments are elected to solve problems and this particular one came into office on the back of a general belief that the previous administration was lacking in the capacity to address those same problems. And having promised so much, this is the time to deliver. Under the prevailing circumstances in Nigeria today, that will not happen without a sort of constructive deviation from what has become the norms.
It is therefore time for President Muhammadu Buhari to stand up and be counted.
The Southern Kaduna Crisis
In several respects, the violence in Southern Kaduna mirrors the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum. One, it is about territorial claims on which each side touts its own history. Two, it is about land which is never really sufficient and the ownership of which is always contentious. Three, it is also about both economic and political survival in a plural society. Four, there is a religion for each side to exploit, especially in drawing external support from those who share with them the same faith. Five, emotions rather than reason drive the positions of those external supporters whose actions only help to fuel the fire. Six, problems are usually compounded when the leadership cannot rise above its own biases and prejudices. Seven, it would take justice as well as a measure of compromise to engender any enduring peace. Meanwhile, there is hardly a Nigerian who is neutral when there is an issue involving ethnicity and religion so it is understandable why this crisis has a national outlook.
Personally, I have a sentimental attachment to Southern Kaduna not only because I have several friends from the area but also because that was where I had my first ‘baptism’ as a reporter. Following the May 1992 violence between the Hausa and Kataf communities in Zangon-Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State during which several people were massacred, the then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida constituted a tribunal headed by Justice Benedict Okadigbo to try the alleged culprits. Just a few weeks after joining African Concord magazine from The Guardian Newspapers, I was sent to Kaduna to cover what turned out to be a rather controversial trial of Major General Zamani Lekwot and 16 others.
Even at that period, there were external influences on both sides not only stoking the fire but also working hard to perpetuate a culture of hate and acrimony that has not helped the people to date. But that the violence, which has over the years claimed about 20,000 lives, according to Governor Nasir el-Rufai persists, is because attempts to hold anybody accountable have always been based on the need to exact vengeance rather than on the imperative to enthrone justice. That way, the real entrepreneurs of violence on both sides are easily left in business.
While he may have started badly in addressing the current crisis, especially given his initial unhelpful rhetoric, I believe el-Rufai has finally risen to the occasion by showing the kind of leadership that is absent from the federal government on the issue. The governor has reached out to critical stakeholders, held crucial meetings with those who can help and has also tempered his words to calm frayed nerves. But there is only so much that he alone can do.
This is therefore the time for other men and women of goodwill to join in the efforts to restore peace to the area and in finding lasting solutions to the challenge of living together. Southern Kaduna deserves peace and that will not happen if those who are far removed from the area and cannot appreciate what the people lose in an atmosphere of acrimony and blood-letting continue to fan the embers of war.
•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay under the heading, ;Still Guarding the Concrete Slab’. Adeniyi can be reached via email@example.com
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