There is a great challenge, which has unfolded in our country in the last couple of years. It is the challenge of distraction, keeping our eyes away from the ball, the main issues and the real problems of the day and allowing inconsequential non issues to occupy our minds and attention. By so doing, we focus all our energy on those inconsequential issues and leave out the greater existential challenges facing us.
It is trite that a people achieve results in areas where they devote their greatest energy and effort. Even our attention and energy is not focused on the positive sides of these inconsequential issues; rather we suffer a debilitating fixation with the negatives.
The desired areas of attention for our nation are those defining areas that show the poor quality of our life. They are the challenges of development and democracy. And they include issues, such as education, employment, food, health, housing, industrialisation, access to energy and indeed, the basics that make life worth living.
They also include our inability to build a virile democracy where the votes count, respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, build functional democratic institutions, the executive obeying court orders and our inability to conduct a census that is not manipulated by deranged minds masquerading as politicians and representatives of the people.
What are these distractions? Examples will facilitate the refocusing of the Nigerian mind to issues of greater national importance. We are pre-occupied with ethnicity and religion, state of origin, indigene settler, hierarchy of traditional rulers, intolerance of criticism by the leadership, etc. The right questions are hardly asked these days. It took the current administration almost two years to design its Economic Recovery and Growth Programme and in between, the administration was mouthing uncoordinated platitudes. Even now the programme has been designed and launched; it seems there is the absence of mind to ensure that it works for the remainder of the life of the administration. What has been our focus and what has consumed our time and energy?
Every criticism of the administration is met with the question of the performance of the previous administration, as if to say that the previous administration is still in power. By the first day of May in 2017, the 2017 federal budget has not left the legislative mill, over four months after it was submitted to the National Assembly. The stories about some police personnel purportedly carting away legislative budget documents during a search in Senator Goje’s house adds to the drama. Who is telling the truth – the Senator or the police?
The executive did not deem it fit to submit the budget until December 14, 2016. The 2016 budget did not become law until May 2016 and it is purportedly being implemented after the end of the year as we speak. Pray, who is working on the 2018 budget, especially its underlying medium term expenditure framework and fiscal strategy paper? But these are not issues that command our attention. Who cares and who is bothered?
It is one drama after the other, propaganda ad nauseam and continued deceit within and outside the corridors of power. For the budget, it stands to reason that the executive that had a whole year had no business submitting the budget very late to the legislature; neither should the legislature take more than two dedicated months to pass the budget and forward same for presidential assent.
Have we added any new megawatts of electricity to the grid since the current administration or have we improved the power of the transmission aspect of the grid to wheel electricity across the country? How many systems collapse have we witnessed in the last two years? Have the distribution companies improved their revenue collection or have they agreed to open up their books and revenue information to other participants in the electricity value chain?
Is it not the current Minister of Power, when he was governor of Lagos State, who declared magisterially that it would not take more than six months for any discerning government to fix the challenges in the power sector? How many six months have passed since he took over as the minister in charge of the sector? We have been receiving very poor services in the sector and it hardly takes centre-stage in discussions these days. For most Nigerians, the electricity challenge can only be solved if God sent down His angels.
In the midst of all these, we have several distractions related to confirmation hearings in the legislature. A President appoints a chairman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and a leader of the Department of State Services, appointed by the same President, writes a negative report about the presidential nominee. He gets no reprimand and forwards the opinion a second time to the Senate. And the Senate refuses to confirm the appointee based on this opinion.
The President watches, says nothing and takes no action. Then, the populace descends on each other over unnecessary arguments, engage in name calling and vulgar abuses – distracted from demanding answers from the President about how he is running the government. All manner of media theatricals are undertaken on a daily basis in the name of the anti-corruption war. From orphaned monies discovered in airports, those discovered in luxury apartments and those that will be later discovered in burial grounds and forests, the script is to keep a hungry and angry people perpetually distracted and it has worked and seems to continue to work. But, for how long will this spell hold before the blinkers get off the eyes of the ordinary people?
We need to stop these distractions and refocus our attention on the more important issues. For instance, let the minister in charge of housing unfold an actionable and workable framework to reduce the housing deficit in Nigeria through creating new mortgages that are affordable and sustainable. Let Nigerians get to know how a million new housing units will be constructed and made available to the lower and middle class segments of society. What about how to get the Land Use Act out of its mischief and repackage it as an instrument of social engineering that solves the conflicting claims of different classes of Nigerians in access to land.
Can the Ministry of Budget and Planning unveil the timetable for the early preparation of the 2018 federal budget and get stakeholders to be part of it? In essence, we need to have started preparing the medium term expenditure framework and fiscal strategy paper 2018-2020. Where are the actionable plans that can be implemented in the lifetime of this administration on food, water, energy, roads, renewable energy, human rights, reducing the herdsmen menace? Not general sectoral plans and ideas because time is short and it is running out.
We need to stop these distractions, refocus national energy and attention, ask the right questions, stop ridiculing ourselves before the rest of civilised humanity and tap the God-given resources which we need for development. Time is of essence.