There is a saying in China that it does not matter the colour of the cat, as long as it catches the mouse. The cat can be black, white or brown, who cares, as long as the mouse does not get away. The Yoruba also have a saying: it does not matter whether you tie the wrapper round the waist or the waist round the wrapper, as long as the waist is not naked. In other words, as humans, as reasonable people in China or Nigeria, we know that getting the job done is what is important. So, how come China is getting the job done and Nigeria is not? Simple, we spend all our precious time checking out the colour of the cat. We concentrate more on whether it is the wrapper that comes first or the waist. That is how the mouse, indeed millions of mice have gotten away and the waist and everything below it remains naked at the global village square.
How difficult can it be to do what needs to be done in the way it can be effectively done in Nigeria, the Nigerian way? Because that is what China did and still does. Their system of government is theirs. They refused to join ‘the big democracies of the world’, not that democracy is bad in itself. What is bad is using your neighbour’s clock to organize your day. Can we not just do what works for us? Must all cases go all the way to the Supreme Court? Must all offenders go to prison? Must all Ministries have a dozen agencies? Must the process of recalling a lawmaker in Sokoto be the same as the one in Bayelsa? Must we continue to do things the same way even when it is obvious that our way is not working? Is that what they call national nonsense or national senselessness?
Look at the few instances we had done something differently and the effects. Take the case of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in the beginning. You committed an offence in Lagos and you had to go pay the fine in Akure, Ondo State. You were caught speeding and sentenced to two weeks of watching gory, very gory video of mangled bodies being pulled out of wrecked vehicles, images that kept you awake at night, breaking out in cold sweats. Lessons were learnt pronto. FRSC were feared more than arms-carrying policemen on the road.
Then in Anambra, kidnappers’ fine mansions were pulled down on national television, the proceeds of their ill-gotten wealth reduced to rubbles for all to see so that aspiring kidnappers are not in doubt as to what awaits them. And what did the kidnappers do, they left Anambra and relocated to states where they can hire a dozen lawyers with their ill-gotten wealth, sue the Inspector-General of Police, the President and sneer in our national face as the case moves from High Court to Appeal Court and Supreme Court. Like they say in Lagos: who dat one hep?
Moving on; how has budgeting for everything and every sector of the economy helped Nigeria? All these years, we have spread our small resources, pretending we can fix everything every year and we have succeeded in fixing what? Nothing. If you are remotely in doubt, send me a 500-word piece on ‘Our present is better than our past.’
Focus, I still insist, is what is missing in this mix. Consider this example. If a man who has five children decides in his foolishness that with his N50,000 monthly wage he can feed his family, live in Government Reservation Area (GRA) of the state capital and send all his five children to private schools, will we not all call in the psychiatrists to examine his head? Of course, he would deserve to win ‘fool of the year’ award because at the end of the day, his 50k salary will accomplish nothing anybody can see. His children will starve. They will drop out of school. His in-laws will recall his wife or his wife will elope with a less foolish man. The outcome is certain, those children will become vagabonds, kidnappers and area boys. Even he will end up on the streets, sleeping under the bridge at night.
Do you see a parallel between the foolish man of the year and Nigeria? I do. Money that can’t go round being budgeted and allocated for everything and everybody. Now, we have all dropped out from every good rating. We are becoming the vagabonds of the world; call girls in Europe, able bodied men dying in the desert or drowning in the Mediterranean, university professors so depraved they sleep with teenagers in the office, businessmen closing up their shops to become big-time kidnappers (I did not mention anybody’s name o), clerics setting up evil shrines where human blood is swigged like cognac.
Because we have leaders who are not focused. Because we have followers who sell their future today for N1,000 to vote for men and women who are essentially slave traders.
The National Assembly increased the budget from last year’s N7.28 trillion to N7.44 trillion for 2017. Education got N56.7billion; Public Complaints Commission got N4billion; Niger Delta Development N34.2billion; National Human Rights Commission also got N1.2billion; Water Resources N85billion; Health N55.6billion: Transportation N241billion; Power, Works and Housing N553.7 billion; Defence N139billion.
Of course, this breakdown does not capture everything especially the crucial fact that we will be borrowing to finance the budget. About N2 trillion of that N7 trillion we will have to borrow, not interest- free too! But that is not really my headache today. My concern and question is this: Why do we budget for everything every year and get nothing done, year in year out? Or did I miss what we did with the N7.28 trillion budgeted for 2016? Guys, apart from the salaries of federal civil servants that got paid, please remind me of the earth-shaking thing, ok just something memorable, that we bought with our N7 trillion last year. And I promise to publish them. Just kindly show me what I can see and touch.
I am not an economist, just a woman who knows how to make a pot of soup for N1000 and that same pot of soup with N10,000 if I find more funds. Most women are like that. So, why is an entire country being run by people who went to many schools, including Harvard ,who think allocating funds for everything every time will solve our problems? Excuse me, if we devote all the N7.44 trillion to Power, Works and Housing alone, we still won’t have good roads, affordable housing or even 12-hour-daily power supply nationwide. Yeah. What magic is the Education Minister going to perform to make any kind of impact with N56.7 billion apart from paying salaries? What kind of defence gadgets can a nation warring against Boko Haram and sophisticated kidnappers going to buy with N139 billion? And N241 billion for transportation, is that for Lagos-Abuja rail and train or a world-standard half airport? See, the car park of the Beijing Airport is more beautiful than the best airport in Nigeria. The train station in Tianjin is more comfortable than all our airports. There were no seats at our airports last year and there are still none as we speak. The escalators still don’t work. We just stretch the budget thin and nothing tangible is done.
And it is not rocket science to just take a decision to one thing right, one solid thing per year!
All we need is focused leaders who pass on the baton of development, each continuing from where the last man stopped.
Imagine what Nigeria will look like if we devote this year’s budget to Health, Rail Transport and Education, and 2018 to Power and Defence. There will be uproar but male circumcision comes with pain. It is ‘after later’ that the man begins to terrorise the girls with his ‘dangling modifier’. Then picture yourself being able to use your son’s newly renovated Federal Government College photo as your Whatsapp DP. Imagine being able to travel to Abuja in style on a train from Lagos in three hours. Imagine our universities once again with cafeteria services and world-class libraries and the hospitals equipped with state-of the-art- gadgets. And then in 2019, we model one of the airports after Emirates in Dubai. Just imagine where we will be in 24 years, after six consecutive elections and 24 consistent focus on different sectors annually, not haphazard attempts at development. Just imagine it.
For now we are like the foolish man who borrows money to buy champagne, drinks it on empty stomach and goes home to sleep in a shack that has leaking roof and no electricity. Indisputable foolishness.
Credit: Funke Egbemode, Sunday Sun
If you missed Part 1 of this essay, read it here: Beautiful China, whither Nigeria?(1), By Funke Egbemode