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Renewed hope: No timetable?

When it became clear that Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu would be sworn in as the president, there were all manner of accolades: hit the ground…

When it became clear that Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu would be sworn in as the president, there were all manner of accolades: hit the ground running, bold steps, renew hope in Nigeria. There are many more but nine months on the expressions are different: give BAT more time, be patient, the situation is like labour pain, the smile will come after the child birth. There are no indications when, how or even whether the birth will take place.

Everyone knows Nigeria’s experience with maternal mortality for which we are second highest in the world after India.

Even among the fawning Tinubuists, the shouting from the rooftops is now muted as the expressions of high hopes, stretched almost to infinity now confront a different reality—hunger and more destitution. The first public declaration of hunger became audible during the Christmas when the President went in long motorcade to a Lagos mosque. The crowd that lined the routes had a terse message: we are hungry. Then the public declaration of hunger in the land was heard in recent demonstrations in Kano, Minna, Lokoja and other locations.

These hunger protests, akin the SAP wars of 1988, became strident when the President was away in France on a “private visit”. It’s really an anomaly for the President—any president– to have a private activity, save when he is in the bathroom, or in the words of his predecessor “in the other room”.

With all the sermon about propriety, the president left the country for about 10 days without transmitting power to the vice as required by the constitution. Here then is one instance of the theory and practice of propriety.

The advertisements about a rosy tomorrow to be brought about by renewed hope agenda have continued; never mind that for the majority of the people, the lived experiences indicate betrayed hope. Prices increase on a daily basis, even for basic commodities. So, telling is how foodstuff like yams, cassava and grains like are rising even before the end harvest season. Still, we are told better days are coming so long as we believe in the renewed hope doctrine.

Every regime has a right to wrap its policies in some catchy packaging; remember the next level of Buhari’s second term? The ministers for Humanitarian Services and that for Aviation are being asked for explanations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The new slogan is unfolding, include Mr President dictum “I feel your pain”; and mobilisation for a happier tomorrow if the people diligently follow the renewed hope agenda. But with food prices hitting the roof and triggering growling stomachs and public protests, – as if the government was unaware before now- something over and beyond the botched palliatives has to happen. Recent resurrection of the SAP wars tells it all.

The unfolding events portend to be more disruptive. There are reports that a truck laden with yams was interrupted and looted in Lagos. This too is a most ominous sign of what could happen to hungry people.  The government must wake up and nip the emerging situation in the bud.

The knee jerk response to the public protests was the announcement that strategic grain silos will be open and grains would hit the market; 102,000 metric tons for the whole country: 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory and 774 local councils.  If and when grains are released, it would likely amount to no more than a drop in the bucket. What would be the sharing formula?

An important challenge to the Renewed Hope agenda is its imprecise timeline. There are regular references to a nebulous future: months, years, exactly when will the good times roll? This challenge of timing was the subject of a book I read in graduate school, titled Timetables: Structuring the passage of hospital treatment and other careers by Julius Roth. The author had just earned the PhD and by some cruel fate came down with tuberculosis.

He used the opportunity to deploy his methodological arsenal in recounting how each patient had a self-made timetable. The timetable came from interviews with patients who were there longer about the duration of time before key procedures like surgery, home visit all of which TB treatment in the era required. If any patient’s experience did not conform with the timetable, she would complain. Questions would be asked why a particular case did not follow the timetable. His conclusion was that all people in anxious situations need a timetable.

Nigerians now are in most anxious moments. Can the Renewed Hope Agenda indicate when food will become more available?  When will inflation abet? And wider context when will all the many multinationals that have japaed recently, return? Visiting foreign countries and throwing open invitation to would be investors may not do the trick.

The situation indicates that the security services are not adequately addressing the challenges of kidnapping, killings by unknown gun men in addition to the bandits and Boko Haram palaver. Each time the military spokesman addresses the press on the performance of troops against bandit and kidnappers, he carefully avoids when the war will be won.  The public display of new equipment does little until the menace is stopped. Here too there is need for a timetable.

There is the related problem of extent to which the security forces can be trusted. In the recent killings in Mangu LGA in Plateau State, residents said some of the military men were in cahoots with the assailants. General Lagbaja, the Chief of Army Staff, went there on a one- day visit and declared there was no basis to the allegations. Really? As the people hold their own views, one is reminded of the TY Danjuma doctrine— the military collude with the assailants they are not impartial.

The period ahead portends to be uncertain indeed. The immediate fissure is about food prices which must be situated in the broader context. When our Naira was floated, which led to the current free fall, the official spokespersons mentioned allowing market forces to determine its value. But there is hardly any country which does that to its currency. This mook is probably why the Central Bank Governor Mr Cardoso relied only on the notes written for him, rather than answer questions ad lib—in the engagement with the Senate the other week.

More problematic, indeed the immediate trigger of higher food prices, is the removal of subsidy on petrol. We all watched helplessly as the so- called bold decision brought untold misery to the same Nigerians who the President said he feels their pain. The initial promises of huge mass transit schemes have not only failed to roll out, even the propaganda talk about it has ceased. So, in the final analysis, how would inflation, including food prices be tamed?

We are all suffering the effects of ill- conceived and poorly digested neoliberal policies with scant regard for the people. We must look beyond the immediate reactions to when the situation will improve? The Renew Hope Agenda cannot continue to skirt around the question a time table.

 

Alubo is Professor of Sociology at the University of Jos

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