“Wonders”, they say, “shall never end”. If there’s any place where wonders tend to be a recurring decimal, Nigeria creatively qualifies to be the final destination for global wonders. The week ending today, which is the 45th in 2022, came with some wonders fantastic enough to take one’s breath. If anything, the stories would at least help to clear the stress which our body, spirit, and brain have suffered in the past seven days. Of course, there were several wonders but for limited space, only three would be discussed.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State led the series of wonders with the announcement of an increase in the number of his Special Assistants (SAs) on Political Units Affairs from the existing 100,000 to 200,000. Between now and May 29, 2023 when Wike’s tenure will lapse, Rivers will spend a whopping sum of N42.127 billion as allowances for the SAs. When Wike learnt he was been criticized, he defended the development saying his mailbox nearly crashed because people were sending text messages that the number of the aides was even too small. Common sense should have guided Wike to employ educated but jobless youths into the State Civil Service Commission in place of this political recruitment where select individuals would be paid N50,000 or N100,000 for ‘doing nothing’.
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Even the most powerful presidents in the world including American Presidents do not keep this large retinue of aides. With Wike’s record number of aides, even President Joe Biden may need to come to Port Harcourt to learn the rudiments of keeping personal aides. Maybe, Wike is trying to admire a former American President, Bill Clinton. Regrettably, Wike rather took it further to a fault than even Clinton was able to demonstrate. For example, former President Bill Clinton’s official visit to China in June 1998 involved an entourage of 1,400 aides including 200 secret service agents, 150 military personnel, 30 senior delegates, 375 reporters, 4 television crews, 150 support staff, and 70 senior advisers.
Also, in the week, the police in Maiduguri arrested and detained a sheep and her two lambs following a complaint lodged at the Bulabulin Divisional Police headquarters by a fish seller that it ate a pile of fried fish he had displayed for sale. The fish vendor, Yusuf Ibrahim, said he had endured the intrusion of the animal for five years but its recent action caused him huge losses. He explained that the sheep would come around to patiently watch while he fried fish, and then dash to grab some piles as soon as his attention shifted.
The owner of the sheep, Luba Mohammed who is a housewife, admitted that the fish seller had indeed complained to her several times over the years about the sheep’s intrusion; but begged Ibrahim to tamper justice with mercy so that the sheep would be released from detention. She further promised that she will either sell, slaughter or put the sheep on a leash. With the intervention of elders in the neighbourhood, the sheep was released after it was detained overnight.
But where were the police in February 2018 when a staff of JAMB in its Makurdi office, Mrs Philomena Chishe, who could not account for N36m belonging the board said a snake in their office had swallowed the money? Why was the snake not arrested? Also, why was the gorilla accused by a finance officer at the Kano Zoo of eating N6.8m made from gate fees not arrested by the police? And recently too, termites were accused by the Managing Director of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSTIF) during a Senate Public Accounts Committee public hearing of eating up N17billion worth of project vouchers. With the police looking the other way in the case of the snake, gorilla and termites; why then was the sheep taken into custody?
It would be time to invite Malam Mahmud Jega, an ace journalist and Editor-in-Chief of an online media outfit, 21st Century Chronicle to solicit for and claim damages for the sheep. He once pledged in the August 22, 2022 edition of his weekly column, “View from the Gallery”, that he would not sit to “watch human beings malign, ridicule, besmirch and smear the names of other animal species”. Malam Jega who is a trained Zoologist and a former university lecturer in Biological Sciences should remind the police that cells are for cattle rustlers, bandits and terrorists; not a stubborn sheep. The wonder here is that while the police detained the sheep for eating piles of fish without authorization, humans who betrayed public trust, connived and pilfered N80 billion at a go from public treasury are using the instrument of plea bargain to walk freely on the streets. This is as wonderful as one public officer engaging 200,000 personal aides at a time.
As the third leg of the wonders of the week, Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, launched himself into the theatrical stage of wonders that dominated the media in the past one week. The various ‘scenes of the movie’ in which Ngige remained the leading actor treated Nigerians to a hilarious session. After 8 consecutive but difficult months of ASUU strike that was suspended on October 14, 2022, Ngige who is rather taking ASUU’s position on the strike too personal believed that flying a kite with the payment of ‘amputated’ wages to university lecturers was going to earn him the fame similar to that achieved by James Bond with his 1973 movie, “Live and Let Die”; or the popularity of Amitabh Bachahan’s 1975 award-winning Indian film, “Sholay”. Sadly, it didn’t work out for Ngige.
Scene II of the theatre opened with a denial by Ngige of paying half-salaries to university lecturers; using the phrase ‘pro-rata’ to re-define ‘half-salary’. In Act II of this same scene, Ngigi declared that “ASUU members cannot be paid for work not done”. ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, described Ngige’s action as “casualization of intellectuals”. It’s amazing that Nigige as labour minister would want to ruin the intervention efforts of well-intentioned Nigerians including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, which ended the strike. Unfortunately, the string Ngige tied to his kite could not fly it. While we commend ASUU’s maturity for not reacting irrationally with a strike, this column is advising ASUU members teaching semantics to sue Ngige for tinkering with some English expressions. May Allah save Nigeria from cynical creators of wonders, amin.