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Wanted: Those who do not ‘hear word’

It would seem, Hon. Sergius Ogun does not ‘hear word.’ He seems to have a mission not to allow a certain segment of Nigerians (read…

It would seem, Hon. Sergius Ogun does not ‘hear word.’ He seems to have a mission not to allow a certain segment of Nigerians (read those in power if you like) to enjoy power in peace. He seems determined to push through legislations that would make their lives uncomfortable, and probably frustrate them as much as other Nigerians are frustrated.

Earlier this month he proposed for the second time a bill that would prohibit public officials from sending their children or wards to schools abroad. I saw a news clip of Mr Ogun (PDP, Ogun) explaining that if public officials, meaning anyone who is a policymaker, public administrator, political appointee or even civil servants, who have anything to do with drafting the budget, is forced to keep their children in schools in Nigeria, they would make sure the system is run properly.

According to him, now that universities are on strike, these people, he said, are not concerned because it doesn’t affect their children or wards.

Of course, our no-nonsense, zero-tolerance honourable members, would hear none of this bill. They crumbled the bill and threw it out of the hallowed chamber as they had done when the same Mr Ogun had presented a similar bill to the 8th Assembly. This same man had also proposed a bill that would bar public officials from running abroad for medical treatment. The idea was the same as the first one. If these policymakers cannot travel to London for medical tourism, they would have to do what they are always meant to do to get the healthcare system in Nigeria working. Again, that bill had been thrown out.

It would seem Mr Ogun is one of those people who will not ‘hear word,’ as a Nigerian mother would say. Under certain circumstances, that could be a good thing. Under these circumstances, it might just be what Nigeria needs.

Imagine a situation—or don’t imagine, just visualise it since it is real—where universities have been on strike for nearly two months now, where fuel scarcity has persisted for months and already long queues of vehicles at filling stations have continued to grow longer in one of the world’s leading oil-producing countries. That is the situation in Nigeria now.

With this total chaos, the country’s minister of petroleum, who also happens to be the president of the country, jets off to London for—you guessed it—two-week health tourism (something he had promised to stop before he became president). In any case, a picture went viral in which the president is flanked by his minister of education, Adamu Adamu, and the governor of Yobe State, who doubles as the caretaker chair of the ruling APC, taken inside a London building. The photo went viral. Here are three Nigerian public figures with fire to put out—remember universities have been closed for two months, and APC members are engaged in mercenary fisticuffs in the dark ahead of the party’s convention this week. Yet there they were far from the country.

The president was gone for weeks, during which time the national power grid collapsed for the second time within the space of a month. He returned to find the queues at filling stations longer than he left them.

What is the cause of the scarcity, or the seeming fact that this problem that has persisted for years looks likely to continue? No one seems sure and the honourable minister of petroleum is not forthcoming with answers. So uncertainty remains. What seems certain is that Nigeria is in a rut and needs radical ideas to get it out of it.

Radical ideas like Hon. Ogun’s drastic bills, which had enjoyed wide public support in the first place, no longer seem so drastic. Neither did Senator Mohammed Bima Enagi’s. The senator from Niger South had in 2020 sponsored a bill to ban the importation of generators. This, he believed, would force the country to devote its energies and resources to fixing the power situation once and for all. I am not a fan of blanket banning, such as used in Nigeria to address problems that need more nuanced and deliberate handling, but it is clear that something earth-shaking needs to happen to have this sorted.

Enagi’s bill was thrown out, of course, because Nigeria is not ready to take the extreme measures needed.

Drastic situations often call for drastic actions and we have seen how this has worked out before.

Hate him or love him, Gov Nasiru El-Rufai has done well for Kaduna State. The infrastructural development in the state has been phenomenal since he took office and began tearing down and rebuilding his state.

It would not have been possible without drastic measures and if he had approached the issues with velvet gloves, I doubt he would have made little impact. Gov El-Rufai too doesn’t ‘hear word’ which is why he gets the job done. He has of course had antecedents as the minister of the FCT and up till today, it is generally agreed that if not for his interventions, Abuja would have been unsightly.

While Senator Enagi and Hon. Ogun may have proposed radical bills to kick start change, it is perhaps worth considering that their voices are merely echoing in NASS. And one wonders if they would have the capacity and pragmatism to execute some of these ideas in smaller spaces of administration.

Take Niger State, where Senator Enagi comes from, for instance. A state with vast resources and one of the biggest landmasses in the country—and a fertile landmass for that matter—has been doddering for years. While Enagi, a first-time senator, has been busy pushing bills, five at the last count, mostly in the area of agriculture that will have direct benefits for his state, it would seem a major reality is being ignored.

Niger State is being overrun by bandits and criminals. Farmers are being killed and communities are being displaced. No matter what legislations Senator Enagi push through, in the end, in the state of that state, it would probably make little impact, especially when there is no security for people to farm.

I don’t know Senator Enagi and haven’t heard of Hon. Ogun before his bill caused so much raucous feeling in the house, but I am at this moment comfortable with feather rufflers and people with the guts to push through radical reforms in the system. I wonder if pushing bills in the hallowed chamber is the best application for politicians like these or maybe being directly at the helm of affairs, even if in a smaller space where they could push through policies and executive decisions that would have a direct impact in real-time in the lives of the people. I am not conversant with the state of Ogun’s wellbeing at the moment, but I know Niger State—like Kogi and Benue, and several other states for that matter—could do with proactive leadership.

In the end, I think there is too much focus on the centre. That has meant that if the centre is dysfunctional, the units—states and local councils—without clear and independent-minded leadership will stutter and stall.

Saving Nigeria may seem like a huge leap at the moment but perhaps we just need those who ‘do not hear word’ to ignite the fire of change in the units and improve the life of the average joe on the streets.

In the final analysis, if Nigeria, all 36 states in it get it wrong in 2023, this country will continue to plummet into the abyss. And as Nietzche would say, if you look too deep into the abyss, the abyss will look into you.

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