Monday, December 14, 2020 7:07 am
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
A nation is defined by how its government responds to the challenges of the times, the challenges which the people face. Social challenges. Security challenges. Political challenges. Economic challenges. By the nature of things, there will always be challenges in countries. There will always be issues that need attention. Sometimes urgent attention. Elected leaders are obliged to ensure that the people are safe. The people elect officials to deploy the instruments of state to protect them, not to intimidate them. With the incumbent government that rose on to the seat of power because of the perceived ineptitude of the previous government, honest Nigerians are just dumbfounded: where did we go wrong?
Our nation is in dire straits. Security. Hunger. Poverty. Too many people are distressed. Too many people are angry and hungry. Too many people live in fear. The government has an unwritten obligation to the people. To offer hope. To protect lives. I am not sure the current government has said things to give hope to the people. State officials have concentrated on lie-telling and outright fabrications. I’m not talking about doing things to give hope. Life beefing up security. Or decimating the insurgents in north east Nigeria. Or dealing with the menace of the herdsmen who have become terribly deadly in recent times! I am talking about confronting the scary and life-threatening situation in the land.
Last week hundreds of students were abducted from a school in the President’s hometown. It was as if the attackers waited for the president to arrive in the state before striking to humiliate or mock him. Just before then, a royal father in Ifon southwest was killed by scoundrels who accosted him on the highway. What worries Nigerians is the inadequate response from the president or the presidency. The week before there was a massacre of farmers in Kaduna State. Instead of rising to the occasion with a strategic response the government went on the defensive, offering explanations that do not give hope. A government that cannot guarantee the safety of life and property has no business being in power. It is a travesty of the social contract between the people and the government.
The House of Representatives summoned the courage to do the right thing by inviting the President to come offer explanations to the elected representatives of the people. Initially, the president agreed to honour the invitation. But hawks in government seemed to have persuaded the president to do otherwise. The reasons for the about-face are not clear. It is possible that handlers thought there could be heckling in the House after the President’s speech. To be sure, if the President had honoured the invitation, he would not take questions. His often off-the-mark response to questions are a nightmare to handlers. So, I do not think that the questions that could follow was the problem. Whatever, it was, it is my considered view that the President missed a good opportunity to tell the Nigerian people through elected representatives why the Army has not been able to make a difference in the Boko Haram war.
One of the curious dimensions of the macabre drama was the statement credited to the governor of Borno State in which he tried to remove blame from the doorstep of the president. Mr. Governor, I beg to disagree with you. Too many lives have been lost under your watch and that of the president. In a truly democratic country, there is no way an APC government could think of returning to Government House Abuja in 2023. The government does not say the right things. Does not do the right things. State officials carry on as if the people are fools. They behave like people who live another reality. The level of dissonance between government and objective reality is too wide for comprehension. What exactly is going on? Amid this, some governors are cross-carpeting with an eye on the presidency in 2023. This is tragic.
The ASUU strike which has lingered for eight months is yet unresolved. Two weeks ago there was hope that the government was ready to end the stalemate. After what had passed for a final negotiating meeting on a gentleman’s agreement, ASUU has accused government of lying over what transpired at the meeting. The government has a credibility problem. The public is more likely to believe ASUU than the government. It has been established that all over the world, governments routinely tell lies. Big lies. Small lies. They often tell lies with a straight face, claiming that all things are done in the interest of the State. Yet, the people, especially our undergraduates, are at the receiving end of the disruption. Which government in the civilised world allows a university strike to go on for eight long months? The implications are far reaching. The world outside is watching. Our graduates would be viewed and treated with suspicion when they apply for postgraduate studies eventually. Currently, private universities are having a field day in admissions. Those who lack access or the financial means to go abroad or attend private universities are suffering. The meeting which is expected to hold today between the government and ASUU officials should end the strike. It is a sign of failure on the government.
Reacting to the apparent failure of the Army to deal with the Boko Haram menace, Nigerians have called on the president to change the service chiefs to give bite to the fight. For reasons not immediately clear to the public, the president does not think that a change of the Army High Command would make any difference. But we may need to remind the presidency that we are in a democracy. Sometimes, you take actions just to please the people. This is the only way to show that we have a government that listens to the people.
Finally, no one living in Nigeria or reading stories about Nigeria from abroad sleeps well. Government has created despondency instead of hope. And that is not the way of government. The nation is NOT well. There is no cause for cheer when we survey the landscape. My call therefore is that President Buhari should rise to the occasion and provide hope. He needs to engage a new gear and save the nation from the edge of the bitter precipice. Do something about security. End the insurgency. End the ASUU strike. Give hope to the youths who revolted in the month of October. The abducted children in Katsina state must be returned unharmed. Mr. President, what exactly do you wish to do to give hope to the hopeless?
-Professor Eghagha writes from University of Lagos