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Nigeria at 59: Osinbajo’s fresh air

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Please, whoever has not listened to what Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had to say at the 59th Independence Gala in Abuja last week would do well to see the video on Youtube. That is the best Independence Day speech Nigerians need at a time like the one we now live in.

Osinbajo began from the three Bobsled girls, who proudly flew our flag at the last Winter Olympics, in a sport unknown in our part of the world. He touched on our forays into ICT, through our peerless fashion and style, our weddings, our dance steps, our dancing senators and dancing presidents, our ankara, all the way down to even President Buhari’s trend-setting attires. Yes, the PMB Swag!

For me, that speech remains the most inspiring October 1 speech I have ever listened to. It was creative, light-hearted, entertaining, informative, inspiring and, most of all, captured the very essence of our nationhood. It highlighted our struggles, our accomplishments, our dreams, our can-do spirit, our resilience and our diversity – which remains our biggest, but most misapplied, strength. It was vintage Yemi Osinbajo: Deeply researched intelligence, presented in a most agreeable and lively style. That is why we send people to school. That is how we know that the school fee we paid was not wasted. That is how we know that Nigeria, sometimes, bestows professorship (and SANship) on truly deserving individuals. Take a bow, Prof.

For once, in recent times, we weren’t talked down upon. We were celebrated. Genuinely celebrated. Not politicians celebrating themselves, at our expense, with all manner of merit awards and even more questionable national honours. We didn’t need to be told that we are all corrupt, lawless and hungry. That we’re all kidnappers, armed robbers, ritualists, terrorists and fraudsters. And in all honesty, I didn’t need anybody, reminding me about what government claims to be doing to better our lot – which only those of them in government (and their contractors, including social media contractors), seem to be seeing.

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They can claim to have technically defeated insurgency, but those of us on the receiving end know that Boko Haram is still waxing strong. We even suspect that it is this desperation to continue to live the lie, of having defeated Boko Haram, that we now simply attribute the more recent attacks to the rather omnibus ‘gunmen’ and ‘bandits’, which are more agreeable lies, and more politically correct terminologies, to mask the inhuman expedition of the Fulani in West Africa into Nigeria.

They can claim the economy is growing geometrically, that inflation is slowing down, that over five million people have been taken out of poverty, etc. but those of us who do not rely on the National Bureau of Statistics get our raw figures from the market – the cost of a basket of tomatoes, a mudu of rice, a cup of gari, a Derica of beans, olodo of rice and the transport fare we pay to and from work.

When they sit at FEC and sign off billions of naira on road construction, and capture the road as done, we the people actually travel along such roads to confirm that they’re still not done. When they say they’ve done rail from Lagos to Abeokuta, we don’t need to actually board the trains to remind them that it is still a one-way track, without provision for return journey. Nor that the country is so safe now that people now take pleasure rides from Abuja to Kaduna. Nor that it’s the love of adventure that has kept the trains from Abuja to Kaduna permanently oversubscribed. Nor that heads have since stopped vanishing from their necks in Rivers State.

Of course, that is not to say that what President Muhammadu Buhari said, in his national broadcast earlier that day, was not necessary. It was. He owed us that duty. Independence Days, the world over, are usually a time for government to give account of its stewardship. And Buhari did exactly that. However, having heard this broken record over and over again (from Buhari and those before him), I was in dire need of something different. And I’m sure several Nigerians felt likewise.

This probably explains why I wasn’t expecting a great lot from the president’s Independence Day broadcast of October 1. I expected just the same drudgery of speech, telling us the same old story – in a not-too-different way. It was all politics and little economics. And, like Marshal McLuhan’s classical definition of politics, it “offers yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems”.  So, despite all the force and fury, PMB’s speech, like several others’ before his, effectively boxed our poor president into that Sean Hughes’ uncharitable characterisation of the politician: as “a person who has nothing to say, but says it anyway”.

So, while PMB, who actually wears the shoes, and carries the can for the failures of the administration, was made to suffer through the drudgery of a traditional speech, his second-in-command, Osinbajo, could consequently afford the liberty of a more flowery presentation.

And not all the incisive presentations at the PLATFORM, in Lagos, could take the shine off what our brilliant VP told the gala guests in Abuja. For we have heard it all, in one form or another.

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But that notwithstanding, I still have a good laugh when I recall what Prof. Charles Soludo, former CBN Governor and member of the newly constituted presidential economic advisory council, had to say about APC and the hypocrisy of restructuring Nigeria.

“Even some political parties, led by the All Progressives Congress (APC), have either announced details of their position on restructuring or made “true federalism” the centrepiece of their manifestoes for a better Nigeria.  More fundamentally, the APC promised a bolder action plan in its 2015 Manifesto: “As a change Agent, APC intend to cleanse our closet to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state; with a conscious plan for post-oil-economy in Nigeria. To achieve this laudable programme APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units, with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the centre”.

Of course, since the APC grabbed power, the tune has changed.

But Soludo would not let them be. He nudges the issue further, recalling what he describes as low-hanging fruits, as contained in the Gov. El-Rufai’s Committee on Restructuring: State police, scrapping of the local government system from the Constitution, and resource control.

Soludo then asks:  “The APC recommends abrogating the extant legislations and transferring rights over minerals to the federating units or states. With the APC Committee Report and Manifesto, it is fair for Nigerians to ask: So, what’s holding action?”

I can’t laugh. But I understand APC’s dilemma; it is hidden in the words of Hannah Arendt: ‘It is well known that the most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution.’

And, if you think I’m sounding this way because I prefer PDP to APC, I’d like to leave you with the eternal words of Veronica Lake: “Politicians, like Chinese, all look alike”.

Soludo, himself, puts it more succinctly:

“The APC, at least, has a Committee Report, which is public knowledge. Where is the position of PDP, as the main opposition party?