THE shortest course to the unraveling of a government is for it to turn its back on the people who have kept faith with it, especially, through hard times. Without feigning, and in less than one year, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its government are showing true colours in their anti-people and exploitative antics. Such antics are found in the arrogant nature of operatives of this government; their impatience for dissent and the brazen attempt to re-calibrate their own campaign promises. Before our very eyes and unabashedly, they now say that Nigerians misunderstood the campaign pact and social chatter that was forged less than one year ago. And they now want to breath down heavily on persons who raise issues, even those who once brilliantly articulated and announced their arrival.
The APC announced its arrival on the wings of citizens’ fury against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which after a while in office had turned its back on the people and got promptly rewarded with a sack. The party in government, APC, is also gradually turning its back on the people.
Last Monday’s protest by the labour and a coalition of civil society groups against the hurried and extreme hike in electricity tariff is a clear warning for this government not to be tempted to take the people for granted. This is a democracy and no matter the good argument in favour of a hike in this instance, or any other matter that concerns citizens, the end users of electricity own the privilege to be heard. But when a government minister is of the opinion that the people do not matter, it will not take long for that administration to unveil itself as a dictatorship in borrowed civilian clothing.
The Power (electricity) situation in the country is a highly sensitive one and neither the government nor the people should shy from debate, and no side should be denied opportunity for robust engagement. For many decades, people in government had failed to pay attention to the sector. There was no serious investment to bring it up to date with current demand; and suddenly, this government has decided that the people should be made to pay more, so that owners of privatized power companies will have money to invest, without the people sharing in the profit. In this argument, citizens are not saying they will not pay; they are saying they cannot pay the much that government is asking on behalf of DISCOs and GENCOs. They are saying that in arriving at what to pay, they should be consulted as consumers, not as some conquered citizens who do not deserve to be heard.
While the protest was ongoing, the minister in charge of Power, Babatunde Fashola was busy inspecting projects and holding meetings with ‘stakeholders’ that do not include mainstream labour and the civil society. And he boldly told Nigerians that there was nothing they could do about the increase in tariff. I do not see what is more militaristic and authoritarian than that. He did not see the need to be in the field where Nigerians were agitating, to put in soothing words and return the matter to a roundtable. This same Fashola was part of the anti-subsidy protests of January 2012, when the opposition then sought to make gains from what they saw as opportunity to entangle the PDP.
This government should learn from recent history and not be arrogant. They need to stay with the people and keep faith with the pledges they made, because in today’s Nigeria, nobody, party or government can hold the people hostage for long. If you used dissembling tactics to find your way into government, it will not take long for the people to know what you stand for; and they will bring you down. If you claim to be progressive and got contracted on that basis to hold public trust, you should remain faithful to the terms.
Or have we forgotten, that until the PDP government began to flounder and detach itself from the people, it was ordinary Nigerians who walked the streets on behalf of Goodluck Jonathan, to demand that he be made to head government when some thought otherwise? The same people, who matched the streets (Save Nigeria Group) on behalf of Jonathan, in 2010, took to the streets in January 2012, to protest the provocative removal of fuel subsidy. The people who voted overwhelmingly for Jonathan in 2011 also turned against him in 2015, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
When a government does not want to hear other views apart from those of its commissioned praise-singers, it is plotting a quick exit for itself. Recently, the Presidency labeled views of a civil society organisation, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), as ‘false propaganda’. CDD had released its fourth Buharimeter Report, an assessment of progress of the administration, in which it challenged government to fulfill its promises to the people. CDD said of the over 200 promises of the APC, only one has been fulfilled in seven months. I have read the CDD report and it is a fair presentation of the journey so far, especially, in the Northeast. The government is well acknowledged in its fight against the Boko Haram insurgency and corruption, but in other areas where it has not recorded any movement, CDD was fair to say so. But government’s response is that CDD is propagandist.
I happen to know CDD, having closely observed its trajectory since 1999. CDD is the foremost civil society group that refocused the debate outside government from what was a frosty engagement with the military to that of robust and participatory debate of a civil era. CDD connects democracy with development, and since 1999 it has closely monitored governments to ensure that the people are not shortchanged. CDD has helped in no small measure to expand the debate culture and citizens’ participation in the democratic process, through trainings, lectures and other engagements. For instance, CDD facilitated collation of a people’s version of an ideal constitution, using best practices from a few African countries and elsewhere. Were CDD to be a political party since it was birthed, the APC will probably not have the chance it had in 2015. The point is that persons in the Presidency should profile organisations correctly before they rush to attack. In the countdown to the 2015 elections, CDD, like the majority of civil society organisations was more sympathetic toward the APC, because it was seen as the underdog. Shouldn’t there be room now for dissent?
It is not surprising therefore, that the APC is taking on itself, and lampooning persons in its fold who could well have been members of its intellectual wing, until recently. The information and culture minister, Lai Mohammed, stoked what has become an interesting debate on the rule of law, when he brashly pooh-poohed commentators who dared to query President Buhari’s rough handling of his anti-corruption campaign. According to the minister, such commentators were paid to demand that the rule of law be complied with.
Not wanting to be silenced, the advocates of rule of law have continued to insist, while those who prefer the firing squad approach have mounted their own rebuttals. Interesting times!
And I insist that this government should not take the people for granted. President Buhari’s embarrassing faux pas, especially while outside these beleaguered shores should worry his media handlers, instead of joining issues with the angry population in the social media. Our President is not a specialist in extemporaneous effusions and I do not see it as weakness. But he should be told to talk less and do more, so that he does not saddle his media managers with too much of laundering to do. Most times, it seems what the President intends to say are not what listeners decode.
And his ministers should stop twisting the APC manifesto and its progressive and socialist ideology. APC was sold to us as a pro-poor party with the good intention to salvage a brutalised economy and a hapless people. They did not tell us APC was coming to afflict us with snakes and scorpions, whereas PDP only dealt with us using whips. We are still waiting to see the Naira be at par with the Dollar. We are waiting for school children to be fed lunch. We are waiting for the aged to get paid social security. If by any chance, the economy becomes too tough for these lofty promises to be realised, government should be humble enough to admit that it exaggerated and blundered.
The shortest route to the downfall of a party is it becoming arrogant and pompous at the same time. Very irritating!