Despite the very low-key celebration in many states of the federation, Aso Rock, the seat of power, brimmed with lush hysteria. On Christmas Day, last Monday, the bells jingled and the rhythmic fluidity resonated across the country as President Muhammadu seized the opportunity provided by the yearly ritual of a visit by the Minister of the Federal Territory Capital, Mohammed Bello, to regale us with an enthralling testimonial of God’s hands in his miraculous healing from a yet-to-be-disclosed ailment. For the President, it was a Christmas of thanksgiving and double celebrations as he also recently clocked 75, awesomely bouncing to the shame of his known and unknown detractors who had pronounced him dead countless times in the outgoing year. Truth be told, there is a mystique about the Buhari personae which is beyond human understanding. And so, he was right when he said 2017 was a tough year for him and the entire country. This is not just because he spent the better part of the year in London undergoing medical care. It is also because it was a year that almost tore into shred, the thread that held this nation of many nations together as one single entity. It was by some miracle that we are still tagging along in spite of everything.
Hear the President: “It has been a tough year. I am thinking I am 75, I thought I was 74 but I was told I was 75. I have never been so sick. Not even in the 30 months’ civil war that I was stumbling under farms of yam or cassava. But this sickness, I don’t know but I came out better. I used to give orders, now I take orders. The doctors told me to feed my stomach and sleep for longer hours and that is why I am looking much better.”
How I wish we can continue on this positive note devoid of such distractions like the heart wrenching tales of other citizens. However, the sickening reality is that one is yet to see the nexus between the President’s spritely wellbeing and the nation’s failing health economically, politically and physically. To deny this crying truth would be tantamount to living in denial. Hugging a grandiose delusion, which was exemplified in the happiness that permeated Aso Rock on Christmas day as Buhari told his story, without looking at the grander picture of angst and dejection on the streets, is a recipe for failure. It could, in my mind, spell doom for the All Progressives Congress in the coming election if this matter is treated with the same levity with which the ruling party has been waving off every legitimate criticism against its presumed preparedness to govern differently and with positive aplomb.
What exactly is this all about? It is about a Christmas that was celebrated with languid fixation to the lethargy of bad governance and inept leadership. It steers from the state of mind of a sudden shift from a natural, if almost crazy inebriation and trust in the Buhari magic to turn things around for the benefit of all, to this hollow sobriety of a lost opportunity. No matter how we look at it, this government has lost the script. That is why it now wallows in self-pity, running away from its shadows and conveniently blaming everyone but itself for failing to live up to the targets it sets for itself. Pity.
It is laughable that, for the umpteenth time, the Buhari government has chosen to pelt a so-called ‘saboteur’ in the oil sector with stones over the utterly despicable fuel scarcity in the country. As the crisis rages, the government continues to search for excuses to justify its obvious incompetence in handling the matter. Yes, hapless Nigerians had gone through harrowing experiences at the filling stations at festive periods in the past. None, I dare say, could be compared to the gratuitous insults extended to them by this government on Christmas Day. Even the usual fire brigade approach that had saved many other regimes from public opprobrium failed this government this time around. Fathers, mothers, the young and the old did not only spend their Christmas on long queues waiting for the supply of the almighty Premium Motor Spirit, but thousands also slept in their cars. Those who couldn’t take the risk and spending hours on the queues drove home with cars running on near-empty tanks only to return to the grueling battle the next day. What could be more humiliating for citizens of the oil-producing ‘giant of Africa’ than this?
The story was not any better for the ones who managed to travel for the yuletide. With fuel scarcity biting harder and with no respite in place, transport owners feasted on the lean purses of travellers. Transport fares rose astronomically. If Christmas was said to be a season of love, peace and giving, this was an exception. If you must travel, then you must be ready to pay through your nose as fuel scarcity became a perfect alibi to drain your pocket. For example, transport fare to Lagos was just two thousand Naira short of the National Minimum Wage for a one-way trip. Now what does that mean for the impoverished common man already pummeled by the harsh economic conditions? Wherever you looked, it was the same sickening story. People gnash their teeth. Some shook their heads in disbelief. Others expressed it in broken teardrops. Did they make a mistake in believing that things would get better once Buhari revved the governance gear? No one could have imagined that a faceless cabal could hold this government to ransom such that, three days after Christmas, the narrative remains the same as the blame game continues.
And what did the President have to say about it all? Oh, he expressed his regrets, sympathizes with Nigerians who have had to contend with ‘needless’ queues, adding that he has also directed his men to increase surveillance, stop price hikes and hoarding of fuel by faceless marketers. Hollow verbiage. Dry canticles. Buhari sits in Aso Rock and gets briefed regularly by the same set of people who had initially told the populace that everything was being done to ensure that the artificial scarcity created by errant marketers would not spread to the last week before Christmas. It was all a ruse. That week turned out to be the most traumatic, agonizing and dehumanizing week for the common citizen. It was a Christmas that was without any mass appeal.
Unfortunately, as the substantive petroleum minister, the President has no excuse. He has let the people down.Whatever his regrets, he should realize that Nigerians won’t buy his appeal for more sacrifice and understanding at a time when all they need was to feel his humane touch in their lives. That was the opportunity he missed during Christmas. Millions of Nigerians just went the through the grill, swearing to speak with the power in their thumbs when that time comes. Knowing how skewed the President’s feedback mechanism can be and how tempting it could be for one to become disconnected from the wailings in the marketplace as soon as one gets entrapped in the allure of Aso Rock, it is not impossible that Aso Rock may take these early warnings lightly. If that happens, I can only hope the President would not come to rue the day he ignored those who didn’t have the liberty to feed their stomachs but had to endure keeping vigil for far longer hours at the petrol stations, waiting endlessly for Godot and the actualization of baskets of failed promises. By the way, does he know that one’s humanity is not measured by the razzmatazz of the klieg light but the positive whispers it imbues into the noiseless cacophonies of quotidian living especially among the voiceless? Put succinctly, does a tiger need to proclaim its tigritude? I wish him good luck!