Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Comment - Whipping Nigeria Into Apathy

It is often said that things will go much worse before they get any better. Except that in the West African context, once they get worse, they hardly if ever get better.

When Major-General Muhammadu Buhari staged his New Year's Eve coup his first pronouncements sounded as though he knew what he was about. The economy was in a bad state and he and his colleagues were intent upon rectifying the situation.

When the soldiers broke into warehouses to enable the country to go on a three-day buying spree, it was supposed to be part of the corrective measures, when the currency exercise was launched it was supposed to be part of the corrective measures.

Almost eight months after the event, as far as the economy is concerned, not even the most enthusiastic supporters of Gen. Buhari can claim any successes. The high prices that were supposed to have prompted the coup have in many cases been tripled and the suffering under the politicians is beginning to be seen as moments of perfect bliss compared with the intolerable conditions of today. The words of those early heady days of the coup are beginning to sound like a very sick joke being perpetrated on Nigerians.

In typical military fashion, the solution that the Federal Military Government has devised for all the woes that plague the country is their declared War Against Indiscipline. It ought to be getting through to somebody among the soldiers by now that there is a whole world outside a military barracks that does not conform to military rules. There is a world out there in which people do not 'do before they complain' where it is perfectly natural to ask why and to argue points among each other.

It is an admirable trait to be able to form sensible queues and for people to wait their turns either at the bus station or at the supermarket check-out counter, but it seems totally insane that all manpower resources should be drafted into horse-whipping people into orderly queues to get non-existent, or rapidly disappearing goods, rather than into production which will render the making of queues unnecessary.

When goods are freely available on the market, people do not make queues nor jump them for that matter, and when an entire village is forced to abandon their farms and all others work to form a day-long queue to buy 10 ounces of salt, it is unrealistic to imagine that people will be good tempered.

Apart from WAI, it is impossible to discern any other programme, economic or otherwise, that Gen. Buhari and his colleagues have for the country. The retrenchment exercises going on around the country seem to have no aim or purpose, apart from a determination to help settle personal scores.

People are not being told why they are being fired from their jobs apart from a blanket "FMG direction" and aggrieved people have no recourse to the courts or to arbitration and for all anybody knows, when somebody is fired he is either corrupt, inefficient or else his boss does not like the look of his nose.

If the only way that can be found to balance state and federal budgets is to render half the country unemployed, this government may well destroy Nigeria completely before it 'corrects' Nigeria.

And yet this is the same Gen. Buhari who in January this year was sounding so outraged that under the elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, so many Nigerians had become unemployed. Does the fact that in less than eight months, he has more than doubled that number of unemployed, bother him at all?

Obviously it seems more important to Gen. Buhari and his colleagues that all Nigerians behave like soldiers on parade rather than be the dynamic, buoyant and individualistic group of people that they used to be. The problem is that a big country like Nigeria simply cannot afford the indulgence of a number of colonels and young generals in playing at military games.

Some programme or the other to indicate direction will have to be introduced urgently to stem the current drift. Very soon, Gen. Buhari and his colleagues will discover that people will no longer be swayed by their blaming all the nation's ills on the politicians. In much the same way as the trials of the politicians have lost all the attraction and drama almost as soon as they began.

It might seem like a case of military resoluteness for the tribunals to be churning out 21-year and 250-year sentences for the politicians with such regularity, but that is precisely what is detracting from any effectiveness any such sentences might have. For, far from casting them in the role of villains every time another 100-year sentence is passed, human nature is such that sympathy swings to the politicians reinforced by the fact that the trials are being held in secret.

It is surely not a matter to be easily dismissed that the Anglican archbishop and Methodist Moderator came to the military tribunal to plead passionately on behalf of the former Governor of Anambra State Jim Nwobodo after the tribunal had accused and found him guilty of crimes that should normally repel everybody.

It is possibly time for Gen. Buhari and his colleagues to admit that running a country is not exactly like running an army barracks.


IN THE END Nigeria managed one silver and one bronze, Ivory Coast got one silver and Cameroon got one bronze at the Olympic games, that is as far as West African countries fared.

On other parts of the continent, Morocco, Kenya, Algeria and Zambia got on the medal table with memorable performances from the Moroccan girl gold medalist.

These 23rd Olympiad have not exactly been the best for Africa but considering that this was the first appearance in three Olympics, it was good to be back.

It is obvious, however, that unless our teams begin to make more of an impression on these competitions, any boycotts or threats of boycotts by Africa will be treated with extreme boredom. If our appearance is only for numbers and colour, Los Angeles has shown that as far as colour is concerned, it can be produced Hollywood style and be even more attractive than the traditional clothes worn by the contingents from Africa.

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