By Olakunle Abimbola
Government unusual” was somewhat patented by former Osun Governor, Rauf Aregbesola (now Interior minister), to capture a willy-nilly push for development, of a state, stagnant for far too long.
Somewhat, that phrase captured it all: the high and the low; the whoop of victory and the moo of defeat; the abuse and the praise; the honest truths and hare-brained lies — all spread over an eight-year roller-coaster!
That left everyone winded — government unusual!
Yet pre-COVID-19, that idea came slightly before its time, given the near-paralysis that virus has infected governance, business and the general economy.
Banks, supposedly awash with cash, are pressing the early panic buttons, with retrenchments and rumours of retrenchments.
The government too whimpers. But unlike the Mexican soap, The Rich Also Cry, it can’t wail. Yet, it lugs a crushing emergency burden!
The banking woe captures the general business throes: from trading to manufacturing; from insurance to sundry sectors. Even agriculture: some Enugu farmers were, the other day, lamenting COVID-19 lockdowns were stifling yam planting.
Why, even the media, that with holy scorn mocked the Aregbesola-era “afsa” (half-salary), thundering with white rage, seem set for similar COVID-19 grill and grist!
The media front howls with tales of virtual business model collapse; and ripples with a revenue free fall, less than two months into the Coronavirus blitz. Yet, it’s early days!
And the churches? Some growling holy fathers appear progressively unimpressed!
Though the majority grimly keep faith, pious shrieks, from holy hunger, are tearing through critical quarters: some churches might be no more than sacred marts! So, denied of worshipper market traffic (as it has been these six weeks past), they could well gasp and wilt — Holy Moses!
Still, tax or tithe, the season calls for fresh and radical thinking. Government unusual!
That takes the discourse back to the Osun genesis.
Osun, by 2010, was the classical “civil service state”, a euphemism for structural — and perpetual — under-development. So long as Abuja takings paid the civil servants; and their salaries drove regular low-key commerce, everyone was happy.
But then came Aregbesola and his braves — including current Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, then gubernatorial chief of staff — that wanted much more.
Their new policy activism hungered for a much more diversified investment in infrastructure (physical and social): roads and bridges, rural and urban; and even glittering new schools, with requisite learning tools, on a scale Osun had never seen.
It also thirsted for a much more varied direct people-investment: the school feeding programme (for the government to bond with the future generation, from the majority poor and vulnerable, perhaps?), ramping up health facilities, and willy-nilly job creations, driven by the volunteer ethos, for jobless graduates and allied youths.
But the snag was there wasn’t enough cash to drive these new programmes. Yet, those investments, particularly in ambitious road networks, and other key physical infrastructure to open up the state’s economy, could not wait, if the state were to secure a vibrant future tax base. The resort was the debt market.
But again, the snag: public debts (no thanks to past abuses) are easy tinder for popular hysteria. The cheaper Sukuk (Islamic bond), on the other hand, are easy grist for counter-Christian thunder, merrily amplified by media confederates.
Yet, those were the two areas Aregbesola was compelled to play, thus causing quite a bedlam!
Now, link the Osun 2010 story to the national front in 2015, and you’d be surprised at the rich parallels.
Governor Aregbesola took over a structurally stunted Osun economy. President Muhammadu Buhari inherited a self-clobbered economy — no thanks to free-wheeling rent, flamboyant sleaze and reckless imports of what could be produced at home.
Rice is the classical example. But it’s no more than a sick metaphor for a deluded people, that proudly ceded their food security to foreign hands. Yet, Nigeria boasts hectares of arable but uncultivated land — people unusual!
True, there had been days of plenty, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, when oil revenue virtually shot through the sky.
Yet, all that cream vanished, in six short years under President Goodluck Jonathan, in a galloping reign of preening sleaze, even if it is only fair to say Jonathan was no more than a fall guy undertaker, on whose head the frenetic heist of the previous 16 years miserably collapsed.
So Buhari, faced with a near-empty till, had to resort to hard choices. But that would send the ample beneficiaries, from the structural mirage that was the import-economy, with their media associates in tow, screaming, screeching and wailing!
Enter, the cliche “incompetence”, to dismiss Buhari’s economic policies, simply because it faced down the produce-nothing-import-everything mentality of the post-structural adjustment programme (SAP) years since 1986; and replaced it with a new war cry: “grow what you eat; eat what you grow”!
Like Osun too, Buhari attacked the deficit infrastructure with rare venom: with Babatunde Fashola, his first-term “triple” minister of Works, Power and Housing, and Rotimi Amaechi, Transport minister, throwing themselves into the job like maniacs.
But again, little cash to back the new vision, hence a resort to the debt market — and little wonder: just like Osun, the media hysterics on Sukuk-powered “Islamization”!
Despite the social safety nets, as the national schools feeding programme, N-Power job volunteer scheme, the Market-moni loans to the lowliest of trades, and even direct cash transfer to the poorest and most vulnerable nationwide (the first such pan-Nigeria intervention by any federal government since independence), the growl of “incompetence” and screech of “hunger in the land” hit fresh decibels.
Sure, there is hunger in the land, a recurring grumble, if you scour the newspapers since 1999. Yet, with the COVID-19 devastation, and without Nigerian rice (metaphor for post-2015 record farm output) what would have been Nigeria’s hunger status today?
With closed borders all over, where will those foreign rice come from — and at what stupendous cost?
Back to Osun: without the painful developmental push, of 2010 to 2018, how could that state have faced this virulent COVID-19 challenge?
The pains and gains of government unusual, in a country of people-unusual!
On the ecclesiastical front, though many a mega-assembly screams and screeches, the Buhari era temper only cautions churches to be wary of those hefty tithes and plum offerings. Most could well be thick fat of corruption!
COVID-19 reinforces that caution, given the shameless poverty of the spirit many a cleric has exhibited, because of a temporary halt in church traffic, to save the flock, that ooze the fat, from rampaging COVID-19!
For the gasping media? Replace herd emotion with hard thinking. Serve what the people need, not necessarily what they want. Utility journalism, rather than herd sensationalism, stands a better chance to secure an all-season market bond.
So, President Buhari should stick to his strategic vision of the economy. Government unusual, from the old West under Awolowo, Lagos under Bola Tinubu and Osun under Aregbesola, is seldom popular with anyone.
Yet, the pains of yore secured the gains for the present — and will, the future.