• Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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All form, no substance

All forms, no substance

There are many things that can influence or alter a person’s perspective. Alcohol is one and power is another. Both can be remarkably intoxicating.

I remember a time in what I would call my young and carefree days. We’re talking about thirty years ago now. Myself, my younger brother Segs and our good friend Max were making our way back to our flat in London in the wee hours of the morning. Need I add this was after a very heavy night out on the town?

Need I also add that we had to walk home, having spent all our money partying all night? Well, staggering may be the more appropriate term actually. To get to our place we were better off cutting across the very large Battersea Park rather than walking around it.

The challenge however was how to do this at 4am when the gates would almost certainly be locked. But you know, when you’re that inebriated, everything seems possible. Segs and Max, both by nature, far more daring than myself wasted no time in attempting to scale the extremely high fence. In awe I watched their gallant, even if not so elegant effort, wondering if dangling near the top of this iron fence was soon to be my fate too.

I didn’t know when this fearful thought pushed me forward as I reached for the handle of the gate, turned it and simply walked through. Max and Segs froze seemingly mid air. They couldn’t believe it. As if on cue, we all burst out laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Why didn’t they think of that? They hadn’t even tried.

We seem to be so good at causing ourselves almost incessant suffering in Nigeria. As much as I agree that our local producers and manufacturers need encouragement and some kind of leg up, we often end up shooting ourselves in the foot by putting the cart before the horse.

Government bans importation of poultry products, rice and sundry other staple food items before improving power supply, building an adequate road network, improving the existing ones and putting in place many other infrastructural facilities needed to aid production and ease the doing of business.

We impose huge tariffs on the importation of cars (in many areas you can purchase two decent houses for the price of one new vehicle now!) but have done next to nothing to ease the burden of car assembly plants and manufacturers, putting the price of the vehicles beyond the reach of most Nigerians.

To make matters worse, the same government that proudly claims it’s doing this to protect and support local manufacturers is still patronising the best of Mercedes Benz, Range Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs and the like, further putting unnecessary pressure on our scarce foreign exchange.

I’ve often wondered why we seem to have such a penchant for piling suffering on ourselves. For one, I think it’s because we have a tendency to favour form over substance. So, we portray ourselves to be doing something meaningful when it’s really not.

Or how else do you explain why a Central Bank that’s trying to encourage a cashless society will increase charges on cashless transactions like POS payments? Something it’s apparently trying to encourage. I’m sorry, I’ve never claimed to be an economist so there may well be something I’m missing here, but from where I’m standing it doesn’t seem to make any sense.

We have this destructive tendency to prefer appearance to actual content. One of the problems I see though is our notoriously short memories. Once someone finds himself in a position or office where all his needs are met, he instantly forgets where he’s coming from.

So he also forgets that he left the majority of the people there. Now that he is being driven in a state-provided SUV, no longer has to concern himself with how his power supply needs are paid for, is no longer subjected to enduring unending traffic because a path is always cleared for him no matter how bad the traffic, and his sumptuous meals are state funded and so on and so forth; not to talk of what he’s making on the side, the struggles of the past swiftly become a distant memory.

One should therefore not be surprised when he supports the draconian policies of his colleagues as it’s all “for the good of the nation.” He’s the first to remind us that you can’t make an omelette without first cracking an egg, therefore we must be willing to make sacrifices to get to our promised land. Not that he’s willing to make any sacrifices himself, mind you.

The Senate president a while back reminded us that indeed some fingers are more equal than others (as if we needed reminding) therefore we can’t all be expected to play by the same rules.

Read also: “Termites ate N17bn voucher in our office”, NSITF tells Senate

I would have been so impressed if he had toed the line taken by leaders in some other African countries who in an effort to demonstrate their understanding that they merely hold power in trust for the people, thought nothing of forgoing juicy perks. These leaders saw wisdom in acknowledging the plight of their people and willingly made the necessary sacrifices to align with them and to rescue their country from economic ruin.

Senegal, which decided in 2012 to resort to a unicameral legislature from a bicameral one in order to save costs, readily comes to mind. But what did our wonderful “representatives” do instead? They remained true to the type of Nigerian leaders. Our Senate president insisted that they deserve imported SUVs which run into tens of millions of naira per unit.

Why? Because government ministers already enjoy that perk and elected Senators are senior in rank to appointed ministers. As usual, it’s clear that no thought was given to the ordinary man they claim to represent. Or as members of their constituency who voted them in to represent us, did we at any time express concern that if they weren’t conveyed from point A to point B in N40 million or N50 million vehicles, they wouldn’t be able to serve us satisfactorily?

I’ve been trying hard to think of reasons why the quality of their work and service would diminish if they were to use Nigerian-produced Peugeots or Innoson vehicles. Their insistence on SUVs is perhaps understandable as anything short may not be able to navigate the terrible roads that former government employees like themselves, failed to repair.

Both of these brands produce SUVs too so why haven’t our Assemblymen’s patriotic zeal pushed them to stimulate the economy by patronising local producers? If you ask me, all forms, no substance. I end with this quote by George Bernard Shaw, which I find to be quite apt:

“The captain is in his bunk, drinking bottled ditch water, and the crew is gambling in the forecastle. She will strike and sink and split. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favour of England because you were born it.”

I make bold to say this; no matter how fervent our prayers are, nothing will change until we change our ways.

Changing the nation…one mind at a time