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Two Generals And The Richest Man In The World By Michael Afenfia

Let me just state right off the bat, that there’s something not quite right about the title of the piece you’re reading now, but I decided to keep it anyway because it has a certain ring to it that I like. The intuitive readers in the building may already have guessed what the problem is, but for those very busy people who would prefer I cut straight to the chase, I’d point it out to you, but in a bit.

In the words of someone I can call a dear friend any time any day, the past two weeks in Nigeria “have been somehow.” So many things grabbed our individual and collective attention, but time and space have constrained me to mention only a few I thought were really striking, at least in my view and the lessons learnt, if any.

In no particular order of gravity, the first would be the release of the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls, plus the one boy no one knew was missing. Linked to this story was the subsequent revelation by the Minister of Information that the earlier figure of 110 released to the public by the government, as the number of persons kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists wasn’t accurate.  Lai Mohammed announced 113 as the actual number of young people taken away from their community on February 19. So, for one month our security agencies didn’t know just how many missing people they were looking for. The thing that bothers me here though is that if the terrorists hadn’t brought back the children themselves, we probably would never have known just how many people were taken away that evening. That is sad.

The next would be the revelation about the annual take home of legislators in the upper chambers. This time, the whistleblower was one of their own, Senator Shehu Sani representing Kaduna Central constituency. On this issue, he appears to be a lone voice, because his colleague lawmakers in the red chambers on their part seemed unanimous in defending their juicy N162m yearly paycheck.

If in the past, senators have disagreed on other national issues based on party interest, on this one issue involving money, loads and loads of it if you ask me, they appear to have forged a bond and are speaking with one voice. They don’t see what all the fuss is about. N13.5m monthly isn’t mind-boggling and certainly didn’t warrant all the hue and cry, and the pushback from their constituents.

If the feedback on this issue from transparency and accountability advocacy groups in the country is anything to go by, the average Nigerian in the streets of our major cities and villages want to see a substantial reduction in the senators’ remuneration. This conversation has gone on for too long and perhaps it is time it is made a campaign issue and let’s see which political party in the country will make a solemn promise to Nigerians that if voted into office, the salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly will be reviewed downwards according to the wishes of the voters.

Also making my shortlist is the King Centre Award for the “1st Black History Month National Black Excellence and Exceptional African Leadership Award 2018” conferred on our dear president by representatives of the Centre and relatives of the slain American civil rights advocate and global icon, Martin Luther King Jr. Now, if the tricky name of this award didn’t raise any red flags to anyone in the president’s team, then clearly our country was destined to live with the embarrassment that was to follow almost immediately.

You see, right after the award was handed over to PMB, you could see that the presidency had put in the effort in ensuring that pictures of our dear president being given a peck on the cheek by a kind-looking matronly lady in purple dress went viral and they got their money’s worth in publicity. They found the money shot in that one image that was quickly liked, shared and retweeted by Nigerians.

This was in Abuja on March 27, 2018. But by the next day, in faraway America, the “authentic” twitter handle of The King Centre posted a heartbreaker. They knew nothing about the presentation to President Buhari. Now, I don’t want to be the first one to throw out the four letter word that begins with the letter “s” and ends with an “m,” but like most things we’ve seen with this administration since 2015, this one too had me scratching my head. Is there a lesson here? Clearly there is – the constant quest for undeserved praise and accolade may very well end in disgrace.

Another story Nigerians would remember from a few days ago is the whole Senator Dino Melaye saga that includes the ongoing legal battle for his recall by his constituents in Kogi state, and the rather astonishing report of the vanishing of key witnesses in some criminal case he is fingered in. I’m still unsure of what to make of it all, or even able to wrap my head around the Senator’s legal dilemma because my head must first deconstruct the image of prestige, decorum and dignity it has built of elected lawmakers at that high pedestal and replace it with the almost brash display of bravura and infantile show of designer clothes, big cars and singing skills.

But it’s not my house, it’s not my car and it certainly isn’t my voice. But wouldn’t it be nice to see a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria act like one?  We love the fashion sense and the occasional histrionics, but we love it more when we can point out to leaders with pride for standing with us and not for their starring role in funny videos.

Now, it’s time get back to our two generals and the richest man in the world. I suspect at this point, you can guess who they are already, but just so we are on the same page, I’ll name them. The first would be General Yakubu Gowon who posted on his Facebook page only a few days ago that allegations of corruption levelled against past leaders of the country didn’t stop them from the landmark and legacy projects they recorded in their time in office. He went on to list some of those accomplishments.

Again, let me be very clear, corruption is abhorrent and those found guilty of corruptly enriching themselves from the national till, irrespective of political affiliation should be punished in accordance with the law. What I fear is the script I see playing out. My suspicion is that a foreign-based consultant has advised the repeated use of the phrase “corruption of the past” so that when four years after being sworn into office they are unable to point to any significant achievement, the strategy would then be to remind Nigerians of the corruption of the past. I’m waiting patiently to see how that plays out.

The second was General TY Danjuma, who went on record to condemn the inability of the government in power to provide security for its citizenry and stopped short of calling on the people of this country to take steps to protect themselves and their communities. His outburst split public opinion and the morning talk shows went wild with their analyses and interpretations. Is TY Danjuma still a friend or has he now become a foe and would EFCC go after him as well and have his assets confiscated and his licences revoked? The questions came like a torrent and we still don’t know the answers yet.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon is the richest man in the world and he wasn’t the one who attended the richest man in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote’s daughters’ wedding in Nigeria two weeks ago. That was Bill Gates of Microsoft and more recently of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity he co-chairs with his wife. Together, they have invested more money in healthcare globally than the government of some underdeveloped countries. Though no longer the richest man in the world according to Forbes, he held down that title for so long, it is hard to imagine anyone else in that position. So I am wrong, but it feels right because Bill Gates certainly knows a thing or two about making profitable investments.

That was why when during his visit, he was invited to speak at the expanded National Economic Council meeting, his comments about the state of the nation read like something straight out of a holy book. Mr Gates was of the view that investing in human capital development was just as important, if not more so than all of the focus on infrastructural development our leaders are accustomed to.

Since I cannot fault the wisdom in his timely admonition to Nigerians and our leaders, I have decided to combine it with what I gleaned from the remarks made by the retired generals, one a former Head of State and the other a former Chief of Defence Staff, to make up my closing words in this piece. As we approach another political season, we do not know who will emerge as president, governors and legislators come 2019. What we do know now, however, are the attributes, characteristics and traits to look out for in the people we choose to lead us.

If they chant “change, change, change,” but cannot tell you what exactly they want to change and how they want to change it, run! If they have a penchant for telling lies and making up stories, flee! If they have a problem understanding or articulating basic concepts and economic principles, or remembering the names of world leaders and the countries they are from, think twice! If they are vague about their entitlements in office or are prone to ODW (ostentatious display of wealth, mostly on social media) be very careful. If it is uncertain what academic qualifications and corresponding certificates they possess, that may be indicative of something. If there is a perceived association to ethnicity or vindictiveness, then think very hard how you want to use your PVC.

Finally, if they are unable to recall just how old they are, or the exact day, month and year they came into this world, then they are most likely way older than they claim. They can advise or give guidance from the sideline and their experience can come in handy in dealing with thorny situations, but perhaps what Nigeria needs now is the dynamism and freshness of young leadership.

 

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