On October 21, 1968, a letter was written by a group which went by the name, Egbe Mekunnu Taku, literally, Association of the Adamant Poor, to the then Military Governor of the Western State, Major General Adeyinka Adebayo. The letter explains, and succinctly too, the anger of poor and impoverished people all over the world against governments’ punishing policies. Angered by Adebayo’s jerking up of tax, from a flat rate of three, to six pounds, the association, which comprised mostly farmers, the bulk of whom were taxable workers of the time, literally dared the leopard in its den by lighting fire-lamp to catch a glimpse of its scary face.
As a result of the increment, cost of living suddenly skyrocketed, even amid the civil war that the Yakubu Gowon government was fighting against the then Eastern State. Tax at this time was like the ubiquitous petrol of today which cuts across all and sundry. The Egbe Mekunnu Taku letter goes thus: “It is quite evident that there is absolutely no sale of cocoa which serve (sic) as the main source from where we the farmers get our yearly income and that we are living at the mercy of the Almighty God. We beg to say that we are at present experiencing a good hardship in regard to our individual mode of living at the farm; our old ones as well as the young ones are crying of hunger (sic) day in and day out whilst many of us go about without food at times for days… this current tax assessment is considered to be too much for the individual to meet…”
At first, Adebayo met with leaders of the unions of farmers under the aegis of Egbe Agbekoya, (Farmers Against Oppression) Olorunkoya (God is Against Oppression) and Mekunnu Parapo (Association of the Poor) in Ibadan, Ogbomoso and Abeokuta. The leaders were Mustapha Okikirungbo, Tafa Popoola, Adeniyi Eda, Adeagbo Kobiowu, Rafiu Isola and Mudasiru Adeniran. On November 15, 1968, the governor again met with them at Idi-Ayunre and Olode villages, via Ibadan, flying to the former meeting venue in a helicopter, due to the bad road. He was however shouted down by anti-tax sloganeering. Adebayo nevertheless continued with this tax regime, despite the massive resentment. Believing in the power of the gun and armaments to suppress the farmers rather than a continuation of dialogue, in radio and newspaper announcements, government threatened that, “as from tomorrow, those who have not paid their tax will be blacklisted as human parasites and saboteurs and treated as such” (Daily Sketch, June 30, 1969). Thus, between 1968 and 1969, farmers, led by ringleaders like Adegoke Akekuejo, Tafa Adeoye, Folarin Idowu, Mudasiru Adeniran and Tafa Popoola, shouting, Oke mefa l’ao san! Oke mefa l’ao san! – We will only pay 30 shillings! – marched from village to village in their anti-tax mobilization against the military government, towards Mapo hall. They ransacked offices, with a complete state of anomie foisted on the region. Government’s deployment of violence to quell the peasants’ uprising only worsened the violence, leading to several deaths of policemen and farmers. The rioters set free 464 prisoners at Agodi Prisons on September 16, 1969. This was the anomic state until Chief Obafemi Awolowo met with Tafa Adeoye and other groups at the Akanran village on October 15, 1969 which created an armistice.
But for the dystopia that arose as a result of the Adeyinka Adebayo-led government’s increased tax and the graveyard calm of today, there is hardly any difference between the hardship faced by western state farmers of the late 1960s and the excruciating pains that have been the lots of Nigerians in the last three months under Bola Tinubu. Since May 29, grueling poverty, social discord and spike in rates of crime have been on the increase after the off-the-cuff removal of subsidy by the government. Government’s subsequent responses to the groaning have been more of a staccato than a respite. Nigerians cannot see any coordinated or mapped out outflow from the fuel subsidy removal and unification of Forex. Many marvel that a government whose head had serially mouthed his long-term hunger to be in the driver’s seat of the presidential office could demonstrate such gross unpreparedness and perfunctoriness towards the challenges arising from administering office.
So, last week, the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, articulated same grouse and sang same song ceaselessly sung on the streets of Nigeria since May 29. While addressing journalists in Benin City, Obaseki lacerated the buttocks of the Tinubu government, expressing shock at its inability to effectively plan a workable response to the fuel subsidy removal. The subsidy removal, the governor said, has seriously impoverished Nigerians, as well as inflicting hardship and suffering on them. Worse still, he said, the palliative policy of the government, due to its peremptory attitude to the plights of the people, has morphed into an unmitigated fraud, with the economy under Tinubu taking a turn for the worse. In all, these can be attributed to Tinubu’s effeminate grasp of the economy.
“I am shocked that people who campaigned around the country, saying that they will remove subsidies, had no clear plans on what to do after subsidy removal. They don’t know what to do and how to support those who will be victims of subsidy removal. I am shocked and scared of what we are passing through today, where the government doesn’t seem to have a plan or solution on how to respond to the consequences of the policy measure put in place by their administration. With the way they have mismanaged our national economy, we have to deal with inflation, between 20 and 25 per cent. It means that the people will feel more pain, especially the weak and vulnerable in the society, particularly our pensioners, as whatever they get as their entitlement will do only little for them,” he said.
Almost immediately after Obaseki said this, Nigerians wondered what the Tinubu government’s response would be. Permit me as I digress. When Dele Alake, erstwhile image maker of the president, gave that self-justificatory claim that the president appointed him into the Solid Minerals Resources ministry, rather than the Information ministry, because of “the nature of this sector to our economic growth and vitality of this country which is dear to the heart of Mr. President,” I grimaced. Going further, he claimed that it was “just very apt and proper for him to send me here because he knows and trusts that I have a demonstrable sense of responsibility and courage to drive the agenda.” My take was that Tinubu was smart enough to realize early that he could not afford to recreate another Josef Goebbels in the information ministry, shortly after the monumental disaster of Lai Mohammed. A combative Alake was fit and proper for the hocus-pocus of presidential elections but off-putting for a government that postures as friend of the people.
We, for a minute, forgot that this was not a continuation of the Muhammadu Buhari government and Lai Mohammed was not in the saddle, even as he luxuriated in his paradise of lies. Then, we graphically imagined the usual potpourri of governmental playing-God, hogwash and arrogance, the usual broth dished out as Aso Rock’s replies to perceived enemies, would be pelted on Obaseki. It was however gladsome when we realized that a new Sheriff of the Information Ministry had come into the saddle. He even announced that his term of office was not going to be a roller-coaster of lies. At an official reception by the ministry for him, Mohammed Idris Malagi promised that there would be no room for lies and fake news. “For me, I am actually a reporter reporting for duty and I meant it with every sense of the word. The president has asked me to come and tell you that this is a brand new Ministry of Information and National Orientation….We are going to say it as it is. Mr. President is somebody who is truthful, honest, transparent. He has said that when we come, we should own up where there are mistakes, we should own up where we erred, we should not be shy to say, ‘No this is wrong and we are going to correct it.’”
From where did Malagi get those superfluous superlative adjectives of Mr. President being “truthful, honest, transparent” and all those what-ought-nots? Or perhaps, the Honourable Minister merely wanted to flaunt his English and Literary Studies background by showing off his arsenal of ironies, paradoxes and metonyms? If not, it is a general opinion that those superlatives are misplaced for the subject under reference. As far as Nigerians are concerned, the Honournable Minister should reserve his “truthful, honest, transparent” arsenal of ironies, paradoxes and metonyms about the current managers of our destinies for his next work of fiction.
And then, in his first official reaction on behalf of the federal government, Malagi unmistakably reversed the promises he made to Nigerians. You would imagine that the disputatious ghost of Lai Mohammed had risen in Malagi. Reacting to Obaseki’s national alarm on the whimsical navigation of Nigeria’s economy by Tinubu, Malagi began his intervention from a rather simplistic and ad-hominem plank. Obaseki, he said, had of recent, “shifted focus to the nation’s economic challenges as cannon fodder to divert attention from his poor performance at the state level.” That rhyme sounded kindergarten and a refrain of bad managers of office holders. It is a familiar route always trodden by information managers who forum-shop in hazy attempts to deflect justified arrows shot at their bosses.
Even members of the APC, in their closets, are worried about the policy somersaults and reactive colour of this government. Germane issues critical to people’s lives are left unattended to. For instance, Malagi, in hitting Obaseki, demanded that leaders should align criticism with reality. Here we go, Honourable Minister: What is the reality of Nigeria today? In simple terms, the reality is that Tinubu’s economic policies in the last three months, without debate, have pauperized Nigerian people colossally, more than previous governments’. There does not appear to be any mental rigour birthing those policies as they seem to be unintended governmental reactions. What broader economic picture could a fuel subsidy removal, inflicted at the spur of the moment, have on Nigerians when the president himself confessed that it was a product of a haphazard seizure “by the spirit of courage” without any governmental blueprint? While it is true that virtually everyone – World Bank, IMF and various economic experts – “have consistently advocated for the removal of fuel subsidy because of the fiscal distortions and burden it has placed on the economy,” as Malagi said, none of those bodies reckoned that a leader would be as unconscionable as to remove fuel subsidy without a requisite well-thought-out panacea to ease its resultant excruciating pains.
Malagi then tumbled into cants, sophistries and illogical ad-hominem arguments that made his intervention very watery, self-serving and insincere. In one breath, he accused Obaseki of “benefitting from the fuel subsidy removal, which is evident in the more than doubling of the FAAC allocation” and advising that, “rather than delving into narratives which do not provide the complete picture, the focus should be on how the Edo State Government will be using available resources to drive impactful projects that genuinely uplift the people of Edo State.” In those very disjointed ripostes, Malagi literally “aimed at the man,” and in the process, shifting his focus from the critical issues raised by Obaseki. While doing so, he enveloped himself in a blanket that could not allow him see the larger issues of the parlous state of the economy under Tinubu and the cries of the people. Because he could not see nor perceive the people’s cries, in frustration, Malagi then shot at the man who dared to bring out the log in Tinubu’s eye.
There is no doubt that the overwhelming cries of Nigerian people woke the Tinubu government from its somnambulist first three months in power. When it then woke up, government then rambled to offer N8000 to the “poorest of the poor.” Seeing that this would not work, it again cloned the same discredited Godwin Emefiele borrowing method to shore up the economy. Immediately, the Tinubu government then asked for a loan of $3 billion from JP Morgan, via the NNPC. Yet, the economy is gasping and clutching to straws. Tinubu hasn’t shown that he runs a government that is prepared for the acute challenges of office. Obaseki adequately articulated this effeminacy of control, a view of not only the common man on the streets, but one that is not dissimilar from those of respected economic experts. They all worry at the anti-people thrust of the three-month stay in office of Tinubu, especially the ostensible paucity of thought process that goes into his government’s economic policies.
The N185 billion palliatives is undoubtedly the most outstanding of the government’s policy. Its aim is to mitigate the grueling effect of the economy on Nigerians. Each state was allocated the sum of N5 billion. If you ask me, there is virtually no difference between this palliative and the parlous N8000 it earlier proposed. Only that, this time, the federal government has succeeded in offloading blames from the people to the governors. When Tinubu, last week, told the people to hold their governors responsible for whatever was the outcome of the palliative’s distribution, it was obvious to me that the aim of redesigning the curve of the palliative tokenism had been achieved. It was a masterfully crafted scapegoatism.
Questions have been posed severally on the N5billion allocation. One is that, did it occur to government that the poor in, say Kano, are not the same in number with those in Ebonyi? If this is the case, why give them uniform amounts? Second, if the money is a loan to the states as it has been confirmed to be, why is the federal government assuming patrimony over it? Why make it look as if the Federal Government had done the states some good that needed trumpeting to the world? Again, why make this policy look like an Uncle Grisham Comes To Dinner, as if it was the newest intervention ever? The Buhari government did something similar, in what was referred to as the Paris Club payment to states.
Malagi must know by now that Nigerians believe that Godwin Obaseki has earned his epaulettes for his Nostradamus peer into the future. On April 7, 2021, while hosting the transition committee members at Government House in Benin City, just as he did last week, Obaseki raised a similar alarm. Nigeria was in huge financial trouble, the governor shouted. Reason? Buhari had ordered a subterranean printing of Nigerian money to fund shortfalls in allocations shared to states. “In another year or so, where will we find this money that we go to Abuja to share every month? Last month, we got FAAC for March; the Federal Government printed an additional N50 to N60 billion to top-up for us to share…My worry is that we will wake up one day like Argentina, the naira will be N1,000, N2,000 and will be moving because we don’t have money coming in. You are just borrowing, borrowing and borrowing without any means or idea of how to pay back,” he said.
Hell was immediately let loose. Megaphones like Malagi were amplified to the limit of their decibels. Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, budget and national planning, led the army. “The issue that was raised by the Edo State governor, for me, is very, very sad because it is not a fact. What we distribute at FAAC is revenue that is generated…it is not true to say we printed money to distribute at FAAC, it is not true,” she said. Lai Mohammed joined the inglorious orchestra. Ingenuously called Ways and Means, it was later revealed that the government had printed money to the tune of N22.7 trillion.
Rather than waste precious time and space to demonize Obaseki, Malagi should know that Nigerians adjust themselves to listen when Obaseki raises alarm on the economy. He earned his keep by the certitude of his projections. It is old grandmother tale to use political party affiliation as cudgel of censure. Nigerians are interested in logic and facts of issues.