Citizens Report

Pendulum: We Must Begin To Think Big

Dele Momodu and Minister of State Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, in London during Buhari’s Presidential campaign

By DELE MOMODU

Fellow Nigerians, let me start this epistle by congratulating the Ministry of Transport especially the Aviation Department of that Ministry for completing the overhaul of the runway of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja ahead of schedule, even if it was only by one day. It is indeed remarkable that the work was accomplished on time as promised. It demonstrates that given the requisite resolve and determination Nigerians can do things right. In the past, the job would have become moribund like the endless renovations embarked upon at many of our airports in the days of razzmatazz by PDP. Kudos to the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika (who unusually and selflessly put his job on the line) and the Minister of Transport, Rt. Honourable Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and all those civil servants, contractors, airlines and other support staff that ensured the success of the repair work and its completion before the due date. I must also commend Senator Sirika and Rt. Hon Amaechi for the synergy that they harnessed and displayed to ensure the smooth operations and logistics involved in the relocation of operations to the Kaduna Airport in Kaduna State from the Abuja Airport in the Federal Capital Territory. We must not fail to mention the contribution of the Kaduna State Government under the leadership of the cerebral and indefatigable workaholic, Governor Nasir El-Rufai who made sure that everything necessary to make the relocation smooth and effective was put in place by his government.

I pray that moving forward, our airports would begin to perform way above average. What we have right now is abysmally below acceptable standards in the world and, is especially, too scandalous for the greatest country in Africa. Without mincing words, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos is one of the most deplorable airports in Africa in terms of ambience, functionality and efficiency. I’m very passionately distraught about that airport because of its flagship status and the fact that for many of us, it is the international gateway to exit from and entry into our homes. Nothing reflects the terrible lack of governance in any country than the squalid state of its airport because it is the very first point of contact for the foreign visitor. It immediately tells the story of what to expect from the government and people of the country and that is a shame because Nigerians are ordinarily a decent hard working people. I often wonder if there is a jinx at the MMIA that makes it impossible for it to operate optimally as conceived by the original founding fathers decades ago.

There is nothing more to write about MMIA that I have not written in the past. I have even done much more by personally taking pictures and sending these to appropriate authorities. I have exposed the dangerous structures of the airport right from the abandoned underground carpark in the basement that has not only become muddy and odoriferous but worse still decayed and decrepit. When I read recently that the airport was rocking and vibrating all over like a seismic mishap waiting to happen, I did not buy into the defence of my dear brother, Senator Hadi Sirika, that the vibration came from a nebulous door in the basement of the airport. It is my belief that the edifice is being affected by the decay and rot that is lying at the very foundation of the building in the basement. If indeed the vibrations of a door in the basement could cause the entire gargantuan structure to rock like it did, then, there is a major problem with the structure which must be investigated urgently and thoroughly. The Minister should not just listen to the civil servants who would normally and abnormally say anything to keep and protect their jobs. In the name of Almighty God, the time has come to have a comprehensive check of the superstructure of that all-important airport. God forbid bad thing, any calamitous disaster in that airport will be too hot to handle in a country without adequate emergency unit to respond to desperate situations.

I also read that our dear Minister said the solution to the intractable and inscrutable situations at the airport is to concession and sell probably to the best bidder. While I believe that is a credible option, I still think that should not stop us from having a beautifully habitable airport in the meantime. However, I do not think that a concession and sale is the only option. If the government deploys the rich human and other resources at its command to improve the efficiency and attractiveness of the airport through constant maintenance, use of innovative solutions and above all the instrumentality of diligent and committed workers, the airport would become one of the best in the world. Concession, privatisation or even outright sale seems to suggest a government accepting that it has failed without even trying at all. It is a facile and lazy way to get results when all that is needed is good administration.

The government only needs to urgently reduce the suffocating bureaucracy in our Ministries where everything moves at the pace of millipedes and all contracts are prone to incredible corruption. The aviation sector is very special in that huge sums of revenue comes in daily in cash. There are allocations that do not have to go through Federal budgets but most of this would have made all the difference if the operatives apply them judiciously. It is difficult to understand why a sector that rakes in stupendous sums of money in local and international currencies remains one of the most disgraceful government institutions.

I do not blame this only on corruption but on the lack of the capacity to think big. No country would have achieved the types of architectural wonders and blistering infrastructure development that we see in Dubai if the leaders did not dream big. We are constantly short-changed here because some of our leaders don’t even believe Nigeria deserves to join the comity of great nations that should act as showpieces to the world. We have lived for too long in the mire and gotten so used to the higgledy-piggledy that is dished to us regularly that we no longer feel any sense of shame about the ribaldry around us.

The time has come to put on our thinking caps. The world is already leaving us too far behind in most things and this should not be the case. Nigeria parades some of the most brilliant and intelligent human beings on earth. It is always bewildering to me as to how we ended up with the dregs of society bestriding our political landscape. We all know the incalculable damage this has done to us yet no one seems prepared to change this hocus-pocus. I have no doubt that Nigeria can do much better under this our “Change” government but we’ve been too pre-occupied with fighting too many battles on different fronts that we’ve not been able to settle down to concentrate on proper and effective governance. The polity is so heated up that we’ve virtually waltzed our way intricately into a topsy-turvy cul-de-sac. By next month the Buhari government would have been half way expired in respect of its first term. I do not know if it plans to attempt a second term, only time will tell. However, if it does, our President needs to rev up the engine of government and waste less time on the war of attrition that could be fought without the existing melodramatic conundrums.

I believe that our government needs to reorder its priorities. In the remaining two years before the next general elections, we should make issue of power generation, transmission and distribution our topmost priority. If that is the only thing this government can achieve, that would just be enough. The industrial revolution which any society that seeks to leave the level of under-development and join the small but sacred band of developed nations is rooted in ample power generation and supply. I’m reasonably convinced that this can be achieved.

My confidence comes from what I recently witnessed real time in Ghana. The then President John Dramani Mahama was confronted by a major power crisis nicknamed Dumsor (light on and off or epileptic power supply) by Ghanaians. He did not feel intimidated at all. He simply rolled up his sleeves and told his people, without any equivocation, that “I will fix it.” Not many leaders display such guts publicly but Mahama did. He took up the humongous challenge with uncommon gusto. He was sure the solution did not require rocket science to achieve. Before our very eyes, Mahama went all out and by the time he left office last January, he had dealt Dumsor a deadly blow. Ghana is a country enjoying sufficient power supply despite its limited resources all thanks to the visionary leadership of John Mahama.

This is the kind of approach Nigerian leaders should take. It would be tragic if President Buhari fails like his predecessors. I feel for the President. I understand his frustration and pain. The hopes reposed in him by Nigerians would need talismanic powers to actualise. The expectations are high and time is flying by. I believe that there are too many things he should not concern himself with right now. Some things, like corruption, will take several terms to fix simply because we are in a democracy and there must be adherence to the rule of law. It should suffice that significant inroads into the cankerworm of corruption is being made by his administration. However, some things are even more fundamental and can be achieved within the time left if diligently and efficiently pursued.

Therefore, if I were President Buhari, I will do everything humanly possible to fix electricity. I’m pleading with Baba to turn his attention to this. He has done well in the area of anti-terrorism. The war against corruption is more complex than the ordinary eyes can see and there are already some institutions in place to sort that out. No matter how determined Buhari is to fight corruption he lacks the power to intervene directly and decisively. Reality check would show clearly that he no longer has the power of life and death he wielded when he was a military Head of State. Even then it is debatable how much success he achieved if we are at the sorry pass that we now find ourselves. One truism to tell those who feel he can exterminate corruption magically and majestically is the reality of our present democratic dispensation.

No one would blame President Buhari if his ubiquitous wars fall flat like they did in previous administrations. We all know he cannot be the prosecutor and the judge at once. The powers we ascribe to him simply don’t exist. The earlier we accept that fact the better for all of us. The frustrations of Nigerians over the lack of direction and progress in the war against corruption are because we have been too naïve and over-expectant. The man is not a magician. He is not Superman, Captain Marvel or any other Avenger that takes your fancy. And he is certainly not a miracle working priest!

The job Nigerians brought Buhari to do was to stabilise the economy; create enabling environment for investments and investors; alleviate the excruciating suffering of the people, especially our teeming youths who despite slaving to go to school have found no jobs in many years; end the perpetual darkness we swim in despite billions of dollars expended over the decades; secure lives and properties, and so on. Nigerians did not vote for the ruling party, APC, to turn into world heavyweight pugilists boxing each other into stupor or tearing at each other’s throats like babies fighting over lollipops. APC was empowered to work assiduously on the problems bedevilling Nigeria and Nigerians. We trusted Buhari so much to the extent of setting his deification in motion. The trust was almost idolatry. When tomorrow comes, this may turn out to be Buhari’s albatross.

It is a heavy cross he must bear, almost alone.

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