15 May 2015

The Era Of Waste Must End - by Fola Ojo

The Offshore Technology Conference is the largest oil and gas sector trade show held annually in Houston, Texas. It focuses on the development of offshore energy resources, primarily oil and natural gas. Nigeria, always with the largest contingent, is one of the 110 countries that participate in the event. When Nigeria shows up, you and I know, Nigerians show off.

A Minister of the Federal Republic has traditionally led a group of people numbering about 350 or more. It’s a common saying at the event that the Nigerian minister barges in with “a whole village”, and their trips paid for by the Nigerian government. A majority of the Nigerian attendees are not necessarily government appointees; but the government gives them a free ride to the land-of-the-free for free.

When these guys hit town, the whole of Houston and its suburbs know that “Princes and Princesses” are in town. That’s how they introduce themselves to Americans who don’t care who you are; and who only want your oil money. Car dealerships end the season with record-profit from purchases of all manner of exotic cars by the young and old Nigerians as they ship the expensive toys back home immediately. When these Nigerians hit town, they hit all the malls in wildfire shopping sprees from the galleria to the city mall sprawling in to the suburbs in Katy and Richmond. Don’t ask any of them a question about the depressing ostentation that your eyes see; the response it seems has been rehearsed on the 12-hour United Airline direct flight to Houston; “Na government money, abi na your papa money?” The waste on this conference must be colossal. This year, surprisingly, the minister in question and the entire “village” did not show up because power has changed hands at home. My friends, this is not just waste; it is delusion and dementia.

Anytime Nigerians all over the world cuddle around the dinner table discussing Nigeria and government representatives, questions that pop up in our heads about some behaviours and conduct of people in and out of government often are: “Why so much waste in government”? The more we deliberate about the depth of waste which co-mingles with the spread of corruption, the more I continue to believe that this lifestyle must be as a result of some uncured cerebral Ebola.

Some of our behaviours are just out of the sphere of sanity. It is either people don’t care at all about the country they call theirs, or there are many of them who are just possessed by some unholy spirit of derangement. As a bird builds its nest to lay its head under, we have perfected a culture of waste and abandonment in which public officials seem to thrive.

The defunct Nigeria Airways was founded in 1958 and existed until 2003 when waste and corruption became too overwhelming to keep it breathing. In the early 80s, its fleet comprised about 30 high-end aircraft; but at the last hour of its official demise, the airline had incurred debts of more than $60m. The debt has now risen to over $76m. A competent aviation source told me a couple of days ago that some former employees of the defunct national carrier now hawk parts of the old aircraft piece-by-piece to some local carriers. At the time the Nigerian Airways was alive and kicking, the Peoples Democratic Party was not in existence, and the All Progressives Congress had not been conceived. But there was a government, and there were government officials who happened to be Nigerians who helped murder the airline. What we have is more than a culture of waste and abandonment; it’s got to be delusion and dementia.

China constructed the world’s largest 22,000 MW hydro-electric plant for $25bn. Nigeria spent $35.45bn for 2,500 MW. Up till this morning in almost all of Nigeria, supply of electricity has ceased. I heard that in the country today, there is megawatts of darkness and gigabytes of excuses from government. What happened to all the money expended on power? It melted like ice-cream in the oven of waste and corruption. Those who bought the Power Holding Company of Nigeria would have to come tell Muhammadu Buhari soon what they’ve done with the company since ownership changed.

The federal and state governments historically have been water-hoses of waste in different shapes and forms. What is the role of a Minister of State where there is a Permanent Secretary in a ministry? What are the assignments of the retinue of aides other than functioning as human answering machines? Personal Assistants to ministers and governors have Personal Assistants who also have Personal Assistants. A Commissioner’s driver also has a driver and a Chief Security Officer with a small cabinet and an executive council that meets in Iya Sikira’s bush-meat restaurant once a month. Wage bills of some states have increased by about 300 per cent without a provision for a cushion to absorb the bloat. Between May 1999 and December 2010, government spent N15.6tn on maintenance of public servants most of whom are very redundant and unproductive. These guys do nothing in government but to carry out some fiendish flimflam.

A narrow gauge railway is one with a track gauge measuring between 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) and 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm). A standard gauge measures about 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in). But our government awarded the contract for a monolithic system that was abandoned in the United States and the United Kingdom almost 200 years ago. It’s a wasteful and delusional nation that will award contracts for a narrow gauge and locomotive engine in the 21st century when globally, nations have embraced the faster and more efficient standard gauge. Five years from today, the original project (if completed) will be scrapped; and a do-over contract will be awarded again in a sham scheme that will only grease the palms of some political cronies.

Annually, Nigeria burns its natural gas worth up to $2.5bn. We refuse to source market for the product and we aren’t developing technology to keep it underground. The whole Niger Delta territory lights up in flames emitting humongous amounts of carbon dioxide from flares that keep uncontrollably flaring. When the air is polluted with this element, all manner of diseases begin to afflict the almost 10 million people who reside in this area that has no functioning hospital that I can compare to the walk-in 24 hours clinic two blocks from my house in Hartford. Some of the gas flares we heard have been burning for almost 40 years. Do you call this waste? Not me! I call it delusion and dementia.

I do not agree with President-elect Buhari when he told some elders that he became President at the “wrong time”. No, Buhari is here for such a time as this. This is the right time and the choice of 15 million people was a good one. Nigeria is at the edge of the cliff overlooking a Grand Canyon of gully and Gehenna, and we must not plunge in headlong! No doubt, Buhari will need all the help he can get from God and man to bring remedies. By God, he will get help. Help for him is help for all Nigerians everywhere in the world. His modest lifestyle will encourage plugging many holes of waste in the system. Buhari will lead, and we will follow. When he identifies the holes and plug them, then we can chant it the way they do in Hawaii saluting the arrival of a friend; ALOHA, CHANGE!

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