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WHO MESSED THE AIR


By: Emmanuel Yawe  
 Published January 8th, 2012

There is this true story I witnessed while growing up in my bush village. A young man wanted to marry a young girl from our village set in motion the delicate art of courtship. Everything went on fine until it got to the final stages. Suddenly everything went out of gear.

Tradition demanded that he had a last one- on -one with his would be mother in-law whose consent was a must if the girl was to be given to him. The tete-a-tete started very well and the suitor was making a good impression when he suddenly farted. It was not the usual harmless fart that sounds loud but the silent and dangerous one that stinks. As the mother in-law later testified before the council of village elders, the man must have eaten an unusual meal of rotten eggs and beans in preparation for the shameful act.

Still, this man would have gotten away with the crime but for his next move. The arrival of the stinking smell brought a melancholic air of silence between the two as they sat in the hut that had no window. The brave young man decided to break the silence.

What did he say? “You are thinking it is me while I am thinking it is you”, he told the flabbergasted mother in law. That was the final straw. To fart in the presence of a mother in law was a big crime in my village. To go further and accuse a mother in law - wrongfully in this case - of this shameful act was a capital crime. He lost the beautiful girl.

When I reflect on developments in Nigeria today, I remember this story as if it happened just yesterday. It was the Babangida government that started the process of price increase on our petroleum products. I don’t call it subsidy because as I have argued on these pages before, there has never been a subsidy on petroleum products. At the time Babangida introduced the new price regime on fuel, Labaran Maku was a student union leader at the University of Jos. He led out students in a violent demonstration against the policy. Today, under President Goodluck Jonathan, the same man is the Minister of Information - energetically calling and exhorting Nigerians to accept a price increase on fuel that makes what Babangida did look like a joke.

Another visible opponent of arbitrary price increase on petroleum products is Dr Reuben Abati, until recently Editorial Board Chairman of the respected Guardian newspaper. In 2009, he urged Nigerians to start stoning economic advisors of government for advising the government of Yar adua to increase the price of fuel. Today, he is Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman, going round town, trying to justify an increase that Nigerians have stood up almost in unison to denounce.

I do not believe that the two gentlemen are responsible for the government’s position on fuel prices. I single them out here because they are good examples of the quality of men that surround our President; men without conviction and without scruples. In other places where this form of government is practiced, people do not just jump into senior and or cabinet offices because they were offered such positions. They accept offices only after they establish that the man giving them the chance to serve shares the same ideals with them.

Nigeria is in a pathetic mess because everybody wants to be in government without even knowing what that government stands for. People want to be Ministers and Senior Special Assistants because they can acquire power and wealth without the inconvenience of responsibility.

President Jonathan’s rise to power is so meteoric that he needs the services of men that will guide him right. I thought I was wrong in my belief that the President is poorly served until I read the comments of Prince Bola Ajibola, former Attorney General and Justice Minister who was also a Judge at the World Court in Hague. He said; “this is the hour that our President needs a good and sound advice in order to run the affairs of the Nation rightly. But unfortunately, I strongly believe that those who are close to him are misguiding him because certain facts are obviously patent which ought to guide him in his deliberations and lines of action which is being ignored”.

The reality is that the President did not create the problems we face in Nigeria today. They have always been there long before he was born or ever dreamed that sheer good luck would make him our leader. Today, we all heap the blame on him because he voluntarily offered himself to lead us. Nobody conscripted him. And in offering himself to be our leader, he promised us some fresh air. But what do we have in return today?

Last week, Boko Haram issued all Christians resident in the North to migrate to the South. Those of us who happen to be Northerners and Christians are just wondering which of the geo political zones in the South we can now relocate to. If we remain up North, can we have the promised fresh air? Events in Gombe and Adamawa States do not point that way.

It is not the first time I will hear such a mad pronouncement made in our modern history. Major Gideon Orkar (whom we used to call Gwaza as little boys in our Primary at Apir) gave us this insane order even before his ill conceived coup against Babangida could succeed in 1990. His failure saved us the agony of a civil war.

The tragedy of our present situation is that the man who promised us fresh air appears to be incapable of living up to his promise. Like the unfortunate suitor of my village, he is turning round to blame the victim of the odious stench that is chocking some of us today. His decision to increase petroleum prices has shot up an inflationary trend that is unheard of in Nigerian history; a massive protest that begins today in the midst of other security challenges reminds me of the unfortunate suitor in my village.


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