The observations and thoughts in this piece were in part provoked by an unusual sort of “compliment’ in an email that I received from a reader of this column this past week. It so happened that the person concerned had been a classmate of mine in secondary school for five years whom I had neither seen nor heard from since 1964 when we both finished our high schooldays and went our several ways on the high road of life. First, my former classmate wrote to inform me that he had just been rereading one of my columns, precisely TLH 96, published on December 28, 2014. And he said that he “marveled” at the accuracy of my “predictions” in that piece on the amount of suffering that lay ahead of the masses of ordinary Nigerians in the wake of the sharp decline in the conversion rate of the naira against the dollar and the other convertible currencies of the world. Then after informing me that with the recent devaluation of the naira and the current unending freefall of our national currency he was afraid that things would perhaps even get worse than my “predictions” of December 2014, my old classmate wished me well and hoped that life was treating me well.
Since I am not a hypocrite, I confess that it did give me some sort of intellectual solace that my “predictions”, such as they were, had proved to be accurate, according to my old classmate. However, since all of my adult life I have done everything I could to contribute my share to efforts and movements to make life better for the masses of our peoples everywhere in our country, it is of course also extremely distressful to me that “predictions” by me of unending hardship to our peoples should come to pass. Those familiar with the story of Cassandra in ancient Greek mythology know that this was indeed the “curse” of that unhappy avatar of prophetic insight: every prophecy of Cassandra warned of tragedy and sorrow ahead that neither the prophetess herself nor the people to whom she told her prophecies could do anything at all to avert precisely because Casandra’s warnings always went unheeded. It is also very much like the plot of a novella by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Columbian Nobel Literature Laureate for 1982, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a novella in which from the very beginning of the fascinating narrative, most people in the town know that Santiago Nassar, the protagonist, is going to be killed; moreover, everyone knows who will kill the poor man, but for one reason or the other, no one, including the police, does anything with the knowledge and in the end the poor man is brutally killed as foretold.But what exactly do these examples – the myth of Cassandra and the unhappy story of Santiago Nassar in Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold – have to do with the title and content of this piece, this being the suggestion that the current freefall of the value of the naira is a mirror image of a freefall in the standing of our new ruling party, the APC?
As incredible as it may seem, the lesson of both Cassandra and Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold is quite simple and uncomplicated and it is this: no prophecy, no dire warning of doom and catastrophe ahead will save a man, a ruling party or – heavens help us! – a society that is completely sunken into slothful, benighted complacency! Nothing that you tell a person or a people of a looming disaster will help him or them who is/are too lazy, too complacent to do anything about the warning. In other words, he; or she; or a ruling party; or a people;or a nation that the gods wish to destroy they first make immovably complacent. Please note the careful calibration of self-destructive complacency that I am making here: from the individual and deeply personal level to the most general and all-inclusive levels of entire peoples and nations. The Cassandra story in Greek mythology both separated and linked these private and communal circles of the complacent because those to whom Cassandra directed her prophecies were dynastic rulers on whose personal destinies the fates of the entire culture and civilization depended. But in the Garcia Marquez novella, though we confront diverse individuals who do nothing to prevent the threat to the life of Santiago Nassar, when the poor man is eventually killed, he is the only one destroyed, though of course everyone has to live with the consequence of his or her complacency.
Only complacency of this mythic, exemplary kind prevents the new ruling party from seeing that when you devalue the naira therebybringing tremendous pressure to bear on a national economy that is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign imports, your standing will plummet with the fall in the value of the naira when you choose this particular moment toconsolidate and even increase the humungous payments, emoluments and allowances normally paid to our legislators. It is important to make this observation because, understandably, the Buhari administration is doing everything it can to convince the nation and the world that the decision to devalue the naira was forced on it by the combination of the fall in world prices of crude petroleum and the emptied, looted national treasury that was inherited from the Jonathan administration. Incidentally, this happens to be true; however, it is by no means the whole story. This is because to the devaluation of the naira must be added many other factors that reveal that the same kind and level of complacency that finished the erstwhile ruling party, the PDP, is already at work corroding the last ramparts keeping the APC credible as a political force that will be different from the PDP, that will bring change tothe living conditions of the masses of ordinary Nigerians everywhere in the country. What are some of these factors?
Many states are incapable of paying the wages and salaries of workers when due and in many instances, both in the public and private sectors, employers are saying that they are incapable of paying the national minimum wage of N18,000 per month. However, at this very same time, we are reading of former and presently serving public officeholders enjoying huge pension packages the likes of which are not seen or heard of in any other part of the world. N300,000,000 (three hundred million naira) a year; six brand new cars every other year; a house each in the state capital and the national capital in Abuja, both maintained year-round at the state’s expense; paid annual vacations for the entire family abroad. No one knows exactly how many of the ex-governors of the thirty-six states of the federation are collecting these obscenely “generous” pension packages at the expense of the people, but this much we know: some of them are states in which ex-governors who are big chieftains of the new ruling party, the APC, were chief executives, Lagos and Rivers States being quite notable in this respect. As a matter of fact, this particular factor in the complacency of the new ruling party is so crucial that we must name names here. Thus arises this particular, billion-naira question: Are Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers) and Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola (Lagos) also collecting these universally hated and condemned “golden parachutes” pension packages? If so, what justification can they give their supporters and well-wishers, especially now when, with the devaluation of the naira, the leaders of the APC are calling for sacrifices from workers in particular and the masses of Nigerians in general?
There isn’t, indeed there shouldn’t be any logical link whatsoever between, on the one hand, the fall in the value of the naira and, on the other hand, a fall in the standing, the credibility of the Buhari administration and the ruling party as a force for change and progress. In many other countries in Africa and the developing world, when a link does emerge between the devaluation of the national currency and the political standing and fortunes of the ruling party, the link has always been structural and practical, the effect of policies, actions and attitudes that promote wasteful, unregenerate and unfair misuse of the national wealth and patrimony. Let me state this carefully, if only in the interest of clarity and to show an appreciation for the complexity of the issues being discussed in this piece:by itself alone, devaluation does not automatically condemn a nation and its economy to stagnation and manipulation by foreign economic and trading forces. The dangers are there; but they are not insurmountable. Any government in our country and indeed anywhere else in the developing world, that takes careful measures to make wise, generative and rational use of resources can blunt the blows of devaluation and can sometimes turn these into surprisingly beneficial ends. But not if the wasteful, greedy and unjust ilabe of the prevailing order not only persists but is further entrenched and consolidated.
One in fact wonders: why is Buhari silent on these humungous payments, emoluments and allowances from, to and for our legislators? Does he know how much these things anger, embitter and alienate Nigerians in their tens of millions? How can leaders of the APC like Tinubu, Amaechi and Fashola be complicit in collecting these extremely obscene “golden parachutes” pension packages? Do they think that their complacency is so broad, so capacious that it spreads over and across millions of Nigerians in their poverty and suffering? Finally: is it the case that we are perhaps really talking here of a complacency of words, of language, of the scions of a commentariat that like Cassandra, always foresee and warn of the catastrophes ahead but are condemned to see them happen anyway because no heed is ever given to their warnings and they themselves have no programme of action to back their words and give teeth to their bite?
Biodun Jeyifo firstname.lastname@example.org
culled from: The Nation