by Sanya Oni
Is this the change we voted for? Yes it is!That was Garba Shehu, the President’s spokesman’s riposte to the growing street broadsides in the aftermath of the vicious storms that have devastated the nation’s socio-economic landscape while turning most households destitute. That the response took some 1,700 words would seem to suggest the extent to which the deeply the anguished cries of Nigerians have managed to penetrate the thick, legendary impervious walls of the villa. 

As one would imagine, the media, ever the whipping boy, could not escape the firing line: “Boko Haram terrorist leader, Shekau or the pipeline vandal form the Delta region”, says Shehu, “is more likely to get front pages today than the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige or the Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun talking about jobs creation in the economy”. 

Friendly fires are of course permitted!

Whether anyone likes or not, the substance of the change, as sold to Nigerians by the Buhari administration, has since become the defining question of our day. Whereas our fathers may have eaten the sour fruits, we the children’s teeth are the ones set on the edge! The story everywhere is country hard.

It must be said that the presidential spokesman merely acknowledges the validity of a raging debate that goes on in every street corner at a time of terrible economic difficulties. Unfortunately, while it is also now all too fashionable to accuse Nigerians of exaggerated expectations, the penchant by hierarchs of the administration to either lapse into needless defensiveness when their policies – or lack thereof – comer under intense scrutiny, or as is now fashionable, the constant reminders about the locust years of the PDP and how things could have been worse (as if these were not the reason Nigerians elected to bring in fresh hands)would appear as part of the budding national pathology.

Is this the change we voted for? In an environment that has witnessed interminable reforms; where talks about “progress” and “strong economic fundamentals” have come to mean nothing else than deepening poverty; a land where governance activism continues to deliver at the very best, extremely dubious outcomes, the question is as legitimate as it is reasonable. It is hard to deny the reality when the signs are all too visible for all to see.

Of course, the question means no disrespect to the bold determination of the Buhari administration to turn things around. For instance, warts and all, corruption is being fought heroically by the administration; Boko Haram is in retreat although the menace of the Fulani herdsmen persists; so also is the restiveness in the Niger Delta. Clearly, I will go as far as to argue that the administration is doing its damned best to clear the mess left by the PDP’s misrule of 16 years just as I would also agree that the administration deserves more sympathetic hearing in the face of current challenges.

I say this because the problems are daunting enough – and that is putting things mildly. That is why I am often in wonder when Nigerians either talk glibly or understate the problems that are as structural as they are deep. Whether it is the hydrocarbons sector where Nigeria struggles to pump 1.6 million barrels of crude per day – as against this year’s budgetary projection of 2.2 million barrels; or the tragedy of a nation fated to spend a whopping 40 percent of its monthly forex outlay on fuel import which is not only at the heart of the current crisis but has since forced a most unproductive debate on the value of the naira; need one add the unrelenting spate of factory closures that has reduced Nigeria to a net importer of all manners of imported goods conceivable; and of course the breakdown that has brought on the fiscal paralysis in most state capitals. 

 In all of these, there is almost a universal rejection of the notion that a good number of the problems that the nation is currently afflicted with would take time to solve. Indeed,it is like the broad section of Nigerians actually believes that a magic wand exists somewhere to solve all of the problems at once.

The issue at stake is that these problems are hardly new. There were there in 1999; 2003; 2007; 2011; and 2015. Of course, with the way things are, there is in fact the possibility that they could again be the talking points when the electioneering season kicks off in two years’ time given that administration is yet to offer practical short, medium and long-term solutions to some of the problems after more than a year and half in office.

Worried by what I considered as denial of the grave emergency that the problem has assumed and the typically casual approach of a government that gave them so much hope at the beginning, I had tasked the administration to seek counsel from foreign jurisdictions when serious troubles loomed. I drew attention to the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States and how the Americans came up with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to rid the country’s financial system of toxic assets. 

I reminded the administration of the Economic Stabilisation Act 1982 passed by the Shagari administration in the wake of the economic crisis of the 80s, and the bailout of the banking sector that cost the nation an initial N620 billion in 2009.All of these being to underscore the fact that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. That was barely two weeks ago. Today, it must come as a big relief to Nigerians that the federal government has finally come round to admitting the dire emergency and the need for such extraordinary measures as reported by some newspapers including The Nation, yesterday.

Would the measures necessarily address the problem? A lot of course depends on the content. However, to the extent that the administration now accepts that its hitherto snail-paced approach to the current problems is flawed, the sign is no doubt positive.

Which takes us back to the question:Is this the change we voted for?My answer is that we have some two years more to find out. To the hierarchs of the administration asking us to substitute the fleeting aroma for the pleasure of the fulsome broth served fresh and hot – and this at a time of rumbling bellies – I urge patience! I tell them: Let us begin to see the concrete results in those areas that particularly make living bearable for Nigerians. I guarantee them: the same Nigerians being accused of exaggerated expectations today would descend to the valley of low expectations when they see modest results delivered.