Politics of shadows, ghosts and apparitions

Ogunsakin Mustapha
9 Min Read
Dr Beta Edu, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

By Owei Lakemfa

The issues are straight forward. President Bola Tinubu suspended Lady Betta Edu as Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation. She had been widely accused of not having humanitarian feelings and that perhaps the only poverty she is alleviating are those of herself, family and friends including fellow Ministers.

Specifically, a memo had surfaced wherein my Niger Delta sister had asked the Accountant-General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, to transfer N585 million humanitarian funds into the private account of another lady, Bridget Oniyelu in contravention of the 2009 Financial Regulations. She is also accused of approving generous travel claims for herself and aides including flight tickets to Kogi State, a place that has no airport.

I would have expected the public debates on this matter to be along the lines of public probity and criminality. I expected that Edu would be allowed her day in court to defend herself. For instance although there is no airport in Kogi State, she could convince the courts how she and her aides flew in and out of the state. After all, humans are said to have been flying and landing before aircraft, air strips and airports were built.

She could convince the courts that the private bank account she paid the N585.2 million was that of a civil servant, who is the accountant in charge of grants for Vulnerable Nigerians. So, it is government money in the account of a government servant who can disburse the funds to any needy passer-by she meets on the road.

Rather than discuss issues, I find many diversions and shadow chasing. For instance, there have been a lot of emphasis on her age. One respected person wrote “How can a mere girl of 36 years old be the leader of women in the same party my own mother was also a member…Beta was given responsibility beyond her level of maturity.” It seems to me a settled matter that leadership is not based on age. If it were, at 63, Nigeria whose Heads of State have always been older than the country, would have been better run.

It is embarrassing that such arguments for gerontocracy are being peddled at a time when France, a super power had picked 34-year old Gabriel Attal as its new Prime Minister to help reset a country.

So for instance, Chile in December 2021, elected 35-year old Gabriel Boric as President. Ecuador elected 35-year-old Daniel Noboa as President. In February 2019, El Salvador elected Nayib Bukele, 37 as President. Georgia in 2013, elected 31-year old Irakli Garibashvili as Prime Minister. Jakov Milatovic of Montenegro was 36 when he won the Presidential run-off in April 2023.

So that there will be no argument that these are the internet generation, permit me to throw in the case of Britain’s William Pitt The Younger who was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1783 when he was 24 years old! By the time he died at 46, he had been Prime Minister for a cumulative 19 years.

Yet, another shadow-chasing. Because Edu is a woman. Bridget Oniyelu, the prospective recipient of the pay out, is a woman. Halima Shehu, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Social Investment Programme Agency, NSIPA recently suspended by Tinubu for suspected fraud in the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, is a woman.

And, the Mother of them all, Hajia Sadiya Umar-Farouq, Edu’s predecessor, who is being investigated over allegations of corruption in the handling of N37.1 billion social intervention funds, is a woman, there is a campaign that women cannot be trusted with public funds. This does not deserve any serious response because these women were appointed without consulting Nigerian women. In any case, nearly all the corruption cases in the country were perpetuated by men. Seriously, criminality is not gender-based so such arguments insult our very humanity.

As these diversions are on, the Nigeria Police Force, NPF is engaged in its own shadow-chasing. While the country is buffeted with near-catastrophic insecurity problems including barefaced banditry even in Abuja, the seat of the Presidency, the police is warming up to take on the innocent youths for inventing a 2024 catchphrase: “No gree for anybody.” which simply means that youths should be critical, refuse to be bullied, stand on their rights and not submit to oppression.

However, to the Police, the slogan sounds treasonable. The Force Spokesperson, ACP Muyiwa Adejobi, called a press conference where he said: ”We have been informed from our intelligence that this (slogan) is coming from the retributionary sector that might likely cause problem across the country…we have seen it as a very dangerous slogan that can trigger crises.”

Given such pedestrian level of thought, it is no surprise that the Police Force has proven quite incapable of any serious intelligence work to curb banditry and criminality. Clearly, what the Police as a force is planning is to start arresting and brutalizing youths in the country on the pretext that they are using a banned slogan. The Police reaction shows its psyche remains colonial and anti-people; if it can be so frightened by a mere slogan, what would it do if faced with the staccato of bullets from bandits and terrorists?

Seriously, the Police should reset. Luckily, it has former Inspector General, Solomon Arase as the Chairman of the Police Service Commission who while in service proved to be professional and socially-conscious.

It is dangerous for us to have compliant, non-critical youths, otherwise, their minds will be controlled by other forces like the new British Broadcasting Corporation documentary on late Pastor Temitope Joshua has shown. We do not need to have the resurrection of the Joshua ghost or those of Jim Jones and David Koresh to know that what we need are youths with critical minds who want change.

We tend generally to chase shadows which is why poverty is deepening in the country. So, rather than tackle poverty, all sorts of programmes are floated supposedly to alleviate, not solve the problem. The Babangida regime had its Peoples’ Bank, the Obasanjo administration its Poverty Alleviation Programme, PAP, and the Buhari government its plethora of corruption-enhancing schemes like Trader Moni. Whereas, what is needed are concrete programmes and roadmaps.

For instance, we have food crises primarily due to the facts that banditry has forced millions off the farms, terrorism has turned millions of farmers into Internally Displaced persons, farming inputs are not prioritised and unreasonably high cost of fuel has shot up prices.

Along with food, we can effectively tackle poverty by adopting Obafemi Awolowo’s free education, free health and rural development programmes, the Lateef Jakande Mass Housing Programme and the industrialization programme of the First Republic. Any other hare brain schemes would merely be Nigeria chasing shadows, ghosts and apparitions.

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