Of late, I have made much on my social media posts of the minister of state for petroleum’s fib. He had a couple of weeks back promised the country respite from the fuel queues by April 7. The queues — they would be violating a law of physics were they to try lengthening — have persisted. As have questions about how we, as a people, account for economic activity. Time spent on the fuel queues do not seem to count in our estimation of domestic output largely because most of it is not time taken off work. Same way our street hawkers estimate a profit on their daily sales without factoring in the wear and tear from taking off after moving cars at paces that would have Ben Johnson blush.
But by how much does this allergy to proper accounting explain the lack of passion exhibited over the minister’s deliberate untruth? I imagine that in some other climes, the consequent call would have been for one who has so deliberately deceived the electorate to resign. In our case, I have been told, that the whopper was the minister’s knee-jerk reaction to the insistence by some Nigerians that his initial May date for ending the fuel scarcity was not acceptable. Indeed, some indict Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s public intervention in the matter as the main reason why the minister lied.
Strange that we should assay to blame the raising of an objection to the acceptability of a public officer’s decision-making horizon, for the public officer’s subsequent decision to mislead the public on a matter of urgent national importance. Still, you need only be acquainted with the national character to understand how this works.
It would seem that a large appetite for self-injury is a fundamental aspect of our national character. Take one manifestation of this. Run into by a commercial motorcycle or a motorised rickshaw, the tendency of assembled third party observers is to proceed from sighs of sympathy with the unfortunate victim of an accident, to expressions of concern with the tendency for rich and powerful compatriots to “oppress” the poor and vulnerable. Spend too long in that company and the unfortunate motorist runs the risk of being charged with outright theft. Or how else could he afford such luxury. If female, the charge is even more demeaning: prostitution. For that is the only way she could own a car that “fine”. Nowhere in the national mindset is there space for reproaching the one whose self-evident lack of care led to the injury to property in the first place. Nor is there a sense of the costs that the injured bear if they must restore themselves to the state they were in before the accident.
To this aspect of the national character, the Buhari administration has added a most original construct — at least in this part of the world: the permanent campaign. Until recently my sense of vote-based politics was that the campaigner for office sought the needed votes by elevating the language with which she puts the problems before the electorate, whose ugly incident she, is pre-polling day, the perfect foil to. And once in office, politicians descend from the poetic ramparts and govern as prosaically as possible.
Unable to find a post-electioneering gear, the Buhari administration has continued to govern as if it were on the hustings still. So we hear how so many looters of the national treasury have continued to return their ill-gotten wealth back to the state. Without being told who returned what. To which account. How much the balance on such account is. And what the terms of the returns are. A similar opacity clouds the recent negotiations between the government and the Chinese. On one hand, we hear that the consequence of the transaction to which our government put pen to paper in Beijing is to have put the fear of God in all who do business in dollars, especially the U.S. government, which apparently may have set up a committee to look into the problem posed by the agreement between the Nigerian government and its Chinese counterpart.
On the other hand, no one knows exactly what manner of beast was conceived by the agreement with the Chinese. Was it a currency swap? Government says it wasn’t. The central bank governor insists it is. If it would see us boost access to renminbi, what consideration did we offer the Chinese in return? Crude oil exports? At what price? In which case, is it a counter-trade agreement?
Several weeks after, no one knows enough on a mater this important. Is it surprising then that a minister in the same government would lie without consequences?