Presidential Rats And Nigeria’s Greatness By Greg Odogwu

When the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed, last week, that rodents had wrought plenty damage in President Muhammadu Buhari’s Aso Rock office, he was just unconsciously reflecting the inbuilt culture of “beggarlism” among the Nigerian ruling class; a syndrome not easily discerned, unless it comes out in a “slip of the tongue” like in the case of Garba’s gaffe.

Ours is a country so blessed that we lack virtually nothing. Nigeria is rich in natural, human and spiritual resources. Our only problem is the calibre of people that mount the nation’s leadership platforms, across board. Most of our leaders, instead of thinking, researching and galvanising the masses into productive usage of our abundant raw materials in creating wealth, go about the globe begging for alms.

When they make presentations in international conferences and forums, a perceptive attention to the content of their submissions would reveal a self-denigration designed to appeal to the sympathy of “white men” in order to make them dole out more “support to the poor Nigerian government”. These presenters so couch their syntax and style in such a manner to arouse the philanthropic spirit of donor agencies, foreign partners, former-colonisers, and, more recently, the Asian Tigers.

This strategy is forgivable in times past. But in a modern competitive world, when Nigeria beats its chest as the Giant of Africa, Big Brother to other smaller regional nations, it is reprehensible and hypocritical. This is shameful, and we cannot allow others to point out this “psychic glitch” in our national DNA. This is why we have to face the truth about Shehu’s faux pas, put it in perspective, and properly interrogate it, with a view to exorcising the ambient root with the required alacrity.

For, no one can convince me that there would ever be any justification to announce to the world that Aso Rock, the nation’s symbol of national power, is crawling with rats!

The presidential spokesman had said that President Buhari would be working from home because the rodents had eaten up the furniture, and sawed up the vital parts of the air conditioning units in his office. There was then a follow-up report quoting the words of another “top presidential aide”, which explained that it was necessary for Shehu to say the truth as it was, so that Nigerians would not start having delusions about other reasons for the President to work from home.

Now, the average sceptic would ask, is it at this time that they want to tell Nigerians the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Do they really care what Nigerians are assuming, and not assuming, as a result of the serial mis-communication coming from the Presidency?

And, I ask, which one is more traumatic to the national psyche: Another presidential sophistry or a new sordid revelation that even the Presidency is not free from squalour and vermin-infestation that besiege most poor families? Do they not realise that even in times of hunger, the leader of a people hides his own hunger in order not to create an atmosphere of hopelessness?

For, if the number one citizen has lurking in his backyards, the vectors of Lassa fever, what chance does the common Nigerian have in escaping the emerging epidemic? Incidentally, Nigeria is still grappling with this viral disease; so why scare the masses?

Lassa fever, also known as Lassa Haemorrhagic Fever, is a type of viral haemorrhagic fever, caused by the Lassa virus. Many of those infected by the virus do not develop symptoms. When symptoms occur, they typically include fever, weakness, headaches, vomiting and muscle pains. Less commonly, there may be bleeding from the mouth or gastrointestinal tract. The disease is usually initially spread to people via contact with the urine or faeces of an infected multimammate rat.

The way I see it, Shehu was instinctively telling the developed world, donor agencies and global philanthropists, that we desperately need intervention in the environmental health sector. I can bet that this is how the global community did read the “presidential rat” press release. And they will laugh at us. That was actually the height of national farce. With all the money budgeted for environmental sanitation and waste management services at the Presidency, our leaders are still “begging” for empathy?

Yet again, this should help Nigerians to properly appraise the yet-to-be-resolved opacity in our national budget structure. Budget experts, like my eco-budget comrade, Eze Onyekpere, have always pointed out that there should be transparency in the budget system in such a manner that donor agencies’ funds should be properly reflected in budget heads in order to avoid double-budgeting and the inherent corruption it actually represents.

This is why it is interesting to note that recently, the European Union declared that it would not increase its financial assistance to Nigeria. It was reported that the EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Michel Arrion, while speaking in Abuja on the theme, “40 years of European Union in Nigeria: Lessons learned and the way forward”, said that Nigeria could not be said to be poor as it has enough resources to meet its developmental needs.

While expressing concern over the economic level of the country, Arrion called for a more equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth to ensure growth and stability and unleash the country’s enormous economic potential. What a timely advice!

It is high time we eschewed poverty mentality as a people. Our leaders should take responsibility, and stop pushing politics to the realms of absurdity. We are so rich and blessed in all ramifications. A wealthy mentality has many facets. It starts with the leaders saying things as they are without selfishness and entrenched ethnic and religious bias.

It also means not stealing from the national till. Amassing of wealth from the public coffers, which is now a paranoid monster fed and nurtured by indigenous economic vampires, needs to be consciously rejected by all of us, before the government can succeed in defeating it. Going by the true meaning of democracy which we claim to practice, we, the people, are actually the government.

Our bureaucrats too, should realise that every nation is in dire straits and everybody seems to need a bailout. The world will not stand still because Nigeria has hydra-headed problems. Just the way many Nigerians are crying for restructuring, cutting off from the feeding bottle of centralised “Abuja power”; is the same way the global community is also crying for another type of restructuring – cutting off from the feeding bottle of the “Western powers”. This is the dynamic of President Donald Trump’s “America first” mantra.

No one should be deceived about looking East-ward, either. Nations like China are not Father Christmas; they are also looking for their own lebensraum (living space). There is no free lunch anywhere. We must look inwards, intellectually and spiritually. China did it before they became a global giant. We, too, can do it!

Meanwhile, the Presidency must first educate its spokespeople on national pride before they take the pen or the microphone again. They may think that when they speak, they are just representing only Buhari before Nigerians. No. The reality is, when these men utter any word, they are speaking for the whole populace of this great country before the entirety of the globe, visible and invisible.