When the news broke last week that some Nigerians had converged on the Federal Capital Development Authority to declare their support for the N4billion budgeted for the African First Ladies Peace Mission Secretariat, my first and all-consuming thought was how to get insight into the working of the minds of these supporters. Yesterday, as news filtered out of Nasarawa State University (NSU) that four students had been shot and killed for protesting three weeks without electricity and water, my thoughts turned to other things, mainly about the end of impunity in Nigeria and how to get the majority to recognise the convergence of interest points.
Yes, there is danger in a single story. No, not everything falls into the various spectrums of grey -- some things are simply black or white. Since the details of the 2013 FCT Appropriation Bill became public, the allocation for the Peace Mission, along with a few other items in the budget, has raised a lot of attention and scorn. The supporters of the Mission Secretariat are legitimate from the point of view of freedom of expression and association; besides, there was an earlier protest in the city synonymous with firm unwavering opposition to the Peoples Democratic Party where the Mission came under fire. The rationale of the protesters in Lagos is easily identifiable: one, in a country weak with poverty and decayed infrastructure, N4billion from the nation's coffers would be better spent on meeting social needs and, two, there were existing buildings such as the National Women's Centre which could be adopted for the dual purpose of a Peace Mission - especially since this is a Mission which really belongs to no one (or so we hope). It seems hard to argue with this. For the Abuja supporters, the basis of their support is that the Mission will help women earn money and that the plan for the Mission was inherited from Mrs. Jonathan's predecessor. Or maybe their support simply emanates from resistance to intelligence or logic. As Senator Bala Mohammed, the minister of the FCT, charmingly put it after excusing himself from the Federal Executive Council meeting just so he could receive the fan club, "the Jonathan-led administration is not working for the egocentric, academic and other opposition politicians who use jargons to deceive and delude Nigerians".
One would like to be able to say with confidence that the majority of Nigerians can see through the minister and the first lady and, if given the opportunity to air their views, would think the Mission a misplaced priority. But anyone with knowledge of Nigeria would also be hesitant upon a little more reflection. This caution would be borne by what one knows about the rent-a-crowd business and ethnic, religious and gender politics.
However, as the families of the four students killed in NSU grieve (who sends their children to school and expects them to be attacked and killed under the loving gaze of the school authorities?) knowing that the deaths are directly linked to the shame of a nation with no running water and unstable electricity...is there any Nigerian who would still support spending N4billion of Nigerian funds on a building?
On average, it takes no more than N5million to install a borehole. This estimate covers the geo study to determine where and how deep to drill, the cost of drilling, building and reinforcing the platform(s) for the tanks, purchasing the tanks, water purification and buying and installing the pumps. N4billion will get us 800 boreholes at that price, one for each of the 774 local government areas, with change to spare. This means all 120+ institutions of higher learning in Nigeria could have boreholes before the year is over; but, instead, those in government want us to agree that it is okay to build a golden edifice to worship the god-of-no-shame.
Do we have an endless supply of pseudo plausible or wildly imaginative excuses for those in government who continue to waste resources with the exuberant abandon of desert travellers at a stream? It is not logical for any Nigerian dealing with health, education, security, inflation, unemployment, erratic power, no water, filthy streets, makeshift dumps at every corner, bad roads, weak aviation sector, even weaker alternative means of transport, police and army brutality, bad drainage systems and flooding to take to the streets in support of or even sit on their beds and think that spending $25million on an edifice will make any meaningful difference to their lives. And if there are, these people are worthy of dedicated attention, especially from civil society organisations that punctuate every second idea with "grassroots or citizen mobilisation/sensitisation/awareness building".
Because this seems to be the crux of the matter after 50 years of waste - that the majority of the citizens do not see a convergence of their interests in a way that is superior to the interests of the minority who mismanage them. A people are only as great as their country is...no amount of individual whitewash and education can ever change that for those who have just one nationality and, today, in Nigeria, in the shadows of senseless deaths and the cavalier attitude of those in power, we need to converge our interests for a better country and be emphatic about rejecting not just the N4billion Mission but demanding more responsible budgeting, fiscal accountability and transparency.