Lagbaja And Abuja’s Game Of Chicken By Lasisi Olagunju

At the very beginning, Lagbaja, the masked musician, asked all of us if we knew at all why we are here – in this democracy: Ki l’awa se, s’ejo l’awa ro ni’bi? Why are we here, is it just to whine and complain? Why are we here, is it not for enjoyment? What are we…”
June 25, 2018 12:12 pm

At the very beginning, Lagbaja, the masked musician, asked all of us if we knew at all why we are here – in this democracy: Ki l’awa se, s’ejo l’awa ro ni’bi?

Why are we here, is it just to whine and complain?

Why are we here, is it not for enjoyment?

What are we here to do?

Leave stories and let’s enjoy  the life of our heads

By tomorrow, we are done with life and its wahala

The unending fight between President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly is not healthy for Nigeria. It is in fact, anti-Nigerian. They are using their politics to hurt the system and everyone’s welfare. What we’ve got from the APC so far are unnecessary bickering and distractions and even danger. Imagine two men driving at top speed towards each other on a narrow bridge. Everyone knows that can only be a collision course and the choices are very limited: As the cars race towards each other, one driver must get out of the way or the two die disastrously in a crash. That is called a Game of Chicken which Bertrand Russell said is a “decadent and immoral” game “played by irresponsible boys.” It is worse, he says, “when the game is played by eminent statesmen, who risk not only their own lives but those of many hundreds of millions of human beings.”

What you get here with the APC is a Game of Chicken; an experiment in mutual destruction. In this game, neither of the drivers wants to ‘chicken out’ and avoid a collision because to “swerve’ is to be called a ‘chicken.’ A chicken will always be an alias for cowardice. If you agree that politicians are animals, you won’t find it difficult to see events in Buhari’s Abuja as classic Games of Chicken. Nigerians overthrew the military because they wanted good governance. Nigerians wanted good governance because they wanted to live well. There cannot be good governance without a good government.

There cannot be a good government where a government fights a civil war on every issue. Presidential democracy glides on a tripod of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Each of these arms of government in today’s Nigeria is an open enemy of the other. It is worse, and very embarrassingly so, between the executive and the legislature. And both are controlled by the same party called All Progressives Congress (APC). Two days ago, it remembered to change its slogan from Change to Progress after almost four years running a government of bitter rivals. President Buhari presented the 2018 budget proposal to the National Assembly in November last year. Then the waiting game started.

Ministries refused to show up before the legislature to defend their budgets. Legislators, desirous of using their appropriation powers maximally insisted they must show up. Then a standoff, for five months, between the executive and the legislature. Then the leadership of the National Assembly reported the agencies to Buhari who ordered them to perform their roles before the legislature. They did and the budget was passed and transmitted for presidential assent. Then the president sat on it while the nation waited. Then on Wednesday last week, Buhari decided to sign the belated bill. He signed it but followed that act with a blistering attack on the National Assembly which, he said, altered the proposal beyond recognition. His office described what the National Assembly did to the proposal as “distortions.”

A distortion is a degradation of the original. To distort is to mislead, to perverse, to deform, to misrepresent. That is the definition the Buhari presidency gave to what the National Assembly did to his budget proposal. And despite that, he signed it! What president signs a perverted, deformed bill into law? What message did that send to the discerning? At what point did the president spot the distortions? Why was it difficult for him to withhold his assent, return the bill to the lawmakers for “corrections” instead of making it another issue for war, for a shouting match? How many wars would be enough for a leader in a term? Did we elect this president to whine at every bend on the road? And why is the National Assembly always in the news for the wrong reasons? Why can’t these two ‘siblings’ sit down and quietly resolve issues instead of stripping each other naked every market day? The president wants to look good always, right? But each time he shouts, as he just did, what does it say about his leadership of the government and the ruling party? Winning an argument or a fight at all costs may not always be in the best interest of anyone.

The Yoruba have a classic solution to the conundrum called a standoff. They imagine the damage a madman could do to a wedding reception where he insists he be hailed as the groom. If all he wants is to be called the groom, why not save everyone the trouble of an insane disruption by giving him what he wants? After all, a six-footer prostrating for a pygmy won’t lose an inch of his enviable height. And this is for the National Assembly, for Buhari and for his appointees.

Fighting all wars or seeking to play a game to its end is not always in the best interest of great players. It is worse when the actors are public officers charged with the duty of caring for the nation. They fight and lose the ball to everyone’s sorrow. The president willingly signed a document but proceeded (immediately after) to repudiate that same document, talking of “distortion.” Did we vote for a leader who must have a fall guy for everything that goes wrong or that may go wrong? The way the president spoke, you would think the National Assembly is peopled exclusively by opposition parties.

The ruling APC is still the majority in the Assembly and you wonder why it has been so difficult for that party to govern without creating scenes. Are we in the wild where deadly animals of same species fight to the death; where “male lions slaughter all the cubs when they join a new pride and where rival ant colonies of the same species fight bloody wars”? This animal called APC does not appear to know the reason for its existence. It fights as the blind does. The clock is ticking. The people are suffering – the APC does not believe this is it. On the narrow bridge it has driven Nigeria, it cares nothing if all perish as long as its god of self-righteousness is appeased.

Buhari signed the budget and wrote it off immediately. And the National Assembly replied on Friday with a 34-paragraph statement. It listed 24 items which it said were additions it made to the 2018 Appropriation Bill. These, it said, were done “after full consultations, and in many cases, requests by the Executive branch through the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.” The presidency, again, reacted almost immediately with a strong four-paragraph counter-statement headlined: “Further clarifications on the distorted 2018 budget.”

The lawmakers made several points which interest me. I take just one. The Enugu Airport project. The president alleged that the allocation for this project was cut from N2 billion to N500 million by our legislators, including the Igbos among them. The lawmakers’ statement reminded the president that the entire contract sum was N2 billion and his government had paid N1.7 billion to the contractor leaving a balance of N300 million. It even quoted Buhari’s aviation minister as confirming that fact in a recent media report. Could that be true?  If that is the truth, who then misled the president to appropriate N2 billion where N300 million was needed? Unfortunately, the president’s four-paragraph statement did not address this point. What happened?

The National Assembly is supposed to be the closest to the Nigerian people. Sadly, it is the most perfidious in aloofness. It has so much disdain for good conduct and decorum in private and public conduct. An assembly of lawmakers that gleefully announced that each of them eats N13 million a month cannot enjoy people’s confidence and love from a hungry nation. That is why it has been very easy for a loud, ineffectual executive to drown its voice even when it has a case. A wise legislature that wants to be patriotic with public funds won’t, for instance, increase its own allocation.

Wisdom should have hinted it not to do so even if the executive suggested it. You cut funds from capital projects and increased funds voted for the inanities of your fancy and you don’t think you should be whipped! The National Assembly lacked the wisdom to resist the temptations to misuse its power over the yam and the knife – and that is one of the most debilitating poisons it took in that budgeting exercise. It spoilt its case. It strengthened the case of Buhari who has declared that because of the “distortions,” he might not be able to implement the budget. That was a post-dated alibi for possible failure. And it is very common in the narratives of this government.

They fight and Nigerians suffer. And they don’t care. Grasses wither as our feuding elephants carry on with their ego wars. The people suffer, businesses die daily, turbulence reigns everywhere and our guardian angels are not in the cockpit. They are with the cabin crew, fighting unnecessary wars. And the passengers are where? They collude and take sides in a war between their common adversaries. Irony. And to the pilot, the co-pilots, cabin crew and passengers, Lagbaja shakes his head – and again warns:

Mo sorry fun gboogbo yin o (I am sorry for all of you)/ Mo sorry fun gbogbo yin lokookan/ (I am sorry for all of you individually) Tie ba ba yi je mo sorry fun gboogbo yin o ( If you spoil this, I am sorry for all of you)/ Mo sorry fun gbogbo yin lokookan  (I am sorry for all of you individually).

Truly, counting the costs these years, we should indeed be sorry for ourselves.

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