Baba used to be my landlord for the longest time. Basically for all of my life until sometime this year, and over time our interactions have changed. From him chasing me round the compound into our apartment for playing football or police and thief and possibly breaking (nearly if we were being honest) the windscreen of his prized late seventies Volkswagen beetle to discussing the intricacies of the Nigerian civil War, or as I prefer to call it the Biafran war of secession.
This time around, in the absence of brewed drinks local or foreign, I found the conversation shift towards the state of the nation under the current president, former military president and retired General Muhammadu Buhari, recently christened Okechukwu.
More than a year and half into his four year term, the only people who still vocally defend the president without reservation have significantly thinned out. While you will not find them at bus stops or the local market, there is Tolu Ogunlesi and the Presidential Digital Media Volunteers, although one might argue that those ones are paid and as such must earn their keep, Baba does not belong to any such group. His java phone hardly ever has its internet turned on, he is not a card carrying member of any political party and does not share any ethnic affliations with the president.
So one year after getting onboard the change express, I wanted to know if Baba still believed that Buhari was the man to do it.
Baba's answer to why the nation seemed to be deteriorating even faster than ever sounded like a lot of the rehearsed soundbites that I had learned to tune out. "When trying to fix something that is broken, you first have to take it down completely and build from the ground up," He said, firm and hopeful.
Me: Were things so bad that they needed this much of an overhaul? we had something around 9 percent growth rate and single digit inflation that reversed to negative growth values and double digit inflation. Or are you immune to all that?
Baba: No but that is the condition of things, there is no more free money, everybody has to work hard and save, not like then when a mid level civil servant will buy two cars.
Me: but Baba, I have never been a civil servant and this free money you speak of, how does one come across it?
Baba: it was everywhere then, they would award contracts anyhow and the people who would receive them would split the funds they received and divert them on frivolous things, new wives, extra cars all those things.
Baba went on to narrate how a friend of his got a contract to build drainages in his home state and how the resources allocated was shared between his contractor friend and the government official who hooked him up after the money had already been split unevenly at the ministry of works. Long story short Baba's friend had also dipped into the mobilisation fee for the contract to renovate his house and purchase a car among other little things, by the time he was done, he was looking for bank loans to finish executing a project that should have been finished under cost.
Me: So you think there is no stealing going on now because there is no money?
Me: but the budget for this year is the biggest budget we've ever seen
Baba: The govt needs the money
Me: Did you hear though, they can't account for two point five billion naira meant for the Internally displaced persons, Senate investigations revealed two hundred million was spent on cutting and clearing grasses alone, and the funny thing is the contract was awarded to an I.T firm.
Baba is calm, for a moment we are on the same page. Having properties in the North East himself, he often gets information and is under no illusions about the looming humanitarian and economic crisis brewing there. At this point, he begins on another long winded narrative about corruption (even quips about Fashola and allegations of corruption levied against him) and ends up at the deduction that a lot of us, at various points in the never ending discussion about Nigeria have come to, that maybe, just maybe, the average Nigerian, not the leader, political or religious, is the problem. The average Nigerian that jumps queues, tries to create a third lane on a two way expressway or is always on about something for the boys. Baba posits that Buhari is surrounded by corrupt officials and thus his efforts are being thwarted, I want to agree but with a caveat that Buhari himself is ultimately responsible for the kind of people he surrounds himself with, especially his inner circle. I add that he is even more to be blamed for being incapable of seeing through the deviousness of the people he's surrounded himself with if that were to be the case, but Baba is unrelenting, and we embark on another long winded tale about Baba's working days and a particular employee at the brewery that tried to make himself invaluable by deliberately crippling the machines when he was not around so he could come to the rescue later on. What if Buhari was surrounded by these sorts Baba had asked. If that's the case, I respond, why exactly is there hope that Buhari can fix things if he can't even get truthful, honest people around him?
I ask Baba his opinion about the way the nation is run, and if we'd ever see the return of federalism as it should be practiced, and he is under no illusions on that. Baba believes neither Buhari nor vested interests who profit from Nigeria's bloated structure would go that route, even though, according to him, having lived and worked in the first republic at the Railway commission and subsequently the CBN, that would be the best bet for Nigeria.
So who made the promise on devolution of powers during campaign season? Worse still, who believed that the politicians who made such lofty promises were the type to fulfill them?
Nigerians are a unique breed, we are as hopeful as we are cynical.
It is something I find to be quite the paradox, we chant the 'e go better' mantra whilst bemoaning the many ills plaguing us even as we subtly empower and enshrine them
I question Baba's hope once again, If these are the people behind the Buhari administration and if Baba believes that they are mostly corrupt what exactly was the change that was supposed to be brought to the table? Gains of the anti corruption fight that were touted loudly in the media in the early days have been exposed more or less as mere publicity stunts. Buhari's competence in dealing with the economy has also shone through, and using the Department of State Security to force Bureau de Change operators to sell foreign currency at government determined prices is in no way an economic master stroke, regardless of the fact that he did allude to this in a newspaper interview in campaigns leading to the elections in what would have raised warning bells regarding the president's knowledge of the economy.
As I found myself and Baba more and more in agreement over the state of the nation and the incumbent's many failings I wanted for us to disagree on something, but Baba was more or less resigned to waiting Buhari out, hope having left for resignation "let him do the small that he can do, either we vote him out in 2019 or he leaves in 2023."
This is another Nigerian trait, burying our head in the sand and resigning to fate. After all, there has never been a night so dark that it prevented the morning from coming right? For every time post independence we've had Tunji Braithwaite, Fela, Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba, Ken Saro Wiwa stand up to the government we've had thousands more sit on the sidelines and wait for something miraculous to turn the tide.
I tell Baba that Buhari leaving in 2019 is highly unlikely and he is back on his "let us all work hard" rhetoric, the wheels of conversations like this that involve such back and forths require consistent alcohol based lubrication, and having run out of that, the economy being what it is, we retire the discussion for the day. Knowing Baba, and myself, when next we meet our conversation will be full of light hearted matters, like the fact that he thinks I should be married, although to be honest, it was that statement that led us down this path in the first place.