FOR ONCE BUHARI ENJOYS MY TOTAL SYMPATHY
“When sorrows come, they come not in single files, but in battalions.”
Shakespeare, 1564-1616, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, P 161.
Like most people, I have spent all my life thinking that miracles occur to change our lives from bad to good. Now I know better in a personal way. I have also lived long to see how the crude oil miracle which altered our lives since 1973 has finally ended in a negative miracle 47 years after. Incidentally, the two major disasters occurred at the same time. My personal unexpected tragedy started two weeks before the COROVID-19 pandemic finally made sufficient impression on the Federal Government, FG, to induce a review of the 2020 Budget and establish a Task Force. The dramatic decline in the price of crude oil and the collapse of global demand was beyond human comprehension. No government on earth has been able to work out a perfect solution to the multitude of problems presented. Even the most advanced nations are faced with a devil’s mixture of health, social, political and financial wreckage wrought by the greatest pandemic since written history. Under the circumstances, the least that anybody can do is to provide as much support as possible to those who are charged with the responsibilities of steering the ship of the Nigerian state through the dangerous waters in which we find ourselves. Henceforth, I will give the FG the benefit of doubt on policy formulation for the simple reason that no other option can be perfect and it is always easy to criticise.
“Beware! When fortune would elect to trick a man [or nation], she plots his overthrow/by such a means as he [they] would least expect.”
Geoffrey Chaucer, 1342-1400, VBQ, p 64.
Friday March 6, 2020 would have passed away in my life unremembered but for one slight change. I went for my daily five kilometre morning walk, and a little over half way, felt a sharp pain in my left leg all the way to the hip. For the first time in over ten years, I was forced to stop and rest for a while. Two more stops were required before I got home. It was most unusual and I treated the leg with ABONIKI and PANADOL EXTRA in full confidence that all was well. I slept early that day and woke up twice before morning time. By then, the two legs were just barely movable. I was driven to my hospital by 10.00am on Saturday; and right there, my two legs collapsed under me – till today. The pain 24/7 was indescribable. Even the most potent tranquilisers were of no avail. What was it?
After two very expensive MRIs and scans, the diagnosis revealed enlarged prostate cancer which had reached an advanced stage and was rapidly spreading all over the body. Instead of just loss of mobility, it was death that was knocking at the door. Having been blessed with relatively excellent health all my life, it was an unexpected blow psychologically; it was also a disaster financially. This damn thing was going to cost millions – for which few people, including me, previously so healthy are ever prepared. Today, April 24, 2020, I am back at home. I paid what I could, and the hospital left me off to pay the balance in instalments later.
IS SELF-PRESERVATION REALLY THE FIRST LAW OF NATURE?
For as long as I can remember in my adult life, the notion that self-preservation is the first law of nature had appeared so obvious that it was never questioned. This sudden blow, a trick of fortune, brought about a re-evaluation of not only that assumption, but, in addition, it uprooted the fundamental foundations of my life as an adult. Principles strongly held were suddenly threatened. Once the results of several tests proved cancer was the cause, the options were starkly clear – immediate expensive treatment or imminent and very painful death very shortly. Contrary to what most people might suppose, self-preservation was not an easy choice given the estimated cost of treatment running into millions. At close to 76, I had hoped to leave something for my kids, some of my neighbours, relatives and the church. This damn thing was suddenly threatening to wipe me out. How to fund the treatment while still providing for the beneficiaries made the decision not so easy. The visits of Uncle Sam, Publisher of VANGUARD, Prince Gbenga Adefaye, the GM/Editor-In-Chief and Mr Eze, the Editor of the paper tipped the decision in favour of self-preservation. Little did they know how close I came to asking to be discharged instead of “wasting” so much money on treatment designed to keep an old man alive a little bit longer. Uncle Sam, in particular was always at my bed side – morning, afternoon and evening. His presence, each time asking “Dele, are you still with us?” was the game changer. As long as is within my power I want to be with VANGUARD.
Deciding to undergo the treatment was only one obstacle. Another hurdle immediately was in front. I know there are a few million Nigerians with N6-10 million or more in their personal current accounts. But, I am not one of them and none is my close friend. The three options confronting me were the traditional ones – beg, borrow or steal. Stealing was immediately out of the question. Having spent all my adult life distancing myself from other people’s money, there is nobody or organisation to be robbed or defrauded. Begging soon followed stealing out of consideration. I begged for money only once in my entire life. That was to generate funds to write the book PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED. Two progressive politicians from Yorubaland provided 35 per cent of the costs; the remaining 65 per cent came from me – on account of donations and sales of VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS. As a columnist, I was aware of the dangers associated with begging public figures for money. Nothing goes for nothing; so I never beg anybody for anything. Despite that, I have received gifts with no strings attached – including one given in a WILL. That leaves borrowing as the last option.
“It is easy to be consistent; but, nobody can be consistent to the bitter end.” That was the declaration by French philosopher, and my favourite, Albert Camus, 1903-1960. I have been testing my will power against the Nobel Prize Winner’s declaration ever since I read it as a Sophomore in the US in 1965. And, I have been winning the battle between principle and expediency on most important issues. None had involved decision on life and death – until this one. Contemplating borrowing for this venture brought me into confrontation with another personal principle. I never borrow or buy anything on credit. I live strictly within my legitimate income and never aspire to acquire what is unaffordable. March 2020 confronted me with a personal dilemma. I did not have the N3 million deposit required to start the treatment. Should I borrow to save life or stick to my principle to the bitter end? Just as Uncle Sam divinely stepped in to make the first decision, COROVID-19 intervened in the second. I decided to borrow and give myself a chance to live. Here is why.
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” US President John Kennedy, 1960, inauguration address.
To many reading what will follow from here, it would appear that another transformation occurred while I was weighing my options on the sick bed. That will be correct. The television set was tuned to CNN most of the time. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to CNN 24/7. I watched several times a day as Governor Como of New York State demonstrated great leadership even as he delivered very bad news to New Yorkers and the world. Meanwhile, President Trump was exhibiting the buffoonery which hitherto he had kept well hidden from people. In between the two, CNN also provided very important information about the ravages of COROVID-19 on nations’ economies and societies – especially, oil producing countries. Many national leaders had spoken and outlined the measures they were taking to reduce the devastating impact of COROVID-19 on their countries. President Buhari had said nothing. That, by itself, was bad news. Precious time was being wasted while COROVID-19 gained strength. Instinctively, as an economist, I knew that Nigeria is facing an unprecedented socio/economic catastrophe for which nobody in the world has a solution. As an oil producing country the closest experience we have had to disruption in crude oil prices occurred first in October 1973 after the last major Arab-Israeli War. Arab producers reduced oil supply and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, was formed.
For several months after that, crude oil prices changed almost daily. No government or company could draw up an annual budget given the uncertainties involved. Yet, governments and organisations must continue to exist. I was in the Budget office of a multinational corporation with offices in 104 countries. I remember the mental and physical agony of writing three different budgets in one month and discarding them as crude oil prices kept changing.
President Buhari, due to no fault of his own, is confronted with a complex problem — COROVID-19/UNSTABLE CRUDE OIL PRICES AND DEMAND/ECONOMIC RECESSION – all of which are totally beyond his control or that of his government (or any government for that matter). He has no solution that is painless. All the options open to his government will be painful to most, if not all, of us. Nobody else has a perfect solution – at least none that I have heard of. Under the circumstances, the best thing we can do is to be sympathetic to the FG and state governments and assist them as best as we can to solve the monster problems confronting them,
In that regard four are most urgent. Lockdown, budget amendment, inflation and facing facts about more unemployment. Buhari cannot avoid any of these – even if he wants to do so.
Lockdown in one form or another will be with us for a few months to come. The Task Force and the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, have my total support. From all available scientific evidence available, they are working in our best interest and we should join hands with them as much as we can to solve the problems confronting us and which threaten our existence as a nation.
Almost everybody has his own solutions to our problems. But, faced with many wars, we can only succeed if we allow those in government to lead and follow in hope. We may think they are slow to act and we may be right. But acting speedily for the wrong reasons will certainly create more problems later on.
POLTICS SHOULD END WHEN WAR STARTS
“Once the war is decided on, it is absolutely necessary that a general should be left free to conduct it at his own discretion, subject to seeing himself relieved of his command if he uses his discretion with but little energy or competence.”
J Collins, VBQ, p 266.
The Head of the World Health Organisation, WHO, warned sensible people not to play politics with COVID-19. I will add that we accept COVID-19 as war by other means. We should not play politics with it. We should allow the President, the Task Force, the NCDC and state Governors to lead the fight and support them fully. They certainly have more facts at their disposal than we do. For my part, I borrowed to get treated so I can join the wars facing our country.
My first step as the Head of two extended families and a Community leader was to promote the use of facemasks. I got a few thousands made and distributed for free. They will be replenished soon. God helping Lagos Island will soon become the most face mask compliant place in Nigeria. And, that is only the beginning. ….