‘Do you know what comes to my mind whenever I see headlines like these?’ I asked, raising the newspaper in my hand to Asabe and Maryam. ‘What comes to my mind is the fact that our leaders have no economic advisers. Never mind the existence of a new national economic team full of experts or the past one which was also full of experts, when it comes to the nitty-gritty of managing our economy, these people make no impact or the one they make is nought, zilch, zero.’ I observed heatedly.
‘What headline do you mean Bint? I can’t see it clearly from here.’ Asabe replied, squinting her eyes to get a better look.
‘It’s the one right on the earpiece’ I replied, pointing at the spot ‘It’s not the main headline but it ought to have been. I mean, look at this budget proposal. How can you expect our new budget to include the setting aside of 2.3 billion naira as welfare package for former presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan, as well as a few other past leaders? Are we not the same country crying over minimum wage and proposing a VAT hike all because we are battling dwindling revenues? Then what need is there for us to pamper those who don’t need it?’ I demanded.
‘You are right to be angry Bint. I mean these are leaders who have enjoyed the perks of office when they ruled and the economy was in better shape. How can we still give them the little that we have now that we are battling low crude sales and other problems? It doesn’t make sense at all.’ Asabe agreed.
‘No, it doesn’t, especially if you recall that both Obasanjo and Jonathan have enjoyed oil windfall when crude oil prices skyrocketed way above the projected rate. And what did they do with the excess amount? They shared along with state governors and had nothing that shows for it. Other oil-producing countries invested in their infrastructure and even built new, state of the art cities, but our leaders squandered it all.’ Maryam opined.
‘And if truth be told, these past leaders should be standing trial for looting, yet they are not only treated as national heroes, but even the scarce resources of the land are being tilted to their use, at the expense of hundreds of millions of poor people.’ I declared.
‘You know, if we were in a nation that puts the common man first, then by now all these extra benefits will be taken away from our past leaders because the economy can no longer accommodate them. In any case, these are people with enough to live in three or more lifetimes. But because here, only the poor are expected to hear the brunt of economic downturns, everything must be done to ensure that the high and mighty maintain their comfort. How unfortunate!’ Asabe decried.
‘Actually, in countries with patriotic leaders, it is they who would announce that they’ve given up their benefits or earnings in aid of the poor because they know that they have more than enough. But in our dear nation, they remain on the gravy train long after they’ve left the office and as long as they are alive to enjoy it. Selfishness and greed will never allow them to make sacrifices on behalf of the millions wallowing in poverty.’ Maryam lamented.
‘On what train did you say Maryam?’ Asabe asked a hint of laughter in her voice.
‘I said the gravy train,’ she replied, looking at Asabe, ‘don’t tell me you haven’t heard that before.’ She added.
‘No, I haven’t honestly, but it sounds so apt in this situation.’ Asabe agreed.
‘Yes, the phrase was first coined by ANC stalwarts in South Africa when, just before the start of majority rule, they promised to stop the gravy train (lavish lifestyle) that apartheid rulers had been riding for decades at their expense.’ I explained, ‘but the phrase became more popular when Archbishop Desmond Tutu accused the new leaders of ‘Stopping the gravy train just long enough to get on.’ He said this in reaction to their acceptance of high emoluments which were described by the press as Malaysian pay packages. Anyway, Tutu’s criticism hit a raw nerve and a few of the politicians agreed to a pay cut. Nelson Mandela led the pack by giving up half or a little more than half of his pay.
Anyway, that was how South Africans dealt with their gravy train tendencies. Here new leaders will invite old leaders for a ride and the jolly good ride continues while poor people cry of hunger of disease.’ I concluded.
‘But those are people who care about the opinion and welfare of those who voted them. Here, the reverse is the case. Some people have to be kept happy and comfortable, whatever the cost to the majority. Otherwise, how do you explain this announcement by our finance minister that tough measures are inevitable, so the rest of us should gear up for even harder times? She also called for our understanding but what should we understand when they clearly refuse to take measures that will alleviate the suffering of our masses and opt for what will keep past and present leaders in their comfort zone?’ Maryam asked rhetorically.
‘You are right Maryam. I mean like we’ve said before, they need to cut down the pay of Federal lawmakers, and executive members as well as other Federal appointees, at least by half, to bring down the cost of governance. The same should be replicated in states for a trickle-down effect to the grassroots. Then they should reduce this so-called welfare for former leaders by at least 90 per cent. Many of them are looters anyway, who have no business taking more from state coffers. Now unless they do this, all the measures they wish to take such as VAT increase, will only bring more hardship to the common man. And that’s one thing this government cannot afford to do. Given the present state of insecurity, any more hardship can only multiply our problems more.’ I advised.
‘That’s true Bint. Any more hardship and more people will take to crime, worsening our security situation and making life harder for us all.’ Asabe assented.