No PMB, no inaugural gala

The very laudable announcement that this year’s inauguration will be low-key was immediately marred by the proviso that it’s because the jamboree was shifted to June 12th instead. But this shouldn’t be so. Even without the Ramadan fast, the mood of the nation requires a muted celebration of electoral victories.

The night before this announcement was made, I received a call from my friend Saudah, who tearfully solicited for prayers towards her brother’s freedom. It transpired that her elder brother had been kidnapped a few days earlier. The day she called me, the family had been able to raise four out of the seven million naira the kidnappers demanded. But those evil men of the underworld had turned down the money outright and insisted that seven million must be paid without the discount of a kobo.

The family frantically did all they could to raise the remaining three million and two days after her phone call to me, Saudah’s brother regained his freedom. Three months earlier, it was my friend Fatima’s husband who tasted life in the kidnappers den. The family had to pay 20 million naira to get him released. Apart from the trauma of life under the brutality of heartless kidnappers, Fatima’s husband had to contend with paying debts incurred by the family while they were desperately raising funds to obtain his freedom.

These are only two kidnap cases involving people well known to me. Thousands of others have gone through the same hell, sometimes losing their lives in the process, others losing precious limbs and yet others incurring debts that will take years to be paid; or that will consume any valuable thing the family ever owned because they all got sold in order to raise the ransom.

So tell me, will families of kidnap victims, after all their emotional and financial affliction find it palatable to watch their leaders spending millions in the name of inauguration gala? And these are only kidnap victims we are talking of. Those who are subjected to bloody banditry, who daily bury their dead and see no end in sight to the killings are also there. Will they think there is a reason at all for our leaders to embark on a jamboree just because they are starting a new phase of governance?

For all intents and purposes the planned inauguration festivities scheduled for June 12th should be cancelled and the funds channelled towards aiding the countless victims of insecurity in many parts of our country. It wouldn’t be the first time a national celebration is shelved in favour of a more pressing national emergency.

When President Magufuli of Tanzania took over just six months after President Buhari in 2015, the first thing he did was to cancel that year’s national day celebration and channel the funds towards renovating and equipping government hospitals in the country. According to him he saw no reason to celebrate national day when hospitals were dilapidated structures without the facilities needed to provide necessary health care.

If we can borrow a leaf from Magufuli we can make a list of all victims of kidnapping, banditry, and recent bomb blasts, then share the money meant to accommodate and host foreign dignatories to needless state banquets to them instead. By this the government can surely alleviate the suffering being experienced by them due to their unfortunate brush with insecurity.

Just imagine, if the man who spent 20 million to regain his freedom can get 5 million naira donation from government, it will certainly cushion the effect of his financial situation. In the same way the woman who lost family members to banditry and is now displaced can pick up the pieces of her life and start afresh, if given a little financial aid from government.

And if sharing money to victims is too much to ask, at least let’s use the inauguration party budget to provide drugs in hospitals and also offset the bills of prisoner-patients, so that they too can taste the air of freedom after regaining health. The phenomenon of prisoner-patients is becoming quite common now because an increasing number of our country men and women can’t afford the huge bills that accumulate, even in government hospitals. The result is after they got treated for their ailments, they are held back and refused discharge, until their relatives did whatever they could to raise funds to pay the bill. This might take weeks but the prisoner-patient is denied access to the outside world during this whole time.

Such patients can greatly benefit if the inauguration jamboree is shelved and it’s funds diverted to better use.

Yes, those starting second tenures believe they have a reason to celebrate and I agree with them. But in the face of the grim realities we live today certainly we can’t afford to raise the roofs and have some fun. Their hard-won victories are really remarkable but more important than marking them with inauguration festivities that serve no purpose, is what one uses the victory for. Even without inauguration festivities when the leaders get their priorities right and the people feel a direct impact of good governance, the aim has been achieved. Delivering dividends of democracy is far more important to our impoverished and scared-stiff compatriots than what leaders do to usher in their new tenure.

With a few lines of email the invited foreign leaders can be uninvited to our proposed June 12th jamboree. Luckily the story or our current state of insecurity is well known to all of them through their embassies. Not one of them will be surprised to hear that the inaugural gala had been cancelled in solidarity with victims of insecurity.

As for our South West politicians, for whom the June 12th thing is more than an electoral victory, my appeal to them is to please hold on till next year to celebrate their brand new democracy day. We know what June 12th means to them, though all available records show that the rest of the country did more to ‘create’ June 12th by voting massively for Chief Abiola than his kinsmen, on that Saturday in 1993. But they took up the gauntlet after the annulment and the rest is history. To this group of Nigerians, I say please wait till next year to celebrate democracy day on your beloved date. Hopefully by then, the kidnapping, armed banditry and other manifestations of insecurity we are facing today have become history.

Then we can truly say we have a reason to sing and dance and invite others to eat our rice. For now the land is bloodied, our kinsmen are mourning and the poverty among our people does not call for a party.

And it is for this simple reason that I appeal to PMB to please host no inaugural gala next week.

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