These are no easy times. But life sometimes needs times like these to turn us on to our greater gifts. But are we ready?
The price of oil has plummeted. States have to borrow to pay their bills. No one is asking for some things we took for granted.
We are not speaking about the emergency on power, the construction of infrastructure, the rebirth of education, or the shrewd touch on health care. The first question is, where is the money?
So, the lean times are here. The irony, though, is that a counter-narrative to the lean times still tells us that while reason agrees about the lean times, the emotions say something else. The head is cool, but the heart boils.
Reason tells us that this is no time for extravagance, or the showy moment to boast about a revolution in health care, or a swagger over infrastructure achievements.
When the footloose era of Jonathan dawned on us, it took a while before we knew we had fallen into a prodigal boom. The Biblical fat years came in all their phony glories. It was not a time of investment, but of consumption.
The Bible itself says: “In times of prosperity, rejoice. In times of adversity, consider.” Well, it’s time to consider. Time to see how we can fly out of these woes of little money, plenty of poverty. It’s time to forge new strategies, new ethos, new ethic.
But the story from states about unpaid salaries only warns us that we heard the sermon on the mount, but we have not felt it yet. The head has not met the heart, and the chasm between reason and emotion is the reason workers are at odds with their chief executives.
Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, struck a courageous note. He has shown that given the state of the finances, the state cannot afford what it took for granted. It has to cut its budget according to its inflows. That is the fact of life. When there was money, the state could afford a lot of bills, pay salaries, WAEC fees, et al. Now, in spite of the about N26 billion it received recently from the federal-backed loans, it still cannot meet up with its entire backlog.
He says the government will step up means of boosting revenues. Workers, who now show the side of emotions, are not quite impressed with the sermon from the mount.
Salaries have to be paid because the children must eat, the roof over the head must not cave in and when a child squeaks with typhoid fever, an unpaid salary will not jolt the patient to life. Homilies such as the call for belt-tightening do not turn into miracles.
So, there. When PMB took over, we started gradually to peep into the real issues. The rot of Jonathan’s sewers came to an opprobrious light. The nation could have caved under if he won the election. Those who voted in PMB, voted for change. It was a clamour with high emotional decibel. But what did change mean. For some it was the ouster of the GEJ. To some others, it was a fulmination against the Niger Delta upstarts. To others it was to bring in a northerner. To a few conscious advocates, it was to usher in a revolution in ethics and economy.
Few reflected that such a change carried with it many long hours of discomfort. But we had started to see the discomfort before the end of the GEJ era. Some states could not pay salary because they were blindsided by two factors. One, the idealism of worthy projects that they thought could go on with the dollar. Two, the squalor of corruption at the centre that made the idealist look like a spendthrift.
Suddenly, it was not about building a school or a health clinic. It was about paying civil servants. Translation: governance has shut down.
If we want change, and we are bogged down with the exigencies of paying salaries and doing nothing else, it means two things. One, the civil service is not productive enough to make the state rich or live above water. Two, that if we stay that way, we are headed to paralysis and we shall mope at the decay in all sectors.
We cannot remain so. But there lies the challenge. How shall we allow the civil service to hold the majority of workers and citizens in the states to ransom?
To keep the workers is to keep the states down. But to screen the workers and weed out the dead woods? That makes reason triumph. But what of emotions? In his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote that man is not a rational creature. We are all emotional beings, he asserted.
That is why workers are saying they cannot lose any of their staff.
The irony is that in that decade, governments have been in a fury of hiring to boost their image as sensitive organs. That so-called generosity has now held them captive. We hired to feel good, but now we have to fire to feel good. It’s like constipation. We enjoyed the meal, but now we need the physician.
President Buhari has been showing signs of plugging loopholes, and staving off corruption.
Healing will take time, and unless we start a conversation about how to fight off the fat in the system, then it is like looking for change without accepting the consequences. During the age of revolutions, it is called revolutionary remorse.
Change in a society like ours is tricky. What is inevitable though is that we cannot sustain a bloated bureaucracy that deprives most people the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
Building good roads, good hospitals and sound educational institutions creates room for productive citizenry. Where all the money goes for salaries alone is a pain. Governor Ajimobi put in words what PMB is translating into action. I wonder how we can do this without civil eruption?