By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Last week, amidst the biting, humiliating, and infuriating cash and fuel scarcity and the attendant confusion all over the land, I couldn’t help but recall Eedris Abdulkareem’s perspicacious song titled ‘Nigeria Jaga Jaga’ which was released in 2004. Across the country, millions of Nigerians of every ethnic group -Christians, Muslims, animists- could not access cash to carry out simple mundane but obligatory tasks, like buying food, getting medication, and moving from one location to another. It was clear that chaos caused by government incompetence and corruption, spares no one on account of their religion or ethnicity. Yet, fools most of us remain, voting along ethnic or religious lines!
The ordinary food stuff seller along the road, the market man, and woman whose total cash possession was usually under twenty thousand naira went to bed hungry, angry, and frightened about the jagajaga state of things. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) could not dispense cash. Banks which initially gave out little sums to their customers had nothing to give, while, it was alleged, hoarding billions of cash. The CBN insisted enough new currency notes had been disbursed to the banks. Their word against theirs!
There were reports too that some men of ways and means had seized millions of the cash which the banks were given; better still, the banks had sold millions of fresh notes to the big politicians, the very reason the new policy was introduced. Point-of-Sale operators became the most sought-after merchants of cash. Nigerians bought naira notes with cash, with some observing that the rate of exchange between old and new currency or access to the new currency was stronger than that of the American dollar. There was tension in banking halls where some customers, men, and women, railed and cursed in the nude. In a video shot in front of GTB in Aba, some customers brought a camp cooking gas and prepared the popular pasta meal ‘Indomie’ and the boisterous men ate the stuff directly from the pot while the meal was on fire! It was funfair! Suffering and smiling’ if I may reference the inimitable Fela Anikulapo-Kuti!
The end of January deadline for the currency swap was extended by ten days and everyone thought there would be some respite. But we were hoping against hope. The President asked for seven days to reconsider its decision on the new currency. At a meeting with members of the House of Representatives, Mr. Godwin Emefiele changed policy and said that the old notes would be accepted after February 10, that is, after the legislators pointed out the relevant provision of the law in the CBN Act.
In the early days after the currency change was announced, the nation’s Finance Minister stated publicly before legislators that she was not aware of the new policy. It showed clearly that this policy initiative was not arrived at after broad consultations in the finance sector. Emefiele boasted that he had the approval of the President, and a presidential spokesman authenticated the governor’s claim! But more chaos was in the making! Which modern state changes its currency without the input of the Ministry of Finance?
Early in the month of February, a meeting of some state governors with the president to ease the cash crunch did not achieve the desired result. Three state governments- Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara- finally took the federal government to the Supreme Court which granted an interim order that the old currency should remain legal tender beyond the 10th of February. No one knows what the next week will bring! Some have said the Supreme Court’s decision is not enforceable. To increase the confusion, there was talk about the possibility of postponing the general elections scheduled to start on 25th of February. The Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the land jumped into the fray of official confusion by giving victory to two appellants to the court; ironically, these men did not contest the party primaries of the APC! The spirit of jagajaga has moved squarely and perfectly into the country. Apparently, there is nothing we can do. The spirit of Buharian democracy seems to go with the maxim: ignore the masses!
In the song under reference which I have appropriated to title this essay, the young man poignantly lamented: ‘Nigeria jaga jaga/Everything scatter scatter/ Poor man dey suffer suffer/Gbosa gbosa gun shoot inna the air’. I recall that then President Olusegun Obasanjo chided Eedris for those ‘negative words’ in the lyrics and there was a threat to ban the music from the airwaves in Nigeria.
In the light of the infinite madness of last week, what can we say about Nigeria jagajaga and the state of governance in our beloved country? Also, during this period, Ras Kimono’s Under Pressure musical album in which the reggae artist crooned that ‘some are crying/ some are dying/some are weeping, some are weling/everywhere/ let me go/under pressure under pressure’ which was released in 1989 started circulating freely on social media.
Certainly, this is not how to govern a people or a country. The Stone Age tactics which the military employed in their hypocritical years in power are antithetical to modern and scientific processes. A nation must take planning seriously. Planning requires the inclusion of all stakeholders both in the conception and implementation stages. Had there been broader consultations, the currency change would have taken place late last year or at a more appropriate time. The idea of taking people by surprise is old hat. Shocks are not good for the modern economy. There is too much anger and hunger in the land. In Turkey and Syria, the people are battling with the jagajaga caused by nature’s wrath. In Nigeria, the people are crying, suffering, and dying because of a disaster brought about by state officials’ foolishness and pusillanimous doddering. It is baffling that a party which seeking re-election in two weeks’ time could afford to unleash such sorrow, tears, and death on citizens. It is a recipe for a rejection at the polls.
Governance is too serious a contractual arrangement to be left in the hands of asphyxiated minds and emotions. The federal government should put together a group of experts to advise it on the way forward. The CBN has been severely and fatally compromised and cannot be trusted to take sound economic decisions. If the spirit of jagajaga continues to reign over the people, there is no guarantee that civil strife will not be the last resort of the people. Mr. President, just release cash to the people of this country, especially the poor and lowly! They are not the ones who will hoard money for elections!