Let Kenyans enjoy their Kenya,- By Lasisi Olagunju

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*Photo: President William Ruto of Kenya*

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Hugh Gaitskell became Britain’s Minister of Fuel and Power on October 7, 1947. Soon after taking that office, because there was an energy crisis, the minister told his countrymen and women to save fuel by reducing the number of baths they took. Gaitskell said: “personally, I have never had a great many baths myself, and I can assure those who are in the habit of having a great many that it does not make a great difference to their health if they have less.”

Winston Churchill, who had by then become the opposition leader, heard him and said no wonder the government smelt so badly. He replied Gaitskell on 28 October, 1947: “When ministers of the Crown speak like this on behalf of His Majesty’s government, the Prime Minister and his friends have no need to wonder why they are getting increasingly into bad odour.”

Nigeria is an unwashed country. It stinks. It needs deliverance but won’t get it. The fire we have on our mountain is uncontrollable and unquenchable. At least, it is not the type you kill with thunder claps of anger. Some people demolished their own Wall of Jericho with noise. In case you believe that story and think you can replicate it here, you are wrong. What Kenyans did on their streets and achieved in one day last week, you can not have here. We have enough shock-absorbers and fissions to take all shocks and frustrate all enemies of frustration.

You’ve lately been reading of unbelievable in-your-face sad acts of our democratic government. You’ve heard rumours of expenditures that you would pray were not true. You’ve been watching circus shows on a new minimum wage for public and private sector workers.

You watched the Kenyan parliament with its President William Ruto thoroughly whipped by their angry children. You wonder why our own king and his lawmakers are not as worried about all this as they are concerned about the purchase of new presidential jets. You’ve also been hearing sermons calling for more sacrifices from you, the people. You’ve wondered why it must be you who must always tighten your belt while the pilot eats to explosion.

You are hearing rumours of four budgets in one country by one government in one year. The government wants to operate, in 2024, the 2023 main and the 2023 supplementary budgets plus the 2024 budget while preparing another supplementary budget. You don’t understand? The government wants to eat yesterday’s pounded yam with today’s in addition to a supplementary one in preparation. It won’t matter that some projects and their votes are duplicated in the various budgets. They must appear in all the budgets because they are tagged ongoing. Money here (2024), funding there (2023) make the smart wealthier.

Why are people quiet? What should they say and what will their talking amount to? Felix Adler (1851-1933) was a German-American professor of political and social ethics. In an address to the Society for Ethical Culture of New York on Sunday, 6 February, 1898, Adler spoke on what he called “the wisdom of mute lips”. In the speech entitled ‘The Moral Value of Silence’, he counseled that “reticence should be observed when the likelihood is wanting that what is said will have its due effect.” Those of us who write the ‘rubbish’ we write daily or weekly know that no one who should care really cares. We know that regime-backers’ passion for power or belly won’t let them accept the truth just as the regime won’t. But we also know that truth, even in silence, has its own unique way of asserting its supremacy no matter how long the night lasts.

So, let Kenyans of last week enjoy their Kenya of today. It is not our challenge. Our street is silent and withdrawn because it cannot believe that today has truly manifested itself in worse details than the horrible past. People who should be afraid of the people’s silence are not. They are happy that those who suffer suffer their deprivations in the quietude of their holes. You remember that city, Ègbin (the filthy) with its peculiar inhabitants, in D.O. Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmole. We can locate it in today’s Nigeria. The government has made itself smell so badly that no one wants to contest the soup pot with it. Its operatives can have everything – and they enjoy having everything. The filth and the ugliness of their character have won for them permanent residency in our vaults. It didn’t start today.

You must have come across an old August 11, 1956 newspaper story with the headline ‘Nigerian MPs’ pay.’ The story reads: “Chief (S.L.) Akintola, the official leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, described as a scandalous waste of public money a government motion providing for advances of £800 to each member of the House, except Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, to enable them to buy cars. The motion also provides for a consolidated travelling allowance of £140 a year for each member. The present salary of a member is £800 a year. Denouncing these measures, Chief Akintola said that the financial benefits accruing to members were unduly generous for their part-time service, compared with the whole-time members of the British House of Commons who were paid only £1,000 a year. He said many members had earned less than £300 a year before they became members of the House of Representatives.”

You see that? In 1956 (four years before independence) full-time British lawmakers were paid £1,000 a year. During that same period, part-time Nigerian lawmakers were paid £800 a year. Chief Akintola was lucky. If he says of our Senators or Reps today what he said in 1956, he would be suspended indefinitely from his legislative duties.

Wise people always know that anything that can fester will eventually get rotten. And, it actually got worse for Nigeria immediately after independence. The second republic perfected whatever heist was inadequately staged in the first republic. Dafe Otobo, Professor of Industrial Relations, in his ‘The Political Clash in the Aftermath of the 1981 Nigerian General Strike’ (1982), tells the story: “Typically, the more disadvantaged in society are requested to make sacrifices in difficult times: the legislators and bureaucrats jettisoned all previous (minimum wage) agreements in the name of ‘austerity measures’ after they themselves had stoutly opposed a cut in their pay and allowances! In fact the federal government’s 1981 approved estimates have confirmed that legislators collected a total of 15.1 million naira as remuneration and allowances for their aides for the year; 450 members of the House of Representatives received 13,673,700 naira or 30,386 each; and the 95 senators collected 1,462,240 or 15,392 each. Added to these sums were ‘constituency allowances’ which amounted to eight million naira (18,652 for each senator as against 13,840 for each representative), and then a vaguely titled ‘consolidated allowance’ which enabled each senator to collect another 5,000 naira and 3,000 for each representative. All this amounted to the tidy sum of 24,925,000 naira, apart from the 1.2 million naira spent by all the legislators on foreign travels when only N656,250 was actually approved for the purpose.” Note that one dollar officially exchanged for 61 kobo in 1981.

“What cannot be cured must be endured” is a phrase in Robert Burton’s 1621 book, ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’. Burton says Melancholy is that feeling which “goes and comes upon every small occasion of sorrow, need, sickness, trouble, fear, grief, passion, or perturbation of the mind, any manner of care, discontent, or thought, which causes anguish, dullness, heaviness and vexation of spirit…” As negative as its character is, Burton says the melancholy of the world he lived had “grown to a habit” and so “will hardly be removed.”

I recommend continued endurance to our millennials and their Gen Z cousins. They should read our history and calm down. Nigeria’s bald-headed vulture has been in the rains since it was created. They should stop dreaming about its salvation.

The rain won’t stop.

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