Last week, advocates of local government autonomy must have felt demoralised when news filtered in that local council chairpersons in Osun State were scheduled to visit Dubai. The sad reality is in the details.
A leaked memo shared across social media platforms showed that the 68 council chairmen were approved to travel to Dubai for a 10-day workshop principally to be “groomed on the international best practices in the area of Local Government Administration as it is being practised in the Advanced Democracies Worldwide.”
If you survive the unfortunate phrasing of that line explaining the motive of the trip, you may not have enough energy to question the (il)logicality of the jamboree. The violent contradiction becomes heart-shattering even when you realise that Osun is by far one of the most pauperised states in the country, bent under the crush of mountainous debt.
In any case, few days after the leaked memo generated outrage online, Governor Oyetola directed that the trip be “suspended”. Again, one would have to immerse oneself in the culture of official any-how-ness that is the directive principle of state policy in Nigeria to rationalise the fact that a governor would have to “direct” officials in charge of another tier of government in a supposed federal system before sanity prevails.
But that’s even beside the point. There is a more fundamental concern that borders on optics and timing.
First, Osun state is without doubt the worst hit in the fresh wave of robbery and kidnapping ravaging the Southwest region. There are reports of people kidnapped in different parts of the state, who regained their freedom after paying hefty ransom. While it is important to be wary of alarmists who concoct all sorts on social media to fan the ember of hatred and division, it will also amount to sheer hypocrisy to carry on as though all is well in the reion. Clearly, the signs are ominous.
But like the larger Yoruba politico-intellectual elite, these Dubai-obsessed council chairmen have largely responded to the criminality in the state and the region with equally criminal silence; they’ve not articulated any meaningful strategy on how best to tackle the menace. For reasons that are chiefly of political expediency, they have failed to acknowledge that the development indeed constitutes an existential threat within the state. Rather, they’ve at best played the ostrich.
Of course, to acknowledge that there is insecurity is to question the competence of and perhaps offend President Muhammadu Buhari. To offend Mr Buhari is to offend, by extension, their party’s “National Leader”, of whom they are an obsequious appendage. It could even be worse because at the heart of the crisis and the criminally conspiratorial silence that trails it is politics of identity. This, it must be pointed out, is largely compounded by the optics of presidential insouciance. Yet (in)security, particularly the variant we speak of in this context, is largely a grassroots concern.
So what does this ‘suspended’ trip to Dubai represent in all of this? Escapism. Anyone who has studied the psychology of the Nigerian ruling elite well enough would understand that uniquely Nigerian brand of governance by escapism. It is evident in how, when we get estimated darkness in place of electricity, the Nigerian official responds by importing generator; when schools become slaughter slabs, he chauffeurs his kids to Ivy League schools abroad; when road becomes death trap, he purchases a private jet, pronto. Escapism—-that’s the ruling elite’s multipurpose solution to all forms of societal dysfunction in Nigeria.
And so beyond the issue of poverty, beyond Osun’s meagre resources, beyond its mountainous debt and scary overheads, that this trip to Dubai could even be conceived ab initio is perhaps the most symbolic testimony to Osun hegemons’ mendacity. Again, it is perhaps their ingenious response to the security threat ravaging their domain; their own way of running away from kidnappers.
But SATIRE SATURDAY would still defend that decision: the LG Chairmen should be encouraged to go ahead with their trip. First, the trip may be the latest vehicle of demystifying some notions in the politics of the west. For one, these officials are often quick to refer to themselves as “progressives” and others as “conservatives”. What then is the core of progressivism if it isn’t to plan a well-intentioned trip to the Emirates amidst excruciating poverty, tear-inducing illiteracy and widespread insecurity in a heavily indebted state?
Again, the most vociferous campaign against the trip is premised on the huge cost involved. Now, making that the core of an argument pushed out to kill a nobel intention like this Dubai trip is at best pointless, and at worst, lazy. Those against the trip say that the cost of air travel and accommodation is too high. Again that’s symptomatic of lazy thinking and this trip is too important to be reduced to such one-way thinking. The crux of the matter is that with critical thinking, air fare is no issue here because from Osogbo, via Ivory Coast (where there are numerous Osun indigenes, especially from Ejigbo), our LG chairmen can access Dubai by road. More importantly, this could be a golden opportunity to make our elected officials go through what we gp through, feel our pain and perhaps, make better decisions afterwards. I will explain.
From Ivory Coast, getting to Burkina Faso by road is no big deal and from there, our LG chairmen could move through the sea to Morocco, then Libya, then Spain, then Italy, and, from there, they could find their way to the United Arab Emirates and ultimately Dubai, through the sea and desert. That way, they would have spent far less on travelling and made a nonsense of this argument that the airfare for the trip is too expensive. They would only spend more time but then, before next year, they would have returned.
But more importantly, they would also have learnt a serious lesson that may impact on their performamnce when they return. Without doubt, the trip would offer them firsthand experience of what poor Osun indigenes and other Nigerians who brave the odds to seek greener pasture in Europe/UAE by road and sea and desert go through, chiefly because of government’s incompetence, failures and its numerous insensitive decisions.
And talking of insensitive decisions in the midst of poverty and insecurity, is there any better example than this proposed multi-million naira Dubai trip?
Oladeinde tweets via @Ola_deinde