"Nero fiddles while Rome burns," is a popular saying in the English language. Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus was the fifth emperor of the Roman Empire. Believed insane, he had some of his wives and mistresses killed at his whim. His mother (instrumental in making him emperor) suffered the same fate; she was executed for her criticism of his mistress. In the year 67, while Nero was fiddling away in Antium, two-thirds of the city of Rome got burnt.
Nigeria's president Musa Yar'adua is a modern day Nero. On the same day that another Islamic sect launched another assault of the Nigeria state Yar'adua embarked on a state visit to Brazil.
Apologists might say that there's nothing wrong with the chief of state going on scheduled journeys, but they will be missing some very important points, some of which are obvious to watchers of that unfortunate nation and had been pontificated in this very column.
Nigeria is an abnormal state where the machinery of government is dysfunctional at best. Yet Nigerian government officials continue to bury their heads in the sand pretending that all is well. They continue to confuse their personal well being with the state of their nation. That makes eminent sense when we consider the fact that they cannot distinguish between the state's treasury and their personal checking accounts.
The Nigerian minister of information continues to trot the globe trumpeting how sound things are in her utterly stupid "rebranding project." Good people, Great nation. That is the message the minister is carrying around the world. It is difficult to know whom the honorable minister is trying to fool. Okay, okay, large is one of the dictionary meanings of great. But if we choose to use ordinary meanings like powerful, influential or important, no one, apart from the bunch of deadly and insane looters in Abuja, will believe the lie that Nigeria is a GREAT country.
In all honesty, there's absolutely nothing great about a country that ranks seventh on the OPEC list yet cannot supply enough fuel to its citizens. There is nothing great about a country of one hundred and forty (140) million people that cannot generate enough electricity for its domestic and industrial use.
And in all honesty, the presidency of Yar'adua has been an absolute disaster. It is true that Nigeria has never had the good luck to be governed by a ruler with vision, but in sheer ineptness Yar'adua beats the former rulers, with the possible exception of Shehu Shagari, by a long stretch. It is true that Yar'adua's beginning was very inauspicious, but his two and half years in the presidency have revealed a man totally out of his depth.
With considerable fanfare Yar'adua told Nigerians that he was going to pursue a 7-point agenda with speed and vigor. Top among these is the vow to declare a state of emergency in the power sector. The generation and supply of electricity has become a major production in Nigeria with no one clued on how to resolve it. The last government of President Obasanjo claimed to have invested about US$16 billion in the sector in eight years, but like most allocations in the country, it has simply vanished into "money heaven" -- apologies to Mr. Madoff. Almost every Nigerian home now runs its own power-generating plant through generators. The attendant pollution is better left to the imagination. Many Nigerians go through life without tasting pipe-borne water. And corruption is so pervasive that it has simply become a way of life.
The presidency of any nation is supposed to be the moral compass of that nation. It is not an institution to joke about or trivialize. Yet Yar'adua has so utterly bastardised the hallowed institution that no Nigerian believes in the words of the president. Yar'adua has reduced the Nigerian presidency to a total joke that no one takes seriously anymore. Nowadays Nigerians yawn when their president comes to address them. This is sad for any nation, most especially for a country like Nigeria that calls for a firm, dedicated hand to guide it through its turbulent and very complex polity.
Amidst all the squalor all over the country, Nigerian elite, totally removed from reality, continue to beat their chests and give themselves kudos for a job well done. They continue to live and behave like they are in some cuckoo land where people exist in dreamlands. And the president is the leading act in this grotesque spectacle of chest-beating and self-congratulation. Yar'adua continues to operate like a hopeless leader without any idea what it takes to govern a nation, much less a complex one like Nigeria. And he continues to talk less and less sense.
In an interview last year with the prestigious Guardian newspaper of Nigeria, the president gave Nigerians his word that the country will be generating at least 6,000 megawatts before the end of this year. He did not equivocate; he did not qualify his assertion. In any normal country, when the president makes a declaration like that, it's taken as a gospel truth. That is so because the presidency is such an important institution that people believe that its decisions are announced only after the most careful deliberations. This is not the case in Nigeria. Since that declaration, the power generation and supply has grown increasingly worse. A few days ago, the minister in charge of the power sector came to out to inform Nigerians that the target given by the president could not be met. The questions beggared by the minister's announcement are (i) Is the president not serious at all, or (ii) does he not take Nigerians seriously to begin with, or (iii) what informed the president's confident pledge, or (iv) did the president do any homework or did he just conjure up some figures from thin air? No one is clued on how to answer these questions.