Long queue for return to old

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Mahmud Jega

The hurried discarding of our 46-year-old national anthem and replacing it with its predecessor reminded me of a news photo in Newsweek magazine in 1982. It was at the height of Italy’s revolving-door governments. Italian Prime Minister Giovani Spadolini’s governing coalition fell apart and after several months of intense negotiations, he managed to cobble it back together. When he unveiled his new cabinet, every former minister was back, for that matter to the same post he or she vacated. Newsweek featured a photo of the new cabinet with the caption: “Spadolini unveils his new cabinet [His old one].”

Changing the national anthem was the most important thing the National Assembly did in one full year. Unlike other people who are condemning it, I think it is a very important mission statement which indicates that all things past in Nigeria are better than all the innovations we made in the last 50 years. I therefore urge the National Assembly to conduct a forensic investigation into each and every innovation made by General Yakubu Gowon, General Murtala Mohammed, General Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Sani Abacha, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Umaru Yar’adua, President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari with a view to reversing them and restoring the old ones. Since President Bola Tinubu must sign any passed bill before it becomes law, National Assembly should tarry awhile on his Administration’s major innovations, such as subsidy removal and naira float, until a later date.

Some youngsters on the social media dug up an old picture of Nigeria Police uniform of the 1960s. It was a wide floating khaki shirt with short knickers, a black belt, long traditional cap and a baton. They said policemen pleaded with them to hide the picture from the National Assembly lest they pass a bill to abolish the current uniform and restore the old one. On the contrary, I have sent the picture by DHL to both Senate President and House Speaker and urged them to act fast on a National Police Uniform Act. When the state police come up soon, that restored uniform, which is locally made, will help engender understanding between them and the local communities. I hear that the old uniform also had no pocket, which is very good because a cop at a check point has nowhere to hide egunje.

Look, National Assembly, please quickly pass a law to restore left-hand driving. As primary school pupils in 1972, our teachers matched us to the roadside for several weeks to witness rehearsals for the April 2, 1972 switch from left hand driving to right hand driving. Government was serious in those days; not only motorists, but even pedestrians were taught how to adjust to the switch. We were taught how to cross the road: “Look left, look right and then look left again. Remember, you will sometimes hear traffic before you can see it. Don’t loiter and don’t run. Don’t play on the road. Walk on the left side of the road so that you will be facing oncoming traffic.” Since all the taxi drivers in Nigeria have not learnt those lessons, please let us hurry back to left hand driving. Afterall, 75 countries worldwide still drive on the left, including South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, UK, Ireland, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

At the same time he made us to change to right hand driving, General Gowon also changed our money and introduced naira and kobo from 1973. Central Bank alleged at the time that the name “naira” was derived from Nigeria. Why is it sinking everyday against other currencies? National Assembly, please direct Central Bank to immediately bring back pounds, shillings and pence. The value of our currency will immediately appreciate. In those days most of our money was in coins; you could buy most foodstuff and provisions with a few coins. Only the richest people had paper money. With this naira, the last time I saw a coin was nearly twenty years ago, even though CBN never said it withdrew it from circulation. In 1972, I escorted my elder brother to the market and we sold a large hen for one shilling three pence, i.e. 15 kobo. Last week I bought a medium-sized hen at Garki market for N10,000, a 66,666 times price increase.

Even our exchange rate problems will be solved when we restore the old currency. Before Gowon’s change we had a half penny, one penny, three pence, six pence, one shilling and a two shillings coin. The latter, a large silvery coin which was quite rare, was called “dala” in Hausaland. My aunt later told me that it meant dollar, which was its exchange rate equivalent that time. It means the dollar’s value has increased 7,500 times against our currency since 1972, to its present 1,500 naira. Please bring back the old currency as new currency.

The new [old] national anthem spoke about Nigeria as “our own dear native land.” Which reminds me. Since we are obviously fond of the word native, could we hastily bring back the old Native Authorities to replace Local Governments? It will be a tremendous idea. Everyone is saying that Local Governments are the sick tier of government, despite collecting 20.6% of the Federation Account every month. The old Native Authorities largely financed themselves by collecting poll taxes and the cattle tax jangali. It was Babangida who brought this Value Added Tax [VAT] business in 1988, which we should aim to abolish.

The Native Authorities were also far more effective in things that mattered. The old Gwandu Native Authority, for example, was so concerned about girl child education that, at the beginning of each school term, it sent a Bedford truck to fetch every female secondary school student from her parents’ home and delivered her to her school dormitory. The same truck went and brought them home for the holidays. Today’s Local Governments, do they even know which girl goes to which school?

After replacing the LGAs with Native Authorities, we should quickly abolish the states and bring back the provinces. I was marveling at the kata kata in Kogi State today. The late Alhaji Yusuf Dantsoho, who was a member of the Northern Region Scholarships Board in the 1960s, once told me that Kabba Province alone produced more than half of qualified candidates for the scholarships. Even the nomenclature of current government officials should revert back to the old times. Let us restore the District Officers, Divisional Secretaries, Residents and Provincial Commissioners. It will immediately restore honesty, dedication and selfless hard work to political leadership.

You see, in the mid to late 1970s, General Olusegun Obasanjo was frenetically changing things, only for us to now discover that the old things are much better. For example, he made the Land Use Decree. What we heard at the time was that it was much easier for government to grab land in the North for projects than in the South, where communal land ownership inhibited public projects. Obasanjo was so bent on that decree that when the Constituent Assembly handed to him its approved Constitution in 1978, the Supreme Military Council amended it and inserted the Land Use [along with NYSC and NSO decrees] into it, to make them un-amendable. Obasanjo’s Chief of Staff, Major General Shehu Yar’adua, also forced all state governors to make edicts forcing all motorcyclists to wear crash helmets, because doctors told him that half of all motorcycle accident patients in hospitals had cracked skulls. National Assembly, please abolish crash helmets so that we can wear our traditional caps, turbans and head ties again as we ride.

It was again Obasanjo in 1978 who forced all this country’s labour unions to come together and form the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. I am sure the National Assembly will look into this. Only last week, NLC President Joe Ajaero refused to budge on the general strike despite pleas from both Senate President and House Speaker. He impudently told them to reduce the length of their motorcades so that they can pay a new minimum wage. They should quickly reverse that 1978 law, make NLC to fall apart into 42 or more feuding labour unions. Let us see where Ajaero will stand and demand half a million naira as minimum wage.

Talking about Ajaero, the former leader of the Electricity Workers Union, even reminds me. Who advised General Yakubu Gowon in 1972 to merge Electricity Corporation of Nigeria [ECN] with Niger Dams Authority [NDA] to create National Electric Power Authority, NEPA? It was a failed experiment. After 52 years and despite many more reforms, there is still No Electricity Power Available, as we used to say in secondary school. We should bring back ECN and NDA and snatch back our power assets from the Discos and Gencos. ECN had no Band A customers; all of us were equal before it.

We saw all the back and forth this year before Muslim pilgrims left for the hajj. Why don’t we simply restore Hajj By Road? Damn the airlines, pilgrims from all over the country once used Borno as launching pad, from where they departed through Chad to Sudan, where they then boarded ferries to cross the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia. No government subsidy was needed; no bidding by airlines and no one was left stranded.

Our ill-thought out “reforms” over the years even spilled into the field of sports. For Heaven’s sake, since we changed the Green Eagles’ name to Super Eagles, they have been underperforming on the African stage. National Assembly should quickly pass a bill to restore the name Green Eagles. Even our once great football clubs fell behind due to name change. Enugu Rangers’ fortunes declined when it was renamed Rangers International. Don’t you see that Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Paris Saint- Germain and Bayern Munich have remained on top because they still bear the names of their cities? National Assembly please pass a Football Clubs Name Restoration bill to make every club to re-adopt its former name. There is a long queue for return to the old.