The Worker, the Naira, Subsidy and Prof. Femi Odekunle
Prof. Odekunle is upset with Labour because they are too fixated on an archaic ideal that free lunch is a right. He believes, and I totally agree with him, that should NLC go ahead to oppose the kind of subsidy we are wasting on the importation of petroleum, then the NLC will be serving the interests of the very class of people that have kept them in bondage all these years.
Professor Femi Odekunle is a rare human being, but he doesn't seem to know it or if he does, he doesn't care.
I first knew Professor Odenkunle in 1983. I was then a fresh undergraduate in the Department of Sociology at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Femi Odekunle (as everyone referred to him then) was the youngest PhD on campus, and the first and possibly only PhD of Criminology in
The first day he would introduce the course, Criminology to our class, he strolled into the Abdullahi Smith lecture theatre smoking a cigarette. We were all, especially the smokers among us, overexcited.
I cannot remember much from that first lecture, mainly because like most of my colleagues numbering over a hundred, I was busy admiring him. He was young, good looking, indifferent, a PhD holder and a smoker. In 1983, it was cool to be liberal and courageous enough to smoke cigarettes. Eventually we discovered something else that was terrific about him: he was never mean with marks, not that he was careless with them, but where a struggling student needed one or two marks to move up to a 'C', Odekunle would oblige rather than allow the poor chap to go home with a 'D'. Mind you, this theory was never confirmed, but given that everybody liked him, I reckoned he must be doing something right by everybody. Even when he broke the heart of every romantic male student in the faculty by marrying one of the most glamorous and sought after girls on campus, he sill remained popular with everybody. To truly explain just how amiable Professor Femi Odekunle was, the man happily gave us, the graduating students of Sociology department, his house at the prestigious Area 'A' quarters of ABU to hold our departmental graduation party without moving any of his delicate furniture out of the way.
But I and Professor Odekunle never got to meet at a personal level; should I run into him now, he would never remember where he'd seen me before. But because I perceived in him the quality of an exceptionally intelligent, quintessential academic and generous person, I never missed a chance to listen to him whenever the chance presented itself.
That was why last Monday when Professor Odekunle was introduced as the guest of Mr. Gbenga Aruleba on the African Independent Television (AIT) political programme 'Focus Nigeria', I took a little time to listen to him discuss the issues of the day. Perhaps I should mention that Professor Odekunle has had a violent brush with the turbulent terrain of the Nigerian political class. He was a special adviser at the presidency during the regime of former military leader Sani Abacha (1993-1998) where he was attached to the office of General Diya, Abacha's second in command at the time. So when the General Diya-Abacha phantom coup saga broke out, Professor Femi Odekunle found himself dangerously enmeshed in the deadly power struggle, which saw him hauled into a military detention cell where he remained until the death of Abacha in 1998. By that time Odekunle was all grown up and although he'd lost his boyish looks, he still regained his youthful disposition, his charm and his trademark perpetually friendly countenance. Having survived a near-death experience, even when he was recounting his ordeal on various media platforms, Odekunle did so dispassionately, smiling through every memorable torture he suffered. He never, to the best of my knowledge, saw his ordeal as a North-South, Muslim-Christian or Hausa-Yoruba animosity. I do not even recall him using a nasty adjective to describe Abacha. I'd read most of his narratives and watched him on television whenever I could. It was then that I came to the conclusion that I was right about Professor Femi Odekunle all along: The man has no drop of evil in him. I don't know if he still smokes, but I am convinced that the closest Femi ever came to harming anything is setting fire to a stick of cigarette.
The NLC should be properly advised to channel its energy to other more beneficial and sensible struggles. And for Odekunle, again: "I want to see them march to the National Assembly demanding that the legislators must rescind their decision to spend billions on exotic cars for themselves after collecting huge vehicle allowances".
He was exactly the same dispassionate, jovial and seminal academic last Monday on 'Focus Nigeria'. He made two very striking observations that should please and encourage the Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele and the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu. Characteristically, Odekunle prefaced his comments on the two issues involved with a caveat. He said "Though I am not an economist, I have common sense." Gbam! Actually the entire social system all over the world is governed by common sense and the most successful people are those who apply common sense in all their undertakings. But I digress again.
On the challenges facing the national currency, the Naira, Prof. Odekunle posited that the people complaining are members of the elite class who have need to buy dollars and spend them outside
on products that might not necessarily be a matter of life and death. The majority of the population, according to Odekunle, are largely indifferent to the current difficulty in sourcing foreign exchange because they have little or no need of it. Most of their needs are local and obtainable with the local currency.
Professor Odenkunle might have over-simplified the situation but he still made more sense than some of the critics of the CBN decision to allow the Naira fight for its rightful place in its own turf by restricting the availability of foreign currency to only those who need it for productive purposes. Those who merely want it can source it from the parallel market according to the dictates of demand and supply. But possibly because Prof. Odekunle no longer has children in school, or because it is not unlike him to send his children to Nigerian schools, even if he could afford to send them to foreign schools, he did not offer any remedy for innocent Nigerian students suddenly cut-off from their supply of allowances. Common sense also demands that the CBN, while commendably and courageously managing the crisis, must work out a way out for those stranded Nigerian students that were caught unprepared.
On the issue of the oil subsidy debacle, Professor Femi Odekunle had the harshest criticism for the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) which is spoiling for a fight with the government if it dares to remove oil subsidy. Poor guys, I guess the NLC is the only organisation that is not yet aware that subsidy had since been removed. Somehow, Dr. Kachikwu has managed to outwit everybody, including the media, by tactfully removing subsidy without the attendant complications that was dreaded by everybody. But again Prof. Odekunle's commonsensical observation makes the greatest sense. He said: "I don't want to be rude, but they (Labour) upset me". When he said that, I wanted to shout "Prof. If they upset you only, they are making many of us mad by their lack of pragmatism".
Prof. Odekunle is upset with Labour because they are too fixated on an archaic ideal that free lunch is a right. He believes, and I totally agree with him, that should NLC go ahead to oppose the kind of subsidy we are wasting on the importation of petroleum, then the NLC will be serving the interests of the very class of people that have kept them in bondage all these years. Because, as Odekunle, the NNPC, the government and many other people have severally observed, the only beneficiaries of subsidy are the members of the cartel that control the business. For Labour to fight their battle for them, it would indeed be the biggest and saddest irony of all time. The NLC should be properly advised to channel its energy to other more beneficial and sensible struggles. And for Odekunle, again: "I want to see them march to the National Assembly demanding that the legislators must rescind their decision to spend billions on exotic cars for themselves after collecting huge vehicle allowances".
True Prof. Very true. But do they have the common sense to understand this simple social arithmetic?
Garba Deen Muhammad, an Editor-at-Large at the Daily Sun, is the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.
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