Whereas one would love to give the President a soft-landing in all of the lampooning he gets for some of his statements, it is a trite fact that the man, described in his Telegraph UK interview as a ‘headmaster’ figure, actually believes that ALL Nigerians have sinned and come short of the glory of God. You cannot blame him; and he is perhaps correct. Here is someone who brought something called War Against Indiscipline in 1984 and sought to whip Nigerians back into line. I believed in WAI, at least 80% of it. I also believe that today, we need something close, sans the brutality. I think, on the contrary though, that our governments have not explored the limits of communication, persuasion and mobilization, with which such messages could be drilled into Nigerians. What is more, I think the leaders themselves are not yet ready to lead by example. And so, for a man with such antecedents, who then gets shut out from developments among the youth for several decades, whether due to age or other socio-cultural factors, the perception of Nigerians in Buhari’s mind, solidified. It is now evident that over the 12 years that Buhari sought to be President of Nigeria, all he had in mind was to come and ‘kick some sense’ into Nigerians. No more. And nobody is to be spared. The rich had gotten rich on the blood of the poor. They needed to be dealt with. The poor too had become much less disciplined. If Fela Anikulapo Kuti were alive today, he would be doing a remix of the “My people are ‘sensiless’, my people are ‘usiless’, my people are ‘indiscipline’”, part of his Beast of No Nation, all over again. I don’t think a man can learn to use his left hand to write in old age, and so we are stuck with Baba, warts and all, for another 7 years.
Yes 7 years! And this is not because Baba is greedy for power, or because of some quota system. It is because the President has elected to take the economy down the path of a much-needed chemotherapy. Chemotherapy, for those who are aware of this treatment for cancer patients, can be very expensive. It results in a withering of the hair, and weight loss. Everything will be shed and if lucky, the patient grows new hair, but hardly ever returns to normal. A doctor does not abandon a cancer patient in the middle and run. CORRUPTION AS CANCER Most Nigerians agree that what we call ‘corruption’ is a cancer in our system and needs to be rid of. There are no easy options. My take is that the term ‘corruption’ does not describe what ails Nigeria appropriately. It is a lazy description. Nigerians are not ‘corrupt’ to the extent that they were born defective, or even greedy. The malaise disturbing Nigeria is an odd mixture of disunity, bad leadership, bad education, and a general failure or inability of a people to even begin to define who they are. A nation locked in mortal combat with itself can only but result in Nigeria. We have not been lucky, till date, to find a charismatic, eloquent, visionary, communicative, deep leader to talk us out of this bondage. Or maybe such a leader would not even make a dent. But I believe he/she will. We need a consensus-builder to give creating a real nation out of Nigeria, a shot. To make our matters worse, we are a people with large egos, and cultures run amok, that need to be fed constantly with all the resources of the land. Compare what an average Nigerian spends on birthdays, burials, weddings, with what a Briton or American spends and you begin to get the picture. That is how we got to this point.
And so President Buhari faces the corruption problem squarely. All we have heard since the ascension of this regime is how so-and-so has been caught stealing so-and-so billions of Naira or dollars. It has become sickening. But we are thankful for the man who has been able to expose this rot for the first time ever in Nigeria. Not even in 1984 were we able to get this blow-by-blow account of fraud figures and amounts stolen. Maybe it’s the advancement of communications today. We hope that the cases will be carried to their logical conclusions. We also hope that the government will do the needful and remove the veil of secrecy around recoveries, that has left Nigerians to obtain information only from the rumour mills. This lack of transparency is likely going to haunt Buhari’s government in future. I mean, what is the big deal in getting Ibrahim Magu to release a list of amounts recovered and from whom? It is not all the cases that are complicated. Do we want to wait until a time when someone will also accuse Magu and Buhari of relooting what was looted?
DO YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
In spite of these great achievements in the corruption department, it occurred to me recently that the government has assumed the status of Madame Defarge, that fictional character from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, who hated the bourgeoisie so much and rallied the revolution against them. With the total fixation with corruption, and the employment of an almost hypnotic propaganda to drive it, Buhari’s government has become quite ‘activist’ without knowing it. Commenting on the style of Minister Lai Mohammed, someone said the government is using ‘Aluta’ language. The only problem is that the required transparency and clear definition of friend and foe, is not there. Is the government really ready for a people’s revolution? If the people revolt, will they be prepared to handle them civilly? With the amount of anger it is whipping up in the people daily, the reality of wanton stealing by Jonathan’s men, and the increasing hardship among Nigerians, does the government know that if its risky social chemotherapy should go awry, even its own operatives are not safe? And that patient ‘Nigeria’ could flat-line on the observation table? And so, in spite of the anti-corruption drive and recoveries of untold amounts – including $1million from the soakaway of a former Chief of Air Staff and N381million from his wife – Buhari has thrown many import-dependent businesses (and that is MOST businesses in Nigeria), to the dogs of the black market and the banks, he has seen to an increase in kerosene prices (in an attempt to cut off profiteering middlemen but resulting to higher costs for the poorest of the poor who use kerosene), we have seen the resurrection of an otherwise meaningless but punitive N50 stamp duty on all transactions above N1,000 which does not discriminate even students (a colonial law dated back to 1939!), we were scared with the abolition of support for private citizens with wards schooling abroad but a continuation of that support for several government-driven scholarship programs, we have seen a situation where 99% of imports can either not access official funds or suffer severe delays, resulting in hyperinflation in many sectors, and of course, in the middle of all this, the government has increased electricity tariffs by 45% even though most Nigerians only get supplied with darkness by the DISCOs.
The chemotherapy is working. Nigerians are changing their attitudes. They are traveling less, spending less (some will say dangerous), wasting less (very good). Some local enterprises are doing better. But even they will only sustain this in the short run, as less spending leads ultimately to deflation. The government’s policies are killing purchasing power. The gamut of companies affected by government rules are far too many. As a matter of fact, the aspects of our lives being affected by the policies are too broad. And with a galloping inflation, salary-earners are wondering what hit them. The path we have chosen is to our question our history, and our creation as a nation. Very little of the vestiges of traditional(precolonial) societies remain with us. From our languages to our schools, from our food to our entertainment, from our religion, to our fashion, to our infrastructure, from what we term as achievements, to the very essences of our culture, from our past, to our present and even future. All are now foreign. Whereas it is brave to attack the status quo, and force Nigerians to think local, buy local and live local, I believe it may also help if the cooperation of Nigerians are actively and strategically sought. Rather than the policy of talk-down, recriminations, even condescension, which erodes the confidence, hope, and the little self-respect in the Nigerians the more, perhaps a more positive tack could be adopted.
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
Accusing Nigerians of being ‘corrupt’ or ‘elitist’ for aspiring to better education, or seeking medical attention abroad, even if they are, does more harm than good. Can we not achieve results without calling ourselves unsavory names? For it comes off a wee bit hypocritical, for people who themselves were sponsored with the commonwealth in institutions abroad to accuse others of ‘wastefulness’ even when these aspirations are privately-funded. The story is told of a Nigerian governor who spoke strongly of the need for Nigerians to change their ‘profligate’ patronage of foreign goods, only for him to depart the venue in a retinue of exotic, foreign SUVs; bought with the people’s money. The same man recently chose for a wife, a beautiful psychedelic foreigner. Our leaders, most of whom are old and attended schools on scholarship – most of them abroad – sponsored by Nigeria’s commonwealth, should also be careful how they derogate the youth. Many of them went to universities here when their beds were laid for them and they were fed an egg a day. Most of them obtained new cars and several jobs once they made it out of college. Most Nigerian youth today have only known struggle, no thanks to past mismanagement and lack of vision. Again, as we speak, there are many wrong-headed scholarships that our politicians have created, with no feedback loop; in which case scholars put absolutely nothing back into the society that assisted them. Trending presently is a scenario where 85 pilots trained by Kano State in Jordan, for N11million each, are now being employed as teachers and accountants by that state government. The cost of our politicians’ ego and profligacy is simply mind-blowing. Open any newspaper today and count how many birthday and other congratulatory messages are sponsored with state money to sin praises of our leaders. But all of a sudden, the struggling people of Nigeria have to carry the brunt, and the blame.
CHEMOTHERAPY ON “DRY FASTING”
Every doctor knows that serious chemotherapy – where it doesn’t rapidly kill the patient – should be balanced with other nutrients. In the case of the Nigerian economy, we have heard of so much money being returned by looters. Even though government is decidedly opaque about these recoveries, it is a fine guess that such monies will run into trillions of Naira. Then the government itself has been talking of ghost workers and the amount of savings it is making from weeding them out. Because of the order to transfer all funds to the TSA (Treasury Single Account), the Minister of Finance told Nigerians that she has saved the country N2.2trillion. Just yesterday, she told of an organization (it must be JAMB), where they collect N16billion from students and give nothing to government. The Stamp Duty – an archaic law but a law being enforced anyway – is already yielding great results for government. The Inland Revenue Service is more aggressive and articulate. It is poised to deliver better results for government. These are wonderful strides being made by this government. The question is; with all of these achievements, how come it’s still a suffering galore for Nigerians? Why is it that all Nigerians hear and see are pains? Why are we being barraged by taxes and inflation and fees without any hope for reprieve? And of course with the effective devaluation of the Naira – no matter what official rates are doing – why is the take home pay of an average Nigerian being subjected to real emaciation? I have written in the past, that the government could have taken the route of reflating the economy with the Naira; a sovereign currency. Asiwaju Tinubu had written on that subject earlier. Those advises were not taken, but today, every naira in the hands of every Nigerian is being decimated by at least 30%. Hear what Thisday newspapers of 20th February had to say about a price survey;
“According to the survey findings, the price of a bag of sachet (pure) water which contains 20 sachets rose between 50 and 100 per cent from N100 to N200, raising the budget of the common man for potable water significantly. In Owerri, price of pure water rose from N5 to N15 per sachet. Other items surveyed included rice which witnessed a 20 per cent price increase from N10,000 per 50 kg bag to N12,000. The price of the nation's most popular source of carbohydrate, garri, also took a leap upwards, rising from N300 per measuring unit (empty paint container) to between N350 to N400. A unit of vegetable oil, which is a 20-litter gallon, recorded a significant increase in price from N6,500 to N9,500, rising by around 30 per cent. Although some of the items surveyed, such as garri, do not have any significant importation component, they however recorded similar price increases as did other commodities which are imported and are therefore directly impacted by the forex crisis, such as rice and vegetable oil".
A scenario where businesses are closing down, or slowing down drastically, and inflation is growing, is called Stagflation. It’s not a good place to be; for government or the people.
When in this kind of situation, you need a combo of policy instruments. Curb imports, yes. Ban a few, okay. But also, inject liquidity and incentivize some sectors. Who are we incentivising? Is it those 'foreign investors' that we are calling to come and take millions of dollars to invest in our own country that we should be encouraging? Are we not supposed to be encouraging local investors? Government must know that no matter how wonderful its plans are, without the people behind them, they will run into icebergs and go belly-up. Communication and mobilization is very key in tough times like this. We should go and study the Great Depression and every moment in the histories of developed country when they suffered economic setbacks. Government should never talk down on people in delicate times like this. Government should ensure the tone of communication conveys hope to the people, not fear, anger, panic or greed. If we must substitute imports, the first goal should be to assist entrepreneurs to boost domestic consumption and self-sufficiency, like the President observed in Egypt yesterday. That should be emphasized. Export is the second level. If more businesses are birthed in periods of recession, they do well and grow, in economic environments where they can plan, and where there is hope of a better tomorrow. Many companies who rush to establish because governments have banned imports, will fail. Only those will sustainable plans, hope in their hearts, and a long-term view, will sustain. Thank you for reading.
Tope Fasua is the CEO of Global Analytics Consulting Ltd