When our dear Minister of Finance cum custom-made Supervising Minister for the Economy, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala appeared before the National Assembly for her mandatory pre-appointment screening – a process which by the way can only be considered to be predictably pedestrian – she rightly made a big deal of Nigeria’s unsustainable astronomically high recurrent expenditures, versus her pitiably low capital expenditure.
We thought that with such queries, the cost of governance would be forced down, and the volume of naira available to uplift the deplorable living condition of the dying masses be inevitably increased. Hurray, the Dream Team is here we so chorused.
Not so fast! That was what we got as feedback. There is no doubting the fact that these three honourable Nigerians made key inputs into the 2012 budget. It may even be true to say this trio prepared the 2012 budget almost single-handedly. When it comes to money management matters, who in the Federal Executive Committee can match the famed trio of a former World Bank Managing Director, a former Director of the world’s famous Gordon Sachs bank, and the 2010 World Central Bank Governor of the year?
Good, they diligently prepared the budget. Their sky-high intelligence and seeming infallibility notwithstanding, it fell short of my huge expectations. At least not after the bulky hope they precipitated on assumption of office.
Today, President Goodluck Jonathan’s economic transformation model has this trio as his limbs while the Western financial institutions serve as the heart. Recent history has made it incontrovertibly clear that the West is not always right when it comes to economic matters. So their admonitions may be listened to but must not necessarily be seen to be sacrosanct. Ask the Greeks. Ask the Italians. Then ask the Chinese and the Japanese – and the South Koreans.
There’s so much to gain when you dig deep to resolve your challenges within without capitulating to absolute rented intelligence.
The world is yet to recover from the economic ditch the most brilliant brains in the world threw us into. They plotted many curves, propounded many theories, they had intentioned to reduce the pain in the land, but in the end they disgraced intellect as they got the reverse. And as always, the poor ones who occupy the lower strata die first.
Meanwhile, the 2012 subsidy removal item was not among Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s copious campaign promises upon which he swore “never ever to let you (Nigerians) down”. Rather, it is a West-influenced emergency policy. The terrible economic situation across Europe has proven again that they are not always right! Perhaps we can start counting our teeth with our tongues.
Today, our brilliant minds opine that the 2012 removal of fuel subsidy is the solution to Nigeria’s economic woes. Why should I not think that this too shall fail?
They screamed that the cost of running government was too high in 2011 and before. We agreed because we had already lost our voice following years of screaming. We anticipated a big cut. But, no! In 2012 by some strokes of incomprehensible calculus impregnated in some mysterious Adam Smith’s theories, this value was almost surpassed in the 2012 budget.
They have asked the scores of millions of suffering and dying Nigerians (apologies to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti) to go make huge sacrifices to secure the future of Nigeria. We agreed because we have shown how tough we are and how willing we are to make sacrifices for the good of everyone and our unborn children. But what did they do? They still showed no willingness to make the least of sacrifices themselves. Their paycheques, absolutely otiose foreign trips, corruption-propelled security votes, wasteful personal pilgrimages, et cetera still remain intact.
They neither buy petrol nor pay for car maintenance from their earnings. We do. They live in palatial houses with full complements of electric power. We do not have that much good luck! We buy our generators ourselves, fuel it ourselves, maintain it ourselves and withstand the debilitating health hazards of its noise and fumes ourselves.
We rely completely on God for our security and our family’s. They have first class security operatives, high efficiency surveillance gadgets, complemented by all of the few capable policemen in the land to protect themselves. We have lost count of the poor men, women and children who have been hurried to their graves by Boko Haram. Yet we have not heard of any slain minister, governor, senator or so. Not even their family members! They are well protected in their heavenly Nigeria. We are not so lucky in this hellish one of ours!
Though we know PMS sells lower in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and some other major oil producing states like Nigeria, our aristocratic leaders have preferred to use other friendly examples to justify subsidy removal. They told us petrol sells far higher than 65 Naira per litre in the UK, US, Korea and others. We agreed. That we already have known. But they should equally agree with us that they know that none of these countries have a minimum wage as miserably and inhumanely low as #18,000 Naira per month. A paltry sum our State Governors almost never agreed to pay.
They are quick to compare us with the Americans when it comes to prices. We say we are ready for the juxtaposition of facts. Prof Okey Ndibe is a Nigerian born Professor who has lived in the US for several years. There are many things he know about Americans. Hear him: “The American president as well as U.S. governors must pay (from their annual salaries) for their families’ personal meals and other domestic needs. The only free meals (emphasis mine) President Barack Obama eats in the White House are those served at formal state functions. Otherwise, he and his wife receive a monthly bill – and pay – for food, drinks and other services they consumed or used.”
That’s America. In Nigeria – a country where over half of the citizens live under $1 (one dollar) per day – the families of the President and the Vice President will reportedly spend approximately one billion naira on feeding in 2012. That’s a whopping over two and half million naira everyday on food alone – for just two (officially) monogamous families! That sum can feed my entire community for a lifetime! But no, our search for such good luck has only led us to find more patience.
We must compare likes for likes. If we want American price regimes for commodities, then we must be ably prepared to enable commensurate American conditions. No smart games!
Perhaps, this table from the Linda Ikeji (http://lindaikeji.blogspot.com/) puts my point in context.
They sermonise that change from the status quo is the only way to go. We agreed. We showed our willingness to go that path but politely – and logically so – have asked them to lead the way. Is it not basic knowledge in change theory that changes must be seen to transcend downhill?
Change is a concept that increases the entropy of the system, and prompts a vital component of sacrifice from its constituents. Provided a system is not totalitarian, for a change to see the light of day, it must be evidently perceived to simmer down from the head.
Based on this elementary hypothesis, I humbly say, Mr President, honourable ministers, executive governors, distinguished legislators please lead the way. It’s not a big ask to show us your own side of the sacrifice you urgently require of us. It is as simple as that.
Continued on part 2.
January 06, 2012.