Fellow Nigerians, the biggest story everywhere at this moment is that Nigeria is broke, as poor as a church rat. The frustration of our citizens is boldly written on many faces. Even the rich are crying. Depending on who you talk to, Nigeria is broke because of the profligacy of the PDP-led government in 16 years of the current democratic dispensation. According to these persons, the worst victim and our ubiquitous scapegoat is Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who reigned fully as President for five years out of the 16 fabulous years of PDP misrule.
For my part, I sometimes wonder if the politicians under Jonathan stole more money than under his predecessors. And then, what of the PDP politicians who absconded over to APC in the gale of unprecedented desertions that rocked and ravaged that inglorious political party? What happened to all the traced loot and recovered cash at home and abroad, not just under President Buhari but also under Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan? Others profess that Nigeria is broke simply because, since independence, we have not put together a coherent economic and social policy capable of harnessing the abundant human and material resources that God has deemed fit to endow us with. We have embarked on disastrous development plan after disastrous development plan and never been able to put together a creditable and veritable team of individuals that could make some sense of those plans and salvage them. In short we have lacked competent hands at the helm of our affairs. The problem is not therefore with Jonathan and his ilk of seeming merry bandits but with all those that have led us to date although some have clearly been more culpable than others.
Whichever view you subscribe to, the question now on every lip is: could Nigeria be broke? It is difficult to imagine that a country that was declared the biggest economy in Nigeria barely three years ago has suddenly transfigured into a miserable apparition and a laughing stock in the comity of nations. But I personally refuse to believe Nigeria is as broke as our leaders now make out. I have listened to series of arguments on why the Nigerian economy has plummeted from the pinnacle of the temple to the deepest depth of the abyss. The most constant and plausible prognosis is that Nigeria was a disaster waiting to happen and that Jonathan as the undertaker had only succeeded in embalming the dead body in order to keep it looking fresh while the soul was already gone.
As a Minister assured me, it was only a matter of time; Nigeria would have collapsed on Jonathan and led to our hasty interment as a nation if he had stayed longer. My response was that why did President Muhammadu Buhari offer to be the lamb of God by allowing a danger that could not be averted to collapse on his own head? Or why could he not stabilise the nation at the state and stage he met it without the country running dangerously amuck the way it is doing right now? There is a Yoruba saying that: orisa boo le gbemi, se mi boo se ba mi (if the gods can’t make our lives better, they should simply leave us the way they met us! That is the cry of those who feel Buhari has failed on his promise to save Nigeria from the perfidious reign of PDP. What is most galling to most observers is the endless accusations and counter allegations from the past and the present governments. I had advised the APC government to stop the blame game long ago so as to save itself the barrage of attacks from those who are only interested in results and not excuses. Such people do not care if Buhari decides to hang Jonathan and all past operatives of PDP combined as long as our economy stops this kamikaze plunge.
I’m certain the situation won’t improve until the government wakes up to its responsibilities. The government cannot retain the old style of governance and expect a drastic and monumental change in our lives. The cost of governance is still atrociously high. Our style is still ostensibly ceremonial and definitely ostentatious. We can’t continue to practise capitalism without capital.
For starters, and to demonstrate his seriousness and resolve to tackle our almost comatose state, President Buhari needs to butcher the presidential fleet and the lavish protocol and fanfare that seems to attend every departure from Abuja and subsequent return. That is the beginning of our salvation. Jesus Christ demonstrated he could float on water before asking his disciples to join him. That is the way to go.
Our State houses are over-funded and one cannot justify the level of expenditure required to maintain them. Political aides are too many. Their roles duplicated and sometimes triplicated. They have become major drainpipes for a bleeding economy. The end result is that they confuse and obfuscate rather than bring clarity and discernment to a system that is already in the throes of death.
Our parastatals are too many, too large and too unwieldy. Our airports, both international and domestic, which serve as the first advertisement of our country to that much sought after potential investor that the government that the government craves are an eyesore and remain most useless despite the many agencies directing and controlling affairs there and the vast sums of money supposedly spent in trying to transform them. I do not know of any nation with such a propensity for self-destruction. This cannot continue.
My humble suggestion as always is that the Federal Government should stop behaving as if it has all the time in the world to fix our problems. It should endeavour to fight corruption and poverty simultaneously. We must replace what there was with what there is. Not all cases of corruption are high profile or derive from greed. The most endemic form of corruption is the one that has percolated across all of us out of necessity or desperation. Corruption would always be attractive when and where the needs of man cannot be met. This is usually corrected in most advanced nations through credit systems, social welfare, scholarships and loans, etc.
We cannot continue to preach to empty stomachs. The attitude of saying we are suffering because corruption has been blocked is no longer tenable. If this is true, what would happen is that only the poor man would bear the brunt. Those who have stolen in arrears and in advance would always get by. The poor have nowhere to go except to device their own means through petty bribes, armed robbery, beggarly existence, blackmail, kidnapping, brigandage, terrorism and so on. The fact that this can only be counter-productive to economic and social development cannot be refuted.
The Federal Government should make its priorities known to the people. It should not operate like a secret cult. There is no better government than an open and transparent government. The world today is just one wholesome unit because nothing is secret anymore. Social media has put paid to the arcane art of secret government that our previous leaders practised. Much traction would be obtained by a government that keeps its people informed of what it is doing in all areas of its operation and the challenges it faces rather than one that is selective in what it tells the people. I know that the average Nigerian is understanding, patient and forgiving if provided with information that it can properly digest.
Government should regularly make public its plans. The President himself should talk to the nation on a regular basis. It shows not only that he has a human face but the people can resonate with him, after all it is him they elected and not his coterie of advisers. It is an archaic way of governance and a relic of the military way of governance for spokesperson to issue press releases on behalf of the President. That is why there is often great confusion from the multitude of messengers deployed by the Government to disseminate information on its behalf.
The President’s blueprint to resuscitate and restore the economy of this country should be well thought out and articulated. It cannot be done by mere slogans, mantra and platitudes. The President’s word must have the force of conviction and should be practised as much as it is preached. The blueprint must be easy to execute. The President cannot do everything at once and his adoring public knows this. However, we believe that the President can do many things and that is why fought for him and we elected him. Once the generality of Nigerians can see that the President is proactive that would change the perception that this government is doing nothing, whereas I am sure it is doing a lot.
Once government can reduce the cost of governance and concurrently reduce corruption, it should invest heavily and urgently in infrastructure, especially our roads, airports and railways. All the talk about diversifying the economy is futuristic. Nigerians need to begin to feel the impact of this “change” government. Projects that will immediately impact on the people and alleviate their present suffering should be implemented. Palliatives to soothe the deep wounds and hurt of the people should be put in place even if it entails greater sacrifice on the part of government and some form of quantitative easing. For instance, I am sure that the NNPC under its new dynamic leadership can put together a package that will help the generality of Nigerians. Within one year, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State is already considered a success because he is investing in visible things rather than nebulous ventures. There is a feelgood factor in the air in Lagos State. If Lagos can do it the Federal Government has no reason to fail. It is gratifying that Lagos continues to be in the vanguard of unprecedented development and improvement for its people.
Education is another key area to invest in. Until we bring our schools to international standards, travelling abroad would continue unabated and our scarce resources would be donated to even much smaller countries in Africa. The Federal Government should treat the issue of education as of utmost emergency. I would rather we educate our kids and sponsor the brightest of them to the best schools in the world than give dollars at cheaper rate to pilgrims. So many families would be affected and touched by this gesture. We should borrow from the examples of China, India and others. They sent their kids to the best schools wherever they could find one and by the time they returned home, they started changing the economic and socio-political landscapes of their beloved countries. Nigerians are as brilliant as they come and if given the opportunity they will fly to the moon. We cannot compete in today’s world without quality education.
The Federal Government needs to jazz up its style. I will continue to say it, there are many distinguished Nigerians out there who can help reposition our country in the right direction. We should stop making governance look like rocket science. Even within APC, there are known and tested geniuses who have the knack for discovering talents and nurturing them. One such person is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Lagos is what it is today because since 1999, Lagos has been blessed with young and vibrant leaders. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was once Vice President and since leaving power he has displayed uncommon business acumen. He has also invested in one of the best schools in Nigeria today. There is no reason these men cannot be given special roles when it is obvious that this government needs to inject more verve into its contentious capabilities. A man who asks for the way would never get lost on the road, according to a Yoruba proverb. I’m not sure APC has made sufficient use of the amazing talents available in Nigeria. President Buhari should go beyond politics and politicians and do the needful. Nigeria is too great and naturally endowed to be sentenced to archaism and antiquity.