Notes on Nigeria @ 56
Thanks to YouTube, I had a good time on Sunday evening watching the presentation by former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi at this year’s edition of The Platform, powered by the Covenant Christian Centre. If you subtract the hubris, the vainglory which shone through and through, the presentation comes to a fair testimonial of the sojourn of the man his admirers prefer to call Okwute in the Anambra Government House. In this, yours truly bears testimony to the former governor’s frugality when, on invitation to Awka, the Anambra State capital, I had to pay for a bottle of Fanta ordered in the hotel to down my meal because, the governor, I was told, had decreed that drinks – alcoholic or none – save water, was off limits!
His Platform outing is however not entirely a Peter Obi story. A window into all that is wrong with our polity, a stinging rebuke of the culture of waste and profligacy in our government houses and the cluelessness of their occupants in the face of shrunk national gravy; his tale essentially captures the recurring tragedy of a prodigal nation banking on bountiful harvest after eating a huge chunk of its productive seeds.
Hereunder are two takeaways from the outing that I find to be at the heart of the mess that governance has become today.
The first of course is that governance has long ceased to be a serious business in these shores. Witness the whining and moaning going across the state capitals only because oil, a sector that contributes 8.26 percent to the real GDP has gone bust under just two years. After two lifelines from the federal government, many of the states have remained practically insolvent. Not even the endless staff audit and verifications appears to have done the magic of pruning state expenditures into manageable levels. Most states, it would appear, have long given up on the possibility of raising their Internally Generated Revenue hence their unending supplication for either a rebound in oil prices or a change of heart by the Niger Delta militants. Meanwhile, in the event of inability of to think through a way out, most have elected to either kick the problem down the road or take solace in harebrained solutions that are at best placebos!
In this, the federal government does not appear to fare any better. With the economy officially in recession, the nation is at crossroads over what to do to get thing moving again. If one expected clarity of purpose and strategy at a time like this, the signals have been at best mixed. Yes, we have heard the familiar catchphrases about spending our ways out of recession; but then, it is increasingly clear that the federal government does not have the foggiest idea of how to proceed let alone where the funds will come from!
Borrowing? Yes, but from where and at what terms? Assets sale. Is it not amazing that administration could not lay out a good case for its proposal to sell national assets to raise cash? Agriculture? Whence? Industry? Where are the infrastructure and the policy support? Solid minerals? Really? Which ones?
The railways? On the pages of newspapers?
When will the federal government quit talking to start getting the job done? Again and again, we are told that the PDP brought the nation into this mess. Wasn’t that the reason Nigerians sacked the inept PDP federal government? When are we going to see signs that the federal government truly knows what it is doing?
Let’s turn to the second takeaway – the pervasive wastefulness – a vice that is unfortunately aided and abetted by the very institutions charged with the delivery of the public good.
Nigerians have spoken, and continue to speak of the dysfunctions of our institutions and how these inhibit the delivery of the so-called public good. Today, we know that our budgetary process is worse than a mess. Like we have seen of Budget 2016, the executive may have its wishes, the bureaucrats and the legislature will nonetheless have their way. It is a messy affair all the way.
Today, few speak of the kalokalo –that our bureaucracies have become, particularly their infinitely creative ability to spin dizzying zillions into private coffers of public actors. We would rather talk about the politicians – the tribe we love to hate only for their love of ostentation and good life. Hardly do we talk about the brood of vipers in the bureaucracy that daily suck our blood. Yet, between our politicians who are given to boisterous living and our bureaucrats who prefer to operate by stealth, the battle for the control of the national gravy, akin to the battle of two strong men are such that both are guaranteed to win while the rest of society remain anaemic!
Still wondering where the zillions earmarked for roads and other infrastructures disappeared to? Check out the sprawling real estates with the tag Anonymous – dotting Abuja and the 36 state capitals; look out for those gleaming armoured plated SUVs – the terror on Nigeria’s pot-hole infested highways that routinely announces the arrival of the man of power to town; funny how Nigerians continue to fail to make the critical connection between their poverty and these elite indulgencies!
At 56, the Nigerian story remains one of missed opportunities. It is lamentation galore. Fifty years after the country found oil in commercial quantities, our capacity to undertake meaningful activities in the upstream has remained extremely limited; as for our involvement in downstream operations – whether in refining or petrochemicals, it has been an unmitigated disaster. The story is no less true in the power sector that has been in perpetual regression, or of the antediluvian railway contraption bequeathed to us by Lord Lugard that has been object of endless modernization programmes. All have been utter disappointments all the way. In the absence of the critical enablers of infrastructure, describing the Nigerian economy as pre-industrial can hardly be an overstatement although a more fitting description will be an acquisitive-consumptive society!
At 56, the great tragedy is that leadership hasn’t even begun to figure out the place of the African giant in the sun. It is the reason why the nation is not working – or not at work. A Nigeria where wealth comes before work. Our case is worse than tragedy.