By Wole Olaoye
Some people think that the next president of Nigeria will inherit a poisoned chalice because he (yes, he) will find out that what he thought was a throne was but a marble-coated trap programmed to de-ball. If the economic situation is as bad as many experts see it, why are so many people hell bent on becoming the president? Do they have a death wish?
The answer is that no matter how bad the situation may be, there is always a set of remedies that will heal the land and prepare it for growth. While it is true that our voodoo economics and borrow-borrow philosophy have only made us more exposed to the vagaries of the global meltdown, it is also accurate to say that we are a fortunate lot, for there are only few places on the planet more endowed with nature’s bounties than Nigeria.
Perhaps one of our greatest contributions to modern civilisation is in the area of human resources. Our sons and daughters are acclaimed champions in various fields, contributing to global advancement and casting a benevolent glance back home to offer words of counsel from the mountain top of global finance and trade on which Providence has placed them. In these critical times Nigeria is lucky to have two of its illustrious citizens, Dr Akinwumi Adesina of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organisation, occupying positions of critical importance to our collective future.
Dr Adesina, characteristically showed up to identify with Nigeria in her struggle for self actualisation at the recent Nigeria International Economic Partnership Forum in New York organised on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. I find his treatise tailor-made for our circumstances. Lucky is the parent who has within his household an expert in the peculiar ailment that debilitates him.
A word on the last UNGA: The annual summit showed that Africa still has a long way to go in cultivating the culture of prudence. While our leaders think nothing of begging for debt forgiveness, their demonstration of profligacy during the conference showed that many of them are just bushmen fascinated by glitz and glitter.
While insensitive African leaders begging for debt forgiveness and increased aid took over at least thirty-nine five star hotels in New York, the Prime Ministers of Israel, The Netherlands and Malta slept in a budget hotel far away and the President of Czech Republic also stayed in a low-cost hotel. The Prime Minister of Slovakia together with leaders from Jordan chose a small budget office in Harlem. When a street beggar is draped in fine linen, what incentive is there for the prospective almsgiver?
That said, I want to get back to the kernel of Adesina’s message. On a cheery note, Adesina still thinks Nigeria is an investor’s haven if only the country’s leaders would do the right things. He notes that the population of Nigeria, Africa’s giant, is projected to hit 400 million by Year 2050. By that time, what will the people eat? Where will they live? How will they cope with the elements if we don’t start making massive investments for the future?
It was sweet music in my ears considering that we are on the march again, politically speaking. The Nigerian political roulette is in full swing. There will be winners and losers; survivors and corpses. So, we need not frighten ourselves that the contents of our chalice have been laced with hemlock. Have we mapped out what is to be done? Then we should just go ahead and DO IT!
Adesina agrees with Buhari’s contention at the forum that, “The Nigerian economy is ripe for increased investment” and that something is being done to tackle insecurity in the country. But he notes that we have to tackle the human element in the equation. “We must change our ways” he says. “To attract greater foreign direct investment to Nigeria, we must fix the security situation. Capital does not like to be troubled. Ultimately, investment capital must be made comfortable. Only then can it be attracted.”
As we are now in ‘injury time’ (Nigerian lingo for the near-end of an old order), maybe the incoming administration will benefit more from Adesina’s treatise than the incumbent one which has about six months to wind up.
The AfDB boss categorises the challenges making Africa a continent of debtor nations as the 3 C’s— Covid, Climate and Conflict in Ukraine. These problems can be solved by introducing the 3F’s: Finance, Finance, and Finance!
“Financing is critical because the debt to GDP ratio of Africa has increased to 70%. Several countries are at the risk of debt distress due to unsustainable debt levels. Nigeria’s total debt level is N 42.84 trillion or $103 billion. External debt level stands at N16.61 trillion or about $40 billion. Nigeria needs help to tackle its debt burden”, he says.
But some government operatives are not quite convinced that we have a debt problem. They think it is more of a revenue problem. I think they are wrong. You must first map out what you want to do by THINKING. How much due diligence went into the procurements we made with borrowed funds? Hasn’t it been widely alleged on social media that the new Nigerian railway tracks are the most expensive in the world?
We have too many holes in the revenue bucket. We are planning to give import tax waivers worth N6 trillion to various firms and individuals while also arranging to borrow N7.4 trillion from the domestic market and N1.8 trillion from foreign entities. In addition, the federal government is expecting N206.1 billion from privatisation proceeds and N1.7 trillion multilateral project-tied loans. The government plans to generate only N8.5 trillion, out of the N19.47 trillion budget.
What is the rationale of giving waivers to the privileged few at the expense of the larger majority? Make no mistake about it, every loan we take without applying it properly, will have direct consequences on the future.
The way we run our train service, for example, shows that we are not interested in the revenue side of things. The trains have been procured with massive loans but there is yet no plan to my knowledge of making the service self-sustaining. Instead it had become a massive racket, another cesspit of corruption where tickets are sold by hand in order to bypass online transactions. Who is there to staunch the haemorrhage? Every godlet has his/her own little empire where he makes hay.
But I digress.
The African Development Bank and the Global Center on Adaptation have launched the African Adaptation Acceleration Program to mobilize $25 billion out of the projected $125 billion required for climate adaptation for Africa.
The Bank has invested $4.5 billion in Nigeria. To help unlock its huge agricultural potential, the African Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Islamic Development Bank have provided $540 million to develop Special Agro-industrial processing zones. When these projects fully mature, they will change the landscape of Nigeria for good. But we must take care of the little problem of leadership in the February 2022 elections.
The matter of petroleum subsidy which gulped 1 trillion this year shows how we have left a sore to fester and become a gangrenous ulcer. The Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Ms. Patience Oniha, recently disclosed that Nigeria’s public debt stock as of June 30, 2022, stood at $42.8 billion, a threshold, she said, was within acceptable and sustainable limits.
I was one of Obasanjo’s critics when he chose to pay off Nigeria’s debts instead of fixing critical infrastructure such as electricity, major arterial highways, waterways, moribund government industries , etc. Now we are back in the debt trap. And somebody somewhere is saying that the answer to the problem is to tax the already overburdened people more!
The next government will have to take some courageous decisions if we are ever to get out of this bind. All these fraudulent subsidies must be abolished and all refineries must function at full capacity. Otherwise they should be sold to the private sector.
The next Nigerian leader must hearken to Mahatma Gandhi’s charge by waging a war consistently against what the sage described as the seven deadly sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Science without humanity; Knowledge without character; Politics without principle; Commerce without morality; and Worship without sacrifice
Buhari will hand over the chalice in 2023. Will it be to someone Obidient or BATified or Atikulated or Kwankwasiya-ed?
And will it be laced with hemlock, or will its contents be determined by where we collectively fetch our brew?
(Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021)
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