(Vanguard of Sunday, July 24, 2005)
Mr. President has been telling those of us who have blamed him for globe-trotting for one year of his first four years in office that what he had been gunning for has come our way. From a country nobody wanted to see or listen to, we are so loved now, and thanks to Mr. President’s singular effort, that those we owe are even ready to forgive us our financial trespasses.
I join many who are happy at our President’s achievement, and would like the congratulations to also rub off on Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, one of the most ideologically focused finance ministers we have had. If there is anyone who can lay more claims to the knowledge of the intricacies of the workings of financial institutions that call the shots in the West, and on earth today, let that braggart step forward and display his credentials.
But if no one is saying something that the cassava grower can understand, I would like to be better briefed on what it is that we stand to gain by coughing out at this material time a whopping $6 billion to start with, then another $6 billion so that we would not have to pay a billion dollars a year for the next 12 years and accumulate an additional $10 billion in debt.
I am getting confused myself. But this is what I thought I saw our darling Ngozi telling us on television the other day to explain why we should be happy that our debts are being forgiven on terms by the Paris Club. But in my own way of looking at what we call the future, I wonder whether someone out there is not taking us for a ride, and celebrating that we fell for their ploy.
I must explain my ignorance in these matters and confess that my contribution is from the perspective of the one who says only today matters and wants tomorrow to take care of itself.
Let me put the cards on the table in four scenarios. Scenario One is the Present Loss Scenario. Scenario Two is the Future Gain Scenario. Scenario Three is the Bad Debt Scenario. And Scenario Four is the Reparation Scenario. Let us accept a timeslot from which we analyze the situation. Let us think of 15 years from now. But let us first look at what we have been into over the years.
This thing we have been into will form part one of this presentation. Next week, we should look at the four scenarios in some little more detail.
A little more than a quarter of a century ago, we found ourselves borrowing to meet whatever commitments led us into this path of difficult return. With the re-emergence of civil rule in 1979 and the difficulty that came our way with maintaining structures which up to now we have been recklessly pushing to expand and retain, we increased our indebtedness to well-organized international bodies.
Some of the things we borrowed money to provide were consumables, including rice from the paddy fields of Asia. Umaru Dikko is the key personality I remember very well because he was in charge of ensuring that Nigerians received their allocations of imported food.
We have vast lands that can grow rice, and it is there on the records that Uncle Ben rice had its origin in the Niger Delta. But we would not grow rice, or any other food. The oil money was there and we were credited with boasting once upon a time that our problem was not money but what to do with it!
Gowon who was said to have made the statement was too much of a gentleman to have condescended to the level of scheming to manipulate the public treasury. Many others designed ways of taking away our money even when we no longer had enough to meet our urgent commitments.
So with the fall in the price of oil and consequent reduced earnings, we found it difficult to reduce consumption. But before the next line of credit would be granted, we had to be subjected to demeaning conditions.
The different creditors would insist that we acquire a testimonial of good behaviour from the International Monetary Fund. IMF had to be sure we were better managers of our economies. And they decided what better management was. They even had offices in ministries that handled money.
Their demands included our withdrawing subsidies of any description, reducing the work force, distancing governments from businesses through privatization; and devaluing the national currency. For some 20 years now, we have been laid on the financial slabs of western interests.
What we borrowed has been repaid over and over, but the arrangements were such that the more we paid, the more they told us we owed! If you refuse to service the debts, your factories would be grounded because the parts to run them come from their production lines.
As at now, our factories are not running because the warehouses make it more as rented quarters for churches. So instead of factories bursting with goods being produced by our teaming unemployed, the familiar sight is an army of ushers and worshippers asking God to give them a daily bread they have no opportunity to work for.
The infrastructures are underdeveloped. The educational institutions are not worth the name. The products of such institutions are intellectual knit wits, and the certificates they come away with are not reflective of any serious tutelage.
As at this time when we are being forgiven our debts on terms we should now be able to guess, the situation has not improved. A new name for dismissing people from work has changed from downsizing to rightsizing.
Even when monetization of entitlements has become national policy, we are owing those who are affected. Nationally, local contractors are owed, and pensioners are not paid as and when due. In fact, some years ago, in 2002, we were owing them more than one trillion naira.
The programmes we have, if any at all, to cater for the aged, the youths, women and other deprived groups hardly leave the drawing boards. Our policemen are poorly paid and the reaction time to emergencies is zero.
At the time of writing this, a cargo plane crash-landed at Murtala Muhammad Airport and it took a full 24 hours to get planes flying again. We do not have facilities to tackle urgent challenges.
Last week, I listed some of the many priority areas the President promised to start addressing within the first six months of his taking office on May 29, 1999. These are the areas – the crisis in the Oil Producing Areas; Food Supply, Food Security and Agriculture; Law and Order with particular reference to Armed Robbery and to Cultism in our educational institutions;
Exploration and Production of Petroleum; Education; Macro-economic Policies – particularly Exchange Rate Management, etc; Supply and Distribution of Petroleum Products; The Debt Issue; Corruption, Drugs, organized fraud called 419 activities, and crimes leading to loss of lives, properties and investment;
Infrastructure – Water Supply, Energy, Telecommunication, Ports, Airways, national Shipping, Nigerian Railways etc; Resuscitation of the Manufacturing Industries; Job creation, and creation of conducive environment for investment; Poverty Alleviation; Housing – both Civilian Housing Programmes, and Barrack Refurbishment and New Constructions for the Armed Forces and the Police. ECOMOG; Health Services; Political and Constitutional Dialogue; and Women and Youth Empowerment.
If we have not achieved much up to now, it is not for lack of trying. It is because we have not the funds to meet these crying commitments. There is $12 billion somewhere and we are looking for what to do with it!
Do we pay this money out today or we spend it on the crying needs of today? But where did they say the money came from? From excess oil earnings from the Niger Delta where there is so much denial and deprivation and desperation that the restiveness can only be cured through socio-economic engineering which may well demand that we even borrow to stem a very explosive situation!
But what if we had no excess earnings? If we hadn’t this money somewhere, we would not be discussing spending it on only payment of debt. Since the money is there, we must discuss how we can handle it, and everyone can have their say. Next week, I should explain the four options I have described as the Present Loss Scenario, the Future Gain Scenario, the Bad Debt Scenario and the Reparation Scenario. Come along and let’s talk.
(Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary, Vol. 2, pages 7 – 10)