Archives

Tears For My Country

BY LES LEBA

The Nigerian media last week widely reported the comment made by Senator Russ Feingold, Chairman of the U.S. Subcommittee on Africa that Nigeria was a failed state with hardly any forceful response to avert the consequences of the global recession.  Senator Feingold’s observation may not have cut so deep if we were in a despotic or dictatorial dispensation as a nation.  The citizens of totalitarian regimes may be charitably labeled as victims and consequently excused from the plethora of the sins of their oppressors who invariably exercise power with the barrel of the gun rather than by the popularly expressed will of the people; the handful of citizens who dare to make, even, constructive criticisms of government policies do so from exile or at great risk to their lives.

But, here we are in a supposedly full-blown democracy, that should provide fertile ground for free speech, freer markets, efficient resource allocation, rapid development and improved welfare enhancement of our people, and yet, our nation has only succeeded in earning the ignominious tag of a ‘failed state’, in spite of our enviable natural endowments and vast markets!


Why, we may ask, do the salutary dividends of democracy continue to elude us?  True, we share the same democratic structures with the most successful countries in the world; yet, the results of our efforts continue to fail to lift us from the rungs of the world’s poorest nations.  In other words, if the system is not to blame, then the problem must be with the people who operate the system, particularly the political leadership.  Even if foreign observers adjudge our elections as free and fair, Nigerians are not fooled by the motivation of the quality of people who aspire for political office and consequently pilot our destiny.

While, for example, political aspiration in successful economies are critically driven by the need to serve or the zeal to make things better for the majority, if not all, Nigerian politicians, on the other hand, see politics as business and they make no secret about this.  We recall a Senate President in the recent past, who brazenly declared that politicians spend a lot of their resources, and may even borrow or sell property to seek political relevance, so they should not be blamed if they sought to recoup their investment!  Incidentally, even though the Senate President who made this observation was forced to step down, regrettably, the reason for his ouster had nothing to do with his views on politics as a business investment in Nigeria.

It would be an oddity as things stand, to find a political office holder, either from the Federal Executive or the Legislature whose fortunes have remained static after a year or so in office!  This is an admission that financial discipline cannot be a popular credo in government, and such best practices would run counter to the aspiration of virtually all who hold office, either as a result of individual election victory or political patronage!  Nigerians are sickened and frustrated every morning as they are assaulted with blazing media reports of both minor and aggravated frauds perpetuated individually or in concert by holders of public office, either in the Executive or Legislative arms of government!  For example, a cursory glance at a few newspapers on Friday, 6/2/09 reveal a cesspool of corruption and deceit that would present formidable obstacles to any attempt to redeem the lot of our people from poverty; the Punch Newspaper edition of that day carries a front page lead story on tension in the House of Reps “over a series of unresolved financial matters, including the N1.4bn which members allegedly spent on Christmas and Sallah festivals in 2008”.  The Punch report continues  “…Each of the 360 lawmakers in the House was given N4m (N2m for each of the festivals), which was later deducted from their entitlements.  However, the Lawmakers disagreed with the House leadership, claiming they had thought that the money was a gift”.

The question that begs to be answered is, how much is the official salary and other allowances for the Senators for them to feel that N4m of the people’s money can be given to each one of them as gift?  Besides, who has the power, apart from the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation committee (RMAFC) to determine Legislators’ remuneration?  The protest against deduction of N4m from allowances must be an indication that such gifts had been enjoyed in previous years, without any subsequent deductions!  In the same Punch story under reference, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs also made mention of outstanding reports on the floor of the House; these reports include the power probe, which investigated the expenditure of trillions of naira on elusive power projects in the country; the investigative report on the probe of non-remittance of over N3 trillion revenue by government agencies and parastatals between 1999-2008!  Nigerians may not hold their breaths for the outcome of these reports as several such investigations have failed to punish or expose those public officers who dipped their hands into public treasury for self aggrandizement; in any case, the leadership of the House is yet to clear the odium of the N2.3bn car scandal blown open by a notable legal activist.

The Punch Newspapers editorial of the same date refers to bickering at RMAFC, the commission that is supposed to be “actively involved in diversifying the nation’s revenue base and prudently allocating the resources in line with the mood of the nation”.

In December last year, 25 of the 37 Commissioners of the RMAFC had petitioned Secretary to the Government on the unconstitutional and undemocratic style of the Chairman of the Committee.  The Chairman, Mallam Tukur, on the other hand, countered that the real grouse of the Commissioners was his insistence that they collect a monitoring allowance of N32,000 instead of the N400,000, which they had illegally collected, and his invitation for the EFCC to step in and recover the excesses from the Commissioners.  With such bickering relating to self aggrandisement, the decisions of this committee with regard to accountability and public welfare may be suspect.

In the same editorial, the Punch noted that escalating cost of running government has left little or nothing for development projects because of the bloated allowances to public office holders.  The editorial went on to claim that “In a nation blighted by unemployment and poverty, it is widely speculated that a Senator and his House of Reps counterpart earn up to N10 million and N7m respectively in a month as salaries and allowances.”  It is no surprise that, in spite of the obvious, current capital development needs, recurrent appropriations in the nation’s budgets may never fall below 65%, and our hopes for infrastructural development will continue to be a mirage!

Again, in the Business page of the Punch, under the title “26 Jostle for PPPRA Top Job”, the related story confirms that Dr. Oluwole Oluleye, the Executive Secretary, would not be returned to the position. “Oluleye was suspended in October 2008 over the alleged disappearance of N64 billion from the Petroleum Support Fund!

In the same vein, in the Abuja News page of the Daily Independent (page A4), the report noted that a Non-Governmental Organisation by the name of ‘Banking Ethics Organisation of Nigeria’ has petitioned the National Assembly, accusing the management of the Central bank (CBN) and that of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) “of making the country lose about $125bn or N14.625 trillion revenue in the last five years!  The Group’s petition, which has been referred to the Justice Committee, claimed that the two organizations in their transactions caused great loss to the country, when money moves from NNPC to CBN!  The Group lamented that in spite of the financial meltdown all over the world, yet, we are throwing money away; this is an irony”.

The above is a selection of fraud-related incidents in our body polity from just two newspapers in one day.  The question as to whether these investigations will be resolved fairly and squarely in the interest of the people is another issue, but from the antecedents of our political and executive elite who hold public offices, we may expect that if any opportunity provides itself for further self-enrichment, the reports may never see the light of day, and if they do, they will be couched in such language that no one will be found guilty and punished severely as deterrent to other would be looters of public treasury.

Maybe only a handful of Nigerians truly recognize that abundant mineral resource endowment in a country may not bring much relief to the poor without a well-articulated and sincere monetary and fiscal policy.  My heart bleeds at the wholesale deceit on which our monetary policies are founded.  There is nothing more fraudulent than consciously killing over 140 million hapless Nigerians slowly with monetary policies, which are designed to increase the wealth of just a few Nigerians and their partners in the banking sector, while the rest of us are promised paradise in 2020.  How else do you explain a system that ensures we borrow our own moneys back from the same banks where they have been deliberately placed by the same people who instruct us on this path of perdition, or how can we say we still have dollar reserves when the naira fraudulently and unconstitutionally substituted for dollar allocations have been spent by the recipients?  It is a classic case of eating your cake and having it; indeed, the way our monetary policy is structured, we may be able to recycle the same dollars many times over in naira, but at great peril to all that is good for the economy. 

In other words, high interest rates, comatose industrial landscape, increasing unemployment, insecurity in the land; these are all the offshoots of the deliberate arrangement which ensures that rising or indeed, falling dollar revenue will mean the same thing; i.e., increasing poverty for our people, while the makers of our monetary and fiscal policy and their friends in the banks have the last laugh and clink their champagne glasses in celebration with members of the Legislature and Executive, who provide them with the same cover associated with godfathers!  

Meanwhile, even the CBN Governor has indicated at a recent seminar that we should not expect interest rates to fall to single digit, even when other serious economies are pulling down their Central Bank rates to all time lows below 2% so as to stimulate industrial activities and arrest the recession! My people, we are in bondage!

SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!

From Saharareporters