Nigeria & love for Chinese debts; Love is blind! And…The Amotekun affair!
When I first discussed the issue of Nigeria’s obsession with Chinese loans (Nigeria+ China; Till debts do us part), we consulted the legendary Shakespeare who had advised: neither a lender nor a borrower be (Julius Caesar). Today, I am still in the Shakespearean mood and once more, I take recourse to the sage who declared years ago “love is blind and lovers do not see the pretty follies that they themselves commit” ( Merchant of Venice) These lovers do FOOLISH things but do not see them as foolish because they are entangled by emotional cobwebs.
However, the onlookers see the follies. Surely, there is an element of blindness in this our love affair with China or else, we should not have embraced the conditions which the Tanzanian President, Magfuli has forcefully argued “can only be accepted by MAD people,” since it amounted to selling the country to China. This Nigeria-Chinese debt-driven love affair is not even blind. China knows what it is doing and Nigeria is just acting as the blind partner because the individuals involved in this debt-love affair are not actually blind; they also know what they are doing. However, the onlookers see the REAL picture and know the truth.
So, when IMF recently said that our debts are below the African average, a narrative vigorously marketed by our Debt Management Office, I shuddered. It is like an Engineer telling the house owner: the walls are cracking, some parts of the decking are giving way but at least, the pillars are still standing. In connection with this, I consulted Fela in the spirit and he gave me a one-sentence answer: “Teasher, don’t teash me nonsense”. Yes, debt to GDP ratio is an outrageous high of 234 percent in Japan, 181 percent in Greece and projected to soon hit 80 percent in Ghana but you can only compare apples with apples. Our people also say that the sheep that wants to grow horns should develop a thick skull meaning one has to know the capabilities of his brethren before asking them for financial bailout.
In effect, you don’t do things because others are doing; you do what you can do! And when Bismarck Rewane said that we have revenue problem, not debt problem, (another emergent government narrative) I also wondered. What about the sinful opulence, criminal pensions and 1001 SAs appointed by the political class, opaque security votes, over bloated contracts, criminal cost of governance et al. I believe that surely, we have expenditure problems and when we manage the expenditures, the revenue side is enhanced
We ended the earlier treatise (Till debt do us part) with a barrage of questions, which boiled down to one: Why are Chinese loans so attractive for China and for African governments? I have gone into my darkroom (not cold-room please!) and have found some of the reasons. It is because of the high ease of looting index! Chinese government do not ask many questions and Nigerian/African borrowers can jolly well do what they do with the loans. That is why we are dutifully servicing the Abuja CCTV loan, even when there is nothing to show for it. We also have low volatility (citizens activism) index Nigerians love life and they are not willing to ask serious questions or risk their lives, except when the politicians pauperizing us mobilise us with N500 apiece. There is also high Elite Acquisitive Index.
So, any deal, from which we can ACQUIRE more and more, goes. There is also a high Elite Acquiescence Index, such that while some elites and rabidly acquisitive, the other elites look the other way in acquiescence. We have a low legal and justice capability index because when busybodies dare ask questions in court (Like Prof Awojobi of blessed memory), the judges will readily agree with the lawyers that the matters are not justiciable, that it is an abuse of court process and that the appellant lacks locus standi. We also have low diligent negotiation index; we lack the capability to strategically analyse these deals to know those that are ideal and those that are baits. The Case of I& PD and even the case of Mambila project are glaring examples. At times, the other indexes mentioned above undermines this particular index, when the best are deliberately side-lined or when the negotiator deliberately sells out. Do not ask me the econometric foundations of these indexes but for sure, they are the reasons why Chinese loans have become increasingly addictive for Nigeria and African Countries.
Yes, debt to GDP ratio is an outrageous high of 234 percent in Japan, 181 percent in Greece and projected to soon hit 80 percent in Ghana but you can only compare apples with apples.
Meanwhile, the debt appetite of the Buhari-APC government is alarmingly atrocious. Our total debt stock for September 2019 is N26.215 trillion while debt service is expected to gulp N2.140 trillion in our 2020 budget, in which N2.031 trillion projected for capital expenditure. More loans are on the drawing board and the NASS has just approved further $30 billion loan. Pundits posit that what we have borrowed in the last 3 years is more than what we have borrowed in the past 30 years. This is bad enough but the argument that there is no cause for alarm in Government quarters and among the informed opinions, except lone voices like that of Professor Tella, is quite unfortunate.
Other matters: Amotekun: The travails of a weird federation
The Amotekun affair has brought to the fore, once more, the challenges of the weird federation that we practice in Nigeria. During the 3rd Goddy Jidenma Lecture, Professor Aliagwu declared without any equivocation, that there is nothing like true federalism because the nature and scope of federalism depends on the peculiar circumstances of its practitioners. (See Ik Muo; Professor Elaigwu, Federalism & Contingency Theory. BusinessDay, 19/11/13). However, one fact remains sacrosanct as far as federalism is concerned: decentralization is fundamental to its theory and practice. However, the Nigerian version of federalism is built upon absolute centralization, to the extent that even the only things our governors can freely do, paying salaries and squandering of common wealth, depend on the goodwill of the federal government. They are able to pay salaries because they collect monthly ‘allawees’ from Abuja; they are able to steal their states dry because the institutions at Abuja look the other way while they do so!
The South-West States, jointly established the Amotekun Security Network and immediately after its launch, the federal government criminalized the outfit by declaring it illegal. While the Amotekun debate rages and while even me as a spirit and a prophet, cannot foresee where it will end, two key issues are pertinent: equity and our practice of federalism. The issue of equity rests on the fact that there are in existence, several para-military and non-federal institutions across the country as at today. For instance, the Amotekun affair happened two weeks after the Hisba Police in Zamfara had the temerity to arrest a serving police officer for spending his time and money the way he deemed fit. Around the same time, the Jigawa Hisba announced how it arrested 24 gays, 12 rapists, 200 prostitutes, and 20 fornicators, among others in 2019. The Civilian JTF has grown in fame and fortune that the Nigerian Soldier has even absorbed a good number of them. (I wonder whether that was a part of its normal recruitment programmes and how other states were represented in the federal character template).
Of course, Lagos state has its KAI brigade, LATSMA and Neighbourhood Safety Corps. Across the states, and even across the local governments, there are several uniformed folks, whose job mostly is to make life difficult for ‘we the people’. In any case, OPC has been operational across the West. So, why is Amotekun different? Is it the name, the timing, the scope or the sponsors?
On the issue of federalism, why shouldn’t the federating units pursue issues of local interest? Kano state spends humongous sums in organising weddings for its citizens; Bauchi Government spends huge sums on burying its citizens (instead of letting the dead to bury the dead); Lagos, spends huge sums on beautification and constructing motor-parks that the people do not understand how to use, Jigawa is constructing mosques across the state (95 for a start) while Anambra spends on Christmas Trees and allied matters. Thus, if states in the north have Hisba police to hound prostitutes and those selling and drinking alcohol, Governments in the South West should also be able to establish Amotekun to tackle kidnappers and cows whose best grazing areas are people’s farmlands. This is in tandem with the practice of federalism
By the way, while there are many voices for and against Amotekun, the reaction of Miyetti Allah, is quite interesting. They had vowed that Amotekun must not be allowed to be and argued that it would rob the South West of the presidency come 2023. So, the Miyetti Allah has become a part of the Federal Government and though we are supposed to be in a democracy, the organization has the capacity to decide who gets the presidency. The Oni of Ife and the white haired one (Prof Soyinka) have also reacted, asking their people to defend their ancestral land as the FG has failed to protect them. Despite the cacophony of voices on the Amotekun affair, people are also surprised at the SILENCE of Bola Tinubu, telling him that in this case SILENCE is not golden. So, some people speak and they are in ‘trouble’; some people keep silent and they are also in ‘trouble’.
Meanwhile, in this online era, when wars are fought with drone operation with scientific precision, the picture of the IG of Amotekun forces is quite interesting. What kind of army is he leading?