We’ve got to fix our country as quickly as possible. Why is there political support for huge government spending and expanded cabinet particularly at the federal level when the unemployment figures are high and the nation is struggling with debt? Maybe because we have wrong metaphors stuck in our minds, and it’s framing policy choices of those in government in a misleading manner.
Sometime in the 1980s, during the days of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) prescribed by the World Bank, Nigerians were ordered by the then military government to tighten their belts. The military government then forgot that whenever there was an opportunity to have a national discourse on any policy issue, there must be a consistent consideration of alternatives. There was no alternative to SAP, was the song at the time.
Nigerians now know better that some of those leaders who ordered us to tighten our belts recklessly mismanaged the nation’s funds with impunity
Most Nigerians have not forgotten SAP and its attendant social effects that put to question the sincerity of purpose of those in government at that time. After about ten years of implementing SAP, most Nigerians were poorer when compared with their economic status at the commencement of the policy. Even when there was public outcry in Nigeria regarding the ineffectiveness of the policy, Nigerians were simply told by the government that there was no alternative to SAP. So, all Nigerians were ordered to tighten their belts. Period.
Nigerians now know better that some of those leaders who ordered us to tighten our belts recklessly mismanaged the nation’s funds with impunity. Leadership is a commitment to serve others, not an opportunity for self-serving endeavours. If we are to move forward, honest leadership is imperative.
I learnt that the immediate past President of Nigeria stated that “Nigerians are too hard to govern.” Perhaps, the General wanted to say that Nigerians are very wise and that they take dressing from their leaders. It must be stated that our leaders lost the citizens they are to lead. Why? Because when our leaders say one thing, they do something different. Most Nigerians have lost the trust of their leaders because of misalignment between campaign promises and policies.
It’s been widely reported that the current regime of President Tinubu met an empty treasury. Have we asked those who “emptied the treasury” questions to justify their actions? Most elected and appointed politicians in the past twenty years who have been alleged to mismanage government funds at federal, state and local levels are skylarking all over the country. Some are nowhere to be found.
Surprisingly, after almost forty years of belt-tightening, Nigerians are still ordered to tighten their belts while our civilian leaders spend money recklessly as if the nation is very buoyant financially. We all know that the nation has abundant resources. Yet, the country is highly indebted. Belt-tightening has become a metaphor now in the country only for the citizens but not for those in government and their families. Limited space will not permit the columnist to go into specifics.
We have a situation where the level of unemployment is high, inflation is rising, and the agricultural sector is moribund despite the nation’s abundant mineral resources. But we are asked to tighten our belts.
Let’s briefly consider our thinking about taxes and government spending. Nigerians will pay taxes when taxes work in their lives. It’s because taxes collected in the past have not been put to good use to maintain and provide public infrastructure including the roads we travel on, and fund public services such as schools and hospitals as well as welfare programs. We want taxes from most firms that are just barely surviving the harsh economic realities of the current austere times. There are reports that some of the publicly quoted companies are gradually exiting the country. Are the leaders not aware that some firms are leaving our country to pursue their businesses in other countries?
Instead of attending to serious national security issues – food, housing, education and health, transportation among others – our senators and house of reps members want sophisticated SUVs for use at state and federal levels. Our budget is in trillions of naira which is not bad but we have outspent our revenue. We have forgotten that a sustained mismanagement of our funds will result in ruins.
This is the best time to save and invest despite low-interest rates when compared with the rate of inflation. But it’s hard to save in a country with double-digit inflation and high cost of living. For how long are we going to tighten our belts? As we tighten our belts, the nation’s economy is weakening to the extent that we are all worse off. The nation must cut its profligate spending and manage the economy well in order to meet its debt obligations.
We need to go back in time in order to get a clear picture of what problems are.
Many of us know the root cause of our problems today, it started many years ago.
Exactly 43 years ago, one Naira was almost equal to one US Dollar. Then, Nigerians were regarded in the international arena as people from an oil-rich but expensive country in Africa. Today, it’s over one thousand Naira to one US Dollar.
Are you surprised?
Well, we were far more productive in the 1980s than we are today.
In the 1980s, we were a net exporter of refined petroleum products. Today we import all our refined petroleum products. We import almost everything. Isn’t that alarming? There lies the source of the terrible exchange rate we are experiencing today. Instead of mapping out strategies to improve production, all we hear almost daily from our leaders is that we should tighten our belts.
We have been talking about these problems and more for ages. It is not enough for us to complain about the exchange rate or point out what others are not doing or are failing to do. The key questions are: What are we producing now as we have gradually de-industrialized our economy? What role is the political leadership playing to ensure that we go back to production with a view to industrializing our economy? How do we ensure that the supply side of our foreign exchange is not disrupted?
Many production firms are closing down and the Naira is constantly devalued. Yet we want our economy to be more stable and competitive.
When one hears “invest India”. We should also be talking about “invest Nigeria.” If we want investors to invest in Nigeria all the states and the federal governments have got to fix reputational damage and build trust. Nigerian firms are not exempt from fixing reputational damage and building trust. All Nigerians must learn to be people of honour. We must operate a merit-based system as no nation can make any meaningful progress without instituting a system of meritocracy. As leaders, we must motivate, inspire and reward those Nigerians who deserve to be honoured.
If we want to progress as a country, Nigeria should not be ashamed to adapt or adopt any of the models that have worked elsewhere, particularly in industrialized countries. The members of the 10th National Assembly and lawmakers in state assemblies should make laws that will enable wealth creation. The Judiciary has been sucked into politics and corruption, according to some legal luminaries. It’s imperative that the judiciary should be free from corruption. Time is fast running. If it’s belt-tightening that will free Nigerians from the shackles of poverty and economic backwardness, then all of us must take part in the exercise. Belt-tightening shouldn’t be for the citizens while those with constitutional authority have no belt to tighten. Thank you.