Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 19 November 2014 | 3,230 times
Crude oil asking price per barrel in the international market is reported to have slumped far lower than the budget projection of a little over $75 USD. This, coupled with the unfortunate scenario of the United States of America not buying Nigeria’s huge crude oil exports, is said to be the major fear factor why Nigeria’s external reserves have plummeted to an all-time low since 1999.
Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was at her wits best the other day when she briefed the National Assembly and raised the issue of imminent economic crunch that may befall Nigeria, unless, in her words, “We learn to do belt tightening in the way we live as a nation.” The coordinating minister for the Nigerian economy is one fortuitous Nigerian public officer that can be said to have seen it all in the area of managing the nation’s economy in the last quarter of a century, given the fact that she has remained consistent, like the Northern Star, in the nation’s political firmament since early 2003 or so when she was ‘borrowed’ by the then Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration to head the Ministry of Finance, before being reshuffled to the less fancied Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which led to her exit. But again, she emerged as the Minister of Finance under the current dispensation, since the current president became acting president in 2010. She was reappointed after the current Head of State, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, won election for his first full four-year tenure in 2011.
In her first stint as the finance minister, she was credited with the role of moving Nigeria away from the notorious club of the heavily indebted nations when she negotiated what she called soft landing with the Paris Club and the London Club, which led to the waiving aside of a huge chunk of the so-called foreign debts that were accumulated, although through fraudulent methodology, by successive administrations. Nigeria paid out over $12 billion USD at once, leading to the debt forgiveness of the other segment of the then over $35 billion USD. Well, the decision by the then Obasanjo-led administration to pay out such a huge chunk of foreign denominated cash to these so-called Western creditors met a huge uproar of criticism from some quarters who felt that Nigerians have been short-changed, given the fact that first the total package of Nigeria’s external indebtedness was not clearly and transparently audited to determine how they came about. Besides, economists and analysts believe that it was not a good business model to pay off such huge chunk of cash by a nation with over 80 million poverty-stricken populace, out of the little over 140 million population. Those analysts and economists had reasoned that Nigerian government would have used the huge cash to fix the nation's dilapidated and collapsed infrastructure, such as the national roads networks and other vital infrastructure which they said would have boosted the domestic economy and put Nigeria in the steady rise to a developed economy that can easily pay off the foreign debts that were transparently determined and reconciled.
Be that as it may, the current minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy would be the last person to entertain that kind of criticism for a decision she considers as one of her finest contributions towards making Nigeria to become a reliable international partner in the comity of nations and, which, according to her, has also made Nigeria a credit worthy ally of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund: two of the Bretton Woods institutions she has spent the better part of her working career as a senior level official and technocrat. In her current political journey as the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Nigerian Economy, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, has nevertheless literarily swallowed her pride, so to say, and has led Nigeria steadily back to the notorious club of debtors: because gradually Nigeria's foreign debt profile has begun the dangerous upward swing to such a height that majority of Nigerians are now unable to afford even a square meal per day as the different levels of government have completely abandoned their statutory role of providing the needed socio economic infrastructures to make life meaningful and constructive. If I may ask: Why did the current minister of finance preside over two diametrically opposed policies of paying off the nation's debts and a little over three years to have gone back to our 'vomits' and began the building up of additional foreign debts profile, which will invariably enslave two generations after us? The answer to the above poser is not the reason why I am penning this piece. But the reason is that this same minister of finance has again raised national alarm that the steady collapse of the global crude oil price means that ordinary Nigerians should embark on the so-called belt-tightening measures. Is it not clear to even the blind that most Nigerians have lost their shape to the biting hurricane of poverty sweeping across most homes and, therefore, it is foolhardy to ask any of these poverty stricken Nigerians to tighten their belts when they literary have no waist to even put on these belts?
I sincerely believe that the reasons Nigeria is broke is not because the price of crude oil per barrels have collapsed in the international market nor is the reason for our sudden financial insolvency as a nation resulted from the lack of patronage of our crude oil by the United States, which has found shale oil in commercial quantities as alternative to our crude oil. The major reason for our being broke now as a nation is because of bloated political class and the unprecedented quantum of cash that goes into servicing them. Why, for instance, have we failed as a nation to amend the constitution to specifically state that Nigeria does not need more than ten ministers? What is Nigeria doing with over 40 ministers, some of who simply move from one state to the other masquerading as public office holders and costing Nigerian tax payers hugely in wages? I doubt if the United States or China with all their heavy wealth as developed nations have the high number of federal cabinet level officials that Nigeria currently parades. The Federal Government must cut down wastages and close all avenues for wastages that currently exist in government at all levels. Government must create the policy and legal framework to make it punishable with heavy judicial sanctions; such things as engagement of civil and public servants in activities that deplete the resources of Nigeria such as foreign medical trips.
There is even this legendary issue of lack of transparency in the extractive industry in Nigeria even as corruption in public procurement regime is massive. What has happened to the $20 billion USD some itching fingers in NNPC allegedly stole over 12 months now?
If we want to do belt tightening of the Nigerian economy to face the emerging economic realities, then we must amend the Nigerian constitution to reflect that we need not more than ten ministers and that these ministers must not engage more than a staff as a technical person; and that each of these ministers must be drawn from relevant fields of study and the statutory mandates of these ministries, so they do not have the reason to go fishing for jobs for their boys. The next reason we are broke is our wastefulness and our possessiveness by the ghost of consumerism and lack of productivity. We must, as a nation, stop this ugly appetite of consuming everything foreign. We should behave like the Chinese who have developed their domestic economy, borrowing from the best technologies that can be found in all parts of the world.
Secondly, if we are to concede to the new gospel of Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala that we need belt-tightening measures, then we must task this government to stop forthwith the retrogressive practice of reckless issuance of import waivers to politically favoured sons and allies. Why, for instance, have few individuals enjoyed waivers to import commodities as easily produced as sugar, when it is known that Nigeria is so resource rich that there are states that are heavily endowed with raw materials to manufacture sugar in commercial quantities?
Then again, in the area of justice delivery, why is it that sensitive economic related cases are compromised on the altar of nepotism and cronyism by judges, and there is weak legal framework for punishing these corrupt judges? A nation with this kind of weak, compromised and corrupt justice sector will find it almost impossible to attract good foreign direct investors who would play by the rules and create a good business environment that would boost job opportunities and productivity on the side of the populace. Again, why is it that government compromised in the execution of the privatisation exercises in key economic sectors, to an extent that government sold out the vital electricity power plants built over the years with public fund running to their billions of dollars at very give away prices to mostly the cronies of some top government officials? Why is this same government playing around with the voodoo policy of raising funding assistance to these same new owners of the power plants who ought to have mobilised private and independent funds to develop and expand their business and services to the members of the public? A nation that auctions its hard earned economic assets to a few rogue elements and turns back to raise funds to these parasites will inevitably become broke because there is no economic wisdom in so doing. To the minister of finance, please let her know that three factors have made us poorer as a nation, namely: corruption, wastages by public office holders and, on the side of the followers, the appetites for consumptions of anything foreign. These are contributory factor, and we must collectively exorcise these ghosts to regain our economic freedom as a sovereign entity.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Wednesday and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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