In Nigeria, Leaders Eat First, By ‘Tope Fasua
I think it’s time we appeal to the consciences of the president and his deputy, being men of relative integrity and trust. It seems even they have become captive of something bigger that afflicts people in Aso Rock. For our own good and theirs, perhaps we may still rescue the situation. You see, when a nation goes into dire straits, like a recession, its decisions must change. Such a nation is akin to a family breadwinner who loses his job or means of livelihood. Such a time is a period for reflection and introspection. It is also a period for equitable reappraisal across the board.
This piece was written by Tope Fausa. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.
The father of a house who loses his job must first of all ensure that every resource that comes into his hands, secures the well-being of his children. The most-vulnerable members of his family must first be sorted out. If he has very young children who cannot fend for themselves, a responsible and reasonable father will ensure that their feeding and hygiene must be priority, even if reduced. Then he scales up. They say leaders eat last, and so in a dire situation, the head of the family should bear the brunt.
In Nigeria, in spite of the deep financial mess that we are in, and the terrible situation in which many families have found themselves at these times, the situation is inverted. Those with political power, and those who are closest to where the commonwealth is being shared, simply take the majority of the resources for themselves. No one should use the memorandum excuse that we are now out of recession. That is on paper. Many Nigerian families have fallen into the poverty trap in the last three years under this government. People are losing their jobs daily. It is evident that those running government today have really not been in the types of situations that Nigerians wallow in on a daily basis. They have probably never run businesses before to know the ups and downs and how government policies impact. They have never lived on the edge, being privileged from early in life. A great number of those at the top echelon in Nigeria today, went to all their schools on full scholarships. Even their children got the same scholarships, paid for by this country.
So our leaders have to take a pause because there is anger and hunger in the land. They seem focused on large projects but just as the banks make the mistake of financing large transactions and thereby losing large money (and both the bankers and government people love large transactions because that is how and where they make their own personal monies), we all seem to have forgotten that the long run is a combination of several short runs and that people have to be alive to enjoy these large infrastructure projects that we have in mind.
Now let us look at the situation on ground. These are the major international and local news on and around Nigeria in the last week or so:
1. Nigerian Police is declared the worst in the world in terms of World Internal Security and Policing Index. They need more personnel, equipment and focus. And they need to be less corrupt;
2. Nigerian men, women and children are being sold as modern-day slaves in Libya and elsewhere, for as low as $400 per human being;
3. Many unaccompanied Nigerian children manage to make it to Europe after their mothers may have died at sea;
4. Bodies of African migrants – mostly Nigerians – washed ashore in Italy and elsewhere. The rate at which Nigerians are running across the Sahara desert has increased by more than 300 percent in the last two years. The Buhari government has apparently made people far more desperate and that is a big shame;
5. By 2018, according to the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria will supply the world with the highest number of extremely poor people. Right now, it is behind India by just six million people. India’s population is 1.3 billion, out of which 88 million are desperately poor. Nigeria is 180 million, out of which almost half (82 million) are extremely poor. This is unacceptable;
6. Given the Kaduna experiment, it is evident that perhaps 60 percent of Nigerian teachers nationwide, are incompetent and unfit for purpose. This will need massive investment to correct in due course.
7. Related with the above is that by UN reports, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world today (15 million). It used to be India, but with almost double digit economic growth and a salutary effort at repositioning that country, all the bad indices are receding for India, and Nigeria has taken over. The president – for the first time – acknowledged this problem at the recent Education Retreat.
Now given these realities – poverty, illiteracy, bad health systems, a predatory police force, illegal emigration like never before, loss of dignity by our own people, should government be:
a. Budgeting N4.8 billion to ‘maintain’ Aso Villa this coming year? It was N4.9 billion this year. Recall the N3.5 billion that was earmarked for Aso Villa Clinic this year, and how in spite of that, the first lady said they did not have even one syringe? And she asked where was the money going?
b. Should we be giving out consultancy projects for $1.5 million to a Malaysian firm to help us collate data and talk to ‘stakeholders’ for our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan? What can a Malaysian company know about poverty in Nigeria? Will Malaysia give such a contract to a Nigerian company? Do Nigerian leaders know that a period of dire economic straits is first of all a period where the family cash flow is kept circulating within?
c. Should we continue to allow frivolous items make it in our budgets, year in year out? Items of luxury? Funny acquisitions and items in their billions that serve only to fan the egos of our politicians? Our National Assembly members have their normal entitlements in next year’s budget. It has even emerged that the president and his vice will spend N2.5 billion on new cars, as well as maintenance of existing ones next year. Should they spend so much on themselves?
d. Should we not agree to lock down some of these funny expenditures and focus on what really matters and address at least points 1-7 above?
e. Should we be borrowing dollars to continue to fulfill these unproductive expenditure items? I am shocked at how we are willingly heading straight for another debt trap and nothing can convince our leaders otherwise. We are borrowing in foreign currency ultimately to finance all these excesses of ours. This is a crime against humanity and the perpetrators of this crime should know that Nigerians know their names, and when the trouble comes, even if they are dead and gone, their children, and children’s children will pay for it, one way or another.
Note that a lot more scandals will emerge about the 2018 budget in the next few weeks. Our leaders are playing politics, they are not leading the country. Absolute power is on display like never before in Nigeria. I have done quite a bit of research lately – which I will publish here – which shows that Nigeria is really underperforming on several indices. In the haste of our leaders to eat, they are concentrating on what is available – naturally. No one is thinking about how to bake a bigger cake to take care of the majority. It is highly unfortunate. We actually had our hopes in Buhari, but he seems more comfortable playing this scorched-earth politics in conjunction with his other politician friends.
‘Tope Fasua, an Economist, author, blogger and entrepreneur, can be reached through email@example.com.