There is a battle for the soul of Nigeria. Whoever wins this great battle will determine whether Nigeria breaks away from the past and becomes a truly prosperous and value-oriented country or we continue with our philosophy of survival of the fittest, pretending to be a giant economy based on weak economic fundamentals.
I will like to begin this article in a rather controversial way by submitting that Nigeria has no economic problem. What many “experts” and social commentators have glossed over is the fact that our economy has for many decades been driven and inflated by the proceeds of corruption.
A report, titled “Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria, a Social Norms Approach to Connecting Societies and Institutions,” revealed that close to $400 billion was stolen from Nigeria’s public accounts from 1960 to 1999. The report further added that between 2005 and 2014 when PDP was in power, over $182 billion was lost through illicit financial flows from the country. We may therefore be talking about an economy that has been driven by about $1trillion of illicit money over 5 decades, if we add the private sector corruption.
The Nigerian economy is simply now contracting to a level devoid of the heavy inflows from corruption and unethical business practices, which over 80% of the population have grown used to as the norm. We failed to lay a solid foundation for a sustainable economic growth and even destroyed the economic foundation laid by our heroes’ past. Most of our industrial estates have been converted to religious estates, our comparative advantage in agriculture has diminished. Our huge youthful human capital we were proud of has consistently deteriorated in quality.
If truth must be told, what we urgently need in Nigeria is national reorientation that will be hinged on Lifestyle Adjustment Program (LAP), especially by the so-called “elites” and “middle class” in the society. We have developed a weak middle class from a very faulty and weak economic structure, primarily driven by massive supply of money from the proceeds of corruption and with high velocity which made almost every single person in Nigeria a beneficiary of the culture of corruption. We have created multi-millionaires and billionaires from the proceeds of corruption and a good example is Alhaji Abubakar Atiku who is now vying to be the President of Nigeria. At the base of the wealth of a significant number of the middle class or elite class in Nigeria there is proceed of corruption or unethical business practices. The impact of these on the economy is beginning to reduce because of the necessary adjustments being made by the current administration and it is causing the personal wealth of these classes of multi-millionaires to reduce and the same impact is felt across all spheres of our national life. Corruption is no longer at the scale that it used to be, and we are all feeling it and throwing tantrums.
Over the decades Nigerians have been used to unmerited and unjustifiable income. You do a supply contract and make 500% profit. You import substandard products and make 200% profit. You don’t import any petroleum product, but you collect government petroleum subsidy. You win government contract, collect mobilization fee and simply abscond with it. In all of these, the “elites” also evade tax and levies in every aspect of their economic activity. Government has been used to unaccountable free money from the sale of crude oil without thinking, without adding any value or without being a good negotiator. Doing business with government offered the greatest return. The proceeds of corruption trickles down, the multiplier effect is amazing, and the citizens benefited from it one way or the other while we destroy the future because we fail to create a real middle which class which is the backbone of any economy. We all felt cool with the situation and hoped that our own “breakthrough” would come someday.
This situation made many Nigerians to live far above their means. We build houses we don’t need, we live in neighborhoods our real income cannot afford, we send children to schools we cannot afford. We throw needless lavish parties, we buy cars we can ill afford under normal circumstances just to impress. We spend lavishly on imported goods. We create a large population of “runs” girls by throwing ridiculous money at sexual and social pleasure. Everybody in Nigeria wants to “belong”, at any cost and with speed.
Rather than pay tax, Nigerians pay huge amounts as tithes and offerings from proceeds of corruption, hoping to bribe God. In reaction to the huge revenues recorded by religious centers, religious leaders build huge structures that require a huge amount of money to maintain. We produce more churches and pastors than we produce SMEs. The religious leaders pray for the congregation to have “extraordinary breakthroughs” in an economy that is not extraordinary. Pastors buy private jets and live luxury lifestyle from the proceeds of the tithes and offerings from “breakthroughs” which is often corruption. This is being threatened. Little wonder some of these religious leaders are now in camp with certified corrupt and immoral persons to bring back corruption.
Even the high rate of crime in the country is part of the consequences of decades of corruption. It has created a huge inequality in the society that it has become survival of the fittest. This was the country PDP left behind and the foundation upon which they built our economy. Unfortunately, shame is making most of the so called “elites” and “middle class” Nigerians not to accept the reality of their current positions and are therefore unwilling to adjust their lifestyles.
What has come to fore now is that the government of President Mohammadu Buhari has significantly reduced the flow of funds from corruption which is the foundation upon which all our economic and social activities were built. That is what PDP and the nay-sayers define as “incompetence”. Buhari is simply not “competent” to allow the country to be run as usual, he is not “competent” because he has refused that money should be shared and not invested in critical infrastructure. If we genuinely love this country, we would support the continuation of this administration so that we can all come down from our high horses and do a lifestyle adjustment program (LAP) which would make us live within our means as decent citizens while we push hard to grow our economy with solid fundamentals.
Undoubtedly this process of breaking from the past hurts just like every healing. We only need to endure and think of what is in our collective long-term interest. Our current socio-economic orientation is not how quality nations are built and this is what makes PDP’s rule for 16 years a calamity of unequal dimension in the history of this country. If we go back to that era, in a few years this country would be unsafe for all of us. Our future as a nation will be in danger.
The choice in 2019 is a choice between President Buhari’s deliberate strategy of correcting the faulty economic foundation which over the decades was significantly driven by proceeds of corruption or electing Atiku and returning to the era of massive corruption-based economy with all its risks and consequences which includes lack of proper justice, unsustainable socio-economic lifestyle, survival of the fittest, a society largely divided along the line of oppressors and the oppressed.
Buhari’s strategy requires reorientation, requires the moderation of lifestyle by many elites who have become oppressors of the masses. Buhari’s strategy is for the long term good of all, especially the oppressed, the weakest and the most vulnerable in the society who should not continue to survive on the crumbs that fall into their hands from the huge amounts being stolen but enjoy decent infrastructure. The huge inequality which we witnessed in the era of unfettered corruption breeds no good.
It is difficult to trust Atiku and his associates who have invested substantial amount of money obtained through proceeds of corruption on his obsession for power since 2002. Our foreign reserve is growing. We cannot afford to leave that in the hands of desperate, self-centered and vicious capitalists. Corruption will be more sophisticated if Atiku becomes president. He is a business man whose first objective will be to recoup his investment and stabilize his businesses and that of his associates. They will be more focused on themselves and a few that are fortunate to be close to them. Yes, the crumbs will trickle down and everybody will be happy in the short term, but that is not the way to build a nation.
Atiku’s restructuring claim is deceptive. It is simply a ploy that can only be swallowed by the uninformed. The Executive arm of government can do very little on restructuring based on the nature of our constitution. It is the legislature that can make it happen. Painting himself as Alhaji Restructuring is a sign of dishonesty and desperation. We simply need a National Assembly of people that understand the issues in Nigeria, people that are willing to make sacrifices and are committed to taking this country to a higher level. Atiku was hand in glove with Bukola Saraki to make this 8th Assembly a clog in the wheel of implementation of the programs of the ruling party APC. The executive can only recommend to the legislature it cannot on its own cause restructuring to happen through executive orders. Nigerians can only trust Atiku at their peril. He will throw everything at this election just to get access to our treasury and our commonwealth and recoup his investment. He’s in it for the money.
The calamity visited on Nigeria by PDP for 16 years can never be transformed in 4 years. The progress made by President Buhari may be slow but it’s better slow than reckless. I’m indeed genuinely very worried about Atiku presidency. He’s a business man who sees politics as business. Nothing in Atiku’s history suggests that it is his love for Nigeria that is driving him and his associates to invest so much of illicit money in this obsession. It’s simply a business decision for him.
We need to start rebuilding our economic foundation for the future by first reducing the influence of corruption on our GDP, which became significant during the military regimes and continued to grow under PDP. This is the only way we can know the real value of our economy and begin to lay a solid foundation that would ensure sustainable growth and prepare a great country for the coming generation. President Buhari has done very well on that. We must understand that it is impossible to eliminate corruption, we can only gradually reduce it. The big achievement is to continue to reduce the volume over a period, reduce the scale and get it to a level that it becomes less attractive.
The second step is massive investment in infrastructure. I am particularly excited about some of the projects of this administration. The Lagos/Ibadan rail project, for instance, which is planned to link up to the north via Kaduna is impressive. Such projects lay a solid foundation for general prosperity. If this had been done 10 years ago the multiplier effect of not doing it will not be haunting us today. With that rail line comes new investment opportunities, real job creation and increase in disposable income.
Indeed, turnaround management is not an easy task. It requires patience. President Buhari, being the chief driver of Nigeria’s turnaround also need to make leadership adjustment and quickly too. There is the need to be more decisive in the areas of security and national orientation. The negative publicity of the President and his administration emanates from what he has done or failed to do in these two areas. The President needs to rejig his executive team. The National Orientation Agency needs to be revived, redirected and well-funded. You cannot succeed and sustain this type of turnaround management without a virile national reorientation campaign. That is the biggest error of this administration and I hope and pray it will not come to haunt it.
In all, a President Buhari is a better fit for our current challenges which are more socio-political than economic. Atiku is too desperate. He cannot lead the change from our past culture he is a major beneficiary of. We would simply be the laughing stock of the world if we make a certified and well documented corrupt person the President. Atiku carefully chose his running mate, another capitalist that would gladly look the other way in matters of corruption. In 2017, Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano alleged that his predecessor, this same Mr Peter Obi demanded the sum of N7.5billion from him for sponsoring his election in 2013. Is this the type of combination we want to entrust our future in their hands? The good news is that nobody in the PDP camp has accused President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo of corruption now or in their past. Would we rather throw this value away and opt for people with questionable character and wealth?
Let’s shake off the curse on this country once and for all. We should not be carried away by what Atiku is saying. His former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo has documented his appraisal of Atiku in black and white and the whole world has read it. Nobody knows Atiku better than Obasanjo, notwithstanding his unconvincing “forgiveness” of Atiku. Obasanjo’s well documented objective appraisal of Atiku is simply that he not fit for public service. Nigerians beware!
Adaba writes from Osogbo, State of Osun