Paradox of the Poor

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THIS REPUBLIC By Shaka Momodu shaka.momodu@thisdaylive.com 0811 266 1654

“The ship of state is heading inexorably towards the rock and you as the chief helmsman owe it a duty to steer the ship away from it” – Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in an open letter to the then President Shehu Shagari, warning that the nation’s economy was in dire straits in 1982.

Today that ship is heading towards the same rock as the Buhari government has so far failed to define its economic direction. The country’s GDP has progressively declined since Buhari assumed office, the latest being the fourth quarter GDP of last year which slowed to 2.11%, according  to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS.

There is a saying that when a man fails to plan, then he is actually planning to fail. Nothing best captures the story of Nigeria like the above statement. It is no longer news that the country is at the moment in dire financial straits. All indicators are pointing to depleting reserves as oil prices continue their downward spiral, dealing a shattering blow to the country’s finances. This is compounded by the fact that the economy was already reeling from the consequence of embracing pirates and buccaneers as heroes of our time. These “heroes”, realising our greatest Achilles heel which is of course our docility have arrogantly and mercilessly exploited it.

Nigeria has been through this path before, not once, not twice, so there is really nothing new about our predicament. The only constant here is we keep repeating the same mistake in the hope that it will lead to a different outcome; fantasy no doubt. The great Physicist Albert Einstein, punctured that a long time ago when he said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Roll back the dice for a moment. In the Shehu Shagari presidency between October 1979 and December 1983, Nigeria witnessed an economic meltdown akin to what it is going through now. Corruption had become rife, as politicians of that era mismanaged and wasted the huge oil revenues the nation earned from the $31  per barrel range of oil that it could not pay its import bills. They simply went berserk with excitement, awarding inflated bush-clearing contracts to clear Abuja and pave the way for construction works to commence in the new capital city. Added to this, import licensing simply became the bazaar for rent-seekers and briefcase merchants who took advantage of the system to make big money for their private benefit at the expense of the nation. With the country awash with petrodollars, no one thought of building a firewall to protect the economy let alone save for the future.

And of course, people grew lazy and soon developed an appetite for everything that was imported; phoney contracts for everything imaginable were awarded to family members and cronies of politicians, the binge went on and on. In the midst of all these, the only sane voice to speak out against the madness was the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who warned   that the ship of state was heading inexorably towards the rock and that President Shehu Shagari as the chief helmsman owed it a duty to steer the ship away from it. He was mocked and abused by the leaders and supporters of the then ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The NPN leaders even flew to London to address a world press conference where they clearly lied through their teeth about the state of the nation and thoroughly lambasted the opposition leader for daring to sound the alarm bell.

Then the price of oil suddenly tanked to $9 a barrel. With oil earnings not enough to sustain our huge appetite for imported items or foot the bill of phoney contracts politicians awarded themselves and their cronies, the people were faced with the stark reality of things: no savings, and a stunning failure to develop new wealth centres away from the instability of oil prices.  Foreign reserves started to take in water and whatever was left soon gave way; debt began to pile up. It was only a matter of time before the country faced real financial crisis. The military incidentally, led by the current president, Muhammadu Buhari struck and dethroned the Shagari regime.

He wasted no time in exposing the visionless civilian leadership as a liar and a fraud. He barely lasted two years in office before he was overthrown by the gap-toothed army general, Ibrahim Babangida who himself carried on with the impunity and mismanagement the politicians were accused of. Then came the gulf oil windfall in 1991 as a result of the gulf war. What did Babangida do with it? He squandered it on his endless political transition-cum-experiments, bogus and inflated contracts, while the rest were brazenly stolen by the officials of that administration. Then came the dark-goggled one, General Sani Abacha who simply beat everyone in his crude ways of stealing public funds.

Then came the second gulf war in 2003. Oil prices spiked, Nigeria made a killing, and was able to pay off all its decades old debts that were choking it to death under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Luckily, prices stayed relatively high between 2003 and 2007 when he handed over the reins of power, leaving healthy reserves of around $45 billion and another $20 billion in the Excess Crude Account, ECA. Nigeria was to smile even further as oil surged to a record $147 a barrel in 2008 when Iran launched missiles to demonstrate its military capability, thus raising tension with the West. Brent crude rose to $147.02 in London, while the US light sweet crude rose to $146.90 a barrel.

Yet again, Nigeria has nothing much to show for all that money it earned – no savings in its reserves, no infrastructure built, and no new wealth creation centres away from the vagaries of oil price booms and busts. When you think of it, you get this overwhelming sense that we must be downright dumb, stone-cold dumb as a people to go through the same cycle over and over again with the same final outcome: pain and utter misery.

The irony of the country’s situation today is that some of the short-sighted governors who could not visualise the future, and who led the aggressive charge to scorch our savings are strutting around as the heroes of change. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum led by the then Governor Rotimi Amaechi arm-twisted former President Goodluck Jonathan to share every kobo earned by the country.

They played politics with everything, fought against saving for a rainy day, and even investment in the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).  These same people have now been declared heroes by some of the country’s best literary minds. Now, can anyone point to one project that the governors utilised the money for? Can anyone justify with concrete evidence what state governors have done with the huge allocations that have accrued to the states’ coffers since 1999?

Let me cite an example of what the bandits and buccaneers did with the people’s money: news filtering through indicates that the Imo State governor and chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum, Rochas Okorocha, the man who led the charge for bailout from the federal government to pay several months’ arrears of workers’ salaries, has allegedly looted the money to the tune of N2 billion, at least that is what has been discovered so far.

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled, “Okorocha Puts Imo in Chains.” I called for a psychiatric evaluation of the governor because I believed then as I believe now that something must be wrong with a chief executive who wouldn’t construct roads, or build health facilities and who begged for a bailout to pay workers’ salaries – only to go on a wild spending binge abroad with scarce foreign exchange in the name of attracting foreign investors to his state after collecting the bailout money. Despite his maladministration of the state, the ordinary folk still defended him. I was called names by some very ridiculous “yes men”.  Now, we are hearing how the bailout money was allegedly stolen by the governor’s family members and close aides.

The poor are the victims of the rapacity of our politicians.  It is a curious paradox that the great majority of them appear happy with their status as they form the support base of those who have put them in perpetual chains of misery. Try to talk some sense into them, they won’t listen.

Babatunde Fashola had allegations of mismanagement of public funds levelled against him – who rose to defend him? The poor victims of his mismanagement of course.
The apostles of change are daily repudiating the campaign promises they made to woo the poor masses for votes; guess who is making excuses for them? The very poor who are the victims of a clearly fraudulent and confused contraption which goes by the name of APC.

Barely a week after Buhari assumed power, the poor victims of mismanagement started spreading rumours/lies about his body language saying that it had fixed the power situation in the country. It was such a bizarre claim by a patently dishonest and highly amusing mob eager to embrace magic rather than meticulous planning which involves  a clear road map for action. Those who were celebrating his “body language” before it flamed out have since had a rude awakening to reality. Where is the electricity? Manufacturers recently cried out that they spent N9 billion daily to generate power. What about the fuel situation – are the refineries working now? What has happened to the famous “body language”?

They eagerly  claimed undeserved credit   for the marginal improvement in electricity  supply in the middle of last year,  but are now refusing to accept blame and responsibility for the prolonged darkness the nation is  currently experiencing. Is Lai Mohammed still there? Where is  the “Prime Minister”   Fashola, the Lagos “golden boy and actualiser” of Buhari’s change?
All we get now are excuses galore such as  “if you see the rot left behind…..”  Curiously, the poor who are the victims are the ones helping to amplify those excuses.

Recently, I watched the triumphant return of the Taraba State Governor Darius Ishaku to Jalingo after he had his mandate affirmed by the Supreme Court. One of the female victims of government’s mismanagement was so overjoyed that the governor won that she removed her wrapper and spread it on the road for the governor’s convoy to drive on it – another classic example of the poor being happy as victims.

I have searched for a plausible explanation as to why we are the way we are as a people: monies meant for the development of the collective good such as construction of roads, schools, hospitals,  and the provision of  clean water are often stolen by those entrusted with the responsibility. I have struggled to understand the behaviour of our leaders in order to draw lessons; spent endless hours agonising about the conditions of poverty of the vast majority of the people in the midst of so much wealth. I have researched the science of being black for clues. I am leaning towards the conclusion that the poor as victims and are happy to be so, is a Nigerian disease.

  • William Norris

    A country gets the leadership it deserves.

    Always.

    • Daniel Obior

      Would have agreed totally with you. But is this really a country? I very much doubt.

      • Okunwa

        That’s what we have now, let’s make do with it pls. My broda the cost of getting another as Syria debacle is showing the world today is horrendous & for me should not be an option.
        The North has the power now & any attempt at violent resolution should be avoided by the South. It’s a harsh reality. They lost it when they lost at the polls last year. Let’s face it. Restructuring the federation into 6 units is the best way to go at the moment.

        • Daniel Obior

          You talk a lot of sense. We must restructure or else we die a slow death because a group wants power by all means and at all cost, even when nothing positive is done with the power. We do not have to restructure violently. Let us all agree to do it peacefully.

          • BankyMons

            Unfortunately the people you are talking to do not share your sentiments in any way. Make no mistake, the north will never agree to anything (by whatever name it is called) that will remove their snouts from the trough whether you call it fiscal federalism or re-structuring that will mean that less cash will flow into the north from the federal coffers. You have to speak with some of their ‘elites’ – the educated ones to know that Nigeria is truly in a dire place. Their feudalist outlook to the world is our greatest undoing in Nigeria and no peaceful talk will ever change that.

          • gohen

            I so much share in your sentiment, this is our it should be. However
            ‘GIVING A BABOON A CUP OF WATER TO DRINK FROM, IS NOT THE PROBLEM, IT IS COLLECTING THE CUP BACK FROM HIM AFTER HE HAS FINISHED DRINKING THAT IS THE REAL PROBLEM’ ( KEEP THIS QUOTE FOR 2019)
            You don’t seem to know the mind set of some Nigerians

        • Itodo Okey Santos

          The opportunity to salvage this country was given to us on a platter if gold by Jonathan when he convened National conference to articulate a befitting political/economic structure for the country. But the Western Region that have advocated for such pulled out and used their media propaganda to discredit it. They did this because in their calculation, there was high chances for them occupying power at the centre.

          It is quite unfortunate that we are back to another round of backwardness and self deception!

  • Okunwa

    Shaka, you don’t need to search far for the reasons we are the way we are! It simple. SHARING MENTALITY.
    Until we change that to production & competition among the federating units & the people pick up the cost of governance by paying taxes, we will remain the way we are!
    Until we stop running this nation with stolen funds from Niger Delta we will run around in circles.
    Restructure to six (6) federating units, do away with the clearly unecessary & wasteful 36 states & 774 LGA structure or SHARING CENTRES, return to fiscal federalism & you will release energies & funds for positive development, then you will see different outcomes we all desire & desperately need.
    Let’s start not just a conversation but a movement to realise this now before it’s too late. For “Those who make peaceful resolution impossible make violent resolution inevitable” said Chairman Mao of China.
    Thanks

  • gohen

    Quite a balanced article, you called out those that needs to be called out, unlike other authors who hide behind smoke screens to voice their opinion. What else can we do other than to wait till 2019. If we are not satisfied then we can vote out this government.
    Shaka on blaming the poor , I wish to deviate from your point of view. the elite are the ones to be blamed.The poor are just there waiting for a focussed leadership.they are hungry in stomach and most of the time in their brain. If people that are well off that certainly have nothing too loose like your very Dele Momodu and co can not squarely call a spade a spade. Even when they want to they would have to coat it first (Only yesterday, Segun has to praise Senator Ndume before attempting to criticize him!) so what do you expect from the poor !
    The elite, the SAN, professors, all of them allowed a less than qualified individual to run for an election without doing anything and you expect the poor to do what ? like the saying goes

    ‘GIVING A BABOON A CUP OF WATER TO DRINK FROM, IS NOT THE PROBLEM, IT IS COLLECTING THE CUP BACK FROM HIM AFTER HE HAS FINISHED DRINKING THAT IS THE REAL PROBLEM’ ( KEEP THIS QUOTE FOR 2019)

    What do you really expect of the poor who just want to say anything just to eat. This is why the ruling class would want them poor and uneducated so as not to be able to challenge the elite. Didn’t you hear president Buhari saying in Al Jazeera, that those who can not get foreign exchange to pay school fees overseas should forget about it, whereas in china and india,it is government’s policy to send over 100, thousand students abroad every now and then for study and yet we want developement.
    What baffles me is really the amount of amnesia that plague us as a country, majority of the people that are now condemning the PDP were either in PDP yesterday, example Amaechi Rotimi, or those that Opposed savings by the PDP government, what better example again than Rotimi Amaechi again.

    • amakachude

      You forgot to add Oshiomole as one of the opponents of saving for the rainy day.

      • Dominion

        And their pocket lawyer: Femi Falana

        • amakachude

          Tx bro. I forgot to include that bread and butter activist. Btw, is he still in Nigeria? Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN

        • gohen

          Is Falana still a practicing Lawyer and human right activist ? Change has come to him

          • Dominion

            Bro, he is a Fair weather activists . Only when his bread is buttered or there is an expectant wind fall, from his noise, that he reminds us, he is a lawyer .

          • gohen

            …And you did not tell me all these while, I have got bread, I have got butter,and I can add a little jam to make him sing like a lawyer. Good evening Sir !

      • gohen

        My apology Sir ! Oshiomole has gone into sleeping mode that is why I did not remember him he is just waiting to end his tenure. I just don’t know were all these leaders came from. How can one country be blessed (did i hear you say cursed ) with a constellation of evil leaders is what I can’t simply fathom.?

        • amakachude

          Na so we see am oh! But God will continue to expose vultures and scavengers in our midst. Cheers. Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN

  • E.Udah

    “..the poor being happy as victims.” Hmmmmmm!
    Shaka, you have been very consistent. You and I have been and will continue to be vindicated!
    Let Femi Adesina tell us now what happened to his principal’s body language! I wonder what name he’s going to tag us again since over 70% of Nigerians of all class are now “Wailing Wailers”!

    • amakachude

      We are now perceiving the body odour and I tell you, it smells horribly.

      • Adesuwa

        Ha ha!

  • Ekenny

    I wonder what goes through Fashola’s mind when he considers the role he played in frustrating the transfers to the sovereign wealth fund. By dint of luck or divine intervention, he and his co traveler; Rotimi has been saddled with the unenviable task of clearing the Augean table they helped create.
    If only they had allowed Ngozi to grow that account, perhaps things would not have been so bad. One bad turn , , , , , , Curiously however,few columnist or opinion leader have made mentioned of the roles played by these villains in the ongoing discourse.
    If oil goes back to 80 dollars/per barrel may God not inflict us with another Amaechi or Fashola in the governors’ forum!

    • William Norris

      Not only that, the fuel subsidy imbroglio comes to mind. Money that should have gone to the SWF or ECA was squandered on a foolish policy of fuel subsidies. Government abolished fuel subsidies in Jan 2012, claiming that the nation would go into economic crisis in about 3 years if it was retained. You can search the internet and you can find an interview given by the President at the time where in he told Nigerians just that.

      The current economic crisis is the DIRECT result of the rejection of the governments subsidy withdrawal. Abolishing subsidies and deregulating fuel prices would have led to the establishment of local refineries and massive job creatio. Instead Nigeria spent about $25 billion supplying cheap fuel that never reached the masses at regulated prices, including $2.5 billion paid by the current government before it finally stopped paying subsidies. Whether subsidies and regulated prices have been abolished is anyone’s guess.

      The current policy of subsidized forex sales will have an even worse outcome. Give it another 3 years or so.

  • Jon West

    Shaka sometimes I feel like running away from this blighted land, because of the behaviour of the majority of the people (over 90%) who are desperately poor and wretched by any standards. This is the only country in the world, where the poor person is greedier than the rich. I once asked my driver to tell me the truth and nothing but the truth , about what he would di if I gave him 10 million Naira. He promptly responded that he would buy a Jeep (Sport Utukitiy Vehicle). I reminded him that he had no house and was always bugging him to help pay his children school fees, he responded that he wanted to show his “enemies” that he had arrived. I again reminded him that his boss had no Jeep and had no desire for one, even though I was entitled to an SUV as per the NNPC conditions of service, he harangued me for not grabbing everything I could grab from the Nigerian system. The foregoing true story is the midst of the Nigerian poor and not so poor: in fact the mindset of every Nigerian.
    There is an instant gratification mentality that ensures that there is no room for intellectual rigour in the decision making process at all levels of national life. However, it is a well known fact that no nation has ever developed without a large dose of delayed gratification. In fact in Igbo culture of yore(now polluted by proximity to the squanderers), savings and a very low profile existence were the normal. That was why Odumegwu Ojukwu, then Nigeria’s richest man, always paid his children’s school fees after they had been chased away from schoo, in order to inculcate the habit of savings and value of money in his children, as always told by his namesake , the Great, Late, Ikemba. Now the Igbo, represented by the likes of Ifeanyi Uba, are the poster boys of conspicuous consumption and utter disregard for fiscal humility.
    The only way out, is the return to a regional structure, the Ekwueme version of 6 geo-political zones. The North will never agree to full fiscal federalism, having had their elite gorge on the oil resources of the Niger delta. They have no value for the lives of their people and even their own children, as shown in the use of the debilitating Boko haram insurgency to achieve regime change in their favour. Therefore we will have to consider the North’s lack of human values in the strategy for the proposed restructuring. We need to treat them like the proverbial bull in the China shop. They have nothing to lose from the destruction of everything, because that have nothing. This, in spite of 60 years of unbroken hold on the nation’s resources.
    The southwest, permanent arrow heads of resource control and true Federalism, but in reality , no better than the North in their greed for the easy and heady revenues from Niger Delta oil resources, are another group, whose disappointing attitude , eaves much to be desired. Can you really imagine Kongi Wole Soyinka, hitherto conscience of the nation, in bed with the Certificateelss One, the Ota Ape, the Jagagban of Corruption and Bourdillon, and sundry other inhabitants of Nigeria’s cesspit of evil? Kongi, author of The Man Died and Ake? This Shaka, my dear brother is the Nigerian tragedy, which I must confess, is inexplicable.

    • Future President

      Jon West, I always look forward to your brilliant comments, and you have never disappointed me for once. Thank you for your honesty and for being patriotic, and passionate about this Nigeria Project.

      Shaka has carved a name for himself, I commend his courage and consistency, let’s keep encouraging him. I just hope the younger generation are reading Shaka’s column.

      Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!

  • John Paul

    Fashola and Lagos State is not a good example to illustrate the point set forth in this essay

    Abia State is a more apposite example. During the 2015 presidential elections, Aba and Umuahia – the two main cities in Abia State – were in a very poor state and civil servants were being owned their salaries.

    When Business Mogul, Arthur Eze, visited Abia State Government house shortly before the 2015 presidential elections, as TAO’s special guest of honor, despite the fact that he was in Abia for a diplomatic visit, he could hold back his shock and famously exclaimed : “Abia Stinks”

    Nevertheless, during the 2015 presidential elections, PDP presumably won a landslide victory in Abia State. If that election was not rigged in Abia State, then it is possible that the masses and civil servants that voted for their oppressors – PDP – were suffering from an acute case of Stockholm syndrome

    Fashola will likely make the top 5 best governors in the history of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

    In the last dispensation, it was not all gloom and doom in our constituent States . Lagos State, Enugu State, Akwa Ibom State and Edo State scored a pass mark because the governors of those states had an organic understanding of the role of metropolitan cities – Lagos, Enugu, Uyo and Benin- in nation building and delivering the dividends of democracy to the masses

    • Itodo Okey Santos

      If they were ‘ suffering from an acute case of Stockholm syndrome’ then what can we say the people of Osun was suffering from when they re-elected Arigboshola?

  • “Korede

    Mr. Shaka Momodu, given that all these are truths about the few personalities you mentioned here, I support your condemnation. I am worried that each you do this, you only mentioned APC and leave out the obvious financial atrocities of the PDP governors.

    Do you want me to believe that you are not a PDP member?

    All the so-called thanks giving after tribunal verdicts and the amount of money so wasted on that? How did all these escape you?

    Are you also a very religious person like the people of Rivers and Akwa Ibom?

    i know that people (Governors) have been winning at Tribunals (Ogun state did, Benue did, Abia did and so on) and so many have doen in previous years.

    Why did Rivers and Akwa Ibom go on spending spree? Are the governors spending their personal monies?

    I rest my case here.

    • BankyMons

      Kore de I thought you having repented since Buhari’s body language turned into body odour?

  • obinnna77

    Leave the poor out of it. They know no better. The elite should be the target of your ire.

  • Edim Asekong

    Those who burn their buttocks on fire will have to sit on their blisters. Period.

  • Azubuike Anene

    SHAKA,THANK YOU FOR THIS PIECE.
    BUT OUR POOR AS VICTIMS AND HAPPY,AS WORRISOME AS IT IS,IS A FUNCTION OF OUR COLLECTIVE FAILURES.OUR INTELLIGENCIA,INTELLECTUALS,SUPPER CLASSES,UPPER CLASSES,MIDDLE CLASSES,TO OWN LEADERSHIP AND CHALLENGE WHAT SHOULDN’T BE.!
    WHAT OPTIONS DO THE POOR HAVE,WHEN THE ELITES ARE QUIET,WHEN THEY SHOULD BE AGITATED.
    THE POOR WILL DO ANYTHING,EVEN SPREAD THEIR WRAPPERS FOR GOVERNOR’S CONVOY,TO WET HER STOMACH OR PUT BREAD ON HIS TABLE.
    IT’S 9 MONTHS INTO THIS ADMINISTRATION,THERE IS NO DEFINITION OF OUR ECONOMIC POLICY OR THE DIRECTION WE SHOULD TAKE,YET WE ARE ALL BUSY.
    THE CORRUPTION FIGHT,WHICH WE SUPPORT,IS NOT DEFINED,SO THAT WE ALL WILL HAVE ROLES TO PLAY,SO THAT OUR INSTITUTIONS WILL BE FORTIFIED,TO MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO STEAL FROM.
    IS IT NOT WORRISOME THAT 80% OF YOUTHS IN BORNO HAVE NOT GONE TO SCHOOL,AND THE LEADERS DON’T BOTHER.
    THAT FROM ABUJA TO NASARAWA TO BENUE,YOU CAN HARDLY SEE ONE INDUSTRY?
    THAT WE CELEBRATE MONTHLY SHARING ALLOCATIONS,WHERE THE PRESIDENT,GOVERNORS AND LGA CHAIRMEN,TAKE OUR MONIES AND WE DON’T BOTHER TO ASK THEM WHAT IS DONE WITH IT.
    WE HAVE MONTHLY” SHARINGS”BUT WHY DON’T WE HAVE MONTHLY “PRODUCTION” MEETINGS
    WE DON’T HAVE MONTHLY “IDEAS” MEETING..
    AS A RESULT,SOME STATES,MOSTLY NORTHERN STATES CONTRIBUTE NOTHING TO OUR COLLECTIVE GDP.
    MY MAJOR WORRY IS THAT THEY ARE NOT BOTHERED.
    MY BIGGEST WORRY IS THAT IT HAS MADE MOST NORTHERN YOUTHS LAZY,
    UNTIL WE BEGIN TO CHALLENGE OUR LEADERS TO RESPONSIBILITY
    WE MAY BE IN THIS SORRY STATE TOO LONG..

  • amebo

    Shaka. You too much o. Please don’t let them buy you over like the 2 funny professors who set forth at dawn.