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Anatomy of Foolish Spending
BY OKEY IKECHUKWU
Our banks did not pay anything into the accounts of their customers, as evidence of goodwill to enable them cope with the lockdown and hardships imposed by the COVID 19 Pandemic. But they donated billions of naira to the federal government, to distribute as raw cash to the poor. The banks also did not reduce, or eliminate, certain online charges. Instead, they made their customers to pay more at ATM machines. Machines that hitherto dispensed a maximum of forty thousand per Naira per transaction now dispense a maximum of N10,000 per transaction. The person who wants to withdraw N40,000 must thus make multiple withdrawals and pay four times of what he used to pay. That is their understand of Corporate Social Responsibility at a time like this: donating money in order to be called a good boy/girl by the government, while enthroning economic demony elsewhere.
Our rich people and rich organisations also gave money to the Federal Government. They did not give it to their staff, or to the poor around them and in their local communities. And the federal government since gone ahead to distribute the money as physical cash, thereby showing that it has no interest in incentivising a cashless economy; or rewarding those who are within the technologically accessible net of verifiable actors in the national social, economic and financial milieu. That is the folly of a political and business elite that mistakes empty gestures for genuine and impactful interventions in the lives of the nation and on real people.
How a federal government that has not demonstrated tolerable proficiency in the distribution of voters’ cards could magically distribute cash to millions of Nigerians with incredible speed in a matter of days is still a mystery, though. That a government that has no reputation for any modicum for statistical planning should suddenly identify, access and pay the poor, giving them money one house after another, is quite impressive. But to then turn around, after this wonderful national service, and tell us that the names of the poor would not be made public, to protect their dignity and identity is not right. See how This is how hundreds of billions of Naira have gone up in smoke in the last few weeks, in the name of fighting and/or managing the COVID 19 pandemic?
Scores of billions of naira have also been spent in the last few years, in the name of agricultural loans to boost food production, food sufficiency and food security. But there is still no food. And the loans cannot be recovered, because the people who allegedly received it are not in any position to pay back. They are also not faring any better than they were faring before they got the loans. The supposed beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer distributed all over the nation by the Vice President, on behalf of the federal government, are no better off either. The story is the same with the much-vaunted School Feeding Programme and the trillions of Naira lost to petroleum subsidy. We have deficit performance in all the places where we have spent, and are still spending, the most. Why?
The reason is quite simple: we are spending foolishly, and we are not doing any costs-benefits analysis. That is all. An Igbo man who borrows money to take an Ozo title is a living abomination; especially if he planted nothing and is not expecting any harvests any time soon. The current price of crude oil, the fact that we have no storage facilities out there, the fact that Nigeria pays nearly $400,000 everyday for carrying its ocean borne cargo that no one is now willing to buy on leased storage says everything about the cascade of misfortunes to come.
With expected national income from crude oil standing dangerously close to zero today and with the national and state political big boys and girls not paying attention, our governors and the privilege-drowned lawmakers at all levels may soon be in for a rude awakening. There are still outstanding loans and there will be no willing lenders out there, after this pandemic.
Repayment of federal loans falls squarely on the shoulders of the federating units in any modern state. This is because the federating units are the primary stakeholders, and real owners, of the commonwealth. They are the ones who must agree to any financial commitments, the terms for such commitments and the justification and sustainability of the conditions pertaining thereto. But it is only in a proper federation that we can speak of the primary stakeholders as the ones who must always be consulted before commitments and who would calmly pick any bills arising from joint endeavours. But ours is not a genuine federation.
It is, at best, an agglomeration of dangling territories of questionable viability under a central authority that runs on its own rails. This federation neither commits to equity, nor takes decisions and actions based on the overall short, medium and long term interests of all federating units as one ecosystem of interdependent life forms.
The proof that ours is a conquered territory, wherein the presumably federating units are just vassal territories under the dominion of a central authority, became manifest when we set out to borrow some 2.7 billion dollars just before the COVID 19 outbreak. The money was to be spent in our name and according to his discretion of a Federal Government that did not consult the federating units, or their representatives in the National Assembly. It wanted to borrow as it deemed expedient, spend as it deemed fit and prioritize what to spend on as it also deemed fit and present the payback bill to the federating units; whether or not their interests were served by the loans.
All the projects and programmes pencilled down to be executed with planned the 2.7 billion-dollar loan fall under what can best be described as “procurement, consumption and redistribution of poverty.” It is the same with much of what is being spent in the IDPs, procurements for national military operations and other presumably well intention d national interventions. It will all create new billionaires, or expand the purse of existing ones, without any real positive impact on the welfare of the average Nigerian. The questions we can raise about all of the foregoing are these: Who, or what, really determines the items spelt out under the various expenditure headings of this government? How does the federal government arrive at its decisions on national priorities these days? Which team of economic experts, respected elder statesmen/women, federal and/or state lawmakers and stakeholders have been advising the executive arm of government on the wisdom, timeliness and likely positive developmental impact of its expenditures? How has government spending, and even projected spending, of the last one years alone advanced our overall national interest and economy, strengthened national unity, addressed unemployment, youth bulge and burgeoning national recurrent expenditure and bloated debt servicing budgetary provisions?
It is not easy to drive real development in a nation where National Development Plans has given way to regime plans and where even the so-called regime plans degenerated into threadbare concepts, supported by a lot of nebulous grammar and dodgy speechmaking. The sixteen years of the Peoples Democratic Party saw the original, and really brilliant, NEEDS and SEEDS development template of Obasanjo became the Seven-Point Agenda of Yar’Adua. The concept of national development has collapsed under the imprimatur of a misguided elite that now understands development only in terms of procurement, award of contracts and records of expenditure; without any attention to the negative or positive impact of government activities on the welfare of the people.
All state governors and state Houses of Assembly must wake up to the fact that they are all putting fertilizer on a tree of death. Our experience with the implementation of federal and state budgets, as well as the utilization of loans, since 1999 gives very compelling reasons for pessimism about any presumed nexus between government expenditure and the welfare of citizens. All expenditure headings under which national resources have been deployed, ostensibly for the common good, since 1999 have recorded impressive deficits. Look at roads, healthcare, power, water supply and national security. Meanwhile many people who could not rustle up fifty thousand Naira before 1999 have become multi billionaires, simply because they held public office.
While the unexplained income is the norm, the states, towns, villages, clans and homesteads of former and serving public office holders are worse off than they were twenty years ago. The subsisting integrity deficit hovering around nearly all of those managing our national affairs today is real. Deliberate falsehood is the major raw material for public administration and state policy. The South-east, with its interesting clan of leaders, is the worst hit in all of this. The region’s leaders cannot say “no” to anything in the name of their people. That is why the zone has remained the poor cousin of the six zones in the Nigerian federation since after the civil war. It suffered during the years of military rule and also got unimpressive allocations throughout the sixteen years of the PDP government. The zone has fared so miserably in federal appointments, federal projects, budgetary allocations, provision of special federal infrastructure and relevance in national reckoning under the present dispensation that the hapless APC political elite in the South-east are just a laughingstock.
Going back to the core issues of concern here, the nation is in trouble; and at three levels: (1) At the level of governance vision and capacity; (2) At the level of resource derivation, allocation and optimisation and (3) At the level of realism, with regard to what needs to be done to save the situation. To rally for a new order demands a new leadership vision, not foolish spending, lies and grandstanding. In their grandstanding, they not about to see the clear auguries at all.