Getting Our Camel Through the Eye of a 21st Century Needle

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Iboro Otu expresses hope in the possibility of drumming a loud wake up call to millions of idle voters that can lead to a major shift in the polity

How do you get yourself to think differently from how you used to? When do you even realize it’s time to or you’ve had enough of doing things the old way and need a new direction? What provides that nudge? Is it a situation, an event, a hunch, an experience or advise? Motivators inspire us often by telling us what to do to get out of debilitating situations, but often times the problem isn’t the ‘what’ – most of us know what needs to be done – it is the ’how’ and the guts to follow through. This is primarily why motivation is seldom enough to pull anyone through anything, for its fire alone cannot last long without commitment.

It’s 2021, we are three weeks in and the miracle hasn’t happened yet after all the nice words have been said. Perhaps what is now needed is action to follow through and this is where we always have found ourselves wanting as a people. The distance between our rhetoric fulcrum and kinetics needs a long enough lever of commitment to enable us lift ourselves and our national living standards. What needs to be done in the form of a blueprint presents itself every year in a budget, but as the global capital of poverty, who needs further continuous deceit if the fundamentals aren’t sound or the commitment isn’t there?

Deceit is often not the best way to start off although it is a thin line between over-ambition and self deception. Bogged down by terrorism, kidnapping and banditry, massive unemployment, steroidal poverty, economic impact of COVID-19 and leadership yet to get direction out of the woods, we would expect a forthcoming and transparent government willing to earn public trust and thrust in 2021. Quick economic recovery should be an imperative which must include trimming down the cost of governance at all levels as this alone would drastically reduce recurrent expenditure. Trimming down on our borrowing proclivity, prioritizing socio-economically sound, Naija-centric, capital projects is another and there are several text-book cases on how to achieve this, including immediate benefits.

However, when I glanced at the 2021 proposed national budget, five assumptions stood out; (1) that oil will sell at an average of $40 per barrel; possible, but not within our control. (2) that Nigeria will have an average daily production of 1.86 million barrels per day; not possible (3) that the exchange rate will remain at an average of N379 to the dollar; impossi-cant. (4) that our GDP will grow at 3.0% in 2021; not possible (5) that inflation will be an average of 11.95%; not possible. 1 over 5 is a ‘very poor’ mark usually followed with a red inked ‘see me in my office’ remark.

Minus the impact of COVID-19 on global oil demand, which has brought about OPEC rationing, oil output isn’t in our hands plus we realistically don’t expect the Niger-Delta to churn out that much oil when NDDC is in an operational mess with the restive region again roaring its head against how badly this establishment has been run by proxy in the past few years. This restiveness always carries with it sabotage in oil production which directly reflects on output, foreign exchange and ultimately on the value of the Naira. Our oil production best result in the past four years has been 2.07 millions barrels in Q4 of 2019, so 1.86 million average for 2021 is us pushing it.

Also, a ‘V’ type recovery from our recession as projected by the government could happen if the health of our economy such as employment rate, industrial production indexes, business investment spending, consumer spending, etc were strong. However, the reality even before the recession, is very far from strong. As such,11.95% inflation (which in itself is very high) considering the impact of banditry and Boko Haram on business especially in the agriculture sector, including forex availability and the black market value of the dollar alongside our excessive borrowing proclivity both in local and international markets which starves funds from our local businesses in our capital market, all means we should expect a much higher inflation level for 2021. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings, in its report on ‘Depreciatory Pressures on Key Sub-Saharan African Currencies to Lesson’ anticipates the CBN would allow the Naira to depreciate much further this year, I believe Fitch. Why? Because as we speak the Nigerian government is looking to borrow $1.5 billion from the World Bank and one of the caveats is that we move towards a more ‘unified and flexible’ exchange rate regime. Unified ko, Flexible ni, we all know what this means. When faced with such reality, it then demands citizen response and collective action to avert a repetition of 2020.

Taking Advantage of Timing
I am one of those people who seriously think the way we have been going about governance in this country need serious adjustments and the time to do so is perfectly right at the moment. I believe there are several small steps our governments could take at all levels, few areas that should be prioritized to get us out of the tight situation we are presently in. The good thing is we don’t have to invent any wheel, we only need to look at where the world is going and start building foundations. The world is seriously moving from fossil to alternative energy for example, why are we not prioritizing this ecosystem, knowing that when we do so, trillions of funds will come our way in foreign direct investment? Solar and wind power are what is moving globally, we can move with them beyond providing subsidies for solar home power provision like we are presently doing, window-dressing as usual. This is an early event, we can seriously compete by assembling and manufacturing these technologies.

Rechargeable battery manufacturing would grow to a 800 billion plus dollar market in 2040 and it is presently at its infancy, all its components can be mined in Africa, we can get in, it only needs investment and commitment from a serious government. There’s no point flogging the dead horse of yearly turnaround refinery maintenance, it won’t lead anyone anywhere, it’s dead technology, this is an example of the forms of leakages that Sanusi was talking about. How about tech and ICT? We could hedge. In this era of crypto currency, North Korea survives primarily from mining these, why aren’t we this nimble? The government is looking to fix power, fix agriculture, fix infrastructure, fix this and fix that, borrowing trillions in the process and often spending it frivolously when we can spend far less doing great things in sectors that earn a lot of foreign exchange immediately. What Isreal is doing, utilizing technology to earn billions of dollars yearly from agricultural export, isn’t through prayer and fasting, the technologies not there in the open market. Can the government be serious enough to set up thousands of hectares of high-tech enterprise farms like ‘kibbutz’ around the geo-political zones, to inspire the agric sector through exposure and training?

It has been making rounds that the federal government has mandated all banking institutions and others to handover proceeds in dormant accounts and unclaimed dividends, this runs into about N900 billion. The legal rights or wrongs of this are beyond my purview, however, I should remind the government that rather than chase N900 billion which is chicken change compared to the USD900 billion of dead capital in residential real estate and agricultural land left desolate in Nigeria, it should engage PWC who authored this fact, on how to tap into its near USD1 trillion dead-capital. Or could the reason why this isn’t prioritized be because majority of individuals who own these properties are government piccaninnies? In any case, judging from how we have utilized the over $60 billion of foreign loans borrowed so far, it won’t be wrong to assume that Nigerians are quite uncomfortable with the recent smash and grab move of the Federal Government on private purses. We are also ‘very concerned’ that the government is also looking at borrowing from pension and insuarance funds, and even considering selling off non-oil assets and properties belonging to the Federal Government of Nigeria, according to the Minister of Finance in a presentation “Public Presentation of 2021 FGN Approved Budget” made to stakeholders in Abuja. The thing is, it’s not like the world is coming to an end in 2021, we still have hundreds of years to go, if not thousands, how will we run next year if we borrow to a hilt today? At both federal and state levels, has spending in the past been commensurate with amounts borrowed?

Changing What Doesnt Work
Economic disjoints and financial dislocations which make it impossible for both federal and state governments of the day to connect state resources to adequate areas of development for maximum impact only point to failures of any such government. Optimized resource allocation and utilization for common good is the primary function of government. Unmet, next steps in addressing such failure would require strategic moves to rejig such leadership or change it. Rejigging at this point isn’t in our hands, change is.

Mindful of sounding like a broken record, the puzzle of change can only be found within the black hole our inefficient electoral process. Until our electoral amendment bill is passed, we face electoral boxing matches with both hands tied. Passing it releases one hand – if it’s my left I have a fighting chance. Our unhealthy political ecosystem depends solely on financial might/resources and personal rewards than anything else. As such, potential candidates spend all their time amassing wealth than build people and networks. Their belief is to use money to acquire existing networks and platforms to win elections. This is the primary reason a lot of pushovers and decamping occur during primaries. Ideological politics based on values seem not to exist at the moment. This money system promotes corruption and impunity which feeds itself in a catch-22 loop. We are presently in a situation where 90% of individuals in position of power at all levels in this country are seen as being among the ‘richest’ people from their political constituency as opposed to being the brightest. This then makes politics attractive to criminals, thugs, fraudsters and people of illegitimate means as they use it as an avenue to wash and multiply ill gotten gains. It kills leadership at all levels and impoverishes our country. How? Because when such people buy their way in, they intend to recoup their investments at quadruple digit interest rate which exhibits itself in selfish unpopular policies.

Releasing the second hand to increase our fighting/winning chances requires correcting this electoral anomaly. A coalition of nationalists and diaspora think-tanks must emerge and engage in strategic mass mobilization and sensitization with clear calls for action. Like Sowore or not, he seems to be one of the active forces that represent a ‘Third Force’ in the political realm – if ever there will be one. Such force is meant to checkmate the two popular parties especially the party of the ruling government and their policies. One might not agree with everything Sowore represents politically, but he has been consistent with pointing out anomalies and proffering solutions to our system beyond armchair political analysis on television and social media. We need more young people in this arena as 2023 is already here.

TV, Radio, Social Media and Idle Electorates
TV, radio and social media are supposed to be political power amplifiers, not the power source, for they belong to people who have the luxury of wealth with political structures on ground. Serious contenders know they can’t beat APC or PDP via TV and radio time, that’s elitist politics and we are not there yet but that doesn’t discountenance their importance in information dissimulation. In this era of fake news and shock therapy, the two major political parties control the airwaves and possess unbridled access. What any serious contender/contenders without complimentary financial resources should do is utilize the Jehovah Witnesses approach to sensitization, mobilization and data collection on ground.

How else can one build political structure? 70% of our active electorates are in rural areas. Anything short of groundwork is self deceit hence why I refuse to give serious thought or join any ‘third force’ that emerges a year to elections even if they were to have 100 Nbillion pot of action money. A year to an election is realistically not enough time to build structure and sell a political party or ideology. What then usually happens with groups like this is that technocrats gather in them, make enough noise to be noticed and thereafter break away few weeks to elections to join or support candidates of either of the two major parties, with all of them citing irreconcilable differences. Of course, you’ll always have that, hence why the need for them to take time and test their political resilience in the field.

Mathematically, it is utopian-ly possible to grow a new set of active voters from our population and still win clean. Check this out; in the last elections, President Buhari won with 15 million votes and Alhaji Atiku scored 11 million in an election with a total of 28 million voter turnout. However, we had 84 million total registered voters. Does it therefore mean 56 million people didn’t vote? Who are the 56 million voters and how can one get a large pool of them to turn up and vote? How did we take two weeks to get hundreds of millions of Nigerians to join the Stingy Men Association? Answer this question and you win any Nigerian election by a landslide! This is what any third force should be concerned about. Also, note that between the ages of 18 upwards, we have 160 million Nigerians eligible to vote.

Mind you, I believe I have some of the answers to these questions but I just can’t tell you that for free, this is where consultancy begins. A footnote though, in one of my research states voter apathy is commonplace the higher you go, with high earners and predominately in urban centers. Idle electorates; white collar job professionals, students and individuals that fall in between these cracks can be incentivized and this is where TV, radio and social media works, but beyond inspiration, commitment to vote can only be elicited when a one-on-one occurs. However, one of the poignant things that stood out in my research was rather very ironic; a vast majority of rural dwellers were motivated to vote by hope for a better life while majority of well-to-do urban dwellers and professionals were motivated to vote by fear of poverty.

Nevertheless, committed people should take it upon themselves to organize and mobilize, draw long term blueprints and follow through step-by-step and on a daily basis, exhibiting malleability in approach, as disruption in the form of arrests and intimidation are inevitable. Change is inevitable, what isn’t, is the right change. Therefore, in hindsight, it requires time and planning to implement the right change.