Nigeria as well as its economy is now sitting on a precipice – and nobody needs an Obasanjo to know this. In just four or five months of reduced revenue from crude oil, managers of the nation’s economy are singing a new song. States may collapse by January, said Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State. Central Bank governor Godwin Emefiele has quickly devalued the naira, even as foreign reserves have plummeted.
A fortnight ago, finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala announced a regime of “austerity measures” – a throwback to the policy of 1981 – which, to all intents and purposes, is motion without movement. I can bet that none of the steps she outlined to curb expenditure and increase revenue would be implemented: owners of luxury items (like private jets) won’t pay more, overseas travels by public servants will increase, and stealing of public funds will continue. While she was announcing “austerity measures”, she was also setting aside N10billion for cooking stoves. This is a country like no other.
The biggest lie being peddled by the “coordinating minister for the economy” is that she has devised measures to ensure that the common man does not feel the impact of oil price fall. We’ve heard that for the past 34 years. Could she not be lying when they have announced that “fuel subsidy” will be reduced by half in January? As the students of Obafemi Awolowo University (who pelted President Jonathan’s entourage with bags of sachet water) on Thursday stated on their placards, this government is selling electricity the same way it has sold education by imposing high tariffs. Head or tail, the poor lose.
Who would feel the impact of naira’s devaluation more – the common man or the uncommon thieves in government? We have proven that “fuel subsidy” is a huge scam – there is no subsidy in the first place. It is a slush fund from which officeholders steal. Since the prices of crude started falling, the pump price of fuel also ought to have been reducing. But it has not, and will not. By January, we may pay N140 per litre and they will still tell us they are subsidising fuel.
Clearly, the situation is on top of President Jonathan’s Economic Management Team and not the other way around. The signs of economic collapse have been around us for a long time, but only a few of us took notice. Those who didn’t felt there would always be oil funds to steal from. Sometime in 2007, a barrel of Nigerian crude exchanged for $147, and, from then until June this year, the price rarely went below $100. The nation exports about 2.5million barrels every day, but perhaps 1million barrels more are stolen daily.
I have always known that we do not need World Bank and IMF-trained economists to fix any nation’s economy. Who needs economists to tell him that an economy that produces nothing but consumes everything will collapse? How can a country stand if people steal without restraint and nobody gets punished for stealing?
A clear proof of sabotage lies in the irony that an oil-rich country imports almost all of its fuel needs. The four existing refineries have been crippled; all talk of privatising them has been muted, apparently because the managers of the petroleum sector have not been sincere all along. Where is the PIB today? Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke should be told that there is nothing special about being appointed the first female president of OPEC. It’s not due to any achievement of hers.
A hidden damage already done to Nigeria is that nobody aims to engage in productive activities anymore. Not even the unemployed desire to do honest work for honest pay any longer. Young people are not attracted to farming or small-scale businesses because they could earn a lot more by being politicians’ thugs, by breaking pipes to steal fuel, and by peddling hard drugs. Others have taken to armed robbery, terrorism or other heinous crimes.
Meanwhile, public “servants” who consume 70 per cent of the nation’s revenues are almost useless. Year on year, the sing-song from our leaders has been about cutting public expenditure by sacking government workers, but they have not found the courage to touch the jumbo pay enjoyed by politicians that contribute nothing to the nation’s development.
The day of reckoning is at hand. My guess is that the price of oil will keep falling in winter until it gets to as low as $40 per barrel. Besides, the international conspirators who manipulate oil prices have not been sleeping. So, whether next year’s budget is based on $73 or $68 per barrel, the trouble will not be averted. In any case, nobody implements budgets in Nigeria.
What to expect in 2015? Civil servants will be owed salaries for several months. Unemployment will worsen. Small businesses will suffer. Life will become tougher for ordinary Nigerians. All these are the visible signs of a collapsing economy. Add to them the activities of terrorists and politicians at the general elections and you have a failed state.
In January, Nigerians would do well to demand total removal of the phantom “fuel subsidy” indirectly used to buy private jets and voters at elections. If we allowed them to remove the “subsidy”, one pipe through which they siphon trillions each year would be blocked. Then, we would see reason to block other pipes such as security and defence expenditures also deliberately invented for stealing public funds.
– By Aniebo Nwamu