By ANIEBO NWAMU —
So the International Monetary Fund (IMF) wants us to devalue the naira further. The message seems desirable in the long term, though I feel like shooting the messenger. The Bretton Woods institution led by this Christine Lagarde (or laggard) woman should take its advice elsewhere. Every Nigerian has, in the last three months, become at least 30 per cent poorer because the dollar that exchanged with N155 in November now costs N215 or more. Money left in banks, workers’ salaries (where they are paid), loans taken from banks and individuals – all these are now sources of worry. See why the IMF’s medicine could kill instantly? Further devaluation could crash the naira to N300 or more per dollar.
Had the message of SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme, or “stomach adjustment programme”, as Afrobeat king Fela called it) being preached since 1986 sunk in, I wouldn’t have worried if N1, 000 exchanged with $1. But SAP has failed on account of the insincerity of policy implementers and endemic corruption in all facets of our nation’s life. You can’t be buying limousines and private jets while asking the people to shun foreign-made goods. Nor can you be subsidising rice and sugar imports and still be preaching self-reliance to local farmers.
Yet, any nation that wants to develop must implement SAP honestly. It is SAP that makes the United States seek markets for its Ford and Chevrolet cars as well as for the products of Microsoft and Apple. European nations have been extracting the mainly stolen funds from “wealthy” Africans through “health tourism”, books, phones, universities that offer nothing but certificates, and useless conferences organised in their exquisite hotels. [Back home, the “monkeys” constantly entertain their compatriots with stories of “my trips abroad” as if they made the airplanes or phones they were using.] SAP has enabled China and other roaring tigers of Asia to transform from third world to first.
Time is running out for backward nations like Nigeria to come to their senses or risk deeper poverty, unending strife and perpetual enslavement. As fluctuations in oil prices have shown, it is not crude oil that will develop Nigeria. Human beings working under the right environment will do it. The paradox of having oil and yet importing all petroleum products makes clear our poverty of ideas.
The more developed world could help to lift us out of the poverty hole, not by overwhelming us with new technological wonders but by buying our own products. Oil is exhaustible. Let us remove all obstacles on their way to establishing power plants here and providing us with steady power at reasonable rates. Let us export our cassava flour, cocoa beans, palm oil, palm kernels and hundreds of other products to Asia and America. Let the white man come with machinery for processing our rotting tomato, mango, cashew, paw-paw and pepper fruit. We need preservatives for our yams, cocoa-yams, fish, meat, pumpkin leaves, bitter leaves, okro, palm wine, bananas, plantains, beans and rice. Herbal leaves, roots and barks are found in all corners of Nigeria.
I wish to see the finance minister and coordinating minister for the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, re-launch the war on indiscipline and corruption immediately. Henceforth, nobody should be permitted to import even a grain of rice or wheat; we can cultivate them here. Sugar, ethanol, expensive jewellery, hot drinks, clothing materials, toothpicks and other useless items should be contraband. A very important agency that should be given all the support it needs is the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to enable it tackle the rich thieves who refuse to pay tax: owners of private jets and magnificent houses scattered all over Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Dubai, Europe and the Americas. If somebody announced a donation of N3billion to a political party on television, the tax collector should be able to knock at his door the next morning. This country should not be a haven for drug barons, 419 fraudsters, Internet scammers, ICT hackers, terrorists and other criminals. The state should start seizing the proceeds of crime or wealth that cannot be accounted for.
We ordinary Nigerians have been toughened by the hard times in the last 34 years. We must not give up, however. Though help doesn’t seem to be coming from the official quarters, there are practical steps we can take to eradicate poverty and lead better life. The old lesson is still relevant: Cut your coat according to your cloth. It means you should live within your income: have fewer kids, live in a home you can pay for, drive a car you can maintain, travel only when you need (not want) to travel, eat smart, drink smart, attend schools you can afford and that are helpful.
Government can help, no doubt. I know that all levels of government have reached the end of their tether in terms of job creation and pay rise. But they have been worsening the situation by establishing or approving schools that add no value, hiring employees that do little work, and not putting checks and balances to arrest stealing of public funds. They should channel resources and energy to helping institutes that teach skills. Young Nigerians will not embrace entrepreneurship just because government and universities pontificate about it. They will embrace entrepreneurship by choice only when power is stable, when roads are safe and when they do not pay multiple taxes. They will learn skills and set up shops when society stops glorifying criminals that have money. Let us de-emphasize certificates that are not backed by true knowledge or skills that can lead one throughout life.
I know these are annoying times for almost everyone. Many otherwise well-groomed young women cannot marry because the men are not ready yet. Educated young men have turned thugs for crooked politicians; some have become car washers (I met one yesterday). I’m aware that several big firms (including banks) are about to shed jobs. The tragic irony is that needs are increasing just as incomes are dwindling. Little wonder anxiety disorders followed by high blood pressure have been causing havoc.
In times like these, let the reader understand – and be more careful. When life or health is lost, everything else is lost. So, pipe down. Get real. Return to the Supreme Being – through the mosque or the church. Confess your sins and turn a new leaf. The scriptures offer workable solutions to all life’s problems. For those who don’t know, “There is God o!”
By ANIEBO NWAMU —