The Challenge from the Senate

For the first time in many years, I’m hearing something positive coming from the hallowed chambers of the Nigerian Senate. In a resolution, penultimate week, the upper chamber of the legislature asked the federal executive to forward the report of the 2014 National Conference to it as an executive bill for urgent legislative action. It’s a relief. And anyone who loves Nigeria should support this move.

President Muhammadu Buhari, now on medical vacation, is nowhere to be counted. But, early in his presidency, he had indicated that the 2014 conference’s report belonged to the archives. In view of the several issues that have arisen since then, the federal government led by Buhari ought to change its view. Is Acting President Osinbajo equal to the challenge?

The APC as a party rejected the conference convened by former President Jonathan, but the same party canvassed “restructuring of the federation” as a campaign issue. After more than two years in power, the “progressive” party has not taken any step forward. Where are the activists with whom we have campaigned for true fiscal federalism since the 1980s? All have gone quiet since APC won the polls of 2015. Strange.

The 2014 conference wasn’t perfect; however, any step in the direction of reform ought to be supported at this time. We’ve been running the country with a faulty constitution. Several pitfalls exist in the document hurriedly put together by one or two people in their bedroom in 1998. The mysterious thing is that although everyone has been complaining that the constitution begins with a lie (“We the people…”), no one has been able to change it in 18 years.

Is it not a conspiracy of silence that after spending billions of taxpayers’ naira on constitution amendment and constitutional conferences, Nigeria has yet to get its supreme document right? I remember that the National Assembly has been constituting panels on constitution amendment since 2001. Will there be any headway now? Is anything tangible to be expected from the 8th Senate?

It’s not true that a country gets the kind of leader it deserves. Judging by its credentials as the country with “the happiest people in the world” at some point, hospitable and good people, Nigeria has not deserved the kind of leaders it has had. As a good student of Nigerian history, I know that the average Nigerian is a good person. Only the challenges of poverty, joblessness and bad leadership have been distorting his personality. Achebe identified issues of leadership, ethnicity, corruption, indiscipline and others as the trouble with Nigeria. But I believe there is something else – something very fundamental: the British’s influence. Nigeria was not designed to become one nation, and upon this malady rests the issues of lack of patriotism, lack of unity, lack of democracy and lack of good followership.

By the time Nigeria is restructured to become a true federation, the abundant human and material resources it’s endowed with will surely be unleashed. People who believe in their nation and have pride in it would not steal from it or seek to persecute anyone on account of their views, religion or ethnicity. The technological advancement witnessed in Biafra 50 years ago is enough testimony.

In a true federation, power supply would be adequate and not erratic as it currently is. Some would generate their power from water, some from coal, and others from wind, gas or nuclear energy. There would be competition, as was the case in the First Republic.

No region is bereft of resources. Solid minerals – gold, diamond, uranium, lead and scores of others – dot the landscape. Even crude oil could be found in commercial quantities in every region, not just in the south-east and south-south.

Above all, the current agitations for separate states are likely to disappear. The debate would centre on how to expand into ECOWAS and AU. We’ve said this several times, but nobody seems to be listening. Time is running out.


Loans make one rich

With the establishment of AMCON (Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria), I thought the matter of loan default had been settled.  But it seems AMCON is overwhelmed and the banking system is in a mess deeper than we know.

My source said little has been recovered from debtors whose names were once published in the newspapers. Even those who had threatened fire and brimstone after the publication of their names by the CBN have not lifted a finger – maybe they were making a noise in order to save their face. The bad loans now exceed N15trillion, I’ve learned.

Nevertheless, that publication by the CBN was instructive. It revealed that many rich people were actually heavy borrowers, and that banks were the main accomplices of economic saboteurs. Someone said the best way to rob a bank is to establish one.  True: one Nigerian owed different banks more than N200billion!

The new lesson for young Nigerians wishing to become rich is: borrow, borrow and borrow.  We used to limit the sources of wealth in Nigeria to politics and crime. Behind every source of wealth is a crime, we were told.

Is taking loans from banks a crime? In fact, it takes more than honesty to qualify for a bank loan: you must be aged 85 years and accompanied by both parents. You have to show that you are already rich (and therefore don’t need the loan) by providing a collateral. When you have a bright idea, nobody looks at you; the bankers could steal the information from you and fund the project for someone else. If you are lucky to get the loan, the banks ensure you work for them – your profit or salary will be just enough to service the loan.  The interest rate is between 35 and 60%, against 15—20% officially advertised.

The figures I’ve been quoting were not taken from books. As a young man, I sought bank loans. Though I had read a Shakespearean text in which he advised “Neither a lender nor a borrower be”, I found no other way of making a giant leap forward than taking a loan with low interest rate. If I had got the money I was looking for then (just N50million in 1997), I would have been an employer of at least 1,500 Nigerians today.

Yet, a loan could make the big difference between poverty and affluence. Putting a debtor in jail will not help the lender because debts are not paid in jail. It’s better to help the borrower to succeed in his business.

Perhaps, loan defaulters have no reason to be afraid. It’s their answer to funds trapped in failed finance houses, failed community banks and several failed commercial banks. There is a price to be paid by banks that give loans to people that don’t need them but refuse to give to those that need loans.


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