Lagos, Nigeria: entrance to the RoRo port - Nigerian Ports Authority - photo by A.Bartel

In 1992, then military president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida literally expressed surprise that the nation’s economy had not collapsed. It was a frank observation. But after the publication of African Concord’s cover story entitled “Has IBB Given Up?” the military goons of that era ran amok. MKO Abiola (the magazine’s publisher) reportedly asked the then editor, Bayo Onanuga, to apologise to IBB, prompting Onanuga to resign along with a few others, and they subsequently co-founded The News magazine.

At last, it seems the answer to the question IBB asked 25 years ago has been found. It has taken a band of propagandists who have no idea of how to run a modern economy to put Nigeria in its place. The nation’s economy has finally collapsed! And I believe IBB too must have read the handwriting on the wall when he recently declared that it’s time to restructure Nigeria.

A satisfactory answer to IBB’s 1992 question is this: In spite of the regular assaults on the nation’s treasury, the entire economy had not crashed because treasury and oil thieves were making money and spending it in Nigeria. Perhaps 1 to 2 million barrels of crude were stolen daily until the Buhari regime came and made an attempt to curtail bunkering. The government has also implemented the TSA and blocked other loopholes, but it has failed to provide an alternative source of money needed to circulate through the economy’s veins. In other words, the Buhari regime has been killing Peter (or Farouk) in order to save Paul (or Funmi). The outcome is what we are seeing today: asphyxiation.

The resilience of Nigerians, especially the Igbo people, which has also held the economy since IBB asked his question, is finally giving way. Operators of the informal economy did not give up when part of the loot from government coffers still trickled down. With the Buhari administration closing the tap – they’re still battling with the 2017 budget – it’s small wonder that almost everyone is broke. One by one, Nigerians are drowning in the sea of incompetence that is the Buhari administration.

Apocalypse doesn’t happen in just one day. In Nigeria, it’s been occurring in instalments: Many employers in the private sector can’t pay salaries, nor can most state governments. Struggling entrepreneurs like me are being owed by clients who lack the ability to pay for jobs done. Jobs have disappeared and workers are being laid off, just as businesses are failing. Everyone seems to be indebted to someone else.

More warning signs of the end: A Nigerian can now take his life out of frustration. Suicide bombing is no more a fairy tale. Each year, more than 1.5million candidates seek admission into university; 80 per cent of them do not gain admission. Each year, more than 2million leave schools but fewer than 50, 000 get jobs, even if underpaying. Tens of millions are currently starving to death! Prices of goods are high, yet there’s no money. Many know they’re sick but can’t seek treatment.

When I see this vision of apocalypse, I see the truth spoken by John Kennedy in his inaugural speech in January 1961: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” Are the rich of Nigeria safe? Not with kidnappers around. And robbers!

Even armed robbers know there’s no money, however. The cases I hear these days are mainly about those stealing food from kitchens or crops from farmlands.

Things were different in 2002 when the bandits broke into my home for the first time. The first question they asked me (after giving me “two minutes” to open the door) was, “Where’s the dough?”

“The dough?” I responded. “Come with me.”

With their pointed guns and flashlights, they followed me to a room where I kept loose change. I gathered the naira notes available – I think coins were no longer legal tender in the country even at that time – and handed over to them.

They ordered me to count, and I counted N650.

“If we search and find any other money here, we’ll waste you,” one of the hoodlums threatened. I nodded.

They did not search, but refused to take the money I counted and quietly went out in search of “dough” in other homes.

Actually, I had told the robbers the whole truth. Even in those days, before the coming of the ATM, I did not keep money at home.

When another gang repeated the attack 10 years later, in Abuja, the story was less happy. They asked the same question: “Where is the money?” They shot at us after robbing us of all valuables – cash, laptops, phones, jewellery, and more, including a N6m car. We were lucky to survive the attack after several weeks in hospital. The law agents are still looking for the car and the robbers (one of whom has been identified as Muazu Maishayi from Kano). Some suspects were arrested but taken on bail. The court has not sat to hear the case for four years now.

So, those who think confessed kidnapper “Evans” of Lagos may not escape or be freed are naïve. Something that is more attention-catching will soon come up to swallow all the noise. Who still remembers the subsidy fraudsters? Who remembers the power probe report?  And the pension thieves? Who owns the N15bn found in Osborne Towers?

I don’t think Nigeria is redeemable, with the present system of things.  Here is a story a friend (now deceased) told me to back up his belief that Nigeria is irredeemable. He heard it from a participant in a civil service robbery: Workers in a government agency were detailed to travel to Lagos and take delivery of goods worth several millions of dollars. They took with them a long truck. On their way back, they conspired to divert the goods to a private warehouse. After doing that successfully, they returned to the road and, in the dead of night, vandalised the truck itself before setting it ablaze. The story they took back to the office was that the vehicle caught fire mysteriously and consumed the goods. After an inquiry, they were exonerated from any crime. The office rewarded them with promotions. And they have lived happily ever after!

Well, the youth are growing impatient. All the tension in the land, all the talk of militancy or Boko Haram or Biafra, I’m sure, are the youth’s response to social injustice and a failed economy. What peace or progress is possible in a country where nothing works, where electricity is scarce, where only thieves “prosper”, and where the leadership is lethargic?

May God save Nigerians as they contend with their country’s economic collapse!


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