By EZEKIEL OLORIEGBE

We have been inundated with stories about how we need to borrow money for infrastructure.  The story is that the money will be used for ‘critical’ infrastructure. Now we hear that part of the USD500m loan will be used to ‘upgrade’ NTA. If this is the kind of ‘critical infrastructure’ being referred to, for which we will mortgage our finances for decades to come, then we need to #Thinkharder.

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We should all fight against this loan.

It’s unnecessary, vexatious, and shows some incompetence in financial management. This government seems to borrow money at the drop of a hat. No CREATIVITY in generating money. Must we borrow for everything? Can’t we look inwards and curb waste? Just spend, spend, spend. Both money we have and money we don’t have. And not on things that can fund itself with revenue. Many prestige projects, and conspicuous consumption items. Luxury lifestyle for leaders who contribute nothing to long-term development. Just paying salaries…

ADB and IMF have been warning us against further loans. How do we pay back this money?  How can we contemplate to borrow USD500m to sink into NTA? Who watches NTA? How will NTA help develop the country? Who watches NTA? I ask again. With the proliferation of channels, how many people watch NTA? If people don’t watch it, how does it qualify as critical infrastructure? To compete with CNN? Is CNN owned by the Federal government of the U.S.? How does that help our economy? All of us must stand up against this jumbo loan.

Looters and liars 

Looters and mis-managers of our economy are already salivating right at the prospect of 30-billion-dollar windfall soon to be available for them to loot. Then we the people and our future children would be left with the debt to pay back, while looters walk calmly to the banks, laughing like hyenas.

Neutrality is no option. This loan is a scam. There are creative ways to raise money. We just need to #THINK HARDER!

To think HARDER, we must:

(1) abandon waste, and 

(2) stop any soft-glove treatment of corruption. In fact, the gloves must come off!

Here are some ideas on the two steps above. But just for starters:

1. Sell off the underperforming refineries. And pay the money into the treasury.

2. Sell off NTA itself. Remove government hands from investment in the press. They usually are a government mouthpiece anyway, and for that reason lack credibility.

3. Drastically cut politicians’ emoluments.  No politician should earn a kobo in emoluments or allowances or salaries above a level 15 civil servant. At federal, state and local government levels.

4.  Sell off ALL the planes in the presidential fleet. All of them. Not many countries have anything like a presidential fleet. Our president can travel on chartered planes.

5. Seize, immediately and sell off ALL the assets of the Nigerians owing the Asset Management Company of Nigeria N5 trillion.

6. Collate and pay into the Consolidated Revenue Account all the monies recovered from looters so far by this administration.

7. Modernise, computerise and eliminate human interface in customs revenue collection. Let all collections be entirely online. No kobo should be handled by anyone anywhere in the process. This would also involve manning our seaports, airports and land borders with electronic equipment so we could capture all revenue accruable from imports and exports. Right now, because of incompetence and corruption, we are not capturing up to 30% of potential revenues from our customs and excise duties. 

8. Abolish all Pilgrims Welfare commissions throughout the country; and make it a criminal, impeachable offence for any governor or local government chairman to sponsor anyone to any land, holy or unholy, on any religious pilgrimage. Everyone should find their spiritual journeys without spending a kobo of government money.

9. Effective immediately, government revenue agents should move into ALL garages and motor parks in the country, and collect, on a daily basis, 80% of daily takings at the garages as a new national development tax from NURTW operatives. The NURTW collects billions in illegal tax from their members daily, without the NURTW itself paying a kobo in legal tax to the government (if you know, you know). This must stop: 85% of all collections must be remitted to government daily as collected. The remaining 15% must be put in a government-administered account to be used for the WELFARE of the members, and stipends paid to their officers. We can’t keep looking at such revenue source and claim we have no money.

10. Property tax should be instituted and enforced throughout the country. Every single house must be assessed, valued, and appropriate yearly tax demanded and collected on all houses in Nigeria.  This must be paid by the landlords, not tenants. And it must be countrywide, with no exceptions whatsoever — including churches, mosques, and government-owned buildings.

11. ALL good roads in this country MUST BE TOLLED in a way that does not allow revenue leakage.

12. Death penalty for corruption must be introduced into our laws and strictly implemented. Convicted looters should be publicly executed in their hometowns, and their names ENTERED into a national register of dishonor which should be displayed in all local government headquarters in Nigeria, and also accessible online.

13. Institute another layer of LUXURY TAX that will be placed on luxury conspicuous consumerism items like champagne, perfumes, imported materials like lace, cars that cost above N10 million etc.

14. Leave each state to manage its VAT revenue. 

15. Move into all areas of illegal and unregulated mining of precious metals and other solid minerals around the country, and institute a system of regulation and how to collect tax equitably. Stop, by any means necessary, illegal bunkering on our coastal workers and plug the revenue leakage from there.

16. After all the above cost-saving measures, we should now do some thinking about the untapped potential of INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP.

Nigeria is a virgin country, relatively speaking. There are many international venture capitalists ready to invest where they can get guaranteed return on investments. All our infrastructural deficits can be 100% financed by foreign venture capitalists… The thing to do is prepare foolproof and watertight VIABILITY STUDIES showing clearly how prospective investors can recoup their investment with handsome profit on the basis of BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer).

This (the VIABILITY STUDIES) would then be marketed in the international capital market including on stock exchanges around the world. If properly done, 90% of our infrastructure can be developed in this way. Especially roads. All roads should be TOLLED.  And the tolls properly utilised. We can replicate the same thing with the rails. Get a well-articulated rail master plan and market it internationally to investors.

Secondly, apart from road and rail transport infrastructure is POWER INFRASTRUCTURE. The power privatisation that was done was WORSE than useless. Noted power companies from abroad who had a roadmap to uninterruptible power supply for Nigeria were blocked from the process. And our power infrastructure was handed over to those who know absolutely nothing about the power industry. People who only had money and zero technical competence in power matters. The result is the chaos in the power sector today. This must be reversed. Many companies in Europe, notably in Germany and Norway, have delivered 100% uninterruptible power to their areas of coverage, and they are now looking for where to invest. If we show such companies that we are serious, AND GUARANTEE for them NON-INTERFERENCE IN TARIFF rates, they can deliver uninterrupted power to us within five years USING THEIR OWN MONEY AND EXPERTISE.

Then, there are Chinese companies who are ready to deliver so-called DIRTY POWER — through the use of coal. As a last resort, we can call them in, and let them use our coal deposits to deliver power, using their own money! Later we can think of clean energy from Europe or elsewhere.

If we could deliver transport infrastructure, and power infrastructure as above, our country would burst forth in development and unleash the energy of our people. We do not need that USD30b loan.

Food for thought 

Having said the foregoing, we must ask ourselves, is borrowing the only way to generate capital for development? Who did Chairman Mao’s China borrow from to fund their development? When Joseph Stalin raised the USSR from an agricultural and backward nation to an industrialized country within a generation, from which country did they borrow money to develop?

When we keep borrowing the way we have been doing, and using the loans to fund wasteful spending in public office, also as we have been doing, when are we going to develop the needed discipline and hardworking ethos to rise on our own? We need to learn, as a nation, sacrifice and delayed gratification. When we keep borrowing, and wasting the borrowed money today for our public officials to live in luxury like Middle-Eastern Arab Sultans, what will our children survive on in the future? On further loans? It is irresponsible of us, the present generation, to saddle our children with loans as a legacy. Just because we do not want to sacrifice just a bit.

Some of these prescriptions seem radical, but with the right attitude, and the WILL to develop, all of them are doable. All of them. Others can add their own thoughts to this. But there is no need to waste energy listing reasons why the above cannot work. They can work!

Lesson

The fight of the 20th century was organised by iconic boxing promoter Don King without a single dollar of his own, yet the fight generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and paid record fees to the boxers (Mohammed Ali and George Foreman). I’m talking of the “Rumble in the Jungle”. Google confirms that Don King organised that fight without a cent of his own. What Don King did for himself we Nigerians can do for ourselves. We just need to #THINKHARDER!

Oloriegbe writes from Abuja.

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