I join Lawyer Femi Falana in asking the government to desist from incurring new foreign loans. This I do for several reasons. Falana listed a number of sources from which government could recover up to $200 billion in order to fund the budget and even beyond. This is valid. The president himself has on several occasions regaled the nation with scintillating stories of recoveries of billions of dollars. On many occasions, the president talked of how many trillions they have ‘recovered’ in the Treasury Single Account (TSA). He has also talked severally about recoveries from those who looted the treasury in the past, and on the streets we see several houses decorated with the “EFCC KEEP OFF” insignia. On the February 5th this year, or thereabout, the president stated categorically in London that his administration had recovered so much money from those who voluntarily returned stolen funds and their ilk, that they in government ‘believe (they) may end up not incurring deficit this year’. He received something close to a standing ovation for that statement.
It therefore befuddles when the minister of Finance released a ‘roadmap’ for the economy, and talked eloquently about how the 2016 Budget will be ‘DEBT-FUNDED’. She went on to describe several borrowing scenarios, including how Chinese Panda Bonds were better than the European ones. Our president then went off to China, ostensibly to secure a $2billion loan, only for us to learn that the Chinese had approved a $6billion loan which needed no collateral, no agreement and no conditionalities, according to the statement I heard from the mouth of the minister for Foreign Affairs. He said it was plug-and-play, as in all we had to do was draw on the funds after identifying ANY project of our fancy. Listening to Geoffrey Onyeama, one will get the impression that it was free money, and perhaps it is. Other reports have it though that the loans are tied to projects. I am wary of easy loans, even if they are from China; which a friend rightly observed to be a better development ally compared with Western superpowers.
We also heard that the Central Bank of Nigeria signed an agreement whereby the Chinese currency, the yuan, will become easily convertible to the naira and where Nigeria will become a hub/clearing house for the Chinese currency in our region. This also indicates that the Chinese wants trade between us and them to be more fluid. But they have much more to sell to us than we could ever come up with. Caution. What is more? The Chinese are so clever, and like with the Western countries that have terrorised us economically for decades, they too know an undue advantage when they see one. They have been known to fund development projects where they bring their own peasants to do the job. In one instance, they brought their prisoners to work on a construction project in Accra, Ghana, in lieu of jail term. These prisoners were not even paid in Ghana. Their dues went to their families in China, so the Ghanaian economy had little benefits. Many people have hailed this ‘yuan hub’ news with much aplomb. But that itself is quite tricky and I suggest we not play up the idea that Nigeria will be at the centre of a shift of global reserve currency from the dollar to the yuan, because the Americans can get very feisty at such an idea. Ask Iraq. Ask Libya.
In the case of Iraq, they were going to move to the Euro, and then the Americans concocted some story and bombed the hell out of them for some nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. This is no hearsay. It was captured even in textbooks on International Finance, notably by Professor Keith Pilbeam of City University London. Ghaddafi’s mortal sins prominently include trying to create some pan-African currency and suggesting to OPEC countries to start receiving gold rather than the dollar for their Crude Oil. This was also captured by scholars. Any surprise when this very week, President Obama listed that his worst mistake was what he did to Libya? Meanwhile Ghaddafi is gone, mercilessly killed and sodomised with a knife on the streets, his corpse treated like a dog’s, and buried in an unknown place so that he will not be hero-worshipped; all at the instructions of the Americans, British and French. Hilary Clinton, the mean-spirited Secretary of State at that time, and now front-runner for the US Presidency, jubilated by singing ‘We came, we saw, he died!’. Wicked woman! Libya today lays prostrate as one of the most dangerous countries on earth, thanks to these people. The country with the highest Human Development Index in Africa was destroyed before our very eyes while our ‘educated’ people cheered on brainlessly. Of course Libya’s fall opened up the route for Boko Haram – or whoever is behind the killing of tens of thousands of Nigerians so far – and with them came the most dangerous of weapons and bombs. Nigeria, caution! It’s a mean world out there and when you want to do these things, you have to be really quiet about it.
So, if I want to talk about conspiracy theories, I will say that it is a suicidal move on the part of Buhari. When Goodluck Jonathan went to China with 13 of his ministers, global media refused to report the news. He was roundly ignored because they were livid. Jonathan was even made to cut short that visit as he left after two days, because bombs started going off in Nigeria. I would say his relationship with the Western crazies never remained the same after that move. Yar’Adua also committed this sin by openly romancing with Medvedev, who visited Nigeria to sign some deals with the steel sector. This ‘conspiracy theory’ is important and should be taken serious because someone is spinning the news of Buhari’s visit to China and in particular the yuan deal, as an attempt by Nigeria to ‘crash the US dollar by 70%’. Whereas Nigeria cannot ‘crash the dollar’, certainly not by that percentage, we have made a bold move and given other countries ideas. But it is still a bit foolish for anyone to suggest that Nigeria is deliberately triggering a global currency war that will see the yuan replacing the dollar as global reserve currency. Imagine, the report also states that Nigeria intends to diversify its entire reserves into yuan, and our own NTA carries this on its website. Are we declaring war on the US? If we are, are we ready, capable and prepared? This is very dangerous territory.
Meanwhile, Nigeria is the butt of jokes across the world, because of our penchant to beg many countries to lend us money, which we never use judiciously. All levels of government in Nigeria seem to be searching frantically for loans. Almost every state in Nigeria has sent series of delegates to every part of the world in search of loans. Yet no one has come here for loans; not even from places like Togo, Cameroun or Niger. Given the slightest opportunity, but for the way our governors have caged local governments and pocketed them, Nigerian local government chairmen will also be looking for foreign loans by now. It’s that bad.
There is a reason why we are like this. The average Nigerian loves new ‘chassis’ things. We also love big things. What we don’t understand, and are not prepared to start learning is how and why we need to maintain what we have. That is evident in the decadence of infrastructure all around us. We also don’t understand the dictum that the difference between success and failure is in the details, and why we must have to start small and focus on the little things on our way to economic development. These tendencies are just not in our DNA, simple.
The Infrastructure Myth
This is the basis of what I call the ‘infrastructure myth’. We seem totally convinced that a commitment of resources to infrastructure will solve our problems and even create employment. I don’t believe this to be true, not even for the power sector, where such mythological stories have led to the pumping in of trillions of naira in the past 16 years at least, with only a momentary accomplishment of 5,000 Megawatts. Other countries achieved a lot more for much less. Our focus on ‘infrastructure’, as a way forward, blinds us to a bigger problem – value-for-money. Oftentimes, those pushing for these infrastructure projects have their eyes firmly on the prize – the ‘egunje’ that will emanate from those huge projects. Everyone wants to be a trillionaire in Nigeria and the Chinese are not known to be fussy around such matters.
Regarding the erroneous and indeed mentally lazy thinking that infrastructural investments is the way forward, let me point us to some instances where we have spent tons of money on infrastructure and gained little or nothing therefrom. Many of these instances are as good as setting fire to billions of dollars. Did they create employment? No. Did these spendings transform the Nigerian economy? No. Did they even add value in any sustainable manner? No. Recall the N470billion contract with a Chinese company called ZTE, to install CCTV cameras in Abuja and Lagos? They claim to have fulfilled their own side of the deal. But that project was not operated for a single day. We basically dumped that money in the Atlantic Ocean. Some of our big men became richer by way of the kickback they received. That’s all. Remember that another Chinese company built the Abuja stadium. Contract sum was anything between N60billion and N100billion. Today, that project is grossly suboptimal. People don’t go there. The place does not earn money. The Olympic-size swimming pool is dead and green. And the football pitch has had to be removed and re-laid when trees started growing on it. Remember the ongoing airport projects across Nigeria. Can we say we are getting value for money? Or the railway projects we had embarked on, on and off, since the time of President Obasanjo?
So, what about ‘infrastructure’ being the only way forward? That is only for shallow thinkers. The examples above are about Chinese companies, to show us that as much as a relationship with the Chinese often results in tangible achievements because they are straight to the point, we should not mindlessly throw everything at them. Let me embellish this ‘straight-to-the-point-ness’ of the Chinese. I was seated like 10 metres away from Tony Blair, George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice one day in 2010, at ThisDay Dome in Abuja, when in answer to a question about the Chinese vs Western countries, Tony Blair answered that ‘we know the Chinese, if you ask them for a road to be built, they show up with a digger the next day. But for us in the West, we ask for sheaves of papers and agreements’. Bush was not happy with the statement. He grabbed the mike from Tony, and went on to spew some bullshit about Chinese people despoiling the environment. I just laughed at him for thinking we were all fools or sellouts.
But there are a thousand other projects all over Nigeria that have suffered the same fate, where we have set fire to billions of dollars. There are roads leading to nowhere, like the roads in Kuje, which had been tarred for over 15 years but with hardly a house in sight. Monkeys jump across the road when you drive there. There are thousands of ‘luxury’ duplexes all over the major cities of Nigeria where nothing but reptiles inhabit. We have sunk trillions into these projects that are not benefiting anybody. There are pedestrian bridges all over Nigeria that nobody uses, yet they were built at a cost of at least N200 million apiece. I saw one, driving from Ile-Ife to Ibadan, at Ikire Junction. I wondered which local government chairman wasted that money. Why are we like this? Still on the Ile-Ife/Ibadan Road, the old road built in the 1970s is the functional and passible road, while the one built more recently, has spoilt. Funny, eh? Vehicles switch to ‘one-way’ at that point. Does that not show that our recent spendings on ‘infrastructure’ have been wrong-headed, ill-intentioned, wasteful and many times, wicked? Even our Third Mainland Bridge had to be closed for major repairs after 15 years. Bridges all over the world are meant to last for at least 100 years before such major refurbishments. What is wrong with us?
I drove past some road construction on recent trips to Minna and Kaduna, through Bwari. Whereas work was briskly in progress, I noticed that construction sites are no longer bevies for cheap labour. On two of the sites, they had less than 15 people working. This is because technology has made things easier for the contractors. Are we thinking about this? Are we moving along with the world in our thought processes? It makes me sad to see the wrong choices we make. I wish I wouldn’t have to agonise but for God and country, we must speak out.
So, for me, the first thing the government must do is to be totally transparent about its affairs. We have asked for that and been ignored. It is for the good of the government itself. With the way those who worked with Jonathan are seeing hell now, only transparency will save those who are there now. I was embarrassed to read about the charges being levied against Steve Oronsaye, the former Head of Service. It tells me government work is a slippery slope. The government should help itself and be plain about who has returned what and which ones it had obtained through law. Then we can know how to proceed. We have waited so long for things to kick off. We cannot now jump into long term commitments of debt when we could actually look at how to use our own resources better.
I don’t know how it started, but there is something about those who manage to get exalted to the topmost level of economic management in most developing countries. The first thing they think about is how to borrow. And I have also studied the conferences they attend. Those ‘scholars’ – usually from the world’s best business schools – and those finance experts, don’t even entertain any other debate apart from ‘How do you finance your way out of underdevelopment?’. As a matter of fact, they sound like drug-dealers trying to convince a junkie to take another fix. I will say it once; their approach is intellectually and morally fraudulent. Nigeria needs a lot more than money. In fact we need other things but money. Some things are more important than money.
That is why I was happy at what our Finance minister said to them at IMF just this week. Hear her:
“Nigeria is not sick and even if we are, we have our own local remedy,” the Minister said, in an apparent response to a question on why the government has refused to apply for IMF loans.
“We have resolved to build resilience into the country’s economy to hedge against future oil shocks. This is because dependence on oil brings about vulnerability and laziness. So we are doing a combination of things to diversify our economy, with revenue mobilisation to enable sufficient investment in developing the non-oil sectors… We have a great opportunities to reset the Nigerian economy and ensure that as we go forward, growth will be in a sustainable manner so that we won’t be vulnerable to oil price fluctuations, and with a truly diversified economy we would have enabled opportunities for wealth creation that would have trickles down to every Nigerian… The compelling business case in Nigeria is that the fundamentals remain very strong, a teaming, young growing population, rich in resources and with a government determined to finally get it right. The great thing is that long term investors recognise this and understand the difference between short term and long term issues and the case for Nigeria persuades one to plan for the longer term opportunities.”
I hope she pulls it through. I hope she sticks to her guns. I hope she and the rest of the team recognise that our youth hold the key and this goes beyond mere rhetoric. I was shocked to hear Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, in her contentious speech at the World Bank, talk about how Nigeria neglected its youth who hold the key to development. I wondered what happened to her while she was here. May God help us.
For starters, let no one rush us into any new loans. We have all we want in this country. We need to have a candid talk with ourselves, and we shall find, that we have what is more than money.