Extract from Chinese president, Xi Jinping’s 2018 New Year address:
“Our GDP rose to the level of 80 trillion yuan (12.3 trillion US dollars). Over 13 million urban and rural jobs were created. Our old-age insurance system now covers more than 900 million people, and 1.35 billion people are covered by basic medical insurance. More than 10 million rural residents were lifted out of poverty… 3.4 million people were relocated from poverty-stricken areas and now live in new warm housing. The construction of 6 million apartments in shanty areas has begun ahead of schedule… Our country’s great development has been achieved by the people, and its fruits should be shared by the people… The Party committees, governments, and officials at all levels must constantly hold in their hearts the interests and concerns of the people, and regard the benefit of the people as their highest career accomplishment. They must think for the people, respond to their needs, and work for the greater happiness of the people.”
I meant to write this article a long time ago. I mean since the beginning of this year. It was around the time that President Buhari read his budget speech. As we know, our own budget is hopefully going to be fully assented and put into play in the next few days – if nothing else untoward happens. It is almost June. If this is done, we would be lucky, as we are used to having this done by August each year. And in a few months, we would be told that the budget is being rounded up and ministries should return balances to the treasury. This is despite the fact that a major chunk of our budget is for the privileges of our high and mighty. Those closest to the booty in Nigeria, simply stretch their hands and grab the money. We have agonized over this for too long. Things will never change – except we get new revolutionary thinking into play. Meanwhile, another chunk of our budget disappears by way of corruption. A good decoy for corruption, as noted by none else but the World Bank, is through ‘infrastructure projects’. That is where large chunks of money disappear. We have planned a lot of that. And even though the infrastructure we planned for are direly needed, the problem is the greed that has seized our system. Between corruption, and impunity plus hubris – a scenario where a few in government (especially politicians and those guys in the National Assembly), see nothing wrong with maxing out on illegal allowances and benefits while the nation goes to hell, Nigeria needs urgent rescue or else it will crash.
We should recall that China, U.S.A, U.K., and any country which takes itself serious already has its budget in play from the beginning of the year. In most serious countries, it is no longer a big issue to ensure that budgets work like clockwork. We could even look closer home. All around us are countries where their budgets are not a subject of controversies. Even Cameroun, Niger Republic, Chad, Benin, not to talk of South Africa, Algeria, Egypt Angola and other large and growing economies in Africa, don’t have our kind of unnecessary issues. You are what you do consistently. So, some of those countries, if they are consistent in releasing their budgets early and planning for their people, may actually evolve faster than we do. That is why 2019 is very crucial for Nigeria. We must just change our ways.
Our budget process is very toxic and we haven’t been able to tame it. In spite of government’s promise to transit towards a zero-based budgeting regime, we are still stuck with the usual scenario where people sit in their offices and conjure all sorts of ‘pork barrel’ projects. Mr. Segun Adeniyi, once wrote an article about how this works going by his experience working with President Yar’Adua. The big men sit in their offices and get some memo from the Budget Office asking them to send in (usually what they intend to buy) in the coming year. Or what they want to build. Our ministries, departments and agencies never cooperate. God forbid! Everyone is building an empire or at least a silo. And we have silos and empires inside already existing silos and empires. No one seas anyone. Any attempt at oversight of any other person is met with stiff opposition. In fact, it is a bloodspot of sorts. As against what happens in the U.S.A (the global headquarters of capitalism, democracy and federalism), whereby a single agency called the Government Services Agency, undertakes procurement on behalf of all the MDAs and from which any agency of government makes requisition for whatever it needs, and justifies this. Here, every MDA rushes to the market to purchase the same stuff, usually at madly different prices, depending on the level of greed and carelessness of those involved. Eze Onyekpere has written copiously about this problem, including the illegal practice of inserting particular brands inside the budget and thereby foreclosing cheaper or better options. He has been roundly ignored.
And so, as far as I know, there is nothing in these budgets for Nigerians. Our budgets are nothing to cheer about or analyse. They are a waste of everyone’s time, apart from those who concocted them up, and the guys in the legislature who insert projects everywhere, which are essentially slush funds. Our budgets are platforms for massive corruption. The system is utterly sick. If at the end of the day, the poor masses of this country – and that includes those of us who say we are entrepreneurs – get some crumbs we are lucky. Usually these days, the entrepreneurs who are ‘lucky’ to know the top dogs in charge of the money are mere tools. Let me say this once: EVERY ITEM INSIDE NIGERIA’S BUDGET AT EVERY LEVEL, IS OWNED, I MEAN OWNED, BY SOME BIG MAN – POLITICIAN OR TOP CIVIL SERVANT. This is one of the ways by which the public service in Nigeria – and politicians – got too smart for the system. When Buhari’s government came in, we were promised that everything would now be professional, but we have only seen the total opposite. The procurement process has never been more rigged, more nepotistic, or more corrupt. When you get a call from most of the MDAs now, it is about how you should come and do a job on behalf of someone inside, who we are also paying salaries as taxpayers. Those agencies where very generous salaries are earned are the worst!
On the back of this armtwisting, rides fraud. They double contracts and pay through funny accounts – one half goes to the real contractor (who still shares the money with them), and the other half to their own ghost accounts. They deduct withholding taxes and manage to pocket the money. They float new payments for contracts already executed years ago and pay into their ghost accounts. Never envy the wealth of a Nigerian, except you know how he is ‘making’ it. Fraud! Fraud!! Fraud!!! Everywhere. It’s pathetic. People are just not satisfied with whatever they get. They are not satisfied with the positions that God has put them in. Almost everyone is on the prowl to steal and inflate. We have a problem! A BIG PROBLEM!!
Back to China and the speech by President Xi. Can we see the emphasis on the PEOPLE? It is all about PEOPLE! He spoke about their plans for the PEOPLE. He emphasised the importance of the PEOPLE, and how the PEOPLE must benefit from everything the government does because the PEOPLE are the ones that are creating this wealth. He spoke of new mass housing for the people. He spoke of urban and RURAL jobs for the PEOPLE. (Emphasis mine). He spoke about relocating million of PEOPLE from poverty-stricken areas into better housing. He spoke about the reclamation of shanty towns and the construction of six million apartments. He reminded his people in government to remember their purpose in government – the PEOPLE. It was all about PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE.
I discovered the Chinese 2018 budget speech when I happened on the video of President Xi Jinping undertaking a tour of the poorest areas in his country just last year. He went into the homes of the poorest people, sat with them, tasted their water and food, and on one occasion he asked an old man while sitting on his bed, what he hoped to achieve. The old man said he hoped to re-roof the house that he has been living since the 1950s. Xi Jinping didn’t ‘dash’ him cash. He instead spoke about the opportunities by which that could happen. I’m sure the next day the government would have been there to get stuff done. The president of China did not go to those rural areas up in the hill, in a long, intimidating convoy of siren-blaring SUVs. He went quietly, as a responsible leader would. It was a most touching moment, even for me as I watched. I realised two things – that we haven’t ever planned for the wellbeing of our rural dwellers, and we have never planned for mass housing for our vast majority in these parts. I also realised we may never have had a real leader in this country. We only have had pretenders.
I must quickly say that in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson also undertook what he called a tour of the poverty belt of the U.S.A. He also interacted deeply with the people. It was after that that he signed off the Medicaid bill, and the Food Stamp bill, among other measures to ensure the gap between the rich and poor was bridged. It could be said that Americans have been living better lives since then. At least food poverty is no longer an issue there.
Now, anyone who has time should compare Jinping’s budget speech with those of our leaders. We mostly speak about inanimate objects – rails, roads, all of them being financed through borrowing. No emphasis on the PEOPLE. Our leaders need to know that the reason for the season is the PEOPLE, and that in the books of the PEOPLE they have totally missed it, and are already persona non grata. They should hope the PEOPLE don’t revenge these injustices one day soon.