Between leadership, prosperity and poverty
The brouhaha about the economic recession the country is presently undergoing must be put into proper perspective so as not to paint a false picture of a state of prosperity for the citizens before the ‘harsher’ economic climate occasioned by the recession. The fact is that even during the halcyon days where the country averaged a growth rate of 7 per cent as one of the fastest growing economy in the world with a robust Gross Domestic Product (GDP,) majority of Nigerians were still living near poverty level. Why our leaders are wont to boast about the nation’s GDP as the largest on the continent, the world is gradually coming to terms with the fact that a country’s GDP is not an accurate measure of the prosperity of the citizens as the Gross National Well-being has become the standard indices to gauge a countries economic success as it relates to her citizens living conditions. Why the talk of recession may have impacted negatively on the bottom line of most businesses and led to the general shrinkage of the economy; to many Nigerians, it is just a question of an already bad situation getting worse and for most of our political office holders, a situation of less money to pilfer from the treasury.
Political leaders as drivers of policies in any country, play crucial roles in the growth and development of any country. As managers of the collective wealth of the people, there should be some level of tight fiscal responsibility in governance to ensure accountability and prevent the easy expropriation of public funds by corrupt public office holders. Our budgetary processes are so weak that that it lacks the needed appeal to inspire confidence among the citizenry. It has become an annual ritual that only enthuse the political ruling class. Any talk about rolling back the years of wastages to ensure that citizens gets value from the budgeting process, without strengthening the fiscal responsibility framework; the strict adherence to the letters and spirit of other associated legislation like the Public Procurement Act, the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and their replication in the various states of the federation, will be nothing but a sheer waste of time.
While modern democracy is no longer conceptualised without the talk of a democracy that embraces some aspect of welfarism to protect the most vulnerable in the society, the current attempt at creating a pseudo welfare arrangement by the payment of monthly stipends of N5000 to unemployed Nigerian youths is with due respect to the government, another opportunity to not only promote wastage and cause further division in the country along ethnic lines, but a superficial attempt at tackling poverty and unemployment, that is not only unsustainable but bound to fail. Successful welfare systems in the western hemisphere does not thrive on the knerk jerk responses of governments, but are backed up by careful planning and legislation with the right structure on ground to make the system impervious to abuse. If the current budget of the country cannot adequately take care of capital projects that would unleash the great potentials of the economy and the salaries of workers are hardly paid as they become due, the question that comes to mind is whether Nigeria is ripe for such ill-conceived welfare intervention scheme or whether that is the overarching desire of Nigerians at this point of our national life? I doubt.
The boundless energy of Nigerians, in what is now termed the Nigerian spirit, to succeed even in the harshest of conditions have not been matched by a commensurate desire by the government-policy wise- to provide or open new vistas towards ensuring that the teeming millions of unemployed Nigerians succeed in their chosen ventures, and these failings of the government have not gone by without huge cost. Theodore Dreiser aptly captured the consequence of such a situation in his classical novel Sister Carrie where he opined that, “if desire be rife in the mind and no channel of satisfaction is provided, if there be ambition no matter how weak and it is not schooled in lovely principles and precepts, it will surely learn a way of the world.” If the ‘world’ symbolises moral bankruptcy and all the vices that could result from lack of opportunities to express oneself through legitimate productive work, as at the time Dreiser wrote, then the current situation in the country mirrors this fact as violent crimes seem to be on an upward trajectory , coupled with alarming youth restiveness.
The time to begin major structural reforms that will cut through our socio-political and economic life in order to reposition the country on a path that would make the economy work for all in line with the expectation of Nigerians is now. Selfless political leadership is required to act on some issues like fiscal federalism which is expected to open up the economy and also believed to be a catalyst for any government’s diversification plan as dormant states would wake up to their responsibilities and become more viable. Leadership is required to implement far reaching reforms that will drastically reduce the cost of governance which now accounts for almost more than half the national budget in the name of recurrent expenditure. Leadership is also needed to ensure the right implementation of fiscal and monetary policies that are geared towards stabilising the economy and to cushion its negative impact on the citizens without becoming instruments to further impoverish the citizens in the name of revenue generation drive. We also need to ask ourselves difficult political and constitutional question on whether we need to retain the immunity clause in our constitution which has done more harm than good in the fight against corruption and why we are yet to get our electoral system right despite several noble proposals on how best to fix the system. Who is really afraid of genuine reforms? Certainly not the suffering masses.
Nigerians desire an economic development that is all inclusive and citizens oriented and not just one that ensures for the benefits of a few who have become ‘vultures of fortune’ on the Nigerian state to the detriment of majority of her citizens. The lack of will to perform a particular action or fulfill an obligation is always accompanied by a litany of excuses on why it cannot be done. These era of excuses by our political leaders have lost its seductive appeal to most Nigerians who have refused to buy into them. The leadership of the country must begin to learn to speak in terms of progress. Nigerians have no reason to be poor in the midst of plenty, like the saying that “a man who lives by the river bank does not wash his hands with saliva.” The word ‘potentially rich’ has become an assault on our collective sensibilities as a people. It is now time for this potential, to translate into sustainable and tangible wealth for the citizens.
Ogla is a Lagos-based legal practitioner.