Money, money, everywhere
Irony of ironies. We are passing through a deep recession with its excruciating pains of, you got it, nairalessness. The last time we had financial pains close to this was in the Second Republic when President Shehu Shagari suddenly woke up in 1982 to the burden of managing poverty in a nation proverbially awash in petro-naira. His austerity measures were dusted up from similar measures clamped on the nation when the Obasanjo military administration found it necessary to put a rein on our profligacy to stop the nation, convinced of its solid wealth, from joining the league of poor nations.
Shagari imposed his own austerity measures for the same reason. But they were largely viewed by a sceptical nation as an attempt by his administration to widen the gulf between those who could not count their money and those who had no money to count. Many Nigerians who had come of age at that time remember his administration more for those painful but necessary measures to keep the country financially afloat than for anything else. They led the military to delude themselves into believing they had a better take on managing poverty than the bloody civilians. And they returned from the barracks.
This time, the Buhari administration did not find it necessary to impose austerity measures. The recession is austere enough. But here is the irony in a nation full of cruel ironies. Almost every week, a whistle blower points the EFCC to a private treasure hidden in some of the most unlikely places in a sane world – pots, drain pipes, under the bed, in the ceiling and soak away.
And so, we see money, money, everywhere, millions of dollars and sterling translated into billions in the local currency. And yet, take note, poverty continues to make a real threat on our lives, reducing those who once ate three square meals a day to one triangular meal a day.
Our recession has only one interpretation, however unintelligible it might be from the point of view of economists and financial experts. Our recession was not primarily caused by difficulties in the world economy but by the mindless looting of the treasury by those entrusted with public funds intended for our common good. No national economy would survive this quantum of money, hidden, and not in circulation. You cannot reflate the economy by hiding money from the commercial system.
I believe that among the worst crimes that citizens could commit against their nations, the criminal sabotage of their economy through greed and venality must rank right there at the top.The economy is as much the life of a nation as it is of the individual. I often wonder, and it is no small wonder: if a man sabotages the economy of his nation for no better reason than that public office is not just his meal ticket but his key to our common treasury under his watch, what does his heart tell him? Smart guy?
Yes, he is smart. It should not be difficult to admit that it is not in the natural order of things for the dumb to steal and steal so well. But would it also occur to him that if, by his action, the economy moves from the top of the mountain to the bottom, his loot would be worthless? I know, I am raising the sort of questions that these smart people have no time for. Why should they care what happens to the economy? Their primary responsibility is to care what happens to them and their families.
After all, everyone knows that poverty has been a hard sell as the recognised ticket to heaven. The bible advises us not hoard our money here because thieves steal it and moths feed on such things. However, our illustrious men and women of God appear to have a different take on that. These men and women know, as I have had occasion to point out in this column, that it is wise to enjoy the treasury here rather than wait for the end of the world and the judgement upstairs. After all, no one tells us that people in heaven drive custom-made SUVs and ridiculously expensive cars and private jets. These are only here, right here on earth.
The Chinese have no pity on those who sabotage their economy by stealing. They shoot them.Our own treasury and other looters have no fears of being shot for their crimes against our nation, our economy and us because our law does not approve of shooting them. So, even as the names of some of them are being dragged through the mud, others are doing what they did that put them in trouble. You only need to take a glance at our daily newspapers. There is just no quick fix to stamping out corruption in this country. But let us look on the bright side, at least, for the sake of our sanity.
Those who hide their money in those unlikely places are not dumb. They act, I verily believe, on the advice of corruption: hide your loot where no one, least of all EFCC, would expect or care to look. Escaping with the loot is the best revenge of the corrupt against the system.
The times have changed in our country. In the recent past, no one raised eyebrows on the sudden vertical movement of men and women up the wealth ladder. We celebrated them. They outsmarted the system. And that was something worthy of celebration. But now those who did not fear God and broke His commandment not to steal are, for once in our country afraid; not of divine retribution but of Mr. Ibrahim Magu and his anti-graft commission. And, of course, the whistle blowers.
My immediate fear about this diabolical decision of men and women with soiled fingers to keep their loot from the banking system is of the system itself falling into the hole created by the absence of the Naira. It is not good for the banks; and it is even worse for the country and its economy, always wobbly at best. Hoarding money is truly and patently deleterious to the health of the economy anywhere in the world.
The current anti-graft war forced the treasury looters to keep their loot away from the banks. They no longer feel that their loot is safe there. Then, they went into real estate development in our big towns and cities in attempts to launder their loot. In the recent past, these men and women made bank managers hang on their every word and literally lick their fingers.
We are in a dilemma here. It is important to recover the loot from the looters and discourage others from following their example. It is equally important for the banking system to keep our currency in circulation. The obvious difficulty lies in persuading the looters not to hide their loot in unlikely places but return it to the banking system. That would be like inviting them to commit suicide. It won’t work. I know.
Ah, money, money, everywhere and not a kobo in my pocket?