Still on planning or failing to plan for the rainy day reminds me of the famous words of wisdom patented, I suppose, by some economic guru, but which I think is plainly commonsensical enough even for the uninitiated to know: it says those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Put in the common man’s language, nothing in life happens by happenstance. It is all planned. In our own environment, even the things we call accidents are planned. Road accidents are planned to happen by the recklessness of bad drivers aided by bad roads that have been planned to be bad by corruption, fuelled by desire to cut corners and make quick money.
Examples are legion but we should content ourselves with the most odious of them, that is the inability of leaders to plan the economic, social and political architecture of our national life in such a way that we put something away for the rainy days, the days of hardship when to eke out a living becomes well-nigh impossible for a majority of the people.
President Muhammadu Buhari has not missed any opportunity to keep harping on the iniquities of some past leaders, which iniquities have brought us to this pass, where the country is down on its knees, with visible darkness at noon, with unending fuel shortages and long queues at petrol filling stations, rising unemployment and youth restiveness, day light robberies and kidnapping. When you throw in the horrific menace of some criminals masquerading as cattle herdsmen, who, apparently in search of grazing land for their cattle, raze down a whole community with colossal waste of human lives, then you would appreciate that there is indeed a price to pay for our egregious short sightedness, ineptitude and planlessness.
It was not always like this. “In the First Republic,” said the President some weeks back, “more enduring infrastructures were built with meagre resources. But in the past 16 years, we made a lot of money without planning for the rainy day. We showed a lot of indiscipline in managing our economy and that is why we are where we are today.”
A self-obvious truth that does not require any corroboration. But if any was required, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, was on hand to lend a voice. In the past, she said, obviously referring to the PDP years in office, “we had the means but not the will. Now we have the will but we no longer have the means to invest.” For those who may wish to take the present administration to the cleaners for harping too much on the past and apparently using it as an alibi for not fulfilling the APC manifesto all in only one year, it may be necessary to complete the narrative of the plundering of riches in the last 16 years and understand the impact that this wastefulness has had on the ability of the Buhari Administration to bring the dividends of its change mantra to the doorsteps of the average Nigerian.
And there is nobody to complete this narrative better than the major economic player of the time under whose watch the locusts descended on the national patrimony. I am referring the one and only Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and former Minister of Finance. She had the distinction of serving as two time Minister of Finance, first under President Olusegun Obasanjo and the last one under President Jonathan Goodluck. While reacting to those who were bent on crucifying her for being a bad economic manager, Okojo-Iweala sprang to her feet, standing her five feet plus, in defence of her stewardship.
In an interview with French newspaper, Le Monde, Okonjo-Iweala said all her efforts to save money for the rainy day were frustrated by the governors. He did not have problem with President Goodluck Jonathan who, in fact, agreed with her, that it made sense to save. But the president did not have the Obasanjo muscle to stand up to the governors. During the Obasanjo era, in her own words, “we established a stabilisation mechanism and opened an account for oil surplus which posted up to $22 billion. In 2008 when prices fell from 148 to 38 dollars a barrel no one heard about Nigeria because the country was able to tap into this fund.”
While we look forward we must not forget where we are coming from if we must correct the mistakes of the past and guard against repeating it. It is in this vein, the Buhari administration, in my view, has not stopped reminding us about the profligacy of the past administration
But when she returned to service under Goodluck Jonathan, in 2011, the story had changed. While the nation was making a lot money from oil, the account had been depleted to just $4 billion. Though the President agreed that the government should save money, he did not match his words with enough force and the political will to do so. What I found baffling in this whole sordid episode is the volte face of Okonjo-Iweala, the woman I credited with enough gravitas. The day after she had spoken the truth about Jonathan’s inability to hold his ground, the World Bank whiz-kid changed the story and indulged in a disrespectful double-speak. In a statement correcting or explaining her earlier position, she said she was “referring to the strong opposition by some governors to the Jonathan government’s efforts to save in the Excess Crude Account and the Sovereign Wealth Fund sabotaged this important national priority.”
Jonathan was willing but the governors were not willing. Jonathan was not at fault, it was the recalcitrant governors who were at fault. In fact, to get our sympathy she went on to narrate how she suffered a lot of attacks from the governors. Hear her: “If Nigeria had been more careful we would not be here today. It hurts me. We had the mechanism, we had the experience, but we were prevented to act.” Okonjo Iweala is free to join Jonathan’s spin doctors but she should know the limit of deceit.
What point is she making? Has she forgotten that the Governors Forum under Rotimi Ameachi discovered that the Jonathan Administration was depleting the Excess Crude Account to the peril of the federating units? Since the governors could not stop him from doing so, they started to press for their own share of the allocation from the excess crude account. Has madam coordinating minister forgotten so soon?
By the way, did Okonjo-Iweala recover the loan of $322 million she granted the former National Security Adviser from Sani Abacha loot which she said was at the instance of her Principal, former President Goodluck Jonathan? The money, she said, was requested for by Sambo Dasuki for urgent operational reason and the President was quick to approve it. And the wise World Bank expert turned it into a loan that had to be recovered as soon as possible.
While we look forward we must not forget where we are coming from if we must correct the mistakes of the past and guard against repeating it. It is in this vein, the Buhari administration, in my view, has not stopped reminding us about the profligacy of the past administration.
The Punch editorial last Monday put it succinctly: “A country must confront the mistakes of the past to correct them and build a better future than the mess Jonathan and his team bequeathed. There is enough blame to go round: the governors may have been right on the constitutional ground that all revenues accruing to the federation be shared among the three tiers of government, but they are paying the price for it today, as the drastic fall in revenue has left them with no buffers and 27 states owing staff salaries.”