Ode to ‘cashless’
The key question about Patrick Dele Cole’s sermon (Tuesday, August 23, page 18) vilifying the policy to implement the ‘cashless’ monetary scheme in Nigeria is whether it was intended as a joke, or whether the learned Ambassador is sincere when he poses the fundamental premise of his thesis – that the initiative represents a “clueless” line of thinking. As to whether the scheme would succeed in what it was principally set up to achieve – the reduction of corruption in Nigeria, he is obliged to concede “probably”.
“Cashless” was introduced by the Obasanjo civilian administration, arguably the most progressive in post-independence Nigeria, and spectacular in its telling decisive war against corruption. In recalling that Obasanjo was supported by the most educated team of political functionaries in the affairs of state, it is not easy to draw an inference that his administration should be written off as “clueless” in its decision to create an appropriate palliative to address fraud and corruption.
Ambassador Cole bases his overall opposition to the supposed prohibitive costs of applying scarce foreign reserves, with a near-comatose Naira, to import the technology and foreign expertise that would be required to make the scheme work. He also quotes the well-worn excuse that “cashless” is a Western “marketing tool to keep us poor”, having failed to observe that the system is at an advanced stage of development in most of the ready-made societies – in the Orient (most notably in Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan) and in Denmark – where it is in full operation. It is not because these countries are “clueless” that they adopted the scheme.
That Nigeria has developed essentially as a consumer nation since independence has nothing to do with her current economic quagmire. Our economy has enjoyed moments of buoyancy even in our ‘excessive’ consumption. It is all about corruption, of a flagrancy that has been a by-word in the world public gaze for the past half century, elevating the country to the No.1 position in that realm of human weakness. At the height of the President Jonathan administration, the erstwhile British Prime Minister David Cameron summoned a meeting of the G7 group and addressed the central theme ‘NIGERIA’. He revealed that $100 billion had been realised from oil proceeds in the past two years, and asked, “Where is the money? Where is the improvement?”
This was just a tip of the iceberg of the scale of plunder, as witnessed by President Buhari himself when, in the course of his war to recover these stolen funds, he was moved almost to tears on being presented with the obscene figures of looted funds over the last decade. The visiting US Secretary of State, John Kerry, reported that the cancer of corruption is costing the world $2.6 trillion per annum. If just 10% of this sum is attributable to past Nigerian corruption, the costs of entrenching “cashless” should not be written off if seen in the light of a long-term investment which, set against the country’s overwhelming potential, would be overcome with net profit through the drive and sound policies of a strong, disciplined leadership. Nigeria may be in recession, but still remains credit-worthy, and would enjoy foreign support (most notably from China) of any scheme that would pursue a policy of nation-building.
That “cashless” even saw the light of day was because President Obasanjo was a powerful leader. The high-level conspiracy that has since stalled its progress to barely a snail’s pace has succeeded because President Jonathan was weak. President Buhari’s military orientation, firing decisive qualities of leadership, could now ‘frog-march’ the system into forward motion – even though the scheme has basically remained in place. Cash withdrawals from the bank have remained limited to N150,000 daily. Many customers in most of the shops and supermarkets nationwide pay for their purchases with credit cards – in tacit salutation to “cashless”.
It is a striking fact that with the removal of cash from the system in surrender to card technology and the electronic banking system, fraud and corruption – crime as a whole, in fact – would be reduced by some 90%. This would carve a smooth new path to relative peace in the land, freedom of movement, mutual co-operation, with human endeavour pursued with a sense of security in a generally conducive atmosphere.
Ambassador Cole’s protestations that “cashless” would only “begin to make sense” with massive investment by the West and Nigeria in education “for the next 15 years”, suggesting indirectly that only good education holds the key to the eradication of corruption, are answered with reference to the fact that almost all the big names now caught in the recovery net do not have the excuse of a poor education – having schooled in some of the West’s most reputable establishments.
It would be a pointer to crass naivety to suppose that a practice that has gone through to the blood, bone and marrow of the Nigerian ‘spirit’ could be ‘exorcised’ by mere moral education on the evil of corruption. Nor should it be supposed that a sustained period of recovery, punishment and mop-up of excess cash to enforce pecuniary management would see any lasting improvement after the re-creation of a buoyant economy. Jealousy makes a man foolish, and a woman more subtle!
The finishing touch in the recovery of stolen funds would be to find a way to permanently close the door against the opportunity to perpetrate fraud and corruption. “Cashless” holds that answer.
Jibrin is an Abuja-based publishing executive