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Those holding Nigeria’s wealth…

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[FILES] Illustration of wealth

Nigerian television enthusiasts would readily relate to this caption. A popular TV station in Lagos, a couple of weeks previously, featured an equally popular, if charismatic Pentecostal pastor, bronze-complexioned Ituah Ighodalo, during which the Man-of-God admonished “those holding Nigeria’s resources to let go”.

Typically, l missed the programme; but a mutual friend (Rev’d Charles Ojei) of the pastor and l called my attention to it. Of course, l didn’t need to watch the programme to know His Exzellenz’s mindset on the vexed topic. He and l had extensively discussed it back in early 2019. Our mutual take on the issue, we have respectively since noticed, is quite a in sync with apparent consensus. A number of persons who have held highly privileged position are sitting on a significant part of Nigeria’s wealth in foreign vaults. Most of these persons bear household names that are too big to make them wanting by local laws, at least on matters financial. At the same time, Nigeria cannot look askance in perpetuity at this all-important matter, having regard to the impact of that heist on the value of the local currency, the naira. (See my earlier intervention: Naira cannot appreciate under market forces).  

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Indeed the perplexing question of how to pluck the geese without much hissing will remain a huge challenge for the present and future administrations in Nigeria. How do you get those big household names to return Nigeria’s illegally acquired wealth without impugning them? The matter is as delicate as it is weighty because implicit in it is the crucial factors of citizen’s unalloyed patriotism and love of country. His Exzelenz is deserving of our commendation for plucking the courage of attempting to bell the dreaded cat, particularly in the unfurling season wherein holding Nigeria’s wealth in foreign vaults has become trendy. The point needs to be made time and again: Those holding Nigeria’s wealth in foreign vaults are effectively under-developing her, socio-economically. Such monies at once deny Nigeria standard infrastructure while fuelling currency speculations, nay, inflation and unemployment. Is it still a wonder that novel economic-related crimes are springing up within our shores at a breathtaking pace? It’s impossible to imagine more mindless enemies for Nigeria than these “holders”.

It’s time we looked in the mirror. The present state of insecurity in the country has an economic root. Economic pressure is what drives those crimes, be they kidnapping, banditry, herders/farmers clashes, vandalism, official corruption, robbery, gun-running, etc. Therefore, economic solution it is. In my 2019 discussion with His Exzellenz, l recall suggesting to him that were l the Nigerian president, l would hold private conference individually with all identified “holders”, offering them the option of voluntarily returning a better part of those stashed away monies within a specific time; or risk, on administrative fiat, a precipitate fall in the relative value of those convertible currencies to the naira. This is still my considered opinion on the matter for rather obvious reasons. Various reliable accounts have conservatively estimated that tens of billions of dollars are being illegally held outside of Nigeria’s financial system. Nigeria’s foreign reserve, which correlates with naira’s value, has hovered around $25bn in the last 30 years. It, therefore, requires little imagination to see how quickly those would-be returned monies would revert the naira to nigh-parity levels with convertible currencies. It would require even less imagination to see how quickly the Golden Days would return to Nigeria if those returned monies are judiciously expended on infrastructural projects, as they ought to have been in the first place. Economic solution it really is.

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With an eye on President Muhammadu Buhari’s apparent zero-tolerance for corruption, few former top leaders back in 2016, had made pretentious gestures of returning our illegally appropriated wealth. From available intelligence, those ex-leaders subsequently refunded paltry millions of naira to the treasury. For want of a better expression, those gestures were nothing short of “adding salt to injury”. I consider those gestures as extremely insulting to our collective intelligence. After illegally appropriating hundreds of millions of dollars from our national coffers when the naira enjoyed nigh-parity with the dollar, self-same persons could bring themselves to consider few millions of massively devalued naira as restitution for their years of looting(?!). I dey laugh; ha, ha, ha…   
I still dey laugh. Why? you may ask. Because, as the legendary Fela Anikulapu-Kuti made us reflect, man no fit cry. I liken His Exzellenz’s poignantly pregnant words on the referred TV programme to those of another prophet of yore, John the Baptist. Repent, for the Lord’s wrath looms! the voice in the wilderness had cried to the ruthlessly self-centred rulers of that day. But they didn’t listen then; they were consequently fiercely consumed. Without a doubt, a similar plight awaits all latter-day ruthless abusers of entrusted power, unless they heed the voices of those calling from the wilderness, and repent. Sadly though, the odds are against repentance because if men didn’t listen in the days of yore, they are as likely not to listen now. Nightingale-voiced British song-star, Don Mclean, just as sadly reminds the world of this reality in his hit-track, Starry, starry night:
“Starry, starry night.

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Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on the nameless wall,
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget,
           
Like the strangers that you’ve met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now l think l know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free,
They would not listen then,
They’re not listening still,
Perhaps they never will…”  
 
Generic man is indeed a stiff-necked sinner, sayth the Lord, but there is yet a window of repentance still open for our erring past leaders. It is said that repentance comes easily in the sunset of life; and thankfully enough, those holders of Nigeria’s wealth, are invariably well into the western horizon of life. Therefore, it ought to be easy for them to let go of those needless encumbrances; relieve Nigeria of her perpetual cycle of debt burden, and finally exit the planet with an easy conscience. There hardly can be a more glorious legacy for this tribe of ex-leaders to bequeath than the aforesaid; for as it is also said, posterity celebrates those who enabled it, and curses those who denied it. Nigeria is closely watching.

Good job, Your Exzellenz!

Nkemdiche is an engineering consultant in Abuja.

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