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‘Why President Tinubu’s reforms must be pragmatic’

By Tim Akano
06 August 2023   |   3:00 am
We have been here before. And now, we are back here again as casualties of progress in a sorry state of dense gloom. A while ago, there was a national uproar when we noticed a dangerous decrease in lift of the nation’s aeroplane as a result of un-accelerated stalls under captain Muhammadu Buhari - the…

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu PHOTO; Twitter

We have been here before. And now, we are back here again as casualties of progress in a sorry state of dense gloom. A while ago, there was a national uproar when we noticed a dangerous decrease in lift of the nation’s aeroplane as a result of un-accelerated stalls under captain Muhammadu Buhari – the nation’s aeroplane escaped sinking by a whisker.

Today, under captain Bola Ahmed Tinubu, symptoms of aerodynamic accelerated stalls are beginning to manifest, which happen at a higher than normal air speeds due to abrupt and/or excessive control application.

Meanwhile, aviation experts tell us that accelerated stalls, the type we are currently experiencing, are even more dangerous than un-accelerated stalls, the one we just escaped from! Fingerprints of trouble.

The palpable fear on the faces of the women selling fresh fish in Epe, Lagos prompted today’s dialogue. “Oga,” they lamented, “we didn’t know it would be like this o when we made our choice. Now, we are afraid for the future of our children as the student’s loan act is elitist and the proposed indirect school fees are beyond our level. Sales are down by over 50 per cent as both the fishermen and our clients are complaining of fuel price fiasco.” The fear on their faces was so thick, one can cut it with a knife.

So soon, hopes are turning to hopelessness, expectations to frustrations, and aspirations to desperation. We see progress without her twin sister, prosperity, we see growth without her mother, development, and we see motion without her father, movement. We ponder sorrowfully about the absence of shared prosperity, sustainable development and fruitful movement.

Before now, Nigerians were not easily fazed by problems, they seemed to have unbreakable shock absorbers and an inexhaustible sense of humour, but that is not the case now. Today, “the town is not smiling” as their shocks are worn out and the supporting struts aren’t able to effectively absorb inflationary impacts and soften the bumps created by the ongoing economic reforms. Nigeria needs to break these circles of intrauterine abortion of hopes.

Who shall tell Mr. President that about 90 per cent of Nigerians are currently in “sifia” pains – haemorrhaging? Who shall tell the President that the reason Economists have “two hands” is to maintain a delicate balance between the speed of economic reforms, on ‘one hand’ and citizens’ welfare on the other hand’?  Who shall tell the President that the five bottles of “Bitter herbs” he puts on the table for our consumption as medication to cure Nigeria’s economic kwashiorkor would lead to complications if he does not provide commensurate “sugar” for the bitter medicine to go down well!

The new sheriff in town, in his attempt to detoxify the economy, has uncorked five bottles of bitter herbs as antioxidants, namely: Fuel @ N617, Naira hovering around N900: $1, new electricity tariffs, coming, inflation rate @22.97%, driving bank loan interest rates to 40% from 30% and finally, the proposed introduction of indirect school fees in public universities and Unity schools from September, ranging from 400% – 600% increase, consequence on government granting autonomy to universities to fend for themselves.

Nigerians are asking: “Who did we offend,” as youth unemployment rate climbs to over 60%, companies are downsizing, many are collapsing and real GDP going southward to 2.7% on high living costs.

No doubt, consumption of bitter herbs leads to better absorption of nutrients, natural detoxification of the liver and kidney. One doesn’t have to be an economist or an herbalist to know that Nigeria’s economy needs detoxification. However, the toxicological effects of overdose of bitters without commensurate sugar may lead to alterations in hepatic, renal and haematological indices, which may ultimately damage all the vital organs of the body. For a malnourished Nigeria’s economy suffering from low productivity, low revenue, and low purchasing power juxtaposed with high public debt, high capital flight, high JAPA rate and high corruption, five jerry cans of bitter herbs within 60 days seem like an overdose. Literally and metaphorically speaking, Nigeria’s immune system is bitterly collapsing!

Unarguably, there is no country in the world that is 100% capitalist, bereft of subsidies. America, Japan and Europe, after World War 2 (WW2), embraced capitalism with human face and milk of kindness – they built a system that reasonably caters to the weak and poor in their midst to achieve social equilibrium. Even then, you need capital to be able to practise capitalism, and 60% of Nigerians lack capital, according to the UN statistics. Unprotected capitalism, like unprotected sex, is practised only in the Animal Kingdom where life is short, brutish and nasty.

I share the President’s anxiety though: a nation that consumes what it does not produce and produces what it does not consume, that adds zero value to her cash cow, crude oil, before export, needs to be wheeled to the theatre for surgical operation. Nigeria is the only major oil exporting country without a functioning refinery. It is either our political elites have no shame or are not smart enough or they are comprehensively wicked! But why punish the masses for the sins of the elites, when the scripture says the finger that sins must be cut?

Unarguably, his worst enemies would agree that President Tinubu has demonstrated a high sense of urgency, mission and courage. But then, hell is full of good meanings and the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The platinum lifestyles of the political elites is the reason Nigerians don’t trust their leaders when it comes to belt tightening. What stops the National Assembly and President Tinubu from enacting: “Belt Tightening Act For Political Elites,” slashing their respective salaries, allowances and perks by 50%? What stops Villa from auctioning 50% of the aircrafts in the presidential fleet to the highest bidders?

The numbers of Nigerians who are now both vertically and horizontally poor have increased from 133 million people in 2022 to 140 million people in 2023, according to the new UN figures of July 2023. The question is: how will the proposed N8000 monthly salary for six months for 12 million Nigerians (less than 10% of the multidimensional poor) put a dent on poverty? Captain Buhari’s cash-transfer programme was a disaster, the question then is: why will the new captain reinforce failure? We are, indeed, in a grave and grim situation and this is coming rather too early when the aeroplane is still struggling to gain stability.

I scanned the pages of history and came away convinced that Nigeria can benefit from the following four models: MBS, Sunak, Bibi and Deng, i.e. leaders who faced similar challenges and achieved shared prosperity without compromising the masses’ welfare. Take China: in scope, size and spread of frustrations, depth of disillusionment, height of hunger, width of corruption and breadth of poverty, the 1975 China was worse than Nigeria of 2023. How did China moderniSe under Deng and what lessons can PBAT and team learn?

(FILES) In this file handout photo provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on October 26, 2021 shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending a session at the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh. – Bin Salman has shaken up his conservative kingdom with head-spinning reforms while quashing any threats to his status as de facto ruler -– a role he assumed five years ago. (Photo by Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / BANDAR AL-JALOUD” – NO MARKETING – NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

MBS Model: Pragmatic Realism
On June 21, 2017, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was appointed as crown prince of Saudi Arabia. And on November 4, 2017, MBS conducted an undercover corruption crackdown leading to the mass arrest of 381 prominent Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers and business people. Settlements were made with 87 individuals resulting in recovering $107 billion in the form of cash, real estates and companies. Lessons for PBAT?

One investigation was first concluded secretly before “inviting” VIPs for “Cash Back Transfer” to the federation account, based on intelligence reports not on assumptions. Two, no newspaper headline announcing the impending “invitation” of corrupt people. Three, the detainees were confined at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh (5 stars treatment) not in the DSS dungeon. Four, names of detainees were kept secret till this day because MBS’s objective was to recover stolen money and nothing more. Five, MBS invested the recovered loot in infrastructural, technological modernisation and youth empowerment.

Today, Saudi Arabia is the world’s fastest growing economy at 8.7% annual growth rate. And since the 2017’s “shock therapy” coupled with the reorganisation and digitalisation of Aramco, every litre of oil in Saudi Arabia is accounted for. For instance, Aramco made a net profit of $75.9billion in 2017 when crude sold at $54.25 per barrel, and in 2022, it made a whopping profit of $161.07billion when it sold at $116.8 per barrel. A nine-year old child in Saudi Arabia today can find the “X” of profit and dividends, which Aramco will declare by December 2023. The system is sanitised, transparent, and the profit is used for the Common Good of all the Saudis.

It is estimated that over $1Trillion oil money has been misappropriated or stolen in the past 45 years in Nigeria. To trace the loot will require international support by secretly hiring three teams working independently, consisting of ex-security services agents from CIA, MI6 and MOSSAD and whose rewards would be commission on turnover. If MBS were to be in PBAT’s shoes, with intelligence report at his disposal, he would “invite” the top 500 VIP looters for tete-a-tete, get security operatives to fly them by 2a.m. to Benin Republic, and discreetly lodge them at Golden Tulip hotel, Cotonou. Zero media coverage, 100% clandestinely executed.

Zero torture. MBS would even allow the corrupt men or women to come with their spouses, if they wish. Nothing scares a big man more than the loss of his freedom and public ridicule. With their spouses around, the urge to “return the loot and go home” (cash-for-freedom/reputation) will be stronger. The deal of 80:20 in favour of the federal government can generate between $50Billion- $100 billion “Cash Back Transfer” to the federation account within 90 days. This is a win-win approach, different from the past fruitless strategies of fighting corruption.  Emefiele’s soap opera is counterproductive and unnecessary.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak(Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Sunak Model – Common Sense
Following Truss’s resignation, Sunak became Prime Minister on October 25, 2022 as the first British-Asian and the first Hindu prime minister of the UK. Britain was bleeding, inflation rising, workers strikes were weekly. Sunak did not raise taxes or cancel social amenities enjoyed by the poor. He saw an opportunity in the high number of people trooping to the UK, he increased the visa fees and health surcharge. He gave irresistible incentives to manufacturing companies.

This made Tata Motors to site the proposed electric car batteries factory in the UK instead of Spain. Inflation dropped by 0.8% in June 2023 to 7.9% as against 8.7% in May. Cost of living is falling, the interest rate is falling as the hitherto dark UK sky is getting brighter again. The battery factor, which will cost $4billion located in Somerset will create 4000 skilled jobs and will benefit over 300 businesses.

In my May 2023 article titled: What is Nigeria? Chapter 16, Paragraph 1, I had earlier recommended to President Tinubu to take a lead in the electric car battery business (EVs). With about 1.5billion vehicles in the world and one electric battery selling at $5k, that is about $7.5Trillion business opportunities. Nigeria has all the mineral resources required in seven states to become a leader in the EVs business, achieving the first mover advantage in Africa with over 35 million vehicles and the AfCFTA advantage. Nigeria can easily diversify her economy from fossil to green, targeting 10% of the global EVs business. President Tinubu would have creatively created a bigger economy of $75billion yearly revenue.

Bibi Model: Innovation
“All the experts are experts on what was. There is no expert on what will be. To become an expert on the future, vision must replace experience” – David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu, who became Prime Minister in 1996, saw innovation as the only way to strengthen his tiny and fragile country of 5.9 million people. Bibi focused on massive technological training of the youths. In a jiffy, Israel became a Start-up Nation.

There are more Israeli companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange than all the companies from the entire Europe with a population of about 700 million. Israel has the highest number of entrepreneurs per square kilometres in the world today. According to Eric Schmidt, the former Google Chairman, “America is the number one place in the world for entrepreneurs, but after the US, Israel is the best.” For instance, the founders of Mobile Eye, a 5-year–old Israeli company, sold it to INTEL for $16 billion. And such sales have become a common place in Israel.

With a 60% youth unemployment rate, converting Nigeria to a Start-up nation is the most veritable way to fly. For instance, with just $12.5m out of the $800m fuel subsidy palliative, we can create 1000 start-ups. Even so, about 60% of them will fail within the first three years. Out of 400 that will survive, 5% of them will become unicorns (i.e. companies with over $1Billion valuation within 3 years).

There would be a huge multiplier effect that will reduce unemployment, strengthen the Naira and put a big dent on poverty. There is a huge window of opportunities in New Business Process Outsourcing (NBPO) with emphasis on generative artificial intelligence skills. A yearly revenue of $50billion is possible, if we cross all our ‘T’s and dot all our ‘I’s. India and the Philippines are good examples.

Deng Model: Wholesale Detoxification
The 1975 China that Deng inherited from Chairman Mao was bereft of stability, unity and development. Hunger was wholesale, China then was like Nigeria: jejune, factionalised and underdeveloped. How did Deng win and put China on the path of sustainable development bereft of ’accelerated or un-accelerated stalls’? He quickly identified five modernisation priorities: internal security, agriculture, industrialisation, national defense and science and technology. Deng pursued his modernisation agenda with sincerity of purpose and single mindedness, which made him earn the trust of the 915 million Chinese.

In consolidating the military, which was factionalised like Nigeria’s military, Deng held a meeting with the military chiefs on January 25, 1975 and gave June 30, 1975 as the deadline for the military to eliminate all factions and achieve cohesion. He criminalised factionalism. He got discipline restored, downsized the military by 20% and introduced technology. He established a new team of leaders, set up a five and 10-year vision for upgrading military and munitions. “The only way China could find money to invest in a modern weapon system was to cut personnel cost,” said Deng, who also set up the National Defense Technology Commission and Ministry of Machine Building to build internal capacity with regards to technology innovations.

Deng progressed to solving food security, after achieving internal security, utilising some of the personnel that were restructured from the military on the farm. Deng decentralised agriculture, every local council had yearly production targets and specific crops to plant. He set up local cooperative societies to coordinate farming. To consolidate industry, Deng partnered Japanese companies and used OPM (other People’s Money) instead of accumulating public debt. Deng hated monopoly, therefore, monopolists were eliminated from China.

The case of Jack Ma, the founder of Ali Baba is one recent example. Deng was the author of China’s foreign policy of “Peaceful Rise,” i.e. China grew under the radar during the baby-steps years of modernisation, avoiding direct confrontation with the West, which is observed even till this day!

Recoding Nigeria: President Tinubu’s Options
Notwithstanding the amount of wasted opportunities and years, Nigeria’s modernisation, though difficult, is not impossible still.
Foreign Policy: The world is in transition and no futurist can say with certainty where the pendulum would swing. It is, therefore, incumbent on President Tinubu to adopt “Ambiguity” foreign policy to survive and thrive in today’s geopolitics murky waters.

His Cotonou Declaration was factual but not expedient. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli longest serving Prime Minister is one of the smartest leaders in the world today: Bibi has unbreakable friendship with America, iron-clad relationship with Russia, robust friendship with China and he is at the same time, India Prime Minister’s bosom friend, and yet he diplomatically cuts 3a.m. big deals in Ukraine.

President Tinubu has to learn, like Bibi, how to swim with the international sharks (they are more vicious than Nigeria’s “national sharks” which Tinubu roundly outwitted these past 30 years) without being eaten alive! With what is going on in West Africa (Sahel) today, a parity may soon be achieved in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) between the number of civilian presidents and military Head of States!

Homeland Security: President Tinubu should do what Deng did: criminalise factionalism and set a deadline of October 1, 2023 to eliminate factionalism within the security ecosystem. Establishing a new security architecture tagged: Homeland Security Council (HSC) – consisting of military and para military chiefs meeting weekly: NSA, DHQ, CGs of Customs, Immigration, Prison, Civil Defence, DSS, Army Chief, Navy, Airforce, etc, with a view to restoring order in the North East, South East and North Central of Nigeria.

Without internal order, Tinubu’s hope of achieving food security and boosting revenue would remain an illusion.
Food Security: Agriculture should be decentralised immediately. Food is local, not national. Abuja’s role is to provide direction, data and sundry support. Consequently, PBAT should have a Food Security Strategy Session with all the 774 local council chairmen immediately. Each local council should have targets of selected crops they would cultivate to feed their communities respectively. Deng did this in China, it worked.

The system of transporting tomatoes, pepper, carrots from Kano to Ibadan or Onitsha is inflation-prone. Nothing says tomatoes, pepper, carrots etc cannot be successfully cultivated in other parts of Nigeria. Nigeria lacks cost-effective logistics to transport food inexpensively from North to South of the country.

Education: The UNESCO benchmark says countries should invest between 15% – 20% of their yearly budget in education as against Nigeria’s 5%-7%. Sadly enough, Nigeria has one of the lowest literacy rates among the major oil exporting countries at 77%, compared with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Russia etc with almost 100% literacy rate.

I learned it costs an average of N10 billion (conservatively) to run a federal university per year. For the 50 federal universities, I recommend that the government should continue to fund them for another two years, which will cost about 1 trillion. My point is that the government must come to equity with clean hands.

Unlike the issue of fuel subsidy removal that was included in the campaign promises, “indirect school fees” was not. Nigeria’s focus now should be how to comprehensively overhaul the obsolete university curricula with a view to making our graduates globally competitive. Every day, we lose to students and lecturers’ strikes draw us back by one year.

Re-industrialisation: The ideal strategy is to set up eight regional industrial parks immediately and woo about 300 manufacturers globally with irresistible incentives with a view to converting our natural and mineral resources to finished products here on our soil, leveraging AfCFTA and global markets.

Spending $8billion on furniture importation from Turkey, China and Europe in 2022 was not a smart economic decision. Edo state can produce better furniture if we establish Benin Furniture Finishing School (BFFS) equipped with modern furniture making technology. With about $10million, a modern factory is in place.

Re-industrialisation is one sector where our strategy is not to “copy” but to “leapfrog” China, UK, America, using advanced AI-powered robots from Japan or South Korea. What do we do with millions of our unemployed youths, when we introduce robots? We should re-train the youths for new Business Process Outsourcing, agriculture and service economy opportunities.

More importantly, monopoly has to die for Nigeria to make progress. Has anyone ever pondered at what cost do we have 10 Nigeria business men and women on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people yearly?  The opportunity cost of retaining 10 Nigerians on the Forbes list is the 140 million multidimensional poor people who are permanently on 0:1:0 meal formula 24x7x365 days. We need to come up with stronger antitrust & competition laws, the China way.

That the richest Chinese man on earth (Jack Ma, Ali Baba Founder) is back in Hong Kong University today as a teacher bears eloquent testimony to China’s commitment in building shared prosperity, because they have since learned the hard way from history that unbridled wealth accumulation by a few citizens was what corrupted, crippled and eventually destroyed China’s first civilization!

federal inland revenue service (FIRS)

Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). Photo: FIRSNIGERIA

Revenue generation without tears: There is the old money and there is the new money. NNPC is old money with plenty of blood left in its veins, but Nigeria needs to hire a set of first class cardiologists, neurologists, pulmonologists and nephrologists as all NNPC vital organs need surgical operations starting from heart, brain, lung and kidney.

Or how else can you describe a corporation that is supposed to be the nation’s cash cow but which has only declared profits twice in 45 years? NNPC can generate over $30Billion yearly if we hand it over to Norway or Aramco to help manage it. Two, we should sell all the four moribund refineries immediately. One each to South Korea, China, Singapore and India. Within 12 months, the four dry bones will rise again and refine petroleum for national consumption and export. This is one stone that will kill four birds: refine oil in Nigeria to strengthen the value of naira. Two, break the monopoly of one single line refinery. Three, liberate cash from assets that are idle or performing sub optimally.

Four, create quality jobs for the Nigerian youths.
New Money: There are more Nigerian skilled workers outside of Nigeria today than within Nigeria. And they are 1000% better paid than their counterparts in Nigeria. What would PM Sunak do with this reality, if he were in President Tinubu’s shoes? He would creatively build a new economy around this demographics shift and set up a customised virtual Overseas Nigerians Workers Bank (ONWB) to handle Nigeria’s overseas workers financial transactions with special incentives, which will be mutually beneficial. The benefits are enormous, ask the Philippines government with OFBank.

The King of New Money will come through the implementation of data fusion and generative artificial intelligence technologies. Small and medium businesses are not the clog on the wheel of revenue generation. The SMEs that borrow money at 40% interest rate are living hand-to-mouth, struggling with salaries and diesel payments. If Tinubu and his team want to triple the national revenue from 2024, they should target the Elephants in the room, using a combination of data fusion and generative artificial intelligence technologies. With an investment of about $50million, the Lebanese, Indians, Philippines, Europeans, and even Nigerian elephants would have no hiding place – they have to pay appropriate revenue to the respective government agencies.

Crushing corruption: Nigeria’s past 15 governments failed to crush corruption, rather corruption crushed them. Why can’t Nigeria’s 16th President borrow a leaf from either China, Singapore, Israel or Saudi Arabia on how to sanitise and modernise a society without sacrificing the masses welfare?

Once, I asked my friend, a former Prime Minister of Israel: “why are the Israeli elites and public embarrassing Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife for overshooting her ice cream budget despite Bibi’s humongous sacrifices for the prosperity and continued survival of Israel?” He calmly told me: “Tim, it is not about an individual, it is about the future of Israel. It was the rapacious greed and corruption of a few that rendered the Jewish people stateless for over 2000 years. Therefore, in Israel, there is no small corruption, and no big man or woman. The rule of law is supreme!”

All told, who shall tell Mr President that for the sake of our national stability and enlightened self-interest, the 5th bottle containing the “King of Bitters”- Andragraphis Paniculata Bitters should be recorked? Andragraphis Paniculata Bitters is highly intoxicating and inflammable, once forced down the throats of students of public universities through the proposed introduction of “indirect school fees” from September. Asking universities to survive through “ways and means,” as if they are CBN that prints currency notes, is a euphemism for introduction of fees. The whooshing noise coming out from the nation’s aeroplane, a symptom of stalling and yawing, needs to be quickly extinguished. Consequently, the angle of attack must be reduced below the stalling angle. Nose-down pitch control must be applied and maintained until the wings are un-stalled to prevent incipient spin.

Good luck, bon voyage and happy First-100-days-in-office celebrations in advance, Mr President!
Tim Akano