Recession: Let us sell the government!
I have always complained that we are a headline, now-now, society. We read the news headline now-now, savour all the salacious details and move on to whatever it is, while awaiting the next headline. Four weeks or so ago, it was all about Jibrins intimidating revelations and the more intimidating punishment he got for embarrassing the house. Two weeks later, it was all about full recession, and whether things were really bad or a mere figment in the imagination of some bad-belle losers. In the past one week, it is all about the thief-in-the-night war by the all-powerful DSS. Whether it is against corruption, against judges or against the judiciary, the most important thing is that it is a WAR and, all is fair in war… This week, it is all about the act of household wickedness committed by the enchanting Aisha (Micah, 7:6; ones enemies are members of his household) and the other room declaration of PMB. The twin un-presidential explosions were so loud that it crowded-out the Chibok 21 headline. I started with this preamble so as to apologise upfront, for writing on recession, an issue that has already failed the headline test.
The Daily Trust of 8/9/16 reports of a man who went naked so as win a N10000 prize. That father, husband, brother, son, colleague and neighbor auctioned his prestige and dignity and pranced naked in streets of Abuja just for N10000! That was a hardcore evidence, if any was needed, that we were/are in a serious economic quagmire! Of course, to that will be added increasing number of suicides, parents pledging their children as collateral for food stuff (or selling them outright for as little as N20000), bedroom discord between couples, people stealing pots of soup et al on fire, etc. The government dithered and eventually admitted that we were in full recession but even then, the smiley Minister of Finance has also said that recession was just a word. It is indeed, a word, but a very serious word.
Luckily, we have found the cause: it is Jonathan! The ancient economic management strategies, half-hearted floating of the naira, open and scandalous disagreement between the Ministeress of Finance and CBN governor, demarketing of Nigeria by PMB, the never-ending 2016 budget fiasco, the confusion caused by the body-language and incurable blame-trading strategies, are of no significance in this matter. Furthermore, the all-knowing, infallible one has spoken; Obasanjo has declared that it was all GEJs fault and so, that is that. Luckily also, we have found THE solution; proposed by the one and only Dangote, supported by the National Economic Council, celebrated by the Governors who are desperately in search of what to share, applauded by Saraki, certified by the CBN Governor and clarified by Udo Udoma: to sale our assets.
This implicit favourite solution reminds me of two recurring paradigms in Nigeria. The first one is the TINA mentality and TINA here means There Is No Alternative. TINA was promoted by IBB in the days of SAP. But experience and common sense show that there are alternatives to everything, including death. People would die at home or overseas and through doctor’s carelessness, or the non-Fulani herdsmen! The next is the gbogbonise mentality. Gbogbonise was a solution to every sickness that dared rear up its ugly head against anybody. In this case, the asset disposal option is being presented as the solution to all our problems. TINA and gbogbonise are two sides of the same coin. A few weeks ago, we were told that There Was No Alternative to fuel price hike. Today, we are being told that N145/liter regime is no longer feasible. A few weeks ago, we were told that the new forex regime was the only way out. Today, we know the truth and if in doubt, find out from Aero Contractors, Innoson Motors and Erisco Foods.
The truth is that TINA and gbogbonise mentalities cannot work even when they are jointly packaged as a sure-banker herbal concoction. This is because both mindsets are inherently laughable and because every situation has its own dynamics and fundamentals. When we proffer solutions without taking cognizance of the necessary and sufficient conditions, with those in charge ringing different bells at the market place and when we lack ‘an inclusive and well-coordinated economic framework nothing will and can work. Even the request for presidential emergency powers concentrates on short-circuiting due processes! Back to the asset sale, the fact that the promoters of this find money at all costs chorus started with NLNG, our most lucrative national asset, says a thing or two about our nation and our people.
As a patriotic Nigerian, the first Nobel-prize idea that came to my mind was to commission a crack team of kidnappers, round up the first 1000 of our big-men (especially, those we don’t know their means of livelihood) and request a bailout fee of $1bn apiece. The team would include DSS (they have just displayed their uncommon capability), CBN (to go along with their TSA software), areaboys to toughen those who refuse to cooperate, and NMA for emergency health services. If there is any shortfall, we then gather the 100 richest pastors, remind them of Matthew, 10:8 (freely have you received, freely shall you give) and then request for tithes from them, By my amateur stochastic analysis, this will fetch enough money for 2015 and 2016 budgets and by that time, oil prices would have returned to $100+ and we go back to our usual lifestyles. But I foresaw several problems including the International Community and their human rights concerns, the struggle over the chairmanship of the high-profile kidnap committee, and the brouhaha about unequal distribution of the big-men and pastors across tribes, religion, states will. In any case, it became obvious that other options are no longer on the table because the sale of assets has already begun. So, we are back to the sale option
The middle ground in the sell and don’t sell debate is to leave the healthy assets and dispose of those that constitute financial hemorrhage.
So, if we must sell and if we have to sell the most inefficient and unproductive assets, then I have THE answer: we should sell the government of Nigeria. Our government is the most wasteful institution in this country; the government costs trillions to maintain and yet can neither make policies nor solve problems.
An average legislator earns more than 115 times the average Nigerian, the NASS budget is more than those of 15 states combined, while a minimum wage Nigerian will work for at least 4years to earn the equivalent of a minister’s utility allowance! More than twenty years ago, I raised a question, which still remains unanswered and that question was where is the government? (Daily Champion of 9/1/96, p4). I complained that despite the pervasive presence of government, we pay for refuse disposal, buy water, pay for street security services, buy generators, lanterns and candles, go to private schools; go to private hospitals and we shall soon go on private roads. On 10/1/12, I reloaded that question (Business Da and as at today, there is no answer to that question.
Therefore let us sell the government out-rightly. I would have suggested selling the country but this will not be very attractive, since we are no longer in a luggage economy. The suggestion to sell the government has become the only way out because most of the strategies and tactics deployed by other countries to curb government’s wastefulness have failed to work in Nigeria. PPP, concession, management contract, privatization or commercialisation has all failed and we know why.
Meanwhile, if the government can come out of its sell-mode and is interested in pragmatic anti-recession policies, there are two simple steps. The first is to patronise made in Nigeria goods. NESG 22 has just ended and I am sure it would have meticulously worked out the modalities-though this doesn’t need much modalities. And if we are serious, we should ask Peter Obi, who bought all the government vehicles from PAN and all the community policing vehicles from Innoson; and cut the governor’s entourage to Abuja from 20+ to 1. He can tell the change-masters how to adopt a judicious application of commonsense in these matters. I also join Oby Ezekwesili in asking whatever happened to the report of the Presidential Committee on the Rationalisation and Restructuring of MDAs, which recommended the scrapping of 102 statutory agencies…?
Muo, PhD; is of the Department of Business Administration, OOU, Ago-Iwoye