By Bisi Lawrence
Someone has said that if a trillion dollar bills were laid tip to tip in a row, it would go right round the world seventeen times. In these days of calculators and computers it would be fun to find out the truth about that statement. Just multiply the length of a dollar bill by one trillion and divide that by the circumference of the globe, and bob’s your uncle!
But who cares whether it is true or not? It is enough that it is a towering figure, an awesome number, intimidating by its mere mention. At least, it used to be so, in the same manner as a billion seemed to belong to the realms of the incalculable, and just like a million was considered earlier.
It was the “Budget” which demystified each one in turn. After those mighty figures were read out year in, year out, and without any appreciable impact on the areas to which they were allocated, they began to sound as hollow as the implementation of their being. These things don’t happen anyway, the people said… We’ve heard it over and over again:
“so much allocated to education” – but we can see our universities always on strike; “this much provided for transportation” – but we can only see the decay of what used to be highways; “that much earmarked for power” but we see only flashes of light during the interrupted outage; “this huge lot goes to agriculture”, but we are still to see sufficiency in the supply of our staple products.
These annual budgets make me sick. They render a catalogue of promises that are generally unfulfilled, intentions that are seldom actualized, and projects that are usually left to go adrift. Just consider how much of the budget we prepared for last year still remains unimplemented. I do not have the figures. Figures make me sick – that is what budgets have done to me.
In fact, there was no better report of the previous year either. So, is one being downright realistic or simply cynical if one wonders about the oven-fresh one which was unveiled a few days ago?
Well, take the rosiest aspect first – agriculture. When the mock “Eucharist” of cassava-flour was being celebrated among the members of the Federal Cabinet at Aso Rock recently, one thought kept swirling round my heart. Wheat will be in trouble in the next budget, was the message. So it has proved to be and, concomitantly, so is bread.
The policy of forcing cassava down your throat is powered by the desire to increase the production of the commodity as a way of “creating” jobs. The import duty of wheat and rice would be increased which will automatically skyrocket the price of bread as we know it, because cassava bread would presumably be less expensive.
In the same way, imported rice will be more costly because of high tariffs. On the other hand, duties would be totally removed from machinery and certain equipment that, presumably, pertain to the production of wheat and high-grade cassava.
But I keep wondering, should the government force me to eat cassava-bread if it does not appeal to me?
Is it fair to increase the cost of any commodity because of a policy to increase the manufacture of a homegrown produce in order to provide employment? Are we sure that there is a craving for that kind of job, in the first place?
We are talking about agriculture, an area that belongs to rural life with which, we all know, not very many youths are attracted these days. Are there any incentives in the offing to draw people towards the enchanting aspects of mechanized farming enough to pursue its establishment and deliberate development in a country like Nigeria.
The provision of a number of tractors and their deployment in certain locations over an unspecified period of time does not constitute mechanized farming. But that effort has to be sustained into permanency in a consistent exercise which makes it a manner of practice. We have seen it happen dramatically in Ghana to the extent that a land that was almost deserted soon began to return an abundant harvest from its soil.
The right attitude to the dilemma of imported products would boost the production of local commodities both in quality and quantity so much that we would even have a surplus to export. It is not progress to be forced to eat what you consider inferior because that is the only way in which government thinks it could create jobs for people who might not even be enthusiastic about that kind of job anyway.
But wait a minute. If we are talking about agriculture, isn’t it time we began to revive our groundnut, our cotton and our cocoa? Have we reached the optimal level in the production of our rubber and palm products? Or are we still engaged in our old pastime of paying lip service to the solution of serious problems?
Well, they say the man in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture is a capable man. We should be able to judge of what stuff he is made in the next twelve months or so, but this idea of force-feeding us with cassava because it is a cheap way to try and create jobs seems rather quaint.
And so on to the sourest, the one that gives me a tummy-ache to even think about… subsidy. It was apparently not mentioned in the budget by name. Perhaps it really was not necessary. As far as government is concerned, it is a done deed. However, the word, “deregulation”, explains everything … .
In plain terms, we are told that government imports petroleum products at a price which is higher than for what it is disposed to the dealers.
That difference in costs is borne by government. That is the content of subsidy in the transaction of the government purchase and disposal, and the dealers’ sale to the public. At the same time, government controls, or regulates, the pump price of the products to give value to the subsidy that had been granted with the disposal to the dealers.
Now government says it will no longer grant any subsidy to the price at which the products are sold to the dealers. It means the dealers will have to pay the full price at which government obtains the products. At the same time, the dealers will be free to sell at their own price. Needless to say, that price will be neck-breaking, but the dealers won’t be complaining since it is not their necks. The citizens will, of course, be overwhelmed.
The Senate, which is supposed to represent us, has welcomed the proposal and looks forward to its complete implementation. The National Executive Council, constituted by our Governors, has given the removal of the subsidy its whole-hearted support in every detail.
Their Excellencies had long ago linked it with the increase in the minimum wage which they readily supported but later steadily rebuffed after the elections. That is the only single support which still sounds loud and clear, and that is the voice of the labour movement. The Nigerian Labour Congress still waxes adamant about its opposition to the subsidy removal, but how does it unravel its entanglement with the wage increase so craftily manipulated by our dear governors?
Maybe it would be by making the people realize that the president is our president because we put him there; the governors and legislators are our representatives; we voted them into office. Now they have all adopted the role of dictators in a so-called democracy, and will ram what they will down our throats … .if we allow them.
I have heard about sexual harassment, which I have always considered a silly statement if unaccompanied by nudity or close physical contact, but the recent harassment by the Western Powers soars to the level of sexual blackmail. Nigeria is a sovereign state — or so I have always thought.
But in these days of the lvorien tragedy, Libyan disaster and Syrian debacle, what does sovereignty now really connote? My dictionary tells me that to be sovereign means “to be independent; to possess supreme powers … ” I have no problem with the “independent” connotation. But I now begin to have misgivings about the “supreme power” aspect.
If we, as a people, reject the marrying of persons who are of the same sex, our sovereign will ought to make the decision respectable and unquestionable. That is what we have done. We may be wrong, though I do not think we are.
The practice that such a marriage embodies is considered an abomination by most people since it is against the law of nature. It is only right that it should not be allowed to spread, and every measure to suppress it should be welcome in any decent society.
However, where a country decides to allow it to proliferate, no other nation has the right to interfere just as Nigeria would never dream of worrying herself with what the British and French wish to do with themselves and one another, inside the closet or out of it.
As for the United States, they are free to put anyone they like, homosexual or not, straight or bent, into the White House. And why not? After all, they have done the equivalent of that already in Belgium.
Nigeria does not deserve the affront of Europe and the United States on our sovereignty as a nation over what is purely a matter of morals. The abrasive manner of their address about our position is indicative of the low level at which we are held by the Western Powers and we should show our resentment in no unmistakable manner.
At worst, we would no longer be able to benefit from their loans, and aids, and “what-nots” which we should have been weaned of anyway, after fifty years of independence and .. er… er.. Sovereignty.