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Bristol hotel revival: Lagos CBD gets a boost – 2

“So we can once again enjoy going to Koriko Bar in the early afternoon; go home; take a nap and return for the evening bash. Dele this is wonderful news.”
That was how one old patron of the Bristol Hotel in the late fifties to middle 1960s received the news of the revival of Bristol Hotel. Every old socialite had several tales to tell about their exploits at the Bristol Hotel – when it was the place to go. Mine was not different from most.

On August 4, 1964, with the American government sponsored ASPAU scholarship in my pocket, I was showered with cash from well-wishers. It was a time when kids were celebrated for having brains than brawns. The Alitalia aircraft chartered to take fifty Nigerian kids, ten from Igbobi College alone, to America, was already waiting at Ikeja airport according to one of our neighbours working for the Nigerian Airways.

Departure time was 10 p.m. But, with more money in my pockets than brains in my head, I headed for Koriko Bar with friends, many now dead and proceeded to lavish close to thirty pounds (about N1.5 million today) in one afternoon. I almost missed the flight but for the vigilance of a loving mother who sent out a search party to hunt down her wayward son. We arrived at the US Embassy just in time for the bus to take off. Still nothing regretted. I left the bar man with sufficient cash for my friends to continue drinking free of charge for three days!!!
Bristol Hotel had always been a place for the young at heart, the self-confident, the daring and those who wanted to enjoy life to the fullest. That is the spirit the developer wants to revive, and with it, restore hope that things will actually get better – starting with the nation’s most important Central Business District….

“History never repeats itself; man does.” Barbara Tuchmann, Historian, expert on 13th and 14th Centuries Europe.
When was the last time you heard the President, the Federal Minister of Finance, the Senate President or the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives talking about the 2014 budget? Probably, a long time ago.

The President, during his media chat, hardly touched on it – possibly because he was not specifically asked several questions about it. Yet, by the time you read this column, two months would have elapsed put of twelve, 17% of the time gone, and yet we have no budget to guide government expenditure at all levels.

There is more than sufficient blame to pass around. But, everything can be summarized as the failure of a mostly old and tired leadership at the top. Not old in terms of age; mind you. But, old in the sense that most of them have been around governance since 1999 and generally things had gone from bad to worse.

Even the presence of a former World Bank Managing Director as Finance Minister, which had raised hopes of excellent and prudent financial management, close to global standards, had resulted in despair. Visitors from abroad, reading our newspapers or watching our independent television stations – AIT, CHANNELS, etc — might be forgiven for wondering if the Federal government of Nigeria employs anybody with a basic knowledge of economics and finance.

Otherwise, how does one explain the fact that two months into the year, with the budget still crawling its way through committees of the National Assembly, populated by distracted individuals, neither the President nor the Finance Minister is raising an alarm. In the end, a budget will be hastily patched together in April –, which will be signed all the same.

Invariably, what the President, the Finance Minister and the National Assembly fail to realize is that a budget is basically a social contract and a promise to the people about their economy and ultimately their fate during the year the budget is to be implemented. The Executive Branch, since 1999, had always taken the cynical attitude that, “Promises, like pie-crusts, are made to be broken.” Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 203).

President Jonathan has already set a record with respect to the number of promises he had made and failed to fulfill. When the 2014 budget is finally passed, it will be fourth budget this President had sent forward; it will also most likely join all the previous budgets which were reduced to mere paperwork.

One cardinal reason for atrocious execution of budgets had been the perpetual inability to estimate the revenue for the period under review. Anybody with wide experience in budget preparation understands that it is impossible to be totally accurate about the revenue estimates. But, generally, any deviation in excess of five percent can only be excused by circumstances beyond control and unforeseen.

Otherwise, if it a negative variance, those in charge had demonstrated incompetence. No single budget passed under Jonathan had failed to deviate by more than five per cent. Something is definitely wrong. One does not need to agree with the beleaguered Governor of Central Bank to know that when your economic managers fail repeatedly to deliver on promises represented by the budget,  it is time to try another team and skipper.

Allied to that is the fact that the Federal Ministry of Finance simply does not know how much revenue Nigeria should be generating; how much should actually be paid into the Federation Account and how much is actually remitted to that account. All the charges against the NNPC, the CBN, Customs, etc with respect to revenue diverted or embezzled, only point to a financial system in which anything goes – a financial joke cast in hell.

That a globally respected person is now Minister while all these messy deals are going on should constitute our greatest concern. “If gold rusts, what then will iron do?” asked Geoffrey Chaucer, 1342—1400 (VANGUARD BOOK OG QUOTATIONS p 78). Okonjo-Iweala is, on paper, the best candidate we can find for this job. But, paper qualifications only suggest intelligence.

A Nigerian Minister, especially in the Ministry of Finance, must also possess wisdom. Unfortunately, while all sorts of institutions have been established to teach economic, finance, banking, insurance, entrepreneurship and leadership, none teaches wisdom – which is the quality which enables us “To know that which before us lies in daily life..” John Milton, 1608-1674.

Her lack of sufficient wisdom is what explains why she appears to be totally at a loss when being hammered by members of the National Assembly, about another embezzlement of public funds at NNPC or elsewhere or badly prepared budget estimates by some agencies or ministries or the uses and abuses of Duty Waiver.

Dr Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala had gone to dinner with several “devils” armed with a teaspoon; instead of a shovel.  When the 2014 budget might have failed as the previous three did, she will have another F on her score-sheet as Minister. The fault will not be totally her own. But, it is her fault that she does not know she is in the wrong place, at the wrong time….

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