By Dele Sobowale
The rate of change in our time is so swift that an individual of ordinary length of life will be called on to face novel situations which have no parallel in the past. The fixed man for the fixed duties, who in the old society was such a “god-send” will in the future be a public danger— Alfred North Whitehead, 1861-1947.
THE rate of change globally had accelerated several hundred fold since Whitehead wrote his observation. There was no internet then. Major economic developments affecting the lives of other nations took several months to be known to others and their reactions became manifest several months or even years after. First, the globalisation of economies changed that; then internet completed the job. Today, a change, up or down, in the price of crude oil registers its impact on prices of shares in all the capital markets around the globe. Every nation on this planet is now like a glass-house from which nothing can be hidden from outsiders.
One of the saddest aspects of the Nigerian government is the pervasive belief that those in the Federal Government can still lie to Nigerians and the world as well concerning the situation in our economy. Buhari was a Military Head of State when we could still bluff our way out of bad economic reports. Today, he is President of a country, which like others, has been stripped naked by the internet and global institutions monitoring economic results independently of governments and which can neither be stopped nor intimidated. Unfortunately, our current top government officials are yet to learn that simple fact. Each unfavourable report on the Nigerian economy receives the same treatment. They collectively deny the facts and question the motives of the organisation issuing the report. If that fails, they issue a rejoinder which does not address the issue raised in the report.
Four reasons account for why rapid economic growth will continue to elude Nigeria under Buhari and his economic advisers – led by Vice President Osinbajo. They are ignorance, inability to learn from past mistakes, embrace of falsehood and lack of ideas. Permit me to start from repetition of errors made even in the recent past.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result”— Chinese Proverb.
A national newspaper [name withheld] on Monday carried a story on its Business and Economy pages on Monday, November 12, 2018, titled “Government concludes on 2019 budget, FEC gets documents soon.” But, in the second paragraph of the story, the reporter revealed the truth. This was what he said. Our correspondent learnt on Sunday that work on the fiscal document had reached an advanced stage with the conclusion of defence by Ministries, Departments and Agencies on Saturday.”
This is disgraceful reporting. Work is either concluded or is still work in process (even if in advanced stage), it cannot be both. Reading more of the story what becomes clear is that the 2019 budget is not ready. It is not before the Federal Executive Council for approval and Buhari has nothing to place before the National Assembly, NASS for consideration. The subheading of that report stating that “Buhari may present bill to NASS this month must be regarded as a figment of the imagination of the author of that report. A budget still unwritten by the twelfth day of November cannot possibly be presented to the NASS this month. Otherwise, consideration of it by the Presidency will be rushed – with serious repercussions.
Buhari’s government had been partly responsible for three late budgets – each with disastrous consequences for the Nigerian economy. It is getting set to unleash another delayed budget on the country. Have they learnt anything? Can they learn anything from their past mistakes? It is doubtful. Yet we know that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Santayana, 1863-1952). Buhari and his top government officials cannot even recall what happened six months ago.
“Nothing is worse than active ignorance”— Johann von Goethe, 1749-1832. Vanguard Book Of Quotations, Vbq, P 98).
Active ignorance is more pervasive in this government than in any other government since Buhari’s 1984-5 administration. For a start, he had assembled the largest collection of “local champions” since I started writing on these pages in 1986. His top seven Ministers – Justice, Finance, Works, Labour, Health, Education and Communications have not held office at the Federal level and none had international exposure. The engine room of the economy is manned by people who would not have received consideration in any other government.
Mediocrity is written all over them. The results are there for all to see. Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture just recently revealed how shallow the cabinet is by declaring that the Federal Government spends N3.5m a month or N117,000 a day feeding El Zakzakey – the Shiítes leader. It was the sort of blunder which those accustomed to talking first and thinking later would commit. But, he is highly respected member of the cabinet. That tells you all you need to know about the rest.
“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed” —I.F Stone, 1907-1989.
All governments lie occasionally. But, this is the first government whose officials cannot distinguish between truth and falsehood. In fact, they embrace falsehood as no other government before it. Anybody believing that the FG actually spends N3.5m feeding one man must have rocks where brains should be. The man must be swallowing a whole cow every twenty four hours with two goats for appetiser and 100 litres of fura to wash down the “small” meal. Lai! Lai!! Lai!!
But, Lai is not the only purveyor of half truths.
In a VANGUARD story on November 13, 2018, the Minister of Works, Fashola (whatever happened to our son from Lagos at Abuja?) was reported as saying that completion of the second Niger Bridge was delayed on account of the depth of water. According to him, “During the peak of the rainy season it slows down work because you need divers to go under.” Amazing! Has there ever been a bridge constructed without the builders taking into account problems to be encountered during the rainy season?
Why has that suddenly become a unique excuse for the second bridge. The truth is, the FG budgeted N2.8 trillion for capital projects for 2018. By October, only N460 billion had been released. The Ministry of Works was not given the funds to continue. Coincidentally, the same Fashola had told travellers on the Lagos-Ibadan road to wait until 2021 for completion. Is water responsible for that delay as well?
Meanwhile the VP, apparently unaware of what is going on around him, announced that the Buhari administration had borrowed only $10 billion. On the November 13, the Debt Management Office disclosed that $4.5bn was borrowed in 2017 alone from abroad. Nothing was said about 2015, 2016 and the current year. “Fish rots from the head.”
Nigerians might as well face the truth. With these people in charge of our economy, the country will never recover. No country, to the best of my knowledge has ever developed by being led by people denying obvious truths instead of bracing up to face the challenges.