By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
The big parties are back with big plans. Nigerian politicians make promises they cannot keep. The new plans contain many empty promises. But it is encouraging that the plans have received some attention. In the past, no one read the manifestoes of the parties.
The APC plans to take us to the next level. The PDP has an ATIKU PLAN which it believes will transform Nigeria in six years. Both plans are ambitious. They are filled with what the people want to hear. Those who wrote them did not bother to be meticulous. They simply promised to lift the poor out of poverty. And make the nation great.
But it’s good that we are discussing the plans. At some point in the future no serious party will release a plan that will look like something written by a Father Christmas. Atiku wants to build 5000 kilometers of roads and 5000 kilometers of rail lines.
That is wonderful. But his plan doesn’t state an estimate of the cost of those lofty projects. And therefore the plan doesn’t bother to state where Atiku would get the money from. I am sure you already know that Peter Obi, his running mate, hates Chinese loans . And that Atiku plans to cut company taxes. So where will Atiku find the money to build 5000 km railway?
Buhari had made great promises in 2014. But once he got into office he discovered something interesting. The government had no money to fund any projects. We spend literally all we earn to pay and maintain our ‘babanriga’ sized public service. So we must borrow to build even an anthill. Buhari initially didn’t want to borrow.
The economy became constipated. He thought about selling off some assets. The opposition cried like a baby that had seen a wolf . Ordinary people feared for their children’s tomorrow . Buhari ,dithered and dithered, and then looked towards China.
So early in his rule Buhari discovered that talk was cheap. And that inaction had consequences. He swallowed his pride and ran to China, cap hand. I suspect he had believed he would recover enough from looters to build a Rome in a day. But looters proved elusive. They squirreled into holes and used the courts well.
So Buhari was left essentially with China and issuance of bonds. Whatever he got from China he put into the rail lines. But he didn’t get enough. And things that had stalled didn’t get moving quickly. But even the little he got ballooned our debt profile and worsened debt repayment burdens. So very early in his days , hit by a crash in crude prices, Buhari learnt that promises were easier made than kept. He couldn’t defend the naira he had boasted to return to glory. And he let it slide.
Buhari found it difficult those early years to attend to roads. He discovered that the ambitious plans of a man who had no money were mere daydreams. The International monetary organizations begged him to liberalize the downstream petroleum sector. He refused and kept a murky subsidy regime saddled to the back of a weary economy. He said he did it for the poor.
Now he wants to take us to the next level. He no longer believes it will be a sprint. He now knows it will be a difficult climb. He knows that our revenues cannot support more loans and any ambitious infrastructural development. He knows that the economy cannot carry the unwieldy public service and Boko haram burdens much longer. Buhari knows we must drop these burdens if we intend to make it to the next level. Yet Buhari wants to take us to the next level but he wont tell us how he will relieve us of our hunchback.
It’s good Buhari is thinking about gathering more people into the tax net. But the moral duty to pay taxes will only rest upon the citizenry if the resources tapped from the extractive industry are transparently and efficiently utilized.
And that is why Buhari must eliminate the petrol subsidy. Petrol subsidy has denied the nation of the benefit of high crude prices in the recent months. And the scandals that live with that program leave the citizenry with no moral commitment to pay taxes. I don’t know how Atiku would convince anyone to see taxes as moral obligations. He can win public confidence by championing a crusade against sinfulness.
It’s good Atiku wants to liberalize the downstream sector. That is what the Atiku plan says. But same Atiku has another plan. He has said he wants to bring in his friends to crash the pump prices of petrol to 87 naira if voted into power. Let’s not wonder about whether Atiku actually knows the current landing cost of petrol.
And let’s not wonder about how he intends to crash the prices without huge subsidies. Let’s wonder about his basic knowledge of economics. After all he is the one whom Obasanjo, the oracle, now promotes as economic expert and job creator. Let us ask Atiku to tell us what liberalization means since he intends to fix price.
Politicians are free to promise to turn water to wine. And to bring down the walls of Jericho. But they must tell us whether they intend to hire prophet T. B Joshua or to hire a chemist and Julius Berger. And they must tell us how they intend to settle the bills.
Atiku has a plan to lift many millions out of poverty in six years. If this plan is his only plan then he will lift these millions out of poverty through a trickledown effect of a prosperity that starts from the top. I think he should concentrate on bridging the widening gap between the rich and the poor. So since the current government has instituted some social intervention programs Atiku must tell us how he intends to maintain, modify or eliminate them. He can’t pretend to be inheriting a clean slate.
Atiku smugly states that he knows how boko haram began. And that must mean that he knows perhaps the solution. But there is nothing in his plan beyond wishful thinking that deals with Boko haram. What new does Atiku want to do to bring the insurgency to an end? Buhari thought he would end the insurgency in months. He did well in recovering territories seized by the insurgents. But the insurgency has continued to cause unacceptable loss of lives and property. And has continued to drain an anaemic economy.
Who amongst them wants to negotiate a ceasefire?
Atiku is innocent. But we know his history. I would have thought that his plan would have an elaborate design for the containment of corruption and for moral regeneration. Obasanjo says Atiku is born again. But Atiku has nothing in his plan that resembles the zealousness of the new convert for righteousness. The PDP and Atiku cannot afford to be seen as sympathizers of corruption.
The plans are beautiful. The demons are in the details.