By Tabia Princewill
THE Vice-Presidential debate was a fascinating opportunity to see and understand the philosophies of Nigeria’s two main political parties (APC and PDP). During one of the most commented upon segments, Peter Obi, the PDP Vice-Presidential candidate, criticised the rise of unemployment and the slump in Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, reinforcing his earlier remark: “fighting corruption is not an economic policy”.
He said “you’re not creating jobs, you’re not doing the right thing and you’re just fighting corruption. You can’t shut down your shop and be chasing criminals”, to which the Vice-President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo responded: “if you allow criminals to steal all the inventory in the shop, there’ll be no shop. That’s the problem. And what has happened to Nigeria in the past 16 years is what the World Bank told us, that the major cause of our poverty is corruption.”
One could write an entire book on what happened to Nigeria which in 1960 had better economic prospects than Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. Young and old, all Nigerians remember the stories of when one dollar was equal to one Naira.
What many of us are less familiar with, however, is the true cause of Nigeria’s decline. I’ve written enough articles about corruption and its effects, as well as a number of pieces on the predictable restructuring failure without some fundamental societal changes, otherwise restructuring would only amount to further empowering corrupt individuals and producing more avenues to steal.
It is necessary, in the interest of truth, for Nigerians to understand and reflect upon the aforementioned statements from the vice-presidential candidates.
When Nigeria was forced to liberalise its economy following structural adjustment in the 1980s and to open itself up to foreign direct investment, it was the beginning of the end for progressive politics at the national level. It was also the beginning in many African countries of the prioritisation of the demands of capital and business interests over the needs of the common man.
The collapse of the public education system, of healthcare and other state funded necessities is a direct result of the economic policies of that era which prioritized attracting FDI over spending on public welfare. A generation of Nigerian students was thus sacrificed to the primacy of foreign business interests, which is interesting because there is a correlation between FDI, structural adjustment and capital flight: every time politicians talk about increasing FDI, one should remember that on the whole, FDI enriches Western multinationals and not Africans or Nigerians.
For every few hundred or thousand or so employees a foreign corporation employs, they make billions in US dollars which are repatriated to their countries with little benefit to the Nigerian economy. Their money isn’t domiciled in Nigeria, it serves to strengthen their own economies back home, not ours, plus these foreign companies take advantages of the loopholes and corruption in our legislation and institutions which allow tax evasion, so on the long run, FDI only benefits a very small clique of Nigerians.
What we really should be talking about is the long term plan to create the enabling environment that’ll create Nigerian (and African) brands that can serve local needs and compete on the international market. FDI is one of those political gimmicks African politicians use, but it is time the public realizes it is only a more sophisticated form of neo-colonialism whereby transactions which seem equal on the surface benefit only the West.
It is frightening how much the prodigal shopkeeper in the Nigerian psyche still hides behind the idea of “shutting shop” to imply “chasing criminals” is a waste of time. It is reminiscent of a former President’s idea that “goats will always eat yams” or “you will always find goats where there are yams” supposedly pointing out the “inevitability” of corruption in government. If the shopkeeper doesn’t mind that an exponentially increasing number of goods are spirited away then what eventually happens?
What credit line is open to a shopkeeper who can’t account for most of his goods since independence from those who set up the structure for the disappearing act to occur in the first place? We need to fully understand the system the British bequeathed us and the reasons why it could only have ended in military rule and endemic corruption.
Ironically, we’ve refused to fundamentally change said system, except to tinker with things which only amount to according more money to this or that region, which only ends up in the pockets of the same set of people.
The early post-colonial period (1960-1990), besides setting the stage for today’s issues, was also the origin of the contradictory obsession with FDI and growing our local economy. People talk about growing the Naira yet Nigeria’s public policy has always supported a dollarized economy which is tied, first and foremost, to prioritising FDI over intra-African trade. Nigerians and Africans will never know real independence if we don’t have the intellectual honesty to question the reasoning behind our preference for a status quo that favours only those at the top.
THE Special Presidential Investigative panel on the Recovery of Public Property, SPIP, wrote to the UK National Crime Commission to help its investigation of five senators, following the UK’s passage of a law, the “Unexplained Wealth” order. Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, Special Assistant to the President on Public Prosecution described it as a law stating “if you have a property in the UK that is above $50,000 you have to explain your source of wealth, and property here doesn’t just mean a building but even jewellery”.
He went on to state that a number of multinationals owe the government “over $1 billion”, such as oil companies who evade taxes, owe government royalties, etc. According to him, a number of oil companies haven’t paid taxes in over five years, robbing Nigeria (and our development) of $2.5 billion in one single case where an oil bloc was purchased by a multinational but only a paltry sum was paid to the government in exchange.
Mr. Obono-Obla also mentioned debt forgiveness accorded to Nigerian banks and debtors under the stewardship of Governors Charles Soludo and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Nigerians have Stockholm syndrome: we are in love with our oppressors.
We are also typically allergic to realising the amount of money that successive governments have been cheated out of due to the actions or inaction of a small number of individuals across sectors and industries.
Where is government meant to get the money to invest in opportunities and jobs for all Nigerians if our economic orientation continues to favour monopoly capitalism, crony capitalism and tax waivers for a few well-connected people? The AMCON debts belong to barely a few hundred people, the same debtors who’ve caused many bank failures since the 1990s. How can we keep pretending corruption isn’t directly responsible for Nigeria’s economic underdevelopment? It provides an incentive for banks not to support small businesses: they prefer the easy, quick inflow from the proceeds of corruption.
SENATOR Joshua Dariye is a former governor of Plateau State, another interesting practice to be interrogated. Why do virtually all Nigerian governors “retire” in the Senate? Are we ready to “restructure” the elements of our political practice that allow politicians to completely take advantage of the system with little benefit to Nigerians?
Senator Dariye was convicted by an FCT High Court for embezzling N1.126 billion. Yet, investigations revealed that six months after his sentence, he continues to receive his Senate salary. What sort of hypocrisy allows this? And what does this say about the Senate? Its leadership’s loyalty, when tested, hardly ever seems to be on the side of the Nigerian people.
Corruption isn’t killing us slowly, it is attacking us with everything it’s got. Many buried stories hide under the umbrella of corruption, setting the stage for Nigeria’s issues: if the ecological funds hadn’t been mismanaged in Plateau, or funds meant to fight the shrinking of Lake Chad could be accounted for, would it be so easy to politicise ethno-religious differences?
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.