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We can’t afford the cost of looking away from inequality

By Tabia Princewill

THE majority of Nigerians still haven’t learnt any lessons from the recession. If we had, we would be a lot more worried about the future, beyond the elections. Analysts say we are more than likely on the brink of another recession, irrespective of who wins the elections.

ASUU

Macron bows to protesters, PM set to stop fuel tax hikes

For decades, budgeting in this country prioritized spending over increasing revenues and the tax base. Corruption ensured that virtually every government agency and ministry remitted less than it actually made due to “leakages” at all levels. For the first time in history, in 2018, JAMB remitted N7.8 billion to the federal government compared to N50 million between 2010 and 2016. Where does the difference come from?

Leadership, just like fighting corruption is paramount: we discuss Nigeria with so much fatalism whereas it is glaringly obvious that Nigeria can work, things can function, if only we would all get behind the anti-corruption fight and stop providing excuses for accused parties based on ethno-religious ideas or sentiment. Our performance as a nation could also be optimized by wealth redistribution mechanisms.

It’s a conversation the political class refuses, for obvious reasons and which the citizenry is yet to demand. If revenue generating agencies are allowed to function, if the National Assembly didn’t on its own consume nearly a third of our resources, not only would ASUU and labour union strikes be less constant, and less acrimonious, service delivery would improve across board. The issue here is class based: the elite and middle classes in this country count on their continued ability to afford private services.

However, with the projected economic outlook for Nigeria, based on decades of accumulated policy failings, plus analysis of facts and trends in the global economy, all of this points to a looming danger: eventually, and the process has already begun, it will become more difficult, more expensive for the Nigerian elite to access private goods and services, given rising costs and Nigeria’s poor economic position.

According to Bloomberg, the United States is projected to open several new oil pipelines in 2019 which will see their shale oil production rise to 17.4 million barrels a day making the US a net oil exporter for the first time in almost 75 years.

America will thus experience very low oil imports and the Saudis, like the rest of OPEC are reportedly struggling with plans to cope with projected excess crude on the global market compared to demand. Less global oil demand has huge consequences for the Nigerian state, and a great impact on the fortunes of the elite and middle class whose prosperity is still tied to government.

After all, how many businesses in Nigeria could survive without government patronage, monopoly or illegal tax breaks? How long do we think we can continue with such a system before catastrophe occurs? Poverty and inequality in 2019, tied to the possibility of another recession if oil earnings drop drastically, will fuel yet more violence and unrest in the country, no matter the party in power.

Our economy has been ruined, pillaged by various acts of sabotage ranging from smuggling to dubiously orchestrated privatization of national assets. The more inequality grows, the less your money can acquire in terms of comfort and “safety”: if the elite think they are protected from relative economic difficulty they need to think again. How many devaluations can Nigeria survive? And what will happen when the poor decide they’ve had enough?

Jonathan

FORMER President Goodluck Jonathan while campaigning at a PDP rally encouraged Nigerians to vote for Atiku “so that all of us will have food to eat”.

Social media users were quick to ask exactly who he was referring to when he said “all of us”. Former African presidents whose tenures were blighted by scandal, economic mismanagement, corruption accusations and blossoming terrorist threats, should take example from George W. Bush who after the Iraq war failure decided to keep a low profile due to his controversial record.

Bush accepted retirement and ceased to comment on national issues given his unpopularity when he left office. Jonathan, on the other hand, has made a plethora of statements, each raising more questions. He said he couldn’t take responsibility for the Chibok girl’s kidnapping because he doesn’t “control” Boko Haram.

“Within a couple of days, we saw people going to the US with Bring Back Our Girls placards. How? Why? And of course, Mrs Obama received one of those placards. I cannot take responsibility for that abduction. I don’t control Boko Haram”.

This totally misses the point. For several precious days, Doyin Okupe, a Presidential spokesperson, as well as several members of the Jonathan administration denied the kidnap had taken place. Weren’t they speaking on behalf of their principal and his government?

As for Michelle Obama’s Bring-Back-Our-Girls placard, it wasn’t part of some global conspiracy targeting Jonathan: world leaders advocate on pressing global issues. To become statesmen, leaders either admit to their failings or gracefully stay out of the public eye given the many unresolved scandals attached to their tenure.

Cattle herders

THE Miyetti Allah group warned Nigeria’s security forces, and the general public about media reports circulating in regards to the alleged “invasion” of Sokoto by Malian herders grazing their cattle in Gudu and Tangaza local government areas of Sokoto State.

They said reports of the area being invaded by bandits were false, as stated by the organisation’s Secretary-General, Mr. Alhassan Saleh. “Those people are not bandits; they are covered by the ECOWAS Protocol on Trans- Human Movement to move across borders to graze their cattle. They have been doing that for over 100 years. They come during the dry season and leave later.

“Ideally, Customs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among other security agencies, should issue Trans-Human Certificates to the foreign herders,” he said. This would mean tracking the number of people who come in, the number of cattle they bring, how many are healthy or diseased, etc. Government’s capacity to do this is the issue. At almost every level in Nigeria, information is still stored manually.

At the 2017 National Security Summit organised by the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, in Abuja, the Minister for Interior, Gen. Abdulraman Dambazau (rtd) said: “In every country, for trans-human movements, we will have reception areas for them and issue them international trans-humans certificates for identification. They would also be monitored so that their movements are known. This is an ECOWAS decision that was taken in 1998 but has not been implemented. ECOWAS is trying now to see how they can implement it so as to reduce the conflict going on between herders and farmers.”

Cooperation between African countries is a crucial step forward to also tackle desertification of the Sahel region where a deadly mix of illiteracy plus the weaponisation of poverty leads to violence. Attempts at modernising age-old traditions often fail because of dishonest elite power games. The alleged sponsors of the violence between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria were mysteriously quiet during the party primaries season, as pointed out by many observers.

Political inaction, coupled with the weakness of African states adds a layer of complexity to already difficult issues: herdsmen’s livestock activities, if properly managed, could lift them out of poverty and add to national GDP growth; after all, we all depend on beef from the herdsmen. But where would politicians find participants for their violent electoral schemes if herdsmen became successful businessmen?

How could politicians on all sides encourage hatred and fake news without playing on the mutual suspicion between poor communities competing for resources? What ever happened to the plans (and allocated funds) in the 1980s under the Babangida regime for the education of nomadic Fulani herders? And why did Northern elites resist the Universal Primary Education scheme in the 1970s? Will there ever be punishment for the Nigerian political elite’s role in perpetuating poverty and violence?


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.