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Whose interests should government serve: The many or The few?

By Tabia Princewill

THIS question should be of particular interest to Nigerians as we prepare to vote in yet another election. Nigerian governments have traditionally taken a very conservative stance on social issues, choosing to support private businesses belonging to their associates over ordinary people: rather than attempt to fix the structural conditions enabling poverty, the choice has often been to pretend, for example, that foreign direct investment, FDI, alone can lift Nigerians out of poverty.

Government

A vote for Atiku remains a sure path to economic revival- Obasohan

However, without investing in healthy, well-educated citizens, attracting all the businesses on earth to Nigeria will not produce real progress or long-term development, particularly if citizens have not been empowered to produce wealth themselves.

Health and education budgets have suffered considerable underfunding in Nigeria (one really can’t compare the average Ghanaian university to its Nigerian counterpart). And this was at one point encouraged by the World Bank, hence the propensity in many state governments to build airports, bridges and new buildings which the average citizen couldn’t afford to use.

Overall growth

Without building the masses’ capacity to trade, and therefore make use of local infrastructure, the majority of our airports will remain grandiose, elitist dreams in the minds of our governments, which don’t add much to this country’s overall growth and prosperity.

Truly, a number of politicians have no problem with the majority of Nigerians remaining poor: such is their fatalist understanding of poverty. To them, some people are destined to suffer, unless they “wise up” and embrace some form of fraud or the other.

Exploitation, in the ultra-capitalist system we’ve adopted as the norm, demands the abuse or mistreatment of those who do not have the power or the means to defend themselves.

Those who defend such a system, are those who faint and develop illnesses as soon as their corruption case is called up in court.

They are the same people who talk about protecting or defending the human rights of those accused of embezzling or mismanaging huge sums while ignoring the victims, the millions of people who neither have decent roads, schools, hospitals or jobs because of the actions of a few.

One only reads about the rights of those who can afford to appear in court with a hundred Senior Advocates to defend them for committing crimes which are nothing short of national sabotage. All arms of government in Nigeria have served the interests of the few over the many, enabling a small class of individuals to get away with murder. Road contracts were endlessly awarded and re-awarded, monopolies granted to some individuals, thus hindering competition and new entrants into key sectors of the economy, and Nigerians were brainwashed into accepting all of this as the norm. Indeed, the pages of newspapers were full of congratulatory messages celebrating the false brilliance of overnight millionaires whose only real achievement was successful proximity to government. Is this what we want?

On the subject of wealth creation, it’s interesting that a scheme such as TraderMoni, a bank of industry loan for petty traders and artisans, could be labeled or misrepresented as “vote-buying” while public opinion ignores the number of failed banks and private businesses which are bought over and propped up by AMCON using public funds. What about the funds the Nigerian government lost each time it made concessions to wealthy individuals simply because they were close to power? How many businessmen in Nigeria take advantage of the masses’ poor understanding of governance and public finance to owe salaries while they live big or use shareholders’ funds for obviously fraudulent purposes?

Why are these same individuals celebrated in public despite their obvious misdeeds which contribute towards poverty, unemployment and economic instability in Nigeria? The political class ignores such corruption and would rather criticize collateral free loans used to promote small businesses and enterprise at the grassroots. Perhaps they would rather the funds devoted to uplifiting millions of artisans and petty traders were spent on elite interests as usual.

Those who hate trader money are often the same group of people who think FDI, which mostly enriches the West in the long run, is the only path to prosperity. FDI should be one of the ways of increasing economic growth rather than an over-arching strategy: supporting our local, regional economies, increasing trade and exchanges between states has hardly been a priority in Nigeria, yet it is a surer path to stability.

But politicians who only see Africa as a market for the West to dump its own products while we continue to produce nothing except raw materials whose prices aren’t determined by us, can never appreciate any scheme meant to encourage home grown products or local consumption. No matter how much politicians talk about diversifying our economy, as soon as they talk about their plans to sell the NNPC (particularly to their friends and cronies), it should be obvious that generalised prosperity is the farthest thing from their minds; the model they’re encouraging got many African countries into the situation they find themselves in today.

Global capitalist agenda

This obsession over privatisation and FDI without investing in local people is in compliance with the global capitalist agenda. So long as Africans mindlessly consume, the Western world has an easy, ready market for its goods. Nigerians should be wary of those who would sell this country and all its resources to the highest bidder. Leaders who’ll put Nigeria first are few and far between; it’s thus important for Nigerians to look at candidate’s antecedents: what did they do when they had power? Who did their power benefit, the many or the few?

Everyone wants to be a millionaire in Nigeria and no one wants to live within their means. Frank, austere leaders aren’t always popular because they don’t allow us to keep pretending spending money we haven’t earned is sustainable.

We must refuse the fantasy that brought our economy to its knees; that is, the illusion of wealth, growth and prosperity using public funds which can only “trickle down” for a short period of time until another recession occurs (oil prices are no longer what they were).

We must do what is difficult but necessary to save this country from complete ownership by a few unproductive leeches: Nigeria’s future is in our hands.

Atiku

THE PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, asked the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB,  Nnamdi Kanu, to prove he is from Cameroon after Kanu claimed Atiku wasn’t Nigerian. When Kanu claimed Buhari was Jibril from Sudan, PDP bigwigs supported the rumour or claimed they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t true.

What usually happens when one encourages fake news or any sort of wrongdoing is that eventually, it comes back to haunt us. Kanu encourages his followers in the South-East not to vote (the South-East is the region where the PDP is concentrating all its hopes of victory in the coming presidential election), thus attempting to discredit not just the two major contenders but the entire electoral process, which opposition politicians had no issues with until Kanu seemed to focus his negative energies on PDP.

Until ethnicity ceases to play such an important role in Nigerian politics, spoilers like Kanu can manipulate history to suit their own purposes.

Federal Inland Revenue Service

THE Federal Inland Revenue Service plans to prosecute 40,000 millionaire tax defaulters. Can we see why government in service of the many rather than the few is so unpopular amongst elite quarters?

Modern, democratic nations survive primarily on taxes not oil rents, which produces accountability. If we pay taxes in accordance with our earnings, we can begin to monitor how our government spends our money. FIRS recorded N5.320 trillion tax revenue in 2018, the highest number since the agency was created.

Tax defaulters in Nigeria aren’t poor, middle class or civil servants, rather, it’s the same oligarchy opposing reforms at JAMB, NIMASA and other federal agencies which “suddenly” increased their declared revenues. Corruption has held us back in unimaginable ways and cheated Nigeria out of revenue it desperately needs.

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.


Disclaimer

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