By Dele Sobowale
The “Yes-man” is the enemy. Your true friend will argue with and even fight you —Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, Russian Writer, at Harvard University.
THE easiest way to be loved, even pampered by those in power in Nigeria, or elsewhere for that matter, is to always shower praises on measures proposed or taken by the leaders. Request for appointments are quickly granted and other favours follow. That is the subtle form of bribery and corruption which corrodes the basis of society as surely as the barefaced embezzlement of public funds by the custodians of funds and trusts. It is even much easier when one generally agrees with the official to fall into the trap of becoming a cheap praise-singer. It is tendency that must be fought always.
The first part of this series ended with the statement “Emefiele is about to throw good money out of the CBN window on cotton….”. The sentence was deliberately left dangling. Let me complete it now. “The CBN should stop it now, because, I strongly believe that it is the wrong commodity, being promoted for the wrong economic reasons and at the wrong time”. Future historians might regard this misadventure as one of the greatest blunders of the first quarter of the new millennium. I am not a gambler; I never bet on anything. But, if it comes to it, I will bet that this a failed project ab initio. It will not solve the problems it is designed for and Nigeria will end up poorer, not stronger for it. Mark my words.
Before you dismiss that statement as the ranting of a media pen-pusher, let me remind the reader that Emefiele is the third governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, with whom I have taken serious issues on very important matters and I have been proved right the first two times. This controversy is actually the easiest for me and there is little doubt in my mind that it will, unfortunately for Nigeria, end in another true prophecy ignored by the Nigerian leaders.
“When something is too good to be true; it most probably isn’t true.” That has always been my guiding principle since taking a course in Decision Making Under Conditions of Uncertainty.
In the early 1990s, when gullible Nigerians thought that most Nigerian second generation banks were performing wonders, I wrote a column on these same Vanguard Business pages titled Funny Money. In it, I pronounced that the Annual Reports and Accounts of most of the banks operating then were falsified to deceive the unwary public that they were highly profitable. Two of the “darlings” of the financial markets were Alpha Merchant Bank and Commerce Bank. They announced such “mouth-watering” results every half year and they also declared such unprecedented dividends that anybody with some commonsense would have known they were untrue. But, commonsense is not common; and thousands of businesses fell into their traps.
In that article, Funny Money, that is, I listed nineteen banks which were on the brink of collapse. Alpha and Commerce topped the list. The insults and maledictions which came as rejoinders to that article ranged from “stupid” to “ignorant” to “subversive” to “lunatic”. But, when Abacha promulgated the Failed Banks Decree, all the nineteen banks were on the list of failed banks and hundreds of bankers were arrested, Jimi Lawal, Managing Director of Alpha ran away. The MD and DMD of Commerce joined several other bank managers in detention and jail. Some companies I advised and who took the advice gave me bonuses which lasted me for more than five years. Some others who ignored my warning have either gone out of business or are still feeling the pains till today. The CBN governor, at the time, never once warned Nigerians about the impending collapse of the banks.
When Professor Charles (now Chukumah) Soludo, introduced Bank Consolidation in 2005, my advice and prediction can be summarised as follows. Allow more time for consolidation. Otherwise, it will fail and bring more anguish than relief. The former CBN governor was adamant. In 2008, when the initiative changed name to “Con-Soludo-tion” and many of the celebrated banks began crumbling, I advised shareholders to dump their bank shares. Soludo and Dr. Ndidi Onyiuke, the Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, DG-NSE, more or less told bank depositors and shareholders to ignore me.
Today, Transcontinental Bank and Oceanic Banks are no more; the MD of Transcontinental ran away. Bank shares priced at N50 in 2008 now go for under N10 in 2019. “Con-Soludo-tion” has wrecked millions of Nigerian shareholders and the consequences can be seen in what is happening to the AMCON.
So, Mr Emefiele will be well advised to take a look at the track record of his advisers and compare to mine. He ignores this controversy at his own and our nation’s peril. I am getting sick and tired trashing CBN governors who still go ahead and get Nigeria into trouble on account of fundamentally defective measures. Invariably, the praise singers urge them on; I stand almost alone in saying NO! And, the record is there. I am saying NO! now.
Let me now turn to the technical reasons why the “Cotton Programme” will (notice I did not say might not, it is deliberate) not work. The first and most important reason is the timing. Throwing billions of naira into large scale farming of any product in Nigeria today amounts to offloading billions of our good money into the sewer. Nothing but grief will come out of it in the short run; and perhaps in the long-term also – however you define those terms.
Right now, millions of Nigerians are leaving the rural farming communities for the relative security of urban and sub-urban areas and no amount of money will make them to return this year or next or next. For those who might doubt that statement, here is some of the evidence.
There’ll be no farming in Zamfara unless more soldiers are deployed — Emir of Anka, Sunday Punch, May 19, 2019.
The Emir went on to explain what he meant. He said: “Farming is not going to be possible this year unless there is peace. Almost all my farms are in the rural areas. Many people also have their farms in the rural areas; just like me. So farming activities would grossly be affected this year.” What Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad said in that interview had been repeated to me by traditional rulers at Badeggi, Niger State and Yelwa Yauri, Kebbi state.
They were bulk rice suppliers to Haske Rice Mill Sokoto when I was in charge of the plant and we have remained friends ever since. Traditional rulers who hitherto had snapped their fingers and farm workers run to go to work, now snap their fingers and the boys run away – never to be seen again in the community. So, who will grow the cotton this year or the next two years given that peace – which is the principal economic resource now – is not guaranteed for the next five years.
It will be interesting to read the feasibility studies conducted by the “experts” to convince Emefiele that the Cotton Programme is possible at this time. I want to know how much weight they gave to peace as an economic variable in a situation in which it is the basic requirement without which all the other resources in the world count for nothing. Who is the Technical Adviser who will risk his life to go and grow cotton at Talata Mafara when the governor of Zamfara State hides in Abuja for dear life? Who?
Next: What will cotton replace among the current basket of crops now cultivated?