By Dele Sobowale

“Why we are increasing borrowing, by FG.”

PUNCH, June 2, 2020, p 22.
“Habit is stronger than reason.” Professor W. Dorfman, US Economist.

When Buhari appointed the Dr Doyin Salami-led Economic Advisory Council, EAC, last September, most commentators were optimistic that Nigeria’s economic policy management was about to receive the professional touch which had been lacking since May 29, 2015. Unlike other commentators who assumed that Buhari had changed his view of economic management, I learnt from reading one of Professor Dorfman’ s books that it is never easy for a man over 70 to change his habits on most things – even after acquiring a new set of advisers. Invariably, the advisers become redundant and run the risk of being held responsible for decisions taken without their inputs.

Since the appointment of the EAC, hardly a month passed without report about the plan by the FG to take on more loans. The latest was justified, as usual, by pointing to the revenue shortfall expected during the year. Bearing in mind that we are now in June, it is quite obvious that the request to the National Assembly, NASS, already implies that the FG has left enhanced revenue generation or reduced recurrent expenditure out of consideration. Like the drug addict or the incorrigible drunkard who are too eager to borrow to appease their demons, Buhari is strongly wedded to the beg-borrow-and-spend approach to financial management. It is doubtful if the EAC or anybody else can change him. He will only stop acquiring debts when there is nobody to lend. Reason has absolutely nothing to do with it. The problem is, the EAC members, being basically reasonable people are being called upon to advise a leader who is basically emotional and who is not guided by data. A few recent developments will serve to illustrate the point.

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“N’Assembly approves Buhari’s $5.5bn budget loan; $22.7bn facility.”

PUNCH, June 3, 2020, p 27.

Various parts of that report pointed out that two zones – the North East and the usually downtrodden South East, which were left out of the list of the beneficiaries of the $22.7bn loan are to be catered for in the next round of borrowing. Buhari’s North West never waits for the next round to collect its dividends of our democracy gone crazy. The South South and the South West will receive a mere 27 per cent; the North Central and North West will gulp the lion’s share of 63 per cent. That is equitable distribution of benefits according to our President. Monkey-work-baboon-chop approach to governance continues.

You really don’t need a course in logic to draw the inference that the door has been deliberately left open for another round of loan request. Again, like the addict and the drunkard, the FG, under Buhari, will soon dissipate all the proceeds of the loans obtained on wasteful projects and programmes – none of which is designed to help in repaying the debt. Easy come; easy go the dollars that will be sourced strictly for the benefit of those close to the corridors of Aso Rock. Before pointing to the next round of wasteful spending on which this FG intends to embark, there is a need to make some useful comparisons.

“History is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” Edward Gibbon, 1734-1794.

That we failed to write our own history is one of the greatest misfortunes and tragedies of being an African. Just as disastrous for us is the fact that the leaders and the led share an abiding disdain for history. Was it not one of our most vocal and self-opinionated who removed history from secondary school curriculum? Yet, we cannot escape the lessons of history which we refuse to learn.

When President Obasanjo and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala undertook to get Nigeria out of the debt trap in 2003, the country’s total debt was $36 billion – accumulated from 1978 to 2003. Thus, it took 25 years to accumulate that debt burden by six Heads of State – Obasanjo, Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha and Abubakar. In 2020 alone, Buhari would have slipped the debt-rope around our necks and those of posterity to the tune of $28.2 billion or 78 per cent. Very few of us could have imagined the economic horror in which we now find ourselves when the dubious merchants of CHANGE assailed us with their undefined agenda. In less than six months of one year, we have almost repeated the mistakes which it took misguided leaders of the past a quarter of a century to make. Many of us are living through this nightmare of having incompetent leaders in charge of our lives for the second time under the same person. The loans are destined to be mostly wasted once again. And here is one reason.

“FG to employ 774,000 for road repairs, others” PUNCH p 33.

The announcement was made during a media briefing on June 2, 2020 in Abuja. It was further disclosed that 1000 people will be selected from each of the Local Governments; and the “lucky” people will be paid N20,000 per month for three months. Thus, N15.48bn per month or N46.4bn for the three months is already earmarked to get people to perform functions already undertaken by state and Local governments’ officials. Is it a new scam? Certainly not; it is the old swindle which was branded Poverty Alleviation Programme, PAP, by Obasanjo in 1999. (see my book, PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED, pp 137-140). The only difference is the cost. OBJ sliced off N10 billion and gave to late Chief Anenih. Thereafter, nothing was heard of the money. Now, N46.4bn will be transferred from the FG account through a Mohammed or Abubakar to unknown pockets and Fellow Nigerians might as well kiss the money goodbye for three reasons.

First, the FG is not offering permanent employment. Second, N60,000 in three months would not lift anybody out of poverty. Third, several states still pay the old Minimum Wage – N18,000 – to permanent staff; so how can anybody in his right senses contemplate paying casual workers more? Obviously, the mind-set which had produced the fraud called School Children Feeding during the national COROVID-19 lockdown and the massive embezzlement, as well as waste characterising the distribution of palliatives will govern this one as well. It will also make the most important decisions regarding how $28.2bn will eventually be spent – not the highly respected members of the Economic Advisory Council. That brings us to the question raised above about the redundancy or otherwise of the EAC.  Published last year was an article which is partly reproduced below.

ECONOMIC ADVISORY COUNCIL: RESCUERS OR UNDERTAKERS?

History has been made, whether it will turn out to salvage the economy or not is what remains to be seen. The political and especially economic consequences of this measure might remain fully unknown to us for years. It is unusual for a committee headed by the Vice President to be scrapped and replaced by another body without the VP’s knowledge that such a measure was being contemplated. Irrespective of the attempts to put a gloss over it, loss of confidence is clearly indicated. This article is an attempt to answer the two most important questions: first why this move and why now? Second what can be reasonably expected as a result?

Is the EAC now redundant? They certainly, cannot be redeemers anymore.

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