Columns

February 24, 2024

Tinubu must find Dollars NOT scapegoats, by Ugoji Egbujo

Tinubu must find Dollars NOT scapegoats, by Ugoji Egbujo

If they leave the major bleeding points oozing to fan the man because he is sweating, then they are like our government that has left crude oil thieves to chase BDC operators.

The country is in shock. Shock is what happens when circulation fails and systems start to shut down. Our country lies prostrate, bleating, like a man run over by a hit-and-run truck. Our foreign reserves are empty. The poor can’t buy food. The government is running helter-skelter to pander to the angry masses and save itself. Truth has been sacrificed. But that won’t do. So, scapegoats must be found. Perhaps, as the Igbo say, a desperate man is entitled to act a little crazy.  

Governments at all levels have gone from slumber to bulging eyes. They are now actively looking for scapegoats at every turn. The presidency wears the crown. So it’s understandably particularly unease. One moment, it’s all mad Meffy. He singlehandedly upended the country. But since the now bible-carrying man has a head too small for any national atonement because he was never a president, other lines have to be explored. Buhari can’t be mentioned by name. Apart from being a saint, he belongs to the party. They can’t indict the party because only the Poverty Development Party failed the country.

So, sometimes, they reel out specious figures to point to a global recession. But the public knows that despite the downturn in Japan and the UK, being there would be bliss. A global recession isn’t why they can’t feed. The poor folks in Japan eat good food and have healthcare. The wish-washy comparisons underline the shallowness that marches around as intellect in high places. The Senate President has a reputation for self-harm. He believes that those protesting were sponsored by political opponents. So perhaps, there is no hunger or food prices aren’t that bad yet. That statement confirmed the long-held suspicion that the ruling class regards the masses as no more than flocks of sheep. If there is hunger in the land, they are expected to die quietly. 

While some government agents are parroting global incoherence, others are hounding bulk traders. In the olden days, farmers had barns. Traders stored in warehouses. Our grandfathers used barns to store yam and produce, keeping them for months till the dry season. It wasn’t called hoarding. Commodity traders bought bulk beans from Chad and stored them in warehouses in Alaba Rago in Lagos and Kano. It was called shrewd business. But now the president has asked security agents to look into hoarding, and some governors have taken thugs to warehouses. The idea that storing food is the cause of high food prices in the face of dwindling naira is comical.

When innocent traders aren’t taking the potshots for hoarding, they are being bashed for changing prices arbitrarily. Before the naira became confetti paper, the govt didn’t care about how and when a tomato seller sold. Because demand and supply would check arbitrary prices in an open market. But since neither the ruling government nor the party wants to take responsibility for adopting policies without thinking, they will tell all tales and find enemies. Yet no entity has changed prices more than the Customs recently. The Customs all but charges in dollars. Because between January and February, it has changed custom duties thrice, mimicking every hop of the dollar.

Traders must endure because manufacturers have also been fingered. Cement producers were summoned to a meeting. Cement prices have tripled. The government said it wanted to know what the trouble was. The government knows that the official exchange rate of the naira has tripled in the last 8 months. But since the govt is playing ostrich, it must invite the cement producers and threaten to import cement massively. With that public display of righteous anger, when all construction works across the country come to an inevitable halt, the blame must belong to the cement manufacturers, not the politicians who use dollars to buy party delegates during party primaries.   

The rambunctious search for scapegoats took a new but expected turn this week. The EFCC went after BDC operators. These folks have been in this business since Lord Lugard. They have always done it in the open. In many government agencies, where contractors pay heavy bribes to officials, everything happens in dollars.  BDC operators are given office spaces in the buildings for ease of doing business. However, it is the BDC fries, not the big fishes in the government, who were harvested and later released. The govt that said it wanted the naira to float freely and find its level now believes the BDC guys might be the witches behind the naira’s predicament. The government thinks that arresting them rather than flushing the market with dollars will stem speculation. The government has to be seen as doing something drastic. But interestingly, no bank managing director has been arrested yet. Small fries are good for the show.

While using one hand to scratch the BDC guys, the government was using the other to punch the crypto and forex traders. The authorities believe that some of these lazy youths and their sponsors have used the forex platforms to cast a spell on the naira. The authorities believe that these small markets of frivolous speculators play magical roles in dragging down the naira in the black market, indirectly exerting a pull on the official rates. If the government understands this juju this well, then why can’t it drown the speculators in these ponds by flooding it with dollars? The volume of dollars needed to fill up these ponds is small compared to what we spend daily on estacodes for frivolous trips. 

When a man is in shock because he has bled copiously, an urgent transfusion to retain circulation is mandatory. While the major bleeding points are being secured, an infusion of water and salt must commence. But as soon as possible, blood must be transfused. That man can’t be expected to make sufficient blood in his marrows until stable circulation is restored. Mosquitoes sucking on him are not even his problem. That is the predicament of our economy.

If the people around the man choose to pour cold water on him, as many do to accident victims, then they are chasing shadows. If they leave the man in shock to pursue the old truck driver and his motor boy for causing a needless accident by driving against traffic, then they have left the elephant in the room to sweep cobwebs. If they leave the major bleeding points oozing to fan the man because he is sweating, then they are like our government that has left crude oil thieves to chase BDC operators. If they haven’t called an ambulance but are taking pictures of the dying man and crying, then they are like the politicians breaking into warehouses and talking about hoarding.

This is an emergency. The government has the instruments. It must source dollars in sufficient quantities to save the country. Then it can remove its shirt to fight crude oil theft and banditry with all its might. But playing Baba Suwe and parading scapegoats won’t work. Too many are too hungry.