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Sliding Economy, $1bn for Arms, and Other Stories

Ring True

One thing the Buhari government is adept at is telling Nigerians stories; mainly redundant and old tales. We get stories without practicable follow-up solutions. Unending stories of the depraved economy inherited. Stories of how former President Jonathan made it impossible for a cabinet to be swiftly constituted. Stories about the current economic hardship not being the making of the present administration are eternal. Nigerians are tired of stories, stories and stories. Nigeria’s economy is in a bad shape. This is the latest story in town. So what? We know this. It is visible all over the country. The challenge requires proactive engagement and not needless stories.

Nigeria’s economy has been in a bad shape for years and it eventually slumped under President Buhari due to compound inept management. The slump was largely motivated by bad economic policies – banning deposit into domiciliary accounts (which was reversed after a big damage had been done), restricting international transfers and the rest of them. The federal government should rise above story-telling and tackle this economic slump.

Virtually all economic indices are on the negative for Nigeria because of the glitches of our Eaglet economic managers. The latest dizzying fact is that ourBalance of Payment (BOP) is now negative. The newest Q3 2018 BOP is frightening. Provisional estimates for this country’s BOP in this third quarter showed the overall BOP swinging into a deficit of US$4.542 billion, compared to a surplus of $503.97 million and $2.787 billion recorded in the preceding quarter and corresponding period of 2017, respectively.

According to a CBN report, the current account balance (CAB) also worsened from a surplus of $4.453 billion in Q2 2018, to a deficit of $3.105 billion in the review period. The financial account balance indicated net financial liabilities of $10.724 billion in the review period as against $2.576 billion recorded in the preceding period.

In very simple language, the country’s imports of goods and services in the period under review outweighed its exports. Our unemployment rate also worsened in the third quarter of 2018, rising from 18.8 per cent in Q3 2017 to 23.1 per cent. According to the Labour Force Statistics – Volume I released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the total number of people classified as unemployed rose from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018.

Another endless story is that the $1 billion approved by the government for the purchase of arms and ammunition to aid the military in the fight against terrorism in the North-east region can’t be accessed. The military is still waiting for another arm of government to do the needful. Recall that the approval was given after a meeting of the National Economic Council in Abuja in April 2018. Eight months after, it remains a dream.

Back in April, I remember Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, speaking with so much enthusiasm about the $1 billion after the NEC meeting: “We are pleased with the federal government’s achievements in the insurgency war and in that vein, state governors have approved that the sum of $1 billion be taken from the excess crude account by the federal government to fight insurgency to its conclusion. The money will cover the whole array of needs which include purchase of equipment, training for military personnel and logistics.” I grudgingly celebrated the approval but unfortunately, it was just one of the usual stories of this government. It was all showiness.

Eight months down the line, and days after Metele attack by Boko Haran that claimed the lives of scores of soldiers, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.  General Yusuf Buratai, confessed and informed a bewildered country that the Nigerian Army was yet to receive any fund or equipment purchased from the fund. He said: “You know the process of funding is a major issue. The bureaucracy is another issue. Approvals are given but getting the money out is another challenge.

“So, the people are talking or the media has been talking of $1 billion that has been approved but I tell you up till today, the fund that is supposed to come from that amount to the army in particular is still with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The Ministry of Defence is yet to access the fund. When the ministry gets the fund, they will get the right equipment for us as proposed.” What a country!

Our soldiers have been fighting literally with bare hands, yet, they can’t access the approved $1 billion for equipment. The impact has been devastating. Just few days back, some soldiers were killed and dozens of others injured when the terrorists attacked their base in Gudumbali Local Government Area of Borno State. As usual, inadequate equipment was the bane of our gallant soldiers.

On Wednesday, bandits attacked three communities in Birnin Magaji Local Government Area of Zamfara State, killing 25 people. Our ill-equipped military responded hours after the bandits had gone.

The Society for Good Governance (SGG) was apt when it accused the federal government of playing politics with the $1 billion intervention fund, “the absence of which has led to the death of many soldiers in the North-east.”

SGG said: “The non-release of the $1 billion approved is a serious national embarrassment. Have we lost all conscience in this country? Those keeping this money, can’t they see the carnage in the North-east, the killing of our soldiers and innocent civilians? We are asking the federal government or any tier of government still holding onto the fund, to as a matter of urgent national importance, release this fund and stop this deception and disdain for human lives.”

Well, I hope the two powerful men running the show in Aso Rock are listening. The Army desperately needs this $1 billion. They should just get it out.

Igbo as Slaves in Nigeria

I have spent quality time reading the speech on Igbo marginalisation delivered by the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, during a courtesy visit to the Chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Agunwa Ohiri. It is indeed a thought-provoking speech. How I wish those around President Buhari would allow him to read it. My take away from the submission of Nwodo was his remark that restraining their youths from arm struggle, in a bid to resist the brazen marginalisation, had been tough for the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation and Igbo leaders.

“Today, we are treated like slaves in our own land not just by this government, but by successive governments, since the military came into government…I know how difficult it has been restraining our young people, who are disturbed by what they are passing through. But, we wouldn’t allow them because they didn’t see war, so, they don’t know what war is all about. We’ve come with the message that we are not going to rest until Nigeria is restructured.”

The marginalisation of Igbos assumed a frightening dimension under the Buhari government, with their exclusion from heading key MDAs. For example, no single Igbo was appointed to head any security agency by this government. It is unprecedented. Few weeks back, Senator Victor Umeh (seconded by Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe) moved a motion for the inclusion of South-east representatives in the National Defence Council and the National Security Council “as enshrined in the constitution through the spirit and Principle of Federal character.”

He said that defence and security advice relayed to the President by members of the Defence and Security Council, which excluded security officers from the South East, may not likely represent fair and equitable security situation of the zone.

Umeh added: “The beauty, tenet and cardinal principle of democracy, as opposed to all other forms of government, are inclusiveness, representation, justice and fairness. When these essential ingredients are missing and lacking in any government, it will create a feeling of alienation.”

Nwodo and his Ohanaeze Ndigbo are indeed showing great leadership. They have shown that they are indeed patriots. Nwodo must continue to impress on Igbo youths to spurn violence and join like minds for the struggle for fiscal federalism.

Why is Nsima Ekere Still NDDC MD?

I am worried about the ability of the Buhari government to deliver on a free and fair election in 2019 as promised. There are ominous signs all over. One of them is playing out in Akwa Ibom State, where the governorship candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Nsima Ekere, is being allowed to hold on to his position as Managing Director of the lucrative Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. This decision is said to be strategic, as it would give Ekere access to huge war chest through his NDDC connections. This is an unfair advantage to Ekere. The standard is for this category of public office holders to resign before contesting for elective positions. Ekere cannot be an exception. Well, the NDDC boss may say that there is no law against his action. But there is a big moral burden here. The Buhari government must do the needful by removing the NDDC boss with immediate effect.

Musings on Budget 2019

So many proposals in Budget 2019 have left me confounded. For example, why should a serious government set aside N305 billion to subsidise petrol importation? For how long shall we continue to subsidise inefficiency?  Why should Nigeria continue to pay so much as petrol subsidy, while public schools, hospital and roads are in tatters? Just imagine the impact N305 billion would have on public hospitals across the country.

Recurrent Cost is N4.04 trillion in budget 2019; almost 50 per cent of the entire budget will go to recurrent expenditure. Is this how we will attain development?

It is also shocking that out of the proposed N8.83 trillion spending plan, N2.14 trillion will go to debt servicing. This is over 25 per cent of the entire budget. It also comes to over 30 per cent of the total projected revenue of N6.97 trillion for 2019.Borrowings under Buhari have been reckless. With the way we are going about binge borrowing, in few years, debt servicing will eventually consume 50 per cent of our budget.

The budget was prepared on the assumption of $60 per barrel with crude oil production of2.3 million barrels per day. Can’t remember the last time Nigeria did 2.3 MB per day. Buhari’s Budget 2019 evidently lacks the requirement for alleviating poverty in the country. The proposals for education, health, roads are poor.

On rice importation, Buhari said: “Barely three years ago, Nigeria was spending $5 million dollars a day on rice importation. Today rice imports have virtually stopped. Indeed, we are on course to achieve food security in major staple foods in the not too distant future.” Haba! This is evidently not true. 99 per cent of rice consumed in Nigeria today is still imported.

On school feeding, the president said: “The National Home-Grown School Feeding programme is feeding 9,300,892 pupils in 49, 837 schools in 24 states across Nigeria, and empowering 96,972 cooks.” Almost 9.4 million pupils getting free meals? Where? When? This is laughable.

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