BY HENRY BOYO
The Political Parties have, lately hit the Election campaign trail, to plead with the, erstwhile, ignored proletariat to adopt their candidates as the preferred choice to plunder the common treasury for the next four years. Predictably, political office holders and their cohorts still, score government’s performance at all levels as satisfactory, even when the rest of us have clearly become poorer with decayed social infrastructure and inadequate power supply which has, unexpectedly, fallen below pre 1999 levels; furthermore, the economy is also persistently plagued with increasing unemployment, and oppressive inflation rates which constrain output and deepen poverty!
Inexplicably, however, these challenges have occurred when Nigeria earned more income than at any other time in our history! Where did all the moneys go? One may ask! The sprawling estates in choice locations and bloated overseas and domestic bank balances, of the cast of this drama may provide the answer! Regrettably, the electorate also appears to be endowed with a short memory of the ever ready, but ultimately, unfulfilled promises to ‘provide surplus’ power, portable water, and also build roads, hospitals and schools at every nook and cranny!
Furthermore, the EFCC, has lately guesstimated that political office holders have probably, stolen over $500bn while the rest of us still ignorantly, languish, in poverty, but continue surprisingly, to worship and adore the same thieves responsible for our misery! Unfortunately, Nigerians are once again, encouraged and coerced to come out and vote for another class of political opportunists whose main ambition and objective is how to get unhindered access to public Treasury! Consequently, like goats to slaughter, we will, pour out again, to choose our favoured oppressors for the next four years!
Incidentally, Nigerians are usually encouraged to register to vote and ensure that only socially compassionate candidates would have access to power! Unfortunately, there is still no reason to trust the sincerity of these candidates, particularly, after EFFC had alluded to about $500bn allegedly siphoned by the political class within 8 years! Indeed, a former Senate President had also justified the right of politicians, once they got into power, to recoup the investment they made to get elected! The open running battles between incumbent political office holders and their godfathers and sponsors are probably indicative that politics is big business.
It costs loads of money to win political office, and it would be as difficult for the camel to pass through the needle’s eye, as for an honest, God-fearing, public service oriented candidate to win primary elections in Nigeria, because, integrity and high ideals will never buy votes of party members! Invariably, if the party structure throws up, primarily, bent politicians, then the electorate’s choice is unfortunately, that, between the devil and the deep blue sea!
Most Nigerians will agree that the level of corruption, lack of accountability and the arbitrariness of politicians in power, are symptoms of a grave national imbalance. The federal constitution of 1999 was obviously crafted by a despotic outgoing administration to protect their backs and ensure that ‘the monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’ culture also remained sustained in a democratic dispensation, despite the inherent related dangers of instability and retrogressive development. Although the overt intention of our military buccaneers was the enthronement of democracy under a federal structure, the letter and the spirit of the 1999 constitution is a far cry from a truly federal system of political association.
Notably, in the last eight years, Nigerians have become uncomfortably aware of the enormous powers of an incumbent President and they have also endured an Imperial President, who had so much power, to reduce states to mere puppets and playthings for the strongman President, despite the devastating consequences to our nation and economy. Indeed, so long as the centre controls the Judiciary’s emoluments, with absolute control, also over state and federal police, and other security agencies, the BIG man at the centre can disobey court orders and get away with it, and, invariably, the possibility of full blown dictatorship will subsist.
Sadly, not one presidential aspirant or party has, so far, talked about redressing the inequities in the 1999 Constitution, as these aspirants seem also to also look up to this document to clamp down on opposition and entrench their own dictatorship. The thorny issue of the controversial Land Use Decree, which, in one stroke robbed communities of titles to their lands, plus the evident inequity in a revenue allocation system which depends on booty from the colonized Niger Delta territories, for the modern developments in Abuja and all other states, still unexpectedly, remain non issues in current Election campaigns!
Notably also, not one party has, so far, come up with any structured plan on how to regenerate the groundnut pyramids and hides and skins industries in Kano, or the reactivation of the oil palm and cocoa exports in the eastern and western regions respectively! There are, still no projections of the average number of schools and hospitals that would be established per unit of population or landmass so that success or failure can be readily assessed.
Furthermore, there are, also no articulate plans to control our national debt, particularly the domestic debt, which has approached N3trillion (about $25b) and brought huge and bountiful rewards to the banks, but has sadly induced a weak industrial base and increasing joblessness and deepened poverty! Similarly, no political party has, so far come up with concrete plans on how commercial lending rates will fall below 10 per cent, so that industries can survive, be competitive and create more jobs.
Nonetheless, political parties have also not declared whether their Administrations will continue to indulge banks with freebies, such as the uncollateralized, unsolicited and untenured $7bn given to banks in 2006, even when government ironically, continues to borrow from the same banks with bond and Treasury bills sales, which oppressively, attract upto 17 per cent interest rate; furthermore, the CBN still continues to inexplicably sterilize funds borrowed with very high double-digit interest rates, away from any meaningful development application, despite the urgent social needs for infrastructural development!
It would certainly, be also useful to learn how the unyielding challenge of too much money (excess liquidity) which has scuttled monetary and economic policy since 1999 will be exorcised from our system, or indeed how fuel price hikes would be restrained to facilitate price deregulation, or how indeed, the Naira value would be strengthened to bring succour to industrialists to create more jobs and reduce poverty.
Infact, until one finds a political party which parades clean, honest people who did not buy their way into power and who will be ready to transparently address the issues discussed above, I am afraid, I will be better served with a ‘siddon look’ attitude so that I do not knowingly vote for my own oppression and compromise my conscience!
The issue of True Federalism and restructuring, which should prime the economy for better performance and future prospects still remains controversial and inconclusive. The issue of Naira liquidity surplus persists, while inflation and cost of borrowing remains well above 10 per cent to challenge any reasonable hope of real growth. Furthermore, increasing crude oil price and revenue will continue to inexplicably challenge the possibility of a stronger Naira rate and the abolition of the horrendous subsidy that consumes over 20 per cent of annual budget.
POSTSCRIPT: The above article was first published before the elections in February 2007, in the Vanguard and Daily Independent newspapers; regrettably, however, it seems nothing has changed since then for better! Notably, the Gross Domestic Product has since contracted by over one third of its value, inflation has also remained well above 10 per cent for over 6 years, while fuel subsidy presently gulps over 20 per cent of annual budgets, even when National debt presently exceeds $70bn, and nearly 90 million Nigerians presently live below the poverty level.
SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!