Thursday 26 January 2012

Nigeria: Why #OccupyNigeria should matter to all

The inspiration
This is an unusual blog because what I have decided to do is review excerpts from an original news story on recent events in Nigeria that leaves one literally uninspired by anything the government is up to today.
The Financial Times in an analysis published two evenings ago titled Nigeria: Power outage by Xan Rice homed in on a number of issues we need to keep in focus to begin to turn our country around.
What makes this analysis very interesting is the innocuous use of nuance and language to convey very deep truths that could be missed if the article were skimmed rather than thoroughly read through; Xan Rice is in the thick of things, he is the West African correspondent for the Financial Times and based in Nigeria.
An appalling report card
“This is our chance to change Nigeria.” That was meant to be Mr Jonathan’s job.
Goodluck Jonathan had promised an era of transformation, a breath of fresh air which was supposed to presage radical change, the change for the better that Nigerians have hoped for, for a long time. The implication of this statement is that he is NOT doing his job or he is doing his job so badly that people have had to come out on the streets to protest.
Nine months on, merely maintaining the dysfunctional status quo appears too much of a challenge.
Now, this is 9 months from getting elected with his own mandate; it is however 21 months from when Goodluck Jonathan took full control of the affairs of the country. The damning assessment here is that he has failed to rise up to the challenge and there does not seem to be any indication that he will be able to do the job. The more disconcerting part missing from this statement is we might have another 39 months of this.
Meanwhile, the president’s bungled attempt to remove fuel subsidies … has raised serious questions about his capacity to push through reform.
This is looking like a very bad report card already. For instance, the meaning of bungled speaks volumes, with the help of the Free Dictionary, I found the following definitions.

  • To work or act ineptly or inefficiently. 
  • To handle badly; botch.
  • A clumsy or inept performance; a botch.
All of which point to a perception of inexperience, an aura of cluelessness, a pall of rank incompetence and being oblivious of consequence; the result of which will suggest this man will not be able to bring change to Nigeria no matter how hard he tries.
Copyright considerations
Ideally, I would have liked to excerpt more from the FT article but for copyright restriction issues which I will not like to infringe upon without appearing to reproduce the article here – others that I have shared the article with I have asked to read with the mind of an Englishman because it is loaded with meaning such that one should really read between the lines.
Following the money
However, I did post some tweets with regards to that article and I will use them in completing this blog.
"That subsidy amounted to up to $10bn last year, more than double the figure in 2010." #OccupyNigeria
The question to ask here is whether the Nigerian consumption of fuel doubled in 2011 or maybe the cost of fuel did – there is no indication that any of those situations were the case, leading the House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee chairman investigating the fuel subsidy issue to suggest there were sharp practices at play.
In other blogs I had written about this fuel subsidy issue, the matter of how a budget of NGN 250 billion got to a NGN 1.3 trillion spend which then increased to NGN 1.7 trillion paid as fuel subsidy in 2011 is still baffling. This is almost 6 times more than the budgeted sum and literally all those responsible for this atrocious criminal enterprise are still sitting pretty exculpating themselves in complete denial and buck-passing.
The cost of patronage
The writer then goes to suggest where all that money went.
"There are reasons to suspect some of this cash may have been used for electioneering." Suspect? FT Are you kidding me?
This no doubt paints those whose electioneering quests needed serious bankrolling like the President and his coterie of supporters as people who dipped their hands in the Nigerian treasury with impunity.
As we all know, the do-or-die atmosphere that pervades the quest of political office in Nigeria is predicated by the fact that the spoils of office are amazingly great and better than any occupation anyone can have in Nigeria. The recognition of this largesse means those who must ward off viable opposition need to pay off their opponents handsomely such that their thirst for having access to the national coffers is assuaged.
Patronage is a very expensive undertaking in Nigeria with brown envelopes being so last century and favours doled out as cars and if you are in deep, you might even get an oil block or have the opportunity to setup a briefcase company to push around paper oil deliveries walking away with unbelievable returns completely oblivious of whether oil comes from sunflowers or peanuts, perish the thought of know what the colour of crude oil is.
Where did all the money go?
 "Foreign exchange reserves have halved to $33bn since 2008." Where did the money go? Who has been spending it? #OccupyNigeria
This is where we have no confidence in our government at all, because this indicates $33bn has been spent of our reserves and this is apart from other income that has come into the Nigerian treasury and there is nothing to show for it – not in infrastructure or any social development scheme – it is more than a leap of faith to now expect us to believe that the paltry savings from the fuel subsidy removal will now be ploughed into any scheme for the benefit of the people.
The government in its prodigal profligacy uses over 70% in recurrent expenditure and shows no signs of restructure, reform or restraint. They are demanding sacrifices of Nigerians and living large in wanton excess and ostentatiously unbelievable luxury on the literally broken backs of the people completely unconcerned as long as their greed for more money for patronage and control can be satisfied with burdening an already desperately impoverished people.
These are the many things that gave rise to the #OccupyNigeria movement globally and seeks to get to the bottom of the real cost of the fuel subsidy before we can honestly look towards its removal. If the, as it were floating cost of the fuel subsidy has a spectrum ranging from NGN 250 billion to NGN 1.7 trillion, a span of NGN 1.45 trillion means we do not know what is going on and you really cannot remove an indeterminate especially when we cannot establish with all certainty whilst the cost of the fuel subsidy doubled between 2010 and 2011.
Even those who have strongly advocated the removal of fuel subsidy for any of their myriad reasons, some quite valid and indisputable, have to see that with the revelations at the Ad-Hoc committee, the government was not anywhere near ready to do this if all they did was pay any bills that came in to the tune of NGN 1.45 trillion above the amount they budgeted for 2011 – this just condones corruption to a such an unprecedented level and breath-taking impunity.
Not with these people
So, the writer concludes with an admonition.
“It is up to the leadership to take advantage of this rather than be overwhelmed ...” #OccupyNigeria
The elephant in the room is the leadership – complicit, involved and exacerbated a corrupt enterprise aided by the agencies they control with paybacks from those that have a hold on them by reason of the hefty sums they have invested in this government.
This government does not have clean hands, they are in spite of the technocrats that appear to give the government a veneer of credibility the personification of the faceless cabal that have been offered as the criminal element of the fuel subsidy scheme – the sooner we awake to the fact that we are in the grip of an unconscionable kakistocracy pretending to have Nigerian interests at heart, the better it will be for us to rise once again and seize our country from this brigandage of bandits.
#OccupyNigeria – take your country back.
Acknowledgements and attribution
This blog is originally inspired by the analysis in Nigeria: Power outage by Xan Rice, the West African Correspondent for the Financial Times, the excerpts are fully acknowledged and are used to further the debate initiated from the article.


Codliveroil said...

Thank you Akin.
I put it to you, that focussing merely on the government and those in political office is missing a very big point. The government came from the people. If the government are drawn from the people, then the people must be corrupt.

Usually in a democracy, when the government is failing a vote of no confidence will usher in a change of leadership. Here because all sides in the political spectrum are as dirty as each other, this would merely be an act of hypocrisy, and achieve nothing.

Other than society looking at itself, and acknowledging they for the most part are corrupt. A new mechanism must be sought, whereby those standing for political office are thoroughly vetted by an impartial and dare I say uncorrupt committe. How this committee will be constituted in present day Nigeria is another question entirely.

We can all point the finger at government, but ultimately government does involve the people. We have federal, state governments and local governments. The staff that fill those offices are people like any other Nigerian. If the overwhelming majority of them don't believe in doing things properly, then that is the national culture. This is what Nigerians have come to accept. They (the people) should acknowledge their part in tragedy that characterises life in Nigeria.

Otherwise OccupyNigeria is just another fad, to avoid looking at the real issues that are dragging the country down to further levels of degradation. Before OccupyWallStreet came into being, the government was performing equally poorly and people were pointing fingers then. This means that whatever the causes to the failure of Nigeria, have yet to be properly diagnosed and addressed.

President Jonathan and his administration are not solely to blame, society also is too blame. I'm no fan of him either, the points you raised are valid his performance to date is poor to put it mildy.

Akin Akintayo said...

Hello CodLiverOil,

There was a time I would have completely accepted your premise of the people and the government that emanates from them.

However, the fact throughout history suggests that visionary leaders that bring forth change or inspire the people to greater goals are usually not particularly of the same mould of the people they lead.

They appear to have a different drive, a clear purpose, probably a message that resonates and galvanises which would not necessarily be what the people would normally think or say but will still be persuaded of.

At the same time, that does not make these leaders super-human, they have their foibles and frailties as human despite the fact that in leadership and inspiration they are well ahead of their generations.

In fact, it is fallacy to suggest the people and their leaders are the same, else there will be equality of opportunity for any one person to assume leadership and that is rarely ever the case.

On the matter of #OcuppyNigeria it was the fuel subsidy removal to triggered a movement that has developed into probing the workings of our government especially the corruption enterprise that is managed by the NNPC.

We can await Utopian solutions by castigating everything or find ways to accelerate the baby-steps that have been taken to begin to effect change.

Society that will change needs to be persuaded, coerced or forced by reason of its elite to change - to expect society to do it in and of itself with the leadership lagging behind will be the equivalent of having the tail wag the dog.

As you will know from other microcosms of human interaction, the corporate culture is determined by its leadership, very few will agree that the leadership of an organisation is mostly the product of every worker in that organisation - country leaderships have a similar dynamic too.

Well, that is my view of things.

Thanks for commenting.

Codliveroil said...

Hi Akin
Thank you for your reply.

Usually change is to meant to come from the top. But when this fails to work, society is sparked into life and it is the society that will start the dynamic of change which will result in a new government.

This is what has characterised the change of governments in Tunisia, Libya and to a lesser extent Egypt. So the tail can wag the dog.

If society has come to accept that whoever makes it to office is acceptable (for all sorts of spurious reasons like north-south power rotation, ethnicity etc), they have no one to blame but themselves.

If OccupyNigeria, results in society awakening to the need for reform that must come from it's ranks, then that is a plus.  Change merely for the sake of change will achieve nothing. Mechanisms must be put in place to avoid a repetition of what has occured in the past. It is these mechanisms that should take account of the improper way people tend to behave (ie the national culture), and be shaped in a way to at the very least improve performance.

Pinning all our hopes on the leadership is dangerous (as we have seen from history). If OccupyNigeria, can result in more vigilance by the public and more care by the government then that would be a good thing. If OccuypNigeria's leadership are not bought off, and remain untainted that would be exceptional in the Nigerian  political landscape.

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