“Despite the dwindling revenue of the nation due to falling crude oil prices and decrease in output, the nation is not broke, as feared in some quarters.” So declared the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala a few weeks ago.
She asserted that Nigeria had nothing to worry about, despite the sharp drop in oil prices and the saturation of the global petroleum industry with new oil producers.
Then last week, the same woman turns round to say, “The drop in oil prices is a serious challenge which we must confront as a country. We must be prepared to make sacrifices where necessary. But we should also not forget that we retain some important advantages such as a broad economic base driven by the private sector and anchored on sound policies.”
I have long stopped trying to make sense of what officials of this government say, because from Rueben Abati to Doyin Okupe, the more they speak, the less sense they make.
Clearly, like their boss, Goodluck Jonathan, who is a poor speaker but an expert at double-speak, his aides have perfected the trick talking without communicating. Now, how do you explain “we retain some important advantages such as a broad economic base driven by the private sector and anchored on sound policies” to a starving family?
While Okonjo- Iweala is at least able to communicate, with the kind of intellect and professional experience she is reputed to have, and the world class experts and advisers she is supposed to have working with her, one would have expected the ministry of finance to have a better grasp of global economic trends and developed shock absorbing mechanisms before now, to ensure that our already fragile economy was not exposed to such rude shocks.
Even if her intention in the first place in denying that Nigeria was broke was to prevent panic, it was a poor imitation of Alan Greenspan. It seemed she also believed her own mendacity because she neither took steps to protect the economy, nor prepared the country for the clear and visible danger.
A few examples of the ‘transformation’ economic doctrine come to mind: When critics upbraided President Jonathan for junketing to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia (CHOGM) in 2011 with over 200 officials, shoppers and other hanger-on at government expense, he responded by travelling to the United Nations General Assembly that year with a larger delegation. Last year, Nigeria went to an African Union (AU) function in Kenya with seven official jets, providing the local Kenyan press with material for satire.
It got to a level where workers of some federal ministries and agencies (including the finance ministry) protested the nonpayment of their entitlements. At the moment, some five states in Nigeria may be unable to pay workers salaries with their entire allocations.
In such a situation, where are the resources for development projects? If the current situation persists – and there is nothing to suggest otherwise – a number of states may actually go fiscally bankrupt.
Now that Okonjo-Iweala has finally admitted our dire economic circumstances, the question is, why the denial? Even the most casual observer of local and international economic trends had known that Nigeria could not sustain the profligacy that was the trademark of the Jonathan administration, and that there was a need to cut wasteful government spending and halt endemic corruption in the system.
Yet, it didn’t have to come to this: Many observers pointed out the danger in spending a whopping 70 percent of revenues on recurrent services, leaving little for developmental projects, but the know-it-all Okonjo-Iweala not only pretended to be deaf, but went on to encourage borrowing.
Today, in addition to significant falls in revenue, the government is also saddled with growing local and foreign debt burdens.
While government chocked us with the supposed efficacy of the ‘transformation’ agenda, the very fabric of society was being torn into shreds by growing poverty, unemployment, inflation, unequaled corruption and the very deliberate use of religion for political ends. In the end, all of these factors and government willful neglect coagulated into the growth of an already horrifying insurrection against the Nigerian state.
Now that the transformation trash has been exposed, government says we are broke and should prepare for hard times. What hard times? Nigerians have been living with hard times for many years and have in fact, been practicing austerity for a very long time.
The message from Okonjo-Iweala should have said, “Prepare to dig your graves”.
All said and done, if the antecedents of the ‘transformationists’ are anything to go by, their concern is not really how to mitigate the effects of government mismanagement of the economy, or even embarrassment that the transformation hoax has been exposed, despite claims of the economy being “anchored on sound policies”.
The question on their lips probably is: would there be enough to steal?