By Dele Sobowale
“The only thing they [APC] didn’t promise was free jollof rice.” Simon Kolawole, THISDAY, July 31, 2016, back page, in WE NEED ECONOMIC WAR ROOM.
Kolawole is one of the reasons for buying THISDAY. His economic analysis is always incisive and professional. Even when you don’t agree with him, it is almost impossible not to respect his point of view. Simon, though generally correct in that article made two minor errors. First he assumed we don’t have an “economic war room” and that jollof rice was not part of the package of giveaways by the APC government which would have loved to have the Biblical Prodigal son as a member of that war room.
That young wastrel certainly would have a thing or two to teach those who would spend N500 billion or eight (8) per cent of this years budget on the idle and unproductive elements in society and far less on infrastructure or loans to farmers, and Small and Medium Scale enterprises. We have an economic war room.
It is headed by a lawyer reminding observers about the square peg in a round hole syndrome.
His assistants are people skilled in sharing cakes rather than devising how to bake them. Naturally, the first item on their agenda is to tax the workers and small businesses already overburdened with high fuel and power surcharges in order to give to the unproductive so that they may continue being unproductive.
If Kolawole looks closely, he will see that free jollof rice is a hidden component of the give-away programme. When N5000 per month is promised to unemployed people, some will undoubtedly spend the money on jollof rice. Free money drives peoples’ appetite upscale. Real workers cannot anymore afford to even soak gari; they make do with roasted corn and pure water and return to their slave labours. And, they know that this government and its war room cabinet don’t give a damn about them.
The Minister of Information, in one of the rare occasions when he spoke the unblemished truth announced recently that “There is no alternative (TINA) to Buhari’s economic programme”. TINA as a declaration is not original; neither is it brilliant. The first time TINA was announced was shortly after President Ibrahim Babangida introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP.
Those of us old enough to participate in the public debate about SAP and who disagreed with its content were told then that “There is no alternative to SAP”. History would record that SAP was a dismal failure launching Nigeria on the road to hyper-inflation from which the nation did not recover until after 2000. But, apparently, the more things change in Nigeria, the more they remain the same.
Already, Buhari’s economic programme is heading in the direction which SAP followed. Exchange rate which was under N260/US$1 just a few weeks ago is now N400/US$1 and climbing by the days. It is destined to add imported inflation to the domestic one. Consequently, inflation which was under 10 per cent last year is now close to 17 per cent and will most likely surpass that level by year end.
Fuel price which recently jumped from N87 to N145 per litre is set to go up again; some speculate it might reach N180-200 by December this year. Added to the stubborn refusal of the power distribution companies to obey court order and revert to old tariff, consumers (excluding those in the corridors of transient power), mostly on fixed incomes are in for the toughest time ever experienced since 1984/5.
Meanwhile, despite the inevitable harsh economic realities facing workers, the government announced last week that it all is set for the commencement of the Welfare Programmes promised during the campaigns. Many of us cannot wait for it to start. However, before government starts dishing out the free food and giving out the free money, it certainly will not be too much to ask for total transparency in the disbursement of the benefits.
Nigerians would not like free food to be distributed the same clandestine and corrupt way Central Bank jobs were secretly handed to those close to the corridors of power. Those claiming to fight corruption must be prepared to be totally open. As a minimum, Nigerians must be told who will be the beneficiaries of these programmes, how they were selected, where they can be located in order to verify the claims by government about performance later.
Does this sound like no trusting government? You bet it is. After living long enough to experience governments headed by Balewa, Ironsi, Gowon, Mohammed, Obasanjo, Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Abubakar, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari again, it is clear that almost “Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed”, I.F. Stone (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 80). This particular government had created its own credibility problem about this programme right from the start.
Shortly after assuming office, the President could not recollect promising to pay N5000 to unemployed people. His wife had to publicly plead that the promise be redeemed. Then, when the National Assembly requested for details which were not included in the budget submitted, the Presidency had to lean hard on the NASS to retain the entire amount in the appropriations.
Obviously, some people are interested in the money and it might not be in the national interest. That is fine. But, let them for a start give us the list of schools nationwide which will be serving free food. Irrespective of how remote the location, we will go there to verify the claims. This is not going to be an easy “WAYO” game or swindle to pull off – if one is intended.