Shall we go back to ‘Egypt’?
There is, indeed, a financial crisis in our country today and the economy is sliding into recession. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has rightly predicted that Nigeria’s economy will most likely contract this year as reported in the newspapers (Punch, pg. 29, 12/7/16). We have already witnessed the first contraction (about 0.4 per cent) of the GDP in a decade in the first quarter of 2016, and whatever traction that could be gained in the third and fourth quarters may not compensate for the losses already suffered.
Many reasons adduced for this observation include but not limited to: Slump in oil output, falling prices of crude oil in the international market, scarcity of foreign exchange; shortages of goods (including the essential commodities), rising inflation, widespread unemployment, insecurity and social unrest in many parts of the country, power and symptoms of distress energy crisis, etc.
We really do not need economists to roll out the statistics before we know that things are not well with our economy. The signs are all around us. The pure water that we used to buy for N5 is now selling for double the amount. The fuel that has become so important to our daily lives has moved from N86.5 to N145 per litre. We need the fuel to power our vehicles for movement and our generators for power. There is, therefore, no household that is not affected by the increase in pump price.
The business front has not fared any better. Most businesses cannot get foreign exchange to fund the purchase of inputs for manufacturing or finished goods for sale as the case may be. Matured obligations are not being met, and in the few cases that have been settled, the cost is astronomical. All businesses with outstanding financial obligations that are denominated in dollars or any other foreign currency are now in trouble. There have been job lay-offs in recent times and the trend is on the increase.
Many companies that are still on their feet are either struggling to pay salaries or have been forced to pay less than the usual amount. It is worse with state government workers – some of them have not received salaries in the past eight months or more. These are people who have dependants and other responsibilities. The tale of woes pervades the entire length and breadth of the country and the cry for a change is becoming deafening.
With the scenario painted above, it is understandable that people are already disillusioned. The government of the day is under fire and the charge of cluelessness is flying around. It was this same charge that got stuck on the last president and politically, he did not survive it. The current president, Muhammed Buhari, is under immense pressure to turn things around as promised. The voice of those who are opposed to his style of governance is already taking over the airwaves. The President has been accused of so many things among which are:
- He has made Nigerians poorer with the local currency losing more than 50 per cent of its value in exchange with other currencies under his watch.
- The insecurity which he promised to wipe out is still with us and, in fact, the incidences of armed robbery, assassination, kidnapping, etc, have gone up since 29 May, 2015.
- The power situation has worsened to the extent that no community is spared of the darkness anymore.
- Lack of clarity on his economic management plans and execution.
- He has openly demonstrated his bias in favour of the northern part of the country by the limited spread of his appointment so far and the kid glove treatment of the marauding Fulani herdsmen.
- The anti-corruption crusade is selective, politically motivated and targeted at the opposition.
Some people are already reminiscing about the ‘good’ days of President Goodluck Azikiwe Ebele Jonathan and there are muffled voices on a ‘bring back Jonathan’ project. They are no longer fascinated by the change mantra of the current president and his party. While they agree there was massive corruption in the past administration, they argue that the crumbs falling from the masters’ table were enough for them to keep going.
The pain of the day has, indeed, blurred the vision of tomorrow. The ‘believers’ are no longer sure and the hands of the ‘sceptics’ are strengthened because of the slow pace of progress (or lack of progress) in virtually all sectors of the economy.
Learning from history
It is a natural thing for human beings to react negatively to anything that will bring pain or discomfort. The exodus of the biblical Israel from ‘Egypt’ to the ‘promised land’ aptly demonstrates the “short-memory syndrome” we suffer when faced with daunting challenges.
According to the biblical account, the people of Israel were in slavery for 400 years and they cried bitterly to God for freedom. God answered their prayers and with a ‘strong hand’, He led them out of the land of slavery with a promise to take them to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. They were ecstatic and with songs and praises, they left ‘Egypt’ with high hopes to get to the ‘promised land’ -and quickly so, they must have thought in their minds.
However, things did not work exactly the way they had imagined. There were obstacles on their path. There were issues that brought pain including hunger and thirst which almost completely obliterated their memory as it relates to their years of slavery. They accused their bewildered leaders of taking them out of ‘Egypt’ where ‘…we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted’ (Exodus 16:3). They forgot completely their years of hard labour because of the present and urgent need to satiate their hunger and thirst.
As a nation, Nigeria is at a crossroads and we need to ask and answer the question: Shall we go back to ‘Egypt’? Have we really pondered on how we got to this sorry state of economic mess? Can we truly put the blame entirely on the doorstep of President Muhammadu Buhari?
Foundation of crises
My opinion is that the foundation of the current economic difficulties was laid long before the current president was inaugurated. We are suffering now because we had had ungodly people as our leaders for so many years. We had got used to spending money that we did not work for. The foreign oil companies did the exploration and other things that resulted in getting crude oil in barrels for sale in the international market. Nigerians in the oil industry (particularly those with oil blocks), without any deep intellectual input, became billionaires overnight and transformed very quickly to political leaders or godfathers. The people in government made budgets for themselves and years after years frittered away the resources of the nation and got the majority poorer.
We hardly can point to any major projects that have brought prosperity to our people. From the Ajaokuta Steel complex – all the steel rolling mills, aluminium companies, fertilizer companies, automobiles, refineries to others that are too numerous to mention- all resulted in failures with the managers becoming richer. It is sad to see old people queuing up endlessly to collect their pension and there have been reports that some lost their lives on the queues.
Corruption in high and low places has brought Nigeria to her knees and if we don’t kill it now, it will kill us eventually. Corruption is our ‘Egypt’ and we should never go back there for any reason. The revelations that are coming out on the atrocities of the last administration are alarming.
Our collective drive should be to permanently put a stop to the culture of impunity in our system. Let people work for the money they earn. Let the resources of the nation be used for the benefit of the entire populace. Let us celebrate the good people among us and condemn the villains to serve as deterrent.
This cannot be done without a leader who has demonstrated a reputation for discipline and integrity. And this is why I will advocate that we should rally around our president and pray for his success. All the accusations against his government are not grounded in deep reality. It is more about the current economic hardship induced pain and much more about corruption fighting back.
President Buhari may not be your ideal, charismatic leader but he means well for this nation. The economy will bounce back. There will be diversification as many other sectors apart from oil will start, very soon, to yield revenue for the nation.
We need peace and stability to survive the current hardship under the strong and incorruptible leadership of President Mohammadu Buhari. We certainly should not go back to ‘Egypt’ as defined by corruptive accumulation of wealth by a few individuals.