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Published On: Wed, Dec 24th, 2014

It is the economy, stupid!

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ngozi-okonjo-iweala-11By Ali M. Ali.

Today being Xmas, I wouldn’t want to cause a sneer among my readers at home and in cyber space, celebrating a day like this. To all of us rejoicing today, may this day next year be positively different. May Nigeria be freed of the suffocating grip of the ‘clueless’, the ‘shoeless’ and even ‘bastards’. May the country have a leadership that will truly think Nigeria and lead Nigeria. May it herald a new dawn. May the coming year be for our nation’s rebirth. May the naira stand eyeball to eyeball with the dollar without blinking.

Having said that, we should worry. As we revel, the nation is adrift. It has been floating for a while. Cynics of the regime (they are plenty) have maintained this precision position for ages. That the country is rudderless under the watch of the current Commander-in-chief. The nation’s economy is in tatters.

The managers of the economy delight in bamboozling us. They love to flabbergast us with some economic gobbledygook and overwhelm us with poppycock to explain why an economy this large can’t even guarantee regular salaries. An economy touted the largest on the continent could neither pay salaries regularly nor employ the jobless.

This, truly, belongs to the realm of voodoo economics.

About two years ago, the finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spawned one such boloney. “Nigeria” she said was not “broke” but was having ‘liquidity freeze’. See the ‘gobbledygook?’

Summoned by the Senate Special Joint Committee on the performance of the 2012 budget, she planted both feet and stood her ground that the country was not broke.

Hear her:

“The country is absolutely not broke. And I want to repeat that again, because there are those who would want to push that idea. The country is not broke, (though) the country may have cash flow problems from time to time. That is normal and is to be expected because a person may be very wealthy, he may have a lot of assets but at a particular point in time the stream of income may delay”

“You are running a business, you can be assets rich therefore you cannot be broke but you may have a temporary month when the flow is not as it should be because the price of that product may be lower. The time for you to collect money from that product may take a little longer because you extended credit to people by selling to them and then telling them you will collect later. So, sometimes there may be temporary cash flow issues, but the country broke? The answer is no.”

Stripped bare, liquidity freezes is, to me, not having sufficient cash to pay for goods or services rendered or about to be rendered. In our political lingo, this can’t possibly be ‘temporary’. The regime in power is notorious in making ‘temporary’ ‘permanent’. In six years, it has come across as untrustworthy. The perception as a serial plunderer of the nation’s resources is yearly reinforced by the scandalous budget it presents to the lawmakers. In next year’s budget for example, a provision is made for a brand new presidential jet. Nigeria’s president has the largest fleet of presidential jets on the continent. It presently has 10. Over N4bn is budgeted for the President’s junket and meals. Whilst the citizens can’t even buy an Xmas turkey or chicken by their December salary.

The ‘liquidity freeze’ was the jargon employed to respond to the alarm raised in 2010 by Remi Babalola, then Minister of state, Finance. He raised the alarm that the nation’s cash cow, the NNPC was insolvent. Stripped bare, “insolvent” means being broke. But Okonjo-Iweala, mistress of spin, said no, it was a ‘liquidity freeze’. This was before the immediate past governor of CBN; Sanusi Lamido Sanusi raised another alarm that a whopping $20bn was missing from the coffers of the corporation.

I strongly suspected then that Babalola might have embarrassed the Jonathan government which even at that time was exhibiting incipient signs of financial gluttony despite its tottering steps and intent on contesting the 2011 election. He was unceremoniously moved to Special Duties. A few weeks later, he honorably resigned. He was lucky.

Fast forward to February 2014.Maverick Sanusi Lamido presently emir of the powerful throne of Kano, raised the alarm that $20bn was missing. What happened? He was suspended. Till this moment, most Nigerians are not convinced that the very people entrusted to protect the till did not steal the fund.

$20bn in economy is staggering. It could make or ruin a nation. According to Aisha Oyebode, CEO, Murtala Muhammad Foundation, a fund like that could buy one Heathrow Terminal Five, commissioned in 2008 and costing 4.3billion Pounds ($7.5billion); 10 Boeing 787-10 aircraft at 43billion; 37 state of the art Tertiary Care Hospitals, one in each state and Abuja (the Apollo Branwell Hospital Mauritius cost $70million); 10 5-Star Hotels at $2.350billion, two in each Geo-political zone and two in the FCT; 20 State of the Art Malls at $1billion, five in each geo.

Political zone; four GSM Licenses at $1billion; one cement plant at $1billion; 76 State of the Art Secondary schools at $1.3billion, two in each state plus two in the FCT; and a couple of state of the art universities, medical schools or nursing schools at $110 million.

The critic-in-chief of the government is ex-president, Obasanjo. Few love his guts. Fewer still in the current administration love him. He has a reputation of ‘dissing’ any administration not sketched in his image. He warned exactly a month ago of the imminent danger the economy is facing. 30 days ago, the dollar exchanged at N168.

Still Ngozi-Iweala is not tired of spin. She still insists the country is not broke. Just last October, she re-echoed this position. Someone educate me please. How do you explain failure to pay salary after several assurances not amounting to being broke?

By now even the most incurable optimist knows that the nation can’t endure at this rate. The nation’s currency is so mismanaged that it is now a contemptible piece of paper that gives money a bad name. Let’s face it, atN193 to one dollar; it is only a matter of time before the economy collapses irretrievably. This is double tragedy for a consumer economy like ours.

I chuckle each time our president mouth that the nation’s economy is in good shape. Just on Tuesday he announced with glee that it is among the largest in the world. This may be so. But also the economy houses the largest unemployed number of youth. Over 30 million Nigerians under 30 are unemployed. It also houses the most unskilled populace on the continent. Our infrastructure is decaying.

I could go on. But today is a merry period. I won’t be a killjoy. A word for our economy managers. Give us a little credit. We, unlike you, don’t think with our bums. It is the economy, stupid!


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