By Theo Adebowale
The Nigerian economy has constituted a knotty sector, perhaps so much so, since independence. The inscrutability of economic policymakers has not helped the matter as they only come out to pronounce policies which do not seem to have generated through interface between officials and the people. Nigeria has made a fortune from oil production which is a mixed blessing for her and other petro-states.
Wolf-Christian Paes referred to West Africa’s long established petro-states as seeming like a monument to hopes lost in a jungle of corruption, economic mismanagement and bad government. ‘Nigeria, Africa’s champion of oil production for four decades has gambled away billions of dollars in oil revenue in failed development schemes and by nourishing a parasitic political elite, while the living standard of ordinary citizens is lower than before independence.’ It would not turn its wealth into development opportunities.
Rather, it has been engulfed in armed conflict, despite the fact that it spends more on security forces than most developing countries. A political class that is unpatriotic cannot but be united in seeking uncoordinated self interests which always contrast with national interest. The ruling elite can only exhibit an upper hand in direct control of the common wealth which it has no capacity to expand or even to sustain. Even when Nigeria was champion of oil production, as a jungle of production, it lacked the capacity to let the wealth rub on its people. Nigeria forbids the multinational corporations engage in oil production from refining the commodity at home to make way for untoward shady deals in the oil sector. Receipts from foreign exchange accruing are squandered, with the consequence that domestic consumers are unjustifiably exploited through high prices charged from time to time as the Federal Government claims to withdraw subsidy.
The regime of General Ibrahim Bademosi Babangida played up hypocrisy by mobilizing the populace to a debate on structural adjustment at the end of which it foisted on Nigerians IMF conditionalities that were intended to birth a new economy that would result in economic development. As it turned out, several other African and Asian countries like Ghana, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore did not only overcome the initial hardship that attended the adjustment programme, they have since assumed economic stability and giant strides in industrial and technological sectors. Now that Nigeria has frittered away the oil wealth, the goodwill, hopes and aspirations, it can only look up to Asia from where loans cometh. The loans cometh from China which offers easy to access facilities recoverable through cut-throat conditions that surely asphyxiate the debtor. The overall objective of fixing infrastructure is laudable and patriotic but the costs are prohibitive, already manifesting in the callous timing of increase in pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) which the few medium and small scale enterprises are struggling to purchase to power the little businesses they stress themselves to undertake.
That the power sector that has defaulted in playing the central role in economic and social lives of the country is evidence of the cluelessness of the elite and betrayal of the labour unions, which empty threats were exposed in their threats of strike, ‘full of sound and fury’ signifying nothing. Industries, factories and businesses have shut down due to epileptic power supply and escalating costs of production. Job losses have been routine before and complicated since COVID-19 without any significant interface between labour and government. The negotiated minimum wage is yet to be embraced by the tiers of government or fully implemented by those that have adopted it before being swept away by the exchange rate. While the new pump price of PMS is sustained, the technical committee will take a look at the electricity tariffs which seem to have been fixed by the authorities of Medes and Persia which are subject to no other authority. In the past, negotiations between labour and government had brought palliatives. Of course they are intended to make a hopeless situation look better without bringing solution. Hence we can recall the meal tickets of the past, the Federal Mass Transit buses that have since disappeared, toll gates that were demolished but are springing up again. The one hundred thousand or so housing units that are listed in the palliative package is the most laughable aspect of the negotiation. Will they be delivered after a forthnight? It they are targeted at low income earners, what percentage of the workforce does that cover and how would the hardship to those in the private and informal sectors be cushioned? Again how does the state care for the underemployed and structurally unemployed individuals that recently lost all to the pandemic?
That certain members of the elite are feeding fat on subsidies and palliatives go without saying. Immediate benefits they draw from these sources give them satisfaction and a sense of victory over the rest of us. While it is evidence that they are smart, it is always in the short run. That safety of persons and possessions are getting more compromised by the day should convey to the elites that issues of security deserve greater attention and better commitment. Bandits and insurgents find recruitment exercise for her members much easier in the midst of idle youths eluded by means of livelihood without time limit. Restrictions of human traffic across the globe can only communicate to those that care to bother, that no place like home. Where citizens cannot find a means of engaging in legitimate business and prices of basic commodities are not affordable, the risk of life is multiplied. Empirical research undertaken by the school of conflict analysis using an economic paradigm to analyse contemporary wars has produced the greed versus grievance debate with scholars arguing that resources and their lootability play an important role in explaining the dynamics of armed conflict in the periphery. In a fragile democracy like Nigeria where there is a large army of unemployed youths, the situation is more complicated by those who offer themselves to political actors as agents and sellers of votes, bouncers and hooligans. Prostitutes in politics mainly in the gang of professional hustlers lacking in integrity and character can only further desecrate the political system as they are maintained in the budget funded eventually from sabotage sources including subsidy and palliative.
For the purpose of emphasis, the large portion of the so-called subsidy is paid on non-existent commodity. It goes into private pockets. The palliatives meant to deliver relief to the weak ends up in the bank accounts of certain members of the political class who earn their living on the rentier economy. What remains and goes for servicing debts incurred on infrastructure may be underutilized unless the state can provide a conducive environment. Bandits and insurgents cannot be enthused by provision or improvement of social amenities, so the state should do more by ensuring that more hands have gainful employment, which in our present circumstance can be better ensured by an active private sector and functioning informal economy.
Bandits that laid ambush for the Governor of Borno State have just reminded us that there is a high level of insecurity. Phoney, subsidies and laughable palliative package may placate labour unionists; for now, but they would end up deepening the sorry state of insecurity.