An audio message is currently going viral on the social media, wherein someone was lamenting with nostalgia, the sad and pathetic situation of Nigeria, with regards to it’s miserable and vulnerable economic position today. The guy made efforts to paint an indisputable picture of the situation in 1980, vis a vis what obtains now, 40 years later. And the comparision triggered my curiosity.
He seems to be responding to a question from one Malam Suleiman, and started with a famous Hausa adage that expresses the general truth about situations, the literal meaning of which can be akin to the saying that, the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.
He went down the memory lane to 1980, 40 years ago, where he said the dollar that now sells for N487 was equivalent to 66k in Nigeria, far less than one naira, and advanced his own understanding of the reasons behind the country’s economic decay.
He said the neglect on domestic manufacturing, always has effect on the quantity of goods and services produced in a country, which in turn would affect the relationship between export and import. If import exceeds export, the economic health of the country would suffer, and that is where Nigeria is today, importing things as little as matches and toothpicks.
In 1980 he said, Nigeria was an exporter of refined petroleum products. Today, the country imports all it’s refined petroleum products.
We were riding locally assembled vehicles. Fiat assembled in Kano, Peugeot cars in Kaduna and Volkswagen cars in Lagos. Leyland in Ibadan and ANAMCO in Enugu, while Steyr was assembled in Bauchi. These are vehicles used for Agriculture and Road constructions.
He listed numerous companies , including Vono, that manufactures furniture for office and domestic use. And went on and on with a long shopping list of items that were manufactured in Nigeria, along with the companies making them, all of them domiciled at home.
Particularly poignant is the narration that, we were mainly flying our Airways, the Nigeria Airways, which had about 43 aircraft in its fleet, but I doubt if there is a single aircraft remaining now. Most of the food we eat were home grown in Nigeria. Today, we import virtually everything, because of the injustice of our leaders.
The sad side of the saga he said, is the repeated rigmarole that only results in endless vicious circle for the country. He ended by praying to God, to give our country the type of leadership that would not lead to lamentation tomorrow.
By analogy, to circumstances that have similarity with the sincere sayings of the guy in the audio, the present president, Muhammadu Buhari, around the time under comparision, precisely on the 31st of December 1983, then Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, led some officers to topple president Shehu Shagari, and his first speech was:
“In pursuance of the primary objective of saving our great nation from total collapse, I, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the Nigerian army have, after due consultation amongst the services of the armed forces, been formally invested with the authority of the Head of the Federal Military Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is with humility and a deep sense of responsibility that I accept this challenge and call to national duty”.
After listing the outlined plans of action for the development of any country, he went on to give the shortcomings of the ousted regime, thus:
“However, in the case of Nigeria, its impact was aggravated by mismanagement. We believe the appropriate government agencies have good advice but the leadership disregarded their advice. The situation could have been avoided if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities. Instead, the legislators were preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefit and unnecessary foreign travels, et al, which took no account of the state of the economy and the welfare of the people they represented. As a result of our inability to cultivate financial discipline and prudent management of the economy, we have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowing to execute government projects with attendant domestic pressure and soaring external debts, thus aggravating the propensity of the outgoing civilian administration to mismanage our financial resources. Nigeria was already condemned perpetually with the twin problem of heavy budget deficits and weak balance of payments position, with the prospect of building a virile and viable economy”.
After more than thirty years, posterity returned him to the saddle as an elected president, but the problems are still persisting.
In a chat with an economist friend, pursuant to the brouhaha that followed the fuel price hike, he posited as follows: “It is not enough for us to complain about the exchange rate or point out what others are not doing or are failing to do, the key question is what are we producing or what are we planning to produce? We have been talking about these problems and more for ages… what solutions do we have in mind. The economic policies of the Buhari government had been severally and severely criticised as archaic, rooted in the past and investor non friendly.
Top on the list has been the continuous payment of petroleum subsidy and the non deregulation of the entire petroleum sector in general. Even this week a former petroleum minister was reported to be blaming government for the slow and tentative steps towards deregulation of the sector.
The poor service in the power sector with its lack of adequate electricity supply has also been largely blamed on the non attractive tariff that is making the sector non profitable and unable to secure the requisite capital and infrastructure.
Similarly, the country’s fiscal difficulties including what’s considered as non sustainable debt level due to high debt service ratio was said to be rooted in our poor revenue generation capacity and our low tax to GDP ratio.
What of the even more common criticism of the inability of the government and indeed, previous governments, to diversify the economy away from dependence on a mono natural resource – oil ?”
Indeed Nigeria is paying for the denouement of decades of decay, but everyone in the country is guilty. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
Bala Ibrahim, a Media Advisor writes from Abuja