Imagine a school which has been in operation for over 60 years and yet no student has graduated from it. But the students keep paying their fees faithfully while the proprietors of the school keep smiling to the bank. Each time a student raises the issue of graduation, the authorities of the school would give a vacuous lecture on following rules and paying fees on time.
Meanwhile the rules of the school make it virtually impossible for any student to graduate. The school also has spin doctors who tell the students how wonderful it would be when they finally graduate from the school. To this end the school would give high interest loans to the students to pay their school fees, compounding their already sorry financial situation. But what many of the students don’t know is that the owners of the school do not plan to graduate any student from the school. The few students who know and opt out are denigrated and smeared and their lives made as difficult as possible by the well connected school authorities.
Substitute the World Bank (WB) for the school and the students for ‘third world’ countries, and you get a picture of our predicament in the global political economy.
Madam NOI works for the WB. She was ‘loaned’ to the Obasanjo administration by that institution between 2003 and 2007 at a high cost, first as Finance Minister and then, as she fell out of favour, probably as the inner circle of the regime became increasingly uncomfortable with her growing popularity, she was unceremoniously demoted to Foreign Affairs. Basically, she lost out in a palace power struggle. She understood what happened and beat a hasty retreat, promptly tendering her resignation. It is no secret that many Nigerians are fascinated by the woman. And that is understandable since she rose to a great height in the WB, an institution that has a pervasive, though far from benign, presence all over the world. But the fascination Nigerians have for her is an overflow or a reflection of their generally naïve fascination with anything Western.
NOI was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the Obasanjo administration, an asset that made it acceptable in Western capitals. NOI made sure that the administration’s financial rules followed the direction of the Bretton Woods Institutions. The highlight of that subservience was the highly questionable debt buy-back scheme engineered by NOI and readily accepted by the Obasanjo administration.
The argument goes that Nigeria was spending in excess of 1 billion dollars annually to service her foreign debts. So, why not pay up the debt which at that time was over 30 billion dollars and then stop servicing the loans? The money saved would then be diverted to other developmental projects. At the end of the deal, Nigeria parted with 13 billion dollars and got nothing but the illusory relief of being ‘free of debt.’ Illusory because as I write, the country’s external debt is
heading rapidly into double digits, if it is not already there (these things are usually shrouded in secrecy). Many discerning minds cried foul as the scheme unfolded. Local financial experts pointed out that India, an economy that was hundred times stronger than Nigeria would not agree to part with such a colossal sum at one go.
I have nothing against NOI and actually rejoice with her in her modest achievements in her chosen field. But I am also conscious of the fact that the institutes she works for are imperialist institutes that have not lifted any so-called third world country out of poverty. I challenge anybody reading this to point out one country in the southern hemisphere that has been lifted out of poverty by the institutes that has been in existence for that very reason for almost 70 years now. None. On the contrary, those who achieved any significant measure of financial autonomy, like Brazil, did it in opposition, indeed in defiance, to the prescriptions of those institutes.
If NOI is a financial wizard, what has Nigeria gained from her wizardry? At a time of unprecedented oil revenues and with her in the driving seat, did the value of the naira improve? No. Was inflation reigned in? No. Were the emoluments of political office holders in line with what one should expect in a struggling economy? No. Was there fiscal discipline in the polity? The answer again is no. The executive arm, under the Balogun of Owo, treated public finances as its personal property, and NOI played along. One glaring example was the withholding of Lagos state local government funds in defiance of the ruling of the Supreme Court. That flagrant abuse of office by the president would have been enough for the woman to resign. Publishing what local governments take in each month didn’t particularly make the finance ministry a disciplined one. She could have told the president that who gets paid or not should not depend on his whims and caprices. Again, loading off billions of dollars to already rich nations in the name of paying off bogus debts does not seem like financial wizardry to me.
The truth of the matter is that most of those so called loans never actually left the shores of the donor nations and agencies. And NOI knows that! I mean, if tens of billions of dollars were actually loaned to Nigeria to execute some projects, those projects could have been identified. Were they started and completed? They always seem to be perpetually on-going. Look around the country at WB projects and see what happens there. They hardly benefit the local economy. First of all the consultants, mostly foreigners, and Western companies that usually run the projects, are grossly overpaid. In the end Nigerian tax payers are always made to pay back the high interest loans. Why,
for goodness sake, could you be telling the world that most Nigerians live under 1 dollar a day and at the same time asking the same poor people to pay up?
Why the rush to pay up? Was it because of the oil boom? Why wasn’t the case, valid as it is, made that those loans were bogus to start with, because there were really no projects on the ground to justify them? Most importantly, it should have been successfully argued, (as Desmond Tutu started to do), that already very poor people should not bear the heavy burden of paying such a bogus debt that didn’t impact their lives in the first place.
The tragedy is that contrary to the expectations of many Nigerians, our salvation cannot come from those imperialist institutes. Our solution has to be home-grown if it’s going to work for us.
With that in mind, let us look back in our recent history and see that there had been very prudent managers of resources. Some of the prominent cases are Jaja of Opobo. Jaja became a chief because his predecessor was heavily indebted and no one wanted to succeed him. Jaja stepped forward and paid off the debts in no time. Jaja’s dexterity in managing resources didn’t end in Anna Pepple House. He carried it on to the state he founded, the first modern state in
Africa, namely Opobo. Jaja was able to control foreign trade in the state (then it was mostly palm oil) so well that the British knew they had no chance against him on professional grounds. They eventually got rid of him using their military power.
Awolowo was also a very prudent manager of resources. As premier of the western region, he was able to manage revenue from cocoa so well that he introduced high quality free education to the region. As Nigeria’s finance minister, he was able to keep the value of the local currency high, higher than even the British currency, and this during a civil war!
Buhari was another prudent manager of resources. In a few months after taking power, he was able to bring inflation down from double digits to a single digit and this at a time of dwindling oil revenues. When there was the problem of excess liquidity due to currency trafficking, Buhari changed the color of the naira almost overnight. In so doing he was able to mop up more than 5 billion (in April 1984). The exercise was carried out swiftly with honesty, sincerity and determination. Hate Buhari or love him, that exercise was a stroke of genius. Indeed the naira subsequently became so strong that many of our foreign
trading partners complained about it. Buhari said a categorical No to the Bretton Woods Institutes with their enslaving conditionalities and instead went after our monies stolen and stashed overseas. One loquacious former minister was ‘diplomatically’ packaged and only narrowly missed landing in Lagos. If that man were from the south…Then IBB came and introduced SAP as prescribed by the Bretton Woods Institutes, and Nigerians have remained sapped.
The difference is clear: when somebody with strong patriotic zeal and a good idea manages our financial resources, our finances are good. When we follow the dictates of imperialist institutions, our finances are bad.
Our president has once again gone cap in hand to the same oppressors. Even as acting president he was ‘advised’ on his first visit to the USA to take a billion dollar loan on our behalf. NOI will once again be loaned to Nigeria at our president’s behest. But Nigerians need to ask themselves if her first outing was good for the country. Since it wasn’t, why all the excitement about NOI?