Thursday, 23 May 2013
Africa: Phones And Planes, The Nigerian Government Goes Shopping Again By Japheth J Omojuwa
If you are ever in doubt with the notion that big governments fail big time, the current Nigerian government will shove that doubt down your mind. If there ever was a bad advert for government, the Nigerian government would serve as the poster brand. Over the past few months the largesse of public funds have found their way into private pockets and enterprises like stockbrokers, airlines, banks, textile companies even as farmers will likely get their own token – if the phones reach them - as government looks to share phones worth about N60 billion – pre denial – or at least 10 million phones amongst as many of them. One expects that with the popularity of ghost workers in Nigeria’s public companies, ghost farmers are certain to fill up a lot of that space. While all of these attempts at “saving the economy” always have attempts at logic in defense of them, they often fall flat in the face of common sense, rational economic decision making and at least when put against the test of scale of preference and government’s history of pumping money into private interests.
84 stockbrokers enjoyed N22.6 billion pre-Christmas cheque from the government last year. This was touted as a forbearance of margin loans but was in effect an incentive to take risks that the public will always come to bear. The same companies were only a part of companies that had refinanced their debts by, in some cases selling off their assets. The 84 companies bailed out are not likely to be seen as the moral hazards they truly are, in a country where government officials and their cronies are bailed out on everything from organizing weekend parties to flying all over the world to treat headaches, fix tummies and the other nameless diseases. The message here is clear enough; no matter how irresponsible your firm has been, the government will give you a clean state. In Nigeria today, it is essentially more profitable to be irresponsible than to do things right.
The aviation sector survives almost entirely on government’s subsidies. The government had released N300 billion (just about $2 billion) to according to its own words “save the aviation industry.” Of course years after, the industry remains unsafe and unsaved. One of the beneficiaries of the fund, Air Nigeria who got N35.5 billion has since been disbanded. The owner of the company Bar. Jimoh Ibrahim was accused of using the money to purchase banks in Sao Tome and Principe - where he doubles as some sort of envoy to Nigeria - and other properties in UAE’s Dubai. Hard to doubt these allegations, because just before the airline finally died on the weight of mismanagement it did not even have enough money to fuel a Lagos bound flight from London. Passengers were appealed to fuel the plane despite having paid the full cost of the flight. Absurd yes but absurdity has become normalcy in our climes.
As if obsessed with failure, the government has new plans to buy 30 aircrafts as part of its “plans to boost the operations of the aviation industry.” How many Nigerians can afford air travel let alone do that regularly? It costs some $500 at times to fly to and from Lagos to Abuja. The industry is the reserve of the rich yet government “is leaving no stone unturned” to ensure privileged Nigerians enjoy smooth and safe flights. The Textile Industry enjoyed a N100 billion bailout but it remains in jail. The monies as usual have not been accounted for and no one is asking questions because the government keeps throwing new distractions anyway. The latest in this distraction ballad is the N60 billion phones for farmers.
After the Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development came up with what she probably thought was a Thomas Edison-esque idea, Nigerians spared no words in their condemnation of government’s continued effort at always getting the simplest things wrong. In a face saving attempt, the Minister of the said ministry Dr. Adesina said his PS was quoted out of context. According to him, “N60 billion to buy phones for farmers is a lie” but 10 million phones for farmers is true. Of course, at the end of his statement – which can be found here http://shar.es/4fp1d one is left wondering what the minister had said differently from his PS. It sounded like the same song by different musicians. One only sang it for longer. Is the government trying to procure 10 million phones for farmers? Are we saying that in a country with 110 million phones, farmers do not have phones of their own? Are we saying that were Nigerian farmers to release a document containing their scale of preference, phones will be number one? With some 60 per cent post-production waste, inadequate irrigation, bad road, not to talk of inhibiting export policies, farmers would rather the government thinks with its head and not its stomach. If government must spend, it should at least spend with priorities in mind. Farmers already spend a lot of money on middlemen to access government support, it would not hurt them to spend one final one to acquire phones for themselves if truly it would help cut out these middle men.
Nigeria’s fuel subsidies often peak during election years. Bailouts are also rampant in the run up to elections. Many claim these monies are a reflection of efforts to build election war chests. This has not been proven but what has been proven is that the Nigerian government remains clueless at getting the right things right. Like the money released for national security year after year with the nation grappling with kidnappers, armed robbers and terrorists, funds released for food security have only left Nigeria with 112 million poor people, 70 million jobless people and fat politicians with fat foreign accounts. One of them – Governor of the least populous state - had 48 posh properties in FCT Abuja seized from him recently. He was Governor for only four years. That’s 1 house for every month he spent in office and those are the identified houses for Abuja lone! Incredible! The mathematics is pretty simple, the bigger money available to Nigerian public office holders to spend, the bigger money they spend on themselves, friends, cronies and relatives. This has been proven over and again. As the government goes shopping again, one only wonders who the beneficiaries are this time; agricultural farmers or political farmers?
Japheth J Omojuwa is the Editor of African Liberty. © @omojuwa