Okonjo-Iweala’s wand amidst the gloom is not sustainable. The time has come to face the challenges in a very pragmatic way. Nigeria is a secular state. Governments at all levels should stop wasting public funds on promoting religion and its related activities like sponsoring people to pilgrimage either to Jerusalem, Mecca or elsewhere. It is unconstitutional. It contradicts the secular spirits of the state. Monies wasted on that annually can take care of security, health, job creation and others that require urgent attention.
I have watched the Nigerian television satiric comedy called Fuji House of Commotion. The movie is the story of a local polygamous chief whose family or house is always in perpetual commotion. It is a comic tale of greed, disunity in the face of serious issues, incompetence, sexual irresponsibility, hopelessness and helplessness. The Fuji House of Commotion is a reflection of the larger Nigerian and global world. Since July 2014, crude oil prices have been dropping. The collapse of crude oil prices at the international market is biting hard on the Nigerian economy which depends largely on proceeds from the sale of crude oil.
Like the absurd Fuji House of Commotion, the rulers of the Nigerian State responded by withdrawing monies saved in the Excess Crude Account while the Central Bank started selling our foreign currency reserve in different currencies to keep the Naira from collapsing. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Finance Minister and the Coordinating Minster of the Economy was quoted to have said on Sunday, 16 November, 2014 that some of her government’s strategies are to reduce the budget in the coming year (2015). She also said hat she would impose harsh rules on foreign travel and other spending by the government. They would also raise taxes on luxury goods such as cars, jets, and champagne. Nigeria depends essentially on the proceeds of crude oil sales, and the government is still battling hard to produce the expected over 2 million barrels per day to be sold in the international crude oil market for her usual survival.
The bulk of the crude oil production comes from the Niger Delta region, where organized illegal oil bunkering and theft are tremendously affecting our expected production quota. In the fossil fuel category, the country has since abandoned the coal pits in the Enugu axis of the south-eastern part of the country for the sweet black gold (crude oil). Sadly, Nigeria has slumped into the ‘fourth world’ because of her capacious and vicious mono-economy status. Ifeoma Okoye, the celebrated Enugu-based novelist and short story writer popularised the concept of the fourth world in her novel, The Fourth World, published in 2013. As a fourth world country, we do not have the technology to sell to earn any income and life for the generality of our people is still wretched and horrible.
In the same way crude oil theft and illegal bunkering are rampant in the country, so is illegal logging. Nigeria is one of the hotbeds of illegal logging in the West African sub-region. The situation presents a hopeless picture. Okonjo-Iweala has told us in clear terms about the austerity measures amidst the meltdown. Danger, fear, anxiety and tragedy hang in our firmament. Nigerians are among the few set of people globally who love to live fake, corrupt and very luxurious and obscene lifestyles – their forbiddingly expensive bombardier jets, cars, houses, jewelry, phones, clothes, etc. are now common global trademarks. Austerity is here again, but how can it be managed positively? That is the issue begging for dissection.
The crisis is deepening and already manifesting-some workers have embarked on strike actions because governments at all levels (federal, state and local) no longer have monies to pay their salaries, arrears and allowances. Just last week, the governor of Benue State, one of the north-central states, informed us that ‘by next year most states will collapse economically and otherwise because they will not be able to carry out their basic responsibilities, like payment of worker’ salaries, because of the nose-diving international crude oil prices.’ Government projects and other initiatives have been abandoned and more will be abandoned because of lack of funds.
Apart from the looming economic crisis, there is also population crisis – the Malthusian nightmare is unfolding in the country, no matter one’s status, a family does not need more than one or two children currently, because of the dysfunctional Nigerian economy, driven by the casino supported by globalisation. Travelling around Nigerian communities’ on daily basis, one sees teaming armies of women, men, children and young people moving everywhere like tidal river flow in their fierce and desperate struggles for survival. Armed violence and organized crime are on the increase because of the weak and unprofessional responses from ill-trained and poorly remunerated security personnel scattered into the numerous security agencies with overlapping functions. Religious bigotry and extremism, hopelessness, and despondency are on the rise, and these vices will all increase geometrically as crude oil prices fall in the international market.
Okonjo-Iweala’s wand amidst the gloom is not sustainable. The time has come to face the challenges in a very pragmatic way. Nigeria is a secular state. Governments at all levels should stop wasting public funds on promoting religion and its related activities like sponsoring people to pilgrimage either to Jerusalem, Mecca or elsewhere. It is unconstitutional. It contradicts the secular spirits and letters of the state. Monies wasted on that annually can take care of security, health, job creation and others that require urgent attention. The government must be serious about fighting corruption and punishing offenders accordingly. Monies and properties of those who have stolen public funds should be confiscated and use in a transparent manner to run the state.
The government must drastically cut down on its spending. Some legislative and executive functions of government must be run on a part-time basis—the person participating should earn a moderate allowance not salary. Any state or local government, even federal agencies that prove to be economically unviable and unproductive should be scrapped. Wealthy citizens must be made to pay real taxes and should see evidence of their tax money transparently used by government. Citizens must be made to have confidence in the system, because if they lose confidence anarchy would be the consequence. We all still remember the recent Arab spring.
In this seemingly complex situation, I often have times heard Christians – most Pentecostal church devotees, chanting the mantra, “it is well". Such a self-defeatist, self-deluding slogan is not the solution now that the hardship looms larger than life. This is not the time for a joke; it is time to put up viable responses and not these peripheral and phony ones to tame the looming darkness about to consume us. It is not well.
Naagbanton lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.