Friday, November 11, 2016

Buhari: Going Aborrowing On A Market Day!

By Dare Babarinsa  
President Muhammadu Buhari may have been persuaded that the best way to kick-start our economy again is to go to the world with the begging bowl. The austere Buhari, with his simple lifestyle, represents the mood of the nation which is in need of new kind of leadership. He is unbundling the presidential fleet and removing the fat from more conspicuous muscle of the government. He has been trying. But so far, his effort has not yielded the quick fix that Nigerians expect. After all, we are a nation where the danfo driver, in order to see more clearly, consumes more and more paraga. So is this new loan our paraga?
*Buhari 
Borrowing is sweet; it is the repayment that is bitter. The President is looking for $29.9 billion from the European, the Asian and the African markets. He explained, in his letter to the National Assembly, that the money is needed for infrastructure development. With this jumbo loan, all federal roads would be reconstructed to last forever after. We would have electricity and our universities would be first class. Of course, members of the National Assembly too want their own part of the action. They believe the good time would soon be here again once we can borrow money. After all by the time our grandchildren would be paying, most of the members of the National Assembly would have already changed addresses to God’s own headquarters. Now they want the party to begin.

For us, however, it is a familiar road. During the First Republic, our leaders inherited the tradition from the British of trying to balance the budget. There was no need to spend more than you have earned. The leaders who led us to independence were great men who had great vision and tried their best to pursue their dreams. To understand the value of their service, you need to go to the universities they built. I do not know of any university in the South-West of Nigeria, and there are few in the world, that is better built than the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife. It was a product of the government of Western Region during the First Republic. Ditto could be said about Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, built by the regime of Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the defunct Northern Region during the First Republic.
Then our leaders had modest appetites and it was possible to be a minister without being a rich man. We fought a Civil War for a grueling 30 months and yet Nigeria did not go a-borrowing. We balanced the budget and free education was not suspended nor cancelled in the Western, Lagos and Mid-Western States which once constituted the original Western Region governed by Awolowo. We balanced our budget, that’s to the sagacity of the General Yakubu Gowon economic management team led by Chief Awolowo. That was also the era of the Development Plans when Nigeria was planning for a minimum of four years and we could almost predict the future. Now we want to predicate our future on borrowed money.

We know the argument. We are borrowing to build infrastructures and improve the ones we have now to make life more abundant for our people. We need to build new rail lines and construct new roads and establish new hospitals and open new airports. How can we be a great country if our infrastructures are so poor, when electricity is predictably unreliable and water has become the subject for private enterprises? However, we once travelled this road before and Nigeria became a subject country to the creditor nations and institutions. So poor were we that by the time Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigerian ruler in 1999, the debt burden had become truly burdensome. We were using almost 30 per cent of our income to service debt and it was increasing every month.
Those who were governors in Obasanjo first term between 1999 and 2003 knew the meaning of the debt burden. When the President was travelling abroad chasing our creditors to beg for debt forgivingness, he was also constantly given a lecture on the virtue of savings and financial discipline. The Federal Government carried out an audit of our debts and found out that most of the money borrowed was spent on frivolities and non-performing enterprises. In one instance, money was borrowed for a factory in one of the South-Eastern States and was fully drawn, but nothing was done. The factory only existed in the books. Nothing on the ground. Even the factory site had disappeared!
This time around, can we trust the government to spend the money borrowed on productive ventures instead of using the money to expand the facilities in government residence or buy new cars? There is no doubt that President Buhari would impose discipline during his tenure to ensure that money borrowed is well spent. However, what of after his tenure, can he guarantee continuity in performance? In the past, the government had sought for foreign loans to support a national air carrier, to expand the railway and build new ports.
However, how many of these interventions have yielded the expected results?
I would suggest that we think of alternatives to this idea of spending beyond our income and borrowing to make up. I would also suggest that neither the President nor any of the state governors should have the power to borrow money that cannot be amortized within his terms of office. It is inherently unfair to tie the hands of your successors with the completion of your project or the payment of loans.
This scenario has led to some pathetic results. For example, there was a general hospital, nearing completion, in Ikire, Osun State, that was commissioned by President Ibrahim Babangida in 1993. It is yet to be completed till today. The GateWay Event Centre, built and virtually completed by Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State and commissioned by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2011, has remained unused till today despite its location at Isheri, near Lagos.
So who would like to complete a project for which his predecessor has sourced for loan which he has virtually withdrawn and expended while the project remains uncompleted? The President should continue on the old path of expanding entrepreneur interventions in providing infrastructures for the country. That is what has been done in the area of telecommunications with spectacular result. If the Nigerian communication space is still dominated by NITEL nobody would be talking of alleged illegal repatriation of N11.4 billion now like the communication behemoth, MTN, is being accused of. No one would be talking of dividend of course! Instead, the National Assembly would be debating subsidy for NITEL and its various schemes.
We need the likes of MTN and other international players to come and participate in the Nigerian Railways and in the running of our airports, our roads and our power projects. We are only to ensure that Nigerians take the necessary command positions in such enterprises. The more direct investments we attract to our country the better for us especially in the areas of skill acquisition and creating mass employment. Insisting that only by borrowing more, instead of saving more, is the road to the future, is a wrong-headed policy.
Those who are marketing loans for us may have their points; however, it is the end that matters and the consequences in the long run. Their efforts remind of the story of one Mr. Williams who died and his spirit was soon standing before Saint Peter at the Pearly Gate. Peter told him that he would be given a chance to choose where he would like to spend eternity, either heaven or hell. “You will have a chance to see for yourself,” Saint Peter told him.
That day, Williams was given the option of spending 24 hours in heaven. He was well received by the angels and he found himself participating in their singing and dancing for Williams was a member of his church choir when he was on earth, though he also loved the good times, the ladies and knew how to cut corners. After his tour of heaven, he was now sent to hell by Saint Peter. Williams found that hell very pleasing. There were golf courses, well-paved roads, palaces and courteous servants around with comely ladies and good wine. It reminded him so much of the rich and famous in his country and he met many of his buddies in hell. They were all having a fabulous time. His chief host, the Devil, was solicitous and ready to offer him anything. Williams had no problem in telling Saint Peter that he would prefer to go to hell.
He was soon taken to hell to spend eternity. Instead of cool weather however, the comely ladies, the golf courses, he found himself in a horrible desert of hot soil and the horizon smoky. He was welcome with lashes on his back. He recognised the Devil.
“You deceived me!” he shouted at the Devil. “You are very wicked!!” The devil was laughing as only the devil can laugh.
“I did not deceive you,” the devil answered Williams. “The last time you came here was our marketing day.”


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