I would not have bothered to write this piece if not for some disturbing, sweeping assumptions John Mulaa made about Nigeria in his column titled America These Days in The Sunday Standard newspaper of 26 December 2004 published in Kenya.
The article is titled “Nigerian Ingenuity”. There are a number of issues raised by the writer in the terse article that should be clarified for posterity sake. Mulaa launched the discourse by acknowledging Nigerias’ protégé. He cited the instance of ‘a young Nigerian student immigrant who won a televised national geography quiz beating all comers, to the astonishment of some.’ His next paragraph, purporting a complement to the preceding paragraph, presents Nigerians in the light of ‘suspected criminality and conmanship.’
While I will not grudge anybody for describing fellow Nigerians the way Mulaa does, I want to posit that criminality and conmanship are human traits, which have been in existence since creation. They are social circumstances that are peculiar to human beings and not Nigerians. There are sophisticated criminals in the United States of America; there are conmen in Kenya, Israel, Russia and the rest of the world. So, criminality is not an exclusive preserve of Nigerians.
If Nigerians are outstanding criminals and con men today, I think they are reacting to the big time crime and violence that are being visited on them daily by the elected rulership that have remained largely insensitive and reactionary.
Lashing on his criminality theory, Mulaa gave an instance of Nigerian ingenuity: credit card scam. Hear him, “In its infancy, the industry suffered huge and embarrassing losses courtesy of Nigerian ingenuity at cracking or bypassing the card’s security walls.” Preparing the ground for his real purpose, this crafty writer went on to affirm that, “even President Bush has on occasion referred to Nigerians as very talented people.” Talk of blowing hot and cold!
From the sixth paragraph, Mulaa showed his hand, his real intention: singing praises of Mr. Obasanjo and his finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala. There is absolutely nothing wrong in giving kudos where they are convincingly justified but where such accolade is faulty people who have another convincing view should present such view, especially if the contrary views are based on a first hand information and not from an America-based columnist.
Placing Nigeria and Kenya side by side in the nature and structure of their economic reform plans, Mulaa castigates Kenya for waiting for Bretton Woods as exemplified by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to pronounce her economic reform plans healthy before implementation. Hear him, “unlike Kenya, Nigeria does not wait anxiously for verdicts of visiting missions by the two institutions.”
The inference is that the Kenyan economic reforms are fashioned against the expertise of the officials of the World Bank and IMF but the Nigerian economic reform plans are products of the ingenuity of the minister of finance, “easily Africa’s best performing, most intelligent, and most unassuming minister of finance”, Mulaa states.
Whatever economic reforms Ngozi has prescribed or is going to prescribe must be a reflection of her boss’s thinking at the World Bank, no more no less. Or what else should we expect from ” a newly promoted vice president of the world bank in charge of corporate services” who is appointed the finance minister to serve her country with, other than the World Bank recipe for economic recovery for the third world countries? It is a common knowledge that the cub of a lion will never behave like the young one of a monkey. Ms. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was nursed by the World Bank and IMF and we do not expect anything short of Bretton Woods influenced and approved reforms from her.
Mr.Obasanjo went for her for nefarious reasons. The man knew all along that he was going to implement IMF economic reform indices and so he needed somebody to legitimize his modified economic reasoning. Who else should the shoe fit other than Ms. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala with her World Bank background?
Unlike the incorruptible picture of Ngozi Mulaa is painting, one would have expected a sincere person who truly had the patriotic interest of her country at heart and who is determined to serve her fatherland to render such service without ripping apart the national purse with salaries and allowances far in excess of five of her fellow ministers put together.
The situation where the finance minister collects her remuneration in dollars whose conversion value is more than the Naira equivalent of her colleagues is nothing short of legalized stealing, economic sabotage and a promotion of institutionalized corruption.
Nigeria has never been short of brilliant ideas: we have had Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP); Green Revolution, Operation Feed the Nation (OFN); Mass Mobilisation for Social and Economic Reformation (MAMSER); War Against Indiscipline (WAI); War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC); Monetization; Due Process; NEED, SEED, and LEED. These are sound initiatives, which looked good on paper. From Festus Okotie Eboh, Kalu Idika Kalu, Onaolapo Soleye, Olu Falae, Anthony Ani, Adamu Ciroma, and many more, Nigeria has never lacked seasoned financial wizards to manage her finance and economy.
The fundamental shortcoming that has been associated with initiatives in Nigeria is implementation. The question then arises: why is it that Nigeria has always misfired when it comes to implementing brilliant ideas? An idea, however well conceived, will crash and fumble at the level of implementation, if the resources that will implement it are not taken care of or included in the stages of the process of the implementation. These resources are human beings.
The current Nigerian efforts are veritable case studies. They are beautiful plans when read: “The present framework for economic reform,” the report began, “NEEDS, and its state level counterpart, SEEDS, aims to address these challenges. NEEDS, a nationally coordinated programme of action, is Nigeria’s own Poverty Reduction Strategy aimed at wealth creation, employment generation, poverty reduction, corruption elimination and general value orientation. This would lead to the social and economic transformation of the country into a sustainable modern, competitive and prosperous economy. The major elements of NEEDS are underpinned by the development of a sustainable macroeconomic framework and include:
Reforming Government and Institutions: civil service reforms; institutional reforms; service delivery programme; Growing the private sector: privatization; de-regulation and liberalization; infrastructure development; sectoral strategies (1) mobilization of long term capital for investment; regulatory framework; trade policy; regional integration; and implementing a social charter: (2) health, education, employment, poverty reduction, empowerment (women, children, handicapped, elderly); participation; and HIVAIDS.
This excerpt from the report titled Development Strategy (UNDP Nigeria) would have made the conveners of the Bretton Woods meeting of July 1944 green with envy. But if the quality of lives of the individuals who are to actualize the beautiful ‘development strategy’ is considered, I am afraid, nothing good will come out of the well laidplans.
To begin with, the strategy is silent on the role of other sectors of the economy in the implementation process. Let us assume that the personnels of the ministry of education will willy-nilly cooperate with other ministries and parastatals in the implementation, but what sort of cooperation would one expect from a thoroughly impoverished work force, a traumatized and ill-motivated collection of workers? If I am allowed to predict, such group of workers will cooperate to the extent that will bless their pockets with embezzled public funds, it’s the only logical conclusion. Will the other ministers who are aware that Ms Ngozi Okonjo Iweala earns her salary in dollars be well disposed to the success of the plans? Will those ‘second rated’ ministers not feel slighted and ensure that they scoop enough Naira to make up for the difference between their salary and that of the finance minister, thereby encouraging corruption? What has come of the promise Mr. President made to the workers of Nigeria in 1999 that the salaries and allowances of workers will be reviewed periodically? What has happened to the billions of Naira recovered from the Abacha family and the millions generated from the petroleum tax? Is the system of education in Nigeria being run the way it was intended, indeed; what has happened to the technical education in Nigeria? Has the attitude of the policeman to collecting bribe changed as a result of humane governance? What is government doing about the squalid state of the physical infrastructure in Nigerian tertiary schools, the molders and shapers of Nigerian future leaders? An overview of answers to these questions shows that government, this present government has ignored the people in her economic reform plans.
The call is for government to reform her citizens first, any reform that fails to address the position of Nigerians and the infrastructure necessary for hoisting any economic reform, will crash like a house of cards. We do not need any Ivy League Ph d in any discipline to understand this. Governor Orji Uzor Kalu’s position in the current edition of NewAfrican magazine is a good food for thought for Obasanjo and Ngozi:
“What we have been seeing is madness. We have large numbers of people; we have large tracks of land, yet we have failed to put the two factors to adequate use. We have unemployment and are still grappling with basic problems. I support the economic reform measures but ce4rtain aspects of the programme need to be fine-tuned. Electricity has to be adequate, steady and almost taken for granted. This country is yet to celebrate one year of uninterrupted power supply as Ghana did. In a country like Nigeria with a population of 140 million people, 4000 megawatts means nothing. In the UAE, they have 4 million people yet they use 9000 megawatts. Where does Nigeria stand in the face of all these? I am very sure that this country will have to do away with the many gas turbines that we have all over the place, and in their place put up standard electricity generators that cost less money in running and maintenance …how can we reform the economy with near zero postal service in this country? We have zero railway system … most of the things we import can be produced locally but how do we do this without electricity supply? We must build proper roads, and then tackle the problem of agriculture…when we are well fed then we can have reforms. Some of the reforms being talked about can work in the West but not here. This is a cash economy. We don’t have credit facilities. We need to know exactly how many people we have, so we can plan for them. The reforms are potentially good but the preconditions have to be met.“