24th November, 2014
By Peter Claver Opara
Few days ago, the opaque Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala reeled out what she termed tougher austerity measures to make the economy survive the harsh realities of the falling prices of crude in the international market. By this, she was preparing Nigerians for a fearful future that probably unfurled sooner than she and the government she is working for saw it. Okonjo-Iweala has been in government for too long to foresee what is happening today but for queer political reasons, she had been living in denial for long. It could be remembered that the Nigerian opposition and economic analysts had been trenchant in warning of the looming economic disaster from sundry causes among which are the profligate government Okonjo-Iweala is working for, the overwhelming rate of corruption and of course, the impending oil burst. But Okonjo-Iweala’s reactions have often been a sanctimonious preachment of how strong and resilient the Nigerian economy is that it could resist any shock and trauma that had overwhelmed even more reliable economies.
It took the discovery of shale oil in the United States and the country’s stoppage of importation of our Brent crude for reality to dawn on Okonjo-Iweala and her government. That singular action was enough to send the international oil market to instant turmoil, as prices continue to plummet and the economies of those countries that solely depend on oil taking a horrible hiding. With the scenario of falling oil prices, crashing value of the Naira, whimsical withholding of states’ allocations, crashing Stock Market, becoming so real and threatening, it is no wonder that Okonjo-Iweala is waking up from her reverie and issuing forth measures to contain what promises to only exacerbate with each passing day.
But then I know that the majority of weather-beaten Nigerians must have hissed and shrugged off Okonjo-Iweala and her austerity measures because they have been perpetually living under austerity measures as the respective governments and their cohorts made merry. Nigerians must have waved off Iweala because the oil boom and its rich harvest meant nothing for them while it lasted. Nigerians know that for the sixteen years the PDP has been in power, Nigeria has reaped one form of oil boom or the other. Particularly during the Jonathan administration, the harvest has been stupendous as oil sold above a hefty $100 per barrel for most of this period. Okonjo-Iweala has been managing the economy within this period and should have rich harvest for Nigerians for her stewardship. Today, and despite sixteen years of oil boom, Nigeria is set to become the poorest country on earth by 2015 as more than 130 million of its estimated 165 million live below poverty line. He is without food, water, good school, good Medicare, electricity, security, and other basic necessities of life. So how will it be news to him if oil price crashes to near zero? How will it be news to him that more monies are not available for its parasitic savants whose pleasure Okonjo-Iweala pandered while the dollars flowed in?
Nigeria’s case under the PDP, Jonathan and Okonjo-Iweala reminds us of that Biblical prescription in Proverb Chapter 6, Verse 6, thus, “Go to the ant, O sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise”. The Bible went further to explain why it made that recommendation in verses 7 and 8; “Without having any chief officer or ruler, the ant prepares her food in summer and gathers her sustenance in harvest”. This was a critical lesson Okonjo-Iweala and her governments ignored, to the peril of Nigeria. They rather indulged in revelry, sybaritic consumption and indecent orgy as Nigerian oil boom lasted. It was a period political jobbers, menservants and ghouls were courted, pampered and heavily patronized with illicit cash while the majority of Nigerians wallowed in hunger, misery and dread.
Nigerians first heard of austerity measure, as an economic policy during the equally profligate Shagari regime. Shagari’s came from the unlearned lessons of the departing military. Even as Nigerians bemoaned the evils of military regimes and Gowon’s confession of not knowing what to do with money, they still know that the rump of the infrastructure; roads, bridges, flyovers, refineries, railways, etc. which Nigeria survives on today and which successive civilian regimes have struggled in vain to maintain, were built during the era of these profligate military. It is a grave indictment to the Okonjo-Iwealas who came with a bloated image of economic czars and who cannot today, articulate in understandable terms the positive impressions they have made of the economy and the lives of the common man except the thick swathe of papers on which they script flattering economic miracles that Nigerians never got to experience.
Nigeria played deaf to the ageless Biblical caution and rather chose to continue the life of a sluggard. It never gathered in summer for consumption in winter. It rather was consumed with a sleazy life of gluttony. Corruption thrived, infrastructure decayed, poverty blossomed, and unemployment luxuriated. Insecurity and crime flowered and the lives of millions of Nigerians crashed in the period Nigerians ought to be reaping handsomely from a booming oil wealth. As this lasted, the government, its cronies, fronts, subalterns and allies revelled in obscene wealth pilfered from the commonwealth. Thieves and vandals became the lodestars of the state, as the moral sinew was demolished to make for their pre-eminence. Nigeria failed to invest in the regenerative capital that would have made it to effortlessly live down the woes of today. Nigeria failed to invest in critical sectors that should have ameliorated the looming fears ahead. While oil flowed and the dollars gushed in, the masses suffered as Nigeria warmed the bench in all indices of backwardness and negative growth. Conversely, a group of immoral nabobs and professional hirelings arose; they got attached to Okonjo-Iweala and her political masters and thus, they became so rich overnight, mopped up properties all over the globe, bought private jets and celebrated their parasitic filiality with the government and its functionaries. Through cronyism and multifaceted fonts of corruption, these idlers were patronized and fed at the expense of the masses and the critical infrastructure that should drive a real and functional economy. These economic eunuchs were celebrated as the hallmarks of a mythical economy that purportedly grew through queer means and the government garlanded them as the poster boys of its economic magic. The critical questions Nigerians must throw to Okonjo-Iweala is; what did she and her government do with 16 uninterrupted years of providential oil windfall, large enough to build a viable and strong economy from the scratch.
When the oil wealth was flowing, life became so unbearable for Nigerian masses. What more, the oil industry itself became a scrambled cesspool of corruption and mass extortion, as prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene were manipulated by unfeeling political jobbers to exert maximum pain and torture on the generality of Nigerians while fattening their illicit cash flow. It became a scammers’ playground that Nigerian oil officials do not know nor account for the real exports from the industry. What remains of the nation’s refineries was made comatose as political friends of the present government were given license to import finished petroleum products and were even made to partake in the sharing of a phantom subsidy meant to attend to the gluttonous desires of the cahoots of the government while the costs were passed off to Nigerians in the form of higher costs for petroleum products. Friends and fronts of the government indulged in mind boggling stealing of crude and this itself created an obnoxious font of illicit cash for minions of the same government who were handsomely rewarded with lucrative contracts for an elusive protection of oil pipelines. So what really do the masses lose if no one buys Nigeria’s oil? Who cares?
Today is the imminence of winter and Nigeria is left threatened just because the United States has found alternatives to our oil. Just a few days and we are being told to tighten our perpetually tight belts. Does that make sense in a country where life expectancy has plunged from 65 to 39 in the period of the oil boom? He that is down needs fear no fall so Nigerians have no worst scenario to look up to as Okonjo-Iweala is trying to make it. If anything, those that will count losses are the political idlers and leeches her government has fed with state money and celebrated as measures of the success of its ludicrous economic policies. What will suffer is her own penchant to hurl feel-good statistics of stupendous economic growth on Nigerians while poverty, disease and want continue to make unfettered rounds among Nigerians. What will suffer is the inordinate desire for self-deception, which had marked her so-called econometrics but has left Nigerians high and dry as a long oilmoon lasted. Nigeria just decided to ignore the philosophy of the ant and is today, standing on the very portal trod by every sluggard that had wasted a golden opportunity to make hay while the sun shines. For millions of Nigerians, it is a mere continuation of the tragedy he has been accustomed to as a citizen of a bestially raped and plundered country and nothing more.
•Oparah wrote from Ikeja, Lagos. E-mail: [email protected]