I watched as Udo Udoma unconvincingly presented the 2019 budget recently and his attempts at a sleight of hand. He actually tried to confuse the people of Nigeria. The 2019 budget is an alarming budget of hopelessness. And the Nigerian people should keenly focus on what government is trying NOT to say. Udoma claimed that they are reducing the deficit in the 2019, when in fact, from the Fiscal Paper earlier submitted, the deficit in the 2019 budget increased substantially from N1.9Trillion in 2018 to N2.59Trillion in 2019. Also, debt servicing went up from 30% of the budget to 36%. I had picked issues with why they should drop the budget level to N8.9Trillion, but they further dropped the budget to N8.6Trillion. Such audacity. Such disregard for the well-being of the people!
The 2019 budget is therefore being drawn to satisfy just a few things:
Finance the upcoming elections (INEC budget alone is N831Billion)
Keeping foreign lenders happy (debt servicing is N2.59Trillion)
Pay fuel subsidies or NNPC ‘under-recovery’ (Over N1.3Trillion is now budgeted for)
Fulfill National Assembly budget (those guys don’t take nonsense when they want to get their piece of the pie – anything like N150Billion)
Pay salaries, emoluments and perks for top civil servants and top politicians/appointees (We can estimate about N3Trillion to N4Trillion for these)
Browse a few major infrastructure contracts where their powerful private sector friends will benefit
Pay ghost worker and make provision for sundry corruption in high places
These expense items will swallow at least N7Trillion of the N8.6Trillion budget, leaving too little for the 190,000,000 odd citizens of Nigeria. All of a sudden we are being told by the Buhari team that they are reducing an already insignificant and unimaginative budget ‘because they don’t want to borrow’. Just a few days ago they hailed their ‘star girl’, Kemi Adeosun for doing a yeoman’s job in the manner she leveraged Nigeria for the next 40 years – or indeed for eternity. Even though Okonjo-Iwealla took Nigeria back into debt and we were owing $50Billion on her second departure, this regime has set new records in debt acquisition and we are today owing $76Billion while they are looking for more loans like a drug addict in cold turkey. On the surface, they have added $26Billion to debt levels in 3 odd years. But if we consider that they devalued the currency and thus the Naira component of Okonjo’s acquisitions, this government has actually added at least $36Billion to our debt level. This figure ($36Billion) is the same amount that we were owing after 3 decades of recklessness in 2006 and we had to be bailed out. How we will exit a debt of $76Billion and growing remains to be seen.
But the Buhari superstars STILL adamantly quote debt to GDP at around 19% and claim that other countries are doing far worse, they clap for themselves and pop champagne but they don’t tell us how other countries are working their GDP. At around the 31st largest GDP in the world, Nigeria curiously only manages a budget that is in the 79th position in the world, for a population that is the 7th largest in the world. Such mindless wickedness (that transcends this regime though, but is being reinforced by it). Nigeria also parades the lowest budget to GDP in the world – worse that any other country. Therefore our debt to revenue ratio is also the largest in the world, since our budget to GDP is the lowest. Budgets are naturally driven by revenue, but Nigeria has shown to be the most porous country in the world in terms of revenue collection because it manages to carry a huge GDP around, with no commensurate juice for its people. The country is actually a mafia economy. The conspiring elites have determined that the people of this country will never do well. The burden of tax payment has always been dumped on the poor and struggling, but we heard from the Chairman of the Inland Revenue Service recently, that they found 6,700 accounts with billions of naira in them and no Tax Identification Number. They haven’t taken any action on those people. I hope the ‘do-you-know-who-i-am’ syndrome does not kick in on that case.
Yes, Nigeria has been run by very heartless people who have turned this country into the global headquarters of inequality. An OXFAM report last week confirmed this position. We came in at 157th position out of 157 countries surveyed. I have seen that this nation deliberately chose a scorched-earth ideology in its economics. I listen to Buhari’s array of incompetents and I see that they deliberately want to make mincemeat of the lives of Nigerians. They just returned from World Bank meetings in Indonesia (we must have had the largest contingent as everyone with access to government funds was in Bali deceiving themselves that we were global rather than sit here and achieve something tangible) and they regaled us through their interviews how other countries are having a bad time, building fiscal buffers, losing reserves and so on, and how the adjustment of interest rates in America is the reason behind our woes in Nigeria. I couldn’t stomach such falsity. Just so that they know that we know, Nigeria’s problems have nothing to do with the global economy, and from the terrible provisioning that Nigerian government makes for its teeming population, it is evident that our economy resembles no other economy in the world and we have carved a niche for ourselves in the realm of infamy.
Nigeria’s case is cut and dried, and I have humbly labored to bring the real issues to the attention of our big people to see if they care at all. Two weeks ago, I sent an official petition on this same 2019 budget to the president, his vice, the senate president and about ten more officers whom I think should know. Till date I have received no replies. I’m not bothered. I know that is their nature. But I will repeat here that it is unacceptable for them to be reducing budget when the population is growing and when inflation at double digit is eroding the value of the currency in the first place. It is unacceptable for Nigeria to call itself the giant of Africa but at the same time, provide for its people via annual budgets, as Lillyputians of Africa. If Angola will do a budget in excess of $47billion yearly, and South Africa $155billion, we have no excuse whatsoever in providing for our people as if they were slaves in their own land. And indeed slaves we are to these guys. My petition may be ignored, but every word in it is true, and I got that inspiration right. Enough of dehumanizing provisioning for the people while Nigeria boasts of the biggest billionaires in the black race, not only Africa.
In this era of Buhari, they have finally seen to the burial of this economy – even if Jonathan killed the economy. This set have absolutely no plans for the people. Not for them human capital development or any such. Even Udoma – who is turning out to be the economy’s chief undertaker – tried to argue with the suggestion by global bodies that they should slow down the corruption-laden focus on infrastructure and focus on the people. He doesn’t even know that the two goals can be achieved simultaneously. All we need to do is ensure that MOST of our infrastructure funding passes through our people and DEVELOPS our competences.
All indices are down south like never before. The Bill Gates Foundation released a report on human capital a few months back. The World Bank also released a Human Capital Index in which we were 152nd our of 157 countries surveyed. Add also the OXFAM report. The UN has it on its website that Nigeria hosts the largest population of out-of-school-children in the world. Our own Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) confirmed that the number has increased to 13.2million, despite the claims by the minister of education some months back that the figure dropped to 8.9million – as he tried to burnish Buhari’s non-existing image.
In my view, there is a constellation of very dark stars and clouds, which bode evil for the land. The CBN says we may be heading back into recession (which we actually never left anyway because what we have always had are symptoms of economic DEPRESSION – high poverty, high illiteracy, high levels of hunger, high incidences of crime, high level of environmental filth and degradation etc), the National Bureau of Statistics says inflation is increasing and will increase some more, the Federal and State Governments insist on adding a mere N200 to our workers’s salaries after 7 years of toil, after 62% of compounded inflation has eroded the value of money, and after it had devalued the currency from N150 to N305 officially; there is a threat to increase fuel price from the current N145 (which Buhari achieved with so much disdain and impunity and was hailed along by his band of hailers), to about N300, since the oil marketers say we are already incurring a subsidy of N60 per liter as I type this (landing cost they say, is N205). We can never catch up with those guys.
There is more woe for the common man; the type that has no job or is saddled with a struggling business. Add to all the above, our dwindling foreign reserves, which if it maintains the downward momentum may lead to a further devaluation of the currency. Furthermore, from the incidences of flooding this year, some predict lower crop yields next year, which may lead to more hunger and famine. God help us. But a deep reflection on our problems show that we are merely suffering from decades of elite stupidity, aided by spineless, visionless governments. The chicken is coming home to roost for Nigeria, only aided by Buhari’s totally incompetent administration. Nigeria is about to show the world, that a very bad case may get even worse. Even the so-called anti-corruption war is waking up way too late – now that 50 unknown people are allegedly banned from traveling – that it is evident that the man actually has no intention of curbing corruption.
We have been patching along all this while. They have been lying to the people of this country and using foreign debts to cover up a gaping, bottomless sinkhole. There is no way our elites can queue up before the trough of crude oil (which is not so profitable anyway because a barrel sells for about N25,000 before the huge cost of production is removed), and begin to indulge in conspicuous consumption like no other country does, and we expect the country to survive. Nigeria is gasping… almost flatlining actually.
But well, the truth is that Nigerians actually prefer this reality. This life of underachievement is what we know, love and are used to. Come 2019, Nigerians will not seek a competent team of paramedics that can defibrillate the economy. No, Nigerians will not be speedily wheeling the economy into the emergency ward to see if perhaps there is something that can be done. We seem decided to choose between the status quo, and the status quo ante – by employing the same criminal quack medics who almost killed the patient. We have been known to walk into a perfect storm. Perhaps the fault is in our stars.
Tope Fasua is an Economist and presidential candidate of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party