And the vanity called Aso Villa!
As for Aso Rock Villa, the building is an exercise in vanity. There is not one single nation with our level of economic output that quarters her chief executive in that kind of obscene Cinderella wonderland. The chief executives of countries from which we have sought debt forgiveness on bended knees didn’t live in that kind of obscene opulence.
In the spirit of the economic winter, we are about to enter (with oil heading towards $20 per barrel) and the budget 2016 predicated on $38 per barrel and being dead on arrival, Buhari should be humble enough to move out of that Buckingham Palace at Abuja and return to Defence House. He can still prove that he is the actor we have been waiting for.
Then, he should turn Aso Villa into a tourist centre for the Ministry of Tourism charging visitors N1, 000 per head for guided tours of “The House that African vanity built.” He could easily earn at least N1 million a day into the federal exchequer – and the money doesn’t have to be packed into suit cases.
What is the Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria that our chief executive lives in an African Buckingham palace in the same grandeur as the chief executive of countries from which we borrow money and which have multiples the GDP of Nigeria? We are just living a false life. How can anybody relate our status as No 252 in the world’s Human Development Index with the way our federal officers live?
No British Prime Minister has ever had a Prime Ministerial Jet – not even Sir Winston Churchill who rescued Britain from being kidnapped by Adolf Hitler.
Whenever the Queen of England travels to Australia, she normally travels on British Airways – and British Prime Ministers normally travel with fee-paying passengers on British Airways.
Many years ago, Jimmy Carter got into trouble because of an allegation that his only daughter – Amy Carter was allegedly feeding from the official food budget of the American Presidency, which she had no right to. Of course we all know that President Clinton almost lost his job, because the carpenter that sewed his trousers bought the zip from Aba market. That was why his pants were always failing whenever he saw a pretty Youth Corps member.
The question now is – how do we move forward as a nation – politically and economically? What are our national goals – as a nation – and what and how are we advancing towards those national goals. How do we know that we are succeeding as a nation if we have no goals that we are working on? Can we or what do we have to learn from the experiences and triumphs of other countries that have been through “the valley of the shadow of death” that we are currently going through?
If international oil experts are to be believed, with a further collapse of oil prices, Nigeria may be heading for an economic meltdown – and we may be forced into an IMF bondage. Mrs. Christine Lagarde has just left Nigeria. These people only visit countries like that when a bull smells blood. If Emefiele knows what is best for him, he should be talking to Jim Ovia again about any possible opening at Zenith Bank.
How did countries that have gone through our present challenges overcome? Germany, Japan, Korea, India, Malaysia, U.A.E? Can we look at Japan? After the devastation of the Second World War, Japan determined to come back, both economically and politically. In the 1950s, they determined that before the end of that decade, they were going to be the largest and biggest manufacturers of textiles. They achieved it.
In 1960, they decided that before the end of that decade, they were going to become the world’s leader in electrical and electronic products. They did it. In the 70s, they decided they would become the world’s largest builder of ships. They achieved it.
In the 80s, they went after steel. They decided that before the end of that decade, they would be the world’s leader in steel production. They made it. Success does not come by accident. It requires discipline, grit, determination, courage and total almost fanatical commitment to stated goals and objectives.
Everybody in the country would be pressed toward that goal. Everybody from the country’s chief executive to road sweepers. It is only fire, hot fire that turns gold dust to pure gold. Some public officers cannot be living large while others are toiling. This is the template that has been adopted by Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia etc – the so-called South East Asian Tigers. I even understand that Japan has totally developed a master plan for the country for the next 100 years.
Why do our ministers, state commissioners, federal and state parliamentarians, senior civil servants mix freely with the voting population during elections but as soon as they get into office, they are afraid to be contaminated by living among the people that allegedly voted them into office?
In our situation, we have to start from positions of strength. Late Tai Solarin once wrote a classic article – “May Your Road be Rough!” It is probably good for us in that it will enable us to come to our senses that oil prices have collapsed and are heading towards $20 a barrel – whereas the budget is predicated on $38 per barrel. Cheap money from oil exports has over the years totally distorted our value system, leading to the spectacle of a poor country with rich rulers.
Nigeria no matter our potential is still a mono product economy and is extremely vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the international oil market. A recent Wall Street Journal report said that a $10 per barrel oil was in view. Various events, like the Shale Oil, the electric cars now soon to become commercially viable, environmental concerns, the control of large parts of Iraqi oil by ISIS which they are flinging barrels of oil for cash and alcohol powered vehicles have dealt great blows to countries like Nigeria who have kept all their eggs in one basket.
Nigeria will require short-term solutions, medium term solutions as well as and long term ones on the macro level.
On the micro level, we need to tighten our belts and have better balance of accounts/assets. At the macro level, we need to plug leakages, rejig our tax and VAT regimes, reduce waste and all frivolous spending, downsizing very many federal and state operations outsource many jobs. We have to have a well-reasoned and well-articulated shock therapy. Not prohibiting deposits into Dom accounts for 10 or 12 weeks and then realising the boom in Dom accounts in Benin and Ghana hastily reversing the policy.
We need to retain the confidence of local and foreign investors even while fighting corruption with all our might. We must be conscious not to scare off foreign investors, avoid capital flight, loss of confidence in our stock market, low subscription in the international markets to our bonds and take very great care with our Perceptional Capital, lest we be seen as a basket case or a house about to fall.
For the medium term, we need to really work out a comprehensive economic diversification plan to determine economic sectors that must be massively supported and promoted perhaps with low interest fundsfor quick returns. Through this, we will open opportunities for jobs for thousands, if not millions of our unemployed, earn more foreign exchange and begin to free ourselves from the mono resource curse.
The way forward
It is my seriously considered opinion that if we are to get back into the highway of national economic development, we have to focus on areas of national strength – chief of which is Agriculture. Agriculture is the only sector that can bring about rapid development to our rural areas, create massive rural jobs, ensure food security and become the economic diversification success story that Nigeria needs. We bring in tomato paste from China and yet our farmers are crying that their tomatoes are rotting away. We have the strength to be the food basket of Africa.
We have to revive our cocoa pyramids and groundnut, rubber and palm oil. We have to develop our great and vast potential in rice production.
This was where the rain started beating us. The story of our missed opportunities with palm oil has been told over and over again. Yes, we used to be the number world’s exporter of palm oil but now we import the commodity. We used to produce 85 per cent of the world’s supply of palm oil but now we produce only 7 per cent. Ivory Coast now produces more palm oil than Nigeria.
Malaysia that was producing 7 per cent now produces 85 per cent of total world output. Malaysia that picked palm oil seedlings from Nigeria in the 1960s has so profited phenomenally from what they took from Nigeria that practically the whole national economy rests on palm oil. They are now classified as one of the Asian economic tigers.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the palm oil- based economy outperformed regional rivals in the last year. Malaysia is one of the best business environments of Asia. The country has used palm oil to emerge as a major industrial force in the world. Its major cities compete in terms of modern services now with any European city. It has developed a high-speed train – and (wait for this) built a brand new high-tech city from scratch using the financial might that palm oil has produced. It has great social stability and zero unemployment. Indeed, she has begun to employ foreigners including Nigerians like the prodigal son in the bible to help drive its furious economic development. It has highly diversified into manufacturing electronics and steel, engineering equipment etc.
Now, Malaysia makes more from its palm oil than Nigeria makes from oil and gas. How tragic! Can we revive our palm oil industries?