By Andrew Fadason
The All Progressive Congress-led administration has made up its mind on obtaining foreign loans amounting to $30 billion for Nigeria. It is soliciting the support of every imaginable expert in actualising its objective. According to President Muhammadu Buhari, the foreign loans would be invested in critical infrastructure including power, health, roads, ports and education, amongst other things. In submitting the request for approval to the National Assembly late last year, the President did everything within his ability and power to justify the need for foreign loans.
A fortnight ago, while presenting the 2017 budget, he gave the same excuses and reasons as responsible for the collapse of the economy that ALL his predecessors, from Aliyu Shehu Shagari to Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had proffered. That is, that the falling oil prices in the international market in addition to the elites’ penchant—wastage, the dysfuntioning character of the economy and consumerism. Add these to his swan song—corruption—and the script are tidied up. Like his predecessors, the president and his motley crowd arrived at the same elitist conclusion for the solution to the ills of the economy that they heaped on the GEJ administration: go to the international money market, cap in hand—forget the Nigerian hit song, Giant of Africa, and in a lowered voice source for loans!
Now, typically of the Nigerian elite, during his speeches on the economy last year, especially at the NASS, he did not say ANYTHING about the negative side of the loans to be obtained. With the drumbeats sounding so loquaciously across the length and breadth of the country, everything points at a done deal.
Nigeria will obtain the loans. Whenever it comes to our economy being in dire straits, and there is no liquidity—which the elites need, the Nigerian elites will bury their differences in attempts to be solvent. This is one of those instances. Forget about Transformation Agenda, forget about Change; they are two sides of the same coin. Remember, President Muhammadu Buhari spent over 35 years in the military, which is an elitist institution where he was trained by the US and Britain, and indoctrinated in the Euro-Western traditions. He may disagree with the way and manner the elites have managed the economy; but that does not mean he does not believe in western liberal economics and its principles. From his pronouncements in the last 15 years, there’s nothing that indicates that he disagrees with its basic principles. Therefore, typical understanding and rationalising, conclusion and solutions to our economic crises by our elites are the same. It is the same song and the same dancers. The music may be the same, but the dance steps may be slightly different. Why? Because the lyrics are the same; and have the same impact on the soul!!
Whether heaven will fall or not the loans would be sourced; and whether we like it or not, the NASS will endorse the action. They will back the president for two main reasons. First, they would not want to be seen as a barrier for “bailing out the economy.” Second, as elites themselves who are historically bereft of creative ideas when it comes to economic recession or depression, they also do not believe there are options to loans. They obviously do not care about the consequences. This did not start today. From the Shagari administration to Jonathan’s (with the exception of OBJ), every administration has sourced one form of foreign loan or the other for Nigeria as a way out of economic doldrums.
At this point in time, let us assume that the president does not know the negatives, and that he was coursed into the loan deal. Let us assume that as a person, he does not like taking loans or borrowing, even though he once obtained a bank loan to build his house. Finally, let us assume, too, that he does not fully appreciate the historic weight the loan will put on his shoulders. We should ask the question: is President Buhari a victim of circumstance? Was the loan idea his, or was it forced on him by his “advisers” steeped in the Euro-American economic tradition that glorify borrowing relative to GDP? What, however, posterity (or is it history?) will remember him for is that it was during his time that the destiny of unborn generations (as at 2017) was mortgaged. Every child born from last year will wear the tag “I’m a Debtor” until they are 40 years old when, if possible, the loans would have been repaid.
What President Buhari did, and is intending to do is not new. He and his administration are towing the same path as some of his predecessors. After wrecking the economy following a historic looting spree, the Shagari administration went to the Breton Woods institutions for a loan package. In different manner, Generals Ibrahim Badamasi and Sani Abacha racked up debts totalling over $30 billion in the 1990s. Before former President Olusegun Obasanjo left office in 2007, he cleared ALL debts piled up by previous administrations. Unfortunately, when the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan motley crowd took charge, they logged up debts of over $20 billion in six years. After inheriting GEJ’s log, President Buhari is now trying to top it up.
President Buhari, in his request to the lawmakers, did not tell them and Nigerians that he was piling up more debts for the present and future generations of Nigerians. He did not tell Nigerians that his administration had foreclosed ALL possible options/alternatives in addressing the present economic crisis. He did not tell Nigerians that his administration was mortgaging the future of our children and their own children. He did not tell Nigerians that the next two, but possibly three, unborn generations, would be born into bondage. In fact when they come into the world, there would be a fixed amount of money debited against their accounts as human beings born in Nigeria because of loans taken on their behalf without being consulted.
The Talakawa were not, are not, and will not be consulted about the upcoming loans. The only instance the Talakawa will be relevant is when they are used as numbers to convince the creditors to grant us the loans. The figures will be used as reference. Today’s unborn generations will be born into economic servitude; into slavery. These children will be required by the Breton Woods institutions to pay back loans taken on their behalf, even if they were not consulted.
Whether the rest of Nigerians like it or not, the present administration will obtain the loans. Whether you are a supporter of PDP or APC, it does not matter. Our opinions and feelings are as irrelevant as they are unnecessary; they do not count. Unlike during the time of General IBB, the government will not organise a referendum to find out whether Nigerians are in favour of the loans or not. This is why history will record this administration as one that plunged us into another nightmare scenario of indebtedness. The elites—whether in the ruling APC, or PDP where some of them migrated from—business, or academia will have another bazaar even if different from those of the past. This is because they are the ones that will benefit directly and or indirectly from the loans that are going to be obtained. They will either be the contractors, technocrats, or consultants, etc. Also, whether the loans are going to be judiciously utilised or not does not matter to the ruling classes. Let the money come first. In any case, what happened to the loans sourced for the country in past? Were they properly/judiciously utilised?
As a people, we are back on familiar path. Any time we have economic crisis, the first thing the ruling classes resort to is what they believe is the easier way out: take out a loan. Rather than look inwards for more creative, independent and rewarding solutions, they resort to the easy way out because they are bereft of ideas, and the fact that they prefer a quick fix approach. That is, even if at a high cost to the nation; and even when it means mortgaging the interest of future generations.
The argument for or against loans whenever we have an economic crisis is not the issue. The ruling classes will, as a group, always agree that there is a crisis and that there is a need to address it. Because they are bereft of ideas, they will conclude that we do not have the knowledge or capacity to fashion/initiate and or develop creatively home grown solutions to our problems. Interestingly, the purpose of ingraining a colonial mentality in Africans was to make us believe we were inferior/nincompoops or fools that were incapable of rational thinking let alone solving basic puzzles or problems. Today, in the era of imperialism, the non-Euro American people, that is, Africans, Asians, Arabs, etc. are also being made to believe that they are the same and are expected to behave in the same manner by their own brothers, the so-called experts. Our elites, and now especially our president, the NASS and other APC cheerleaders across the nation are telling us that we cannot solve our economic crisis; that foreign loans are the way out. Further to that, they are always agreed that the only way out is to take out a loan. But a loan is a loan. Whether it is a soft loan or a hard one, it is the same thing. All loans have strings attached whether they are bilateral or multilateral; private commercial loans or government to government loans. The creditor gives the conditions and the debtor has to agree to them otherwise there will be no loan/deal.
What the Buhari administration intends to do with the $30 billion-plus is debatable. What is not, however, is that the projects are not going to be properly executed/completed, even if only 50%, by the end of the present administration’s tenure. In a country known for abandoning projects, of what wisdom will it be to start a project that the administration won’t be in a position to execute? Meanwhile, typical of Nigeria, the administration officials will not want the loans tied to projects; they will prefer the monies to be credited in Nigerian accounts so that they can help themselves. Management of the loans will be by Nigerian officials; the same technocrats and officials in the relevant ministries, departments and agencies that have been around since time immemorial. There may be a few retired here and there, but the majority are still around while the corrupt attitude and culture in the relevant MDAs are still there well ingrained and well entrenched.
The bolekajo economics enunciated by hardcore neo-liberal economists during the OBJ-GEJ administrations is obviously responsible for the present crisis. The central plank of their philosophy, copying the dogma of Western Europe, was everyone to himself and God for us, and the survival of the fittest in a jungle of no rules. It was a contest of survival where privileged Nigerians, armed with state power, held sway under the banner of global neo-liberalism. Because they are the intellectual arm of the ruling classes, they are not being prosecuted. Those who benefitted from the rogue policies of the two administrations are not being punished. Now, it is the Talakawa that are being inflicted with pain and hardship. The president, in similar style as his predecessor, Mr Goodluck Jonathan, has arrogantly told Nigerians that he knows how they feel, and that he sympathises with them; that he feels for their unpleasant condition.
Bolekajo economics is premised on the individual; that is “I”, “me” and “you” as against “we” and “us.” This framework emphasises individualism and as such the national cake or interest is not seen in the national all-inclusive sense, but in the sense of individual interests. Sometimes when the group interest of some of the privileged individuals converge, they pool themselves into a group, like a political party through which they then pursue group interests. In this case, a group interest is made to become national interest.
Under a bolekajo economic premise/philosophy, solving economic crisis means looking beyond the shores of the land for solutions. This is because the neo-liberal economists holding sway in Nigeria today were taught in universities steeped in Euro-American tradition. This same tradition holds that Africans do not have a history; what they have is romantic folklores. The context of the text books that they are tutored in are basically Euro-American centrism. Africans and African economies are neither mentioned nor treated as case scenarios. In fact the central plank of the neo-liberal thought/philosophy is that one drug cures all diseases; or one cap fits all heads. That is, the neo-liberal approach and or solutions (aka Structural Adjustment Programmes, SAPs, of the 1980s) are ready-made universal solutions to all economic crises whether they are in Africa, Asia, Middle East and or South America.
That explains the Buhari administration’s belief that solving the present economic crisis demands an easy way out: large-scale borrowing from outside. According to this way of irrational reasoning, the only aspect of the solution that has internal component is the sacrifice of the Talakawa; the proverbial hewers of wood and drawers of water for the privileged.
Despite what these bolekajo economists would preach and force on Nigerians because of their privileged positions in government, the fact remains that common sense tells us that solutions to our problems are within our borders. The crisis was engendered out of the greed of the ruling classes. Although some of the king-pins may run away to Europe and elsewhere to enjoy their loot, the fact of the matter is that solutions are with us here. For example, do we have to turn to Europe and America to cure us of a consumerist culture? Do Europeans need to tell us that we should produce what we want especially when and where we have comparative advantage? Do we need foreign loans to mechanize our agriculture? Do we need foreign loans to catalyze our agriculture—farm/land preparation, extension workers, roads, improved seeds, storage and processing plants/facilities, etc? Do we need foreign loans to stop import and consumption of alcoholic beverages? Do we need foreign loans to reopen the collapsed textile industries which are capable of wiping out unemployment in Nigeria?
Fadason is former editor of New Nigerian Weekly and can be reached on 08091634680