“I hold that man in the right who is most in league with the future.” — Henrik Ibsen, 1828-1906. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS.
By Dele Sobowale
As one of those who frequently berated our Governments for not executing their annual budgets from January to December in the past, it is a most remarkable development that the ruling party had used its majority in the National Assembly, NASS, to return the country to the former cycle. Never mind that close observers would have noticed that the achievement was mostly contrived.
Many Ministers, Departmental and Agency heads were not called and their budget proposals were not closely examined. If budgets were padded, we would not know. In fact, the NASS itself included a budget for the renovation of its premises and structures whose size was astonishing to neutral observers. But, in the current environment of “scratch my back and I will scratch yours” existing between Buhari and Lawan, the President signed the budget together with the add-ons without objections. Gone were the empty threats to search for and punish those who padded budget.
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The most urgent question now is: what can one expect from the N10 trillion budget whose implementation starts now? The short answer is: “very little that will help solve our worst and most urgent problems”. So, we might as well start from there to examine the nearest future which includes the 366 days of 2020.
Those old enough would remember how in the early 1990s we were promised housing for all, employment, education and health services by 2000. When that was certain to fail, the false forecasters turned to VISION 2020. According to the proponents of the idea, including Professors of Economics, Nigeria would by now be marching into the rank of the top twenty economies worldwide. We are certainly not. President Olusegun Obasanjo, ever wrong on important matters, signed the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, committing Nigeria to achieving eight key development goals by 2015 along with other countries governed by more serious and patriotic people. We missed all the goals targeted by Nigerian governments – irrespective of who was Head of Government.
Those of us who gazed at different crystal balls and pointed out why we were chasing shadows were ignored or even ridiculed. There was a lot of money to be made from false prophecy and economic saboteurs appointed to high office were eager to make them. As we start 2020 and now look backward at the missed goals and opportunities as well as look forward to the possibilities, the first thing that strikes one is a sense of despair. Those who promised in 2015 not to run government on the basis of “business as usual” had gone ahead and done just that.
The accounts of the Nigerian Customs Service, an important revenue generator and spender, had never been audited according to recent disclosures. India did not relinquish the title of World Poverty Capital by allowing its Customs account to go un-audited even for one month. The difference is clear. But, then check the educational qualifications, as well as their experiences before becoming Prime Ministers, of all the Indian leaders. Nobody will dare aspire for the role with disputed GCE. So, we might as well start with education.
“Numerous are the streams that lead to social [and economic] prosperity, but, all spring from the same source and that is good public (underlining mine) education. “ Gaspar Javellanos, 1744-1811. (VBQ p 46).
What the Spanish philosopher told the world over 200 years ago is even more relevant today than in the nineteenth century. Despite the rapid increase in the establishment of private schools from nursery to tertiary globally, public schools still carry the heaviest load of educating the young ones, the civil and private workers of the future and the leaders as well. A honest look at the Nigerian public schools, again from primary to tertiary, would reveal that the spring is totally polluted. For the most part, the schools are so far behind global standards that the graduates cannot compete either as civil or private workers as the following examples will illustrate – one each from the public and private sectors.
Go to the Birth and Death Registry of any County in America or its equivalent in Korea and ask for information about a grandfather dead more than ninety years and see the result. Go to any Local Government in Nigeria and request for a copy of your own birth certificate and again see the result.
Open a bank account in any bank in Germany today with 1000 dollars; then go away for five years. Open an account with the same 1000 dollars in any Nigerian bank; then go away for the same five years. When you return to the German bank the balance in your account would have gone up. Return to the Nigerian bank and it would have gone down. Globally, banks are in business to create wealth for, even the smallest, depositors. In Nigeria, banks are in business to fleece depositors. If you want to understand why, look at the education they receive and the governments running those countries.
The springs of Nigerian society, meaning our educational institutions are totally polluted. JAMB is deploying all sorts of gadgets, drones included, to prevent utterly corrupt kids and their parents from cheating. Examiners and invigilators cannot be trusted to be neutral gatekeepers and marks can be bought. We end up with blockheads receiving First Class who are of no use to society. All these will probably not change in 2020. Consequently, those who should be leaders of tomorrow are already losers of today. Why?
“The devil [still] finds work for idle hands.”
Graduate unemployment is not unique to us, but, in Nigeria it has taken a dangerous dimension. In 2018, Nigerian schools, including technical institutes, nursing schools, College of Aviation, Schools of Catering and Hotel Management, Medical Laboratories, etc, sent about five million young people into the Nigerian job market already bursting at the seams with jobless graduates at all levels.
Invariably, the answer to “what are you going to do after graduation?” is “I will look for work”. Frequently, they have no clue where and how to go about it and they are keenly aware that jobs are almost impossible to find. The stout-hearted and desperate ones go into crime full time. If he/she is computer literate, there is probably a Yahoo boy/girl walking around. Crime is the biggest employer of youths in Nigeria and that can only get worse in 2020 given the absence of any massive job creation initiative in the budget. Satan will be working overtime with our kids in 2020 when another 5 million enter the fray.
The Nigerian Stock Exchange had received mention in each of the last three years. Investors, other than those who want to take over, were advised to stay out. The market would inevitably lose money. The same prediction was made in 2019. And, as gamblers try their luck on the last day tomorrow, the results are already known. Investors have in the aggregate again lost money. Only a few mega-listings made during the year kept the market capitalisation from plunging deeper than it did. There is little hope for investors in the capital market in 2020.
Get ready for vat increase and toll gates
“Even a broken down clock is right twice a day.”
At last, the FG discovered that revenue generation was its primary problem. They are also probably just waking up to the fact that you cannot borrow for ever. They need more income very fast. Two sources have been identified – Value Added Tax, VAT, to increase it to 7.5 per cent and return of toll gates to Federal Highways. I support both. Both are consumption levies. If you don’t buy, you don’t pay. And Dangote’s trucks will pay for destroying the roads instead of passing the bills to the vast majority of Nigerians without cars or even cycles.
I fully support the two proposals. The Age of Free Everything is over.
NOTE: The books are available at CSS Bookshops, VANGUARD Abuja Office and MM2 as well as GAT Aviation airports in Lagos.