Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma, Minister of Budget and National Planning.

By ‘Tope Fasua

I just received a text requesting for comment from one newspaper correspondent. He wrote about ‘rumours’ that the government is compelling all its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to reduce their budgets for 2019 and wanted to know the implications. In the news is also the fact that government has taken from the budgets for education, health and other essentials, to fund the 2019 elections. I met a director in one of the parastatals too who confirmed to me that government was broke. Now, what I don’t understand is how government can be broke but those top people who work for government can still have access to all the appurtenances of office. The pace of foreign travel by top directors have increased of late. Ministers and DGs no longer live in Nigeria. Yet government is broke. Broke when it comes to doing something real for the most vulnerable Nigerians

It seems evident that we have to fight harder to be heard. The Buhari government cannot help itself, even if its own life depended on it. The government is out of control and in a tailspin. So long as officials can resume work daily and there is some borrowed funds to spend and keep up appearances, they keep going on. We are a religious people and many people go through life hinging on prayers that tomorrow will suddenly be better. The government is poised to ignore all the arguments we have put forward that this is not the time to reduce budgets. The essence of our petition though, is to call good attention to our budgets – the assumptions undermining them, the process of putting them together, their emphasis and focus, their implementation. And for these we are determined to do whatever it takes.

How a responsible person will ignore the FACT that our shambolic budgets are almost the lowest in the world in gross terms and the lowest compared to our GDP beats me. How enlightened people will not see the shame in this fact further knocks me out. How we justify collective mediocrity, while chasing personal glory does my head in. Most Nigerians would even amplify the dismissive explanation that those in government put forward that ‘there is no money’. There is no money when it comes to social services and provision of public goods, but enough when they want to gallivant across the world and back. We must never kowtow to this newfound mediocrity. Something must give. We must stay on this issue for as long as it takes. The few people who are watching the economy know we are in an inexplicable situation. The only group which gets some level of assurance from the Nigerian economy, are our foreign creditors. No one can wriggle out of the obligations to these guys. After that, government functionaries help themselves and the remaining 190 million scramble over themselves to grab the crumbs, like pitiable creatures. All my write ups have been about how we can reform this system.

So, in addition to the Biblical wearing of sack cloths and sprinkling their bodies with ashes in a show of contrition, our leaders must thoroughly and totally forsake their ways in order for this country to avoid destruction. This is the time to cut all nonsensical spending. I will be watching the 2019 budget very keenly, like a hawk. I am just being proactive in shouting out now, because soon enough it will be too late to speak up. The budget would have progressed and will become intractable. And the 2019 budget will dictate how the next few years will go. The Medium Term Expenditure Framework has already been put together along the same mediocre, underachieving and anti-people lines. It must be thoroughly and summarily reviewed. I believe the government is listening though, even if it pretends. Last week, the minister for Budgeting and Economic Planning revealed that they will not be accommodating the usual mad purchase of luxury vehicles, residential houses, endless software acquisitions and other hopeless stuff that make it into the budget in this country year after year. The role of we the people is to ensure those items do not make it into the 2019 budget through the backdoor. Also we should make sure that whatever is in the budget works for the people. We must see how it trickles down. 2019 and going forward should be for irreversible, tangible achievements for Nigerians.

Let me tell you a story, dear reader.

The U.S.A went into the Great Depression in 1929. So also have many top countries around the world. Next year, 2019, will make that a 90-year anniversary for the U.S episode. Many people think the depression was triggered by the crash of the New York Stock Market in that year, but other scholars have pointed to a combination of factors. The U.S.A had just had a roaring 1920s. Then countries went into protectionism, and there were a few environmental mismanagements and droughts in the midwest, plus a misunderstanding of how to handle the economic crisis as at that time. Some believe that pro-cyclical policies were adopted which deepened the crisis. This is somehow similar to the situation in Nigeria today. The government is cutting budgets, and deepening the crisis, when it should be engaged in countercyclical policies that lift the country out of the current slump. In economics, pro-cyclical policies are those that perpetuate the status quo or deepen it. If you dont desire the status quo, you apply countercyclical policies, which reverse current situations. The permanent reality for countries like Nigeria has always been economic depression though. The symptoms are there: high poverty and hunger rates, high unemployment, high inflation, high crime rates, high corruption and nepotism and what have you. These have been our reality for as long as one can remember. It is also worth mentioning that since the Great Depression, no other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economy has admitted its economy being in depression anymore, and the economic term seems to have dropped off the lexicon.

So the American economy struggled through the 1930s. F.D. Roosevelt came up with a number of clever policies in his time, which only had marginal effects. It wasn’t until 1942 when he banned the purchase or the sale of new cars for two years and directed car manufacturers to support the war effort and for every household to chip in that the USA finally got out of depression. If I may list the herculean efforts that lifted the U.S.A, I will count:

● Serious deferment of gratification
● Unparalleled cooperation and unity among the people
● Sense of purpose and direction on the part of the majority
● Immense hard work on the part of most people who could work
● Using the war mode to escape depression.

The fifth point is very important. I have always advised that Nigeria should go into war mode against poverty and our permanent economic depression. That is how the problem must be approached. Our current and future presidents must see themselves as war-time leaders for as far as the eyes can see. Anything less is just akin to kicking the can down the road.

Unfortunately for Nigeria, the society and economy has broken. We are now almost left carrying the baggage of a broken society and economy with the expected destruction that comes with it. To boot, we are not disunited and at war with ourselves. Instead of a war against poverty, we went into an undeclared civil war mode. If you ask Nigerian politicians and top civil servants now to defer their gratification and stop unnecessary travels and purchase of luxury cars, they will argue with you. Someone will say now that its his turn you don’t want him to enjoy. If we say our civil servants should use the cars they’ve bought already for four years, they will throw tantrums. If government functionaries are not ready to even put in the work and sacrifice, how then will they convince outsiders? I can assure you dear readers that prayers will not solve this problem. We just have to hold our noses and start diving down to the bottom of the sea like pearl hunters. Now is the time.

‘Tope Fasua, an Economist, author, blogger and entrepreneur, is presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), and can be reached through topsyfash@yahoo.com.