Home Opinion Nigeria: We joke too much with our nation, By Fred Edoreh

Nigeria: We joke too much with our nation, By Fred Edoreh

Protest in Benin, Edo State against naira scarcity

The sights and sounds across Nigeria in the past one month have been tragic.

The APC Government had said there was no going back on January 31, later extended to February 10, as the deadline for the new currency swap. Citizens hurried above their speed to deposit their old currencies with the banks only to find that the new currencies were not available for exchange. Not in the banks, not at the ATMs, not at POS centres. The entire nation became cash-strapped.

The government said it was encouraging cashless economy but the nation’s telecommunications and banks’ internet systems lacked the capacity to withstand the volume of mobile transactions. Some bank apps would not open until and for a few hours in the night. Some could not connect with other banks. The citizenry became stranded.

Businesses could not pay for services, parents could not send money to their children at school, workers could not send money to their families at home, children could not send money to their aged parents in the villages, the stock exchange shrank, shares fell, as investors became shy of trading stocks with no guarantees for accessing their funds.

The national currency became subject to the black market. The same old currency the people deposited was now sold back to them at 20% to 30% of transfer amounts.

Many had no option but to succumb. Those who could not afford the charge thronged to the banks, many of which pegged withdrawal limits between N2,000 and N5,000. The queues were long and frustrating and many banks even locked their gates to shove away the crowds.

We saw photos and videos of people going naked in frustration in banking halls, of bank staff escaping through the fences, of people contributing the little cash left in their pockets to cook noodles in bank premises in order to hold hunger while they waited to withdraw cash that was not available.

It was all only about changing currency by a government and a party whose mantra is Change. Sadly, it was the unimaginably poorest sense of planning, preparation and implementation.

How did Nigeria get here? We warned in 2015 that the leaders of the APC, by their track records in previous public services at State and Federal levels, are essentially a bunch of incompetent persons who only wanted power but without purpose. They merely trade in cocktails of sanctimonious lies, deceit and propaganda. We failed to discern and heed because we joke too much with our nation and our collective destiny.

As we have seen, the bunch has never been able to effect nor successfully manage any change in the nearly eight years of their rule. Rather, they have dragged the nation back almost 50 years in civilisation, development, and growth.

Talking about retrogression, I always wonder how it turned out that both Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari who were Heads of State in 1979 and 1984, would return as Presidents in 1999 and 2015, almost 30 years after their respective military rules.

Is it because the military Generals have a terrible hold on our politics? Possibly why they all conspired to annul the June 12, 1993 election which would have ushered in a truly development oriented investor and astute manager of men and resources in Chief MKO Abiola? Is it why we still see the likes of Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida always tending to manipulate the public to enable them install weaklings over the nation for their personal convenience?

I always shrug at l Obasanjo’s fat-lie open letters, books and press interviews done with obvious intent to discredit strong civilian leaders. That was how he fought against the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 and supported the APC to bring Buhari upon the nation.

Archaic and mentally absent, it is not surprising that 39 years after he decreed currency swap in 1984, it is the same idea, the same approach he is offering in 2023.

They said the exercise was meant fight corruption and ambush politicians who had stacked cash to compromise the general elections. The people agreed and submitted to it as their sacrifice. After suffering all the financial losses, business collapse and physical and mental stress, neither the January 31 nor the February 10 deadline was upheld. The APC politicians kicked that the policy would deny them needed cash for votes. The Central Bank has reportedly done a volte face to say it lacks the capacity to print the new currency in adequacy. The President is acting confused or deliberately so.

The question is why did they put the people through this whole pain, even when they were at same time suffering and had lost so much to excruciating fuel scarcity, pump price increase and supply inconsistencies?

With the APC government, it has always simply been about poor thinking due to lack of depth, poor governance due to poor competence, and poor implementation due to low expertise and arrogant disregard for the people. That was how an important national conversation on how to strengthen our political and electoral processes was most irresponsibly thwarted by the stealing of the mace of the National Assembly and the party rewarded the gangster who led in the hoodlums with a high post.

They have not changed and will never. In the build up to their formation, they deceived the public in 2012 that there was nothing like fuel subsidy, promised to make the refineries functional and to reduce pump price. Today, they budget between N3 trillion and N5 trillion for the same subsidy they said did not exist, as against about N1 trillion as at the time Jonathan and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wanted to correct the situation.

They met fuel pump price at N87, today it hovers around N250 and N450, not to add that the refineries are now relics.

They met the dollar exchange rate at between N150 and N200, today it is about N800. They met national foreign debt at about $10b ($3b by the 36 States and $7b by the Federal Government), they have raised it to about $50b, bringing the nation’s debt stock from about N20 trillion in 2015 to now about N80 trillion.

Meanwhile, the nation’s debt servicing obligation is now above 98% of the nation’s annual revenue and with nothing to show in terms of infrastructural development for the borrowings – not in roads, not in education, not in health, not in agriculture, not in power, not in housing, not in aviation, not in support for industry and manufacturing, not in anything.

The toll of all these, including the unprecedented level of insecurity, is upon the people, their businesses, and families. Yet, the APC is still shamelessly campaigning to retain power.

Sadder is that their Presidential candidate now speaks in babbles and other unintelligible drolls like “Balablublubablu,” all in the name of “Emilokan.”

In a modern world that advances technology, intelligence and military science as most potent weapons, his solution for insecurity is the recruitment of 50 million youths into the army to be fed with “agbado” and cassava.

Pathetically, some Nigerians are still listening to him simply on the basis of regional, ethnic and religious sentiments.

Truly, we joke too much with our nation and our collective destiny only to return to complain about bad governance and hardship.

We need to get serious for once. The current political transition should not be taken as a mere media show nor a contest in exuberant sloganeering. It offers us an opportunity to think deeper, to resolve to recover our country from charlatans and usher in Pan Nigerian leaders with deep understanding of the economy, the business world, social management and extensive experience in governance.

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