FEDERAL GOVERNMENT REFORM AGENDA AND THE NIGERIAN ECONOMY: 1999-2007: A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT
BY Professsor Sam Aluko
The economic philosophy of the present Federal Government is hinged on the market: "that government has no business in business". Therefore, all the existing government projects, plants, enterprises, refineries and shareholdings in industries, trade, banking, finance and agriculture must be privatised and sold, so that government, particularly the Federal Government, can concentrate on governance, forgetting that a government that cannot run an industry successfully cannot govern efficiently. So, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) has been very active, since the present regime came on board on May 29, 1999, in selling off enterprises, including houses and other landed properties owned by the Government. Such a philosophy violates the Nigerian Constitution not only by abandoning the control of the major sectors of the Nigerian economy but also by offering Nigeria for sale to domestic and foreign private interests and concerns.
1999 Constitution and the Privatisation Orgy
(i) Chapter 1, Part 1, Article 3, of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria provides that, if other law is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail, and that law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.
(ii) Chapter II of the Constitution contains the FUNDAMENTAL OBJECTIVES AND DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY
(iii) Article 16(1) of Chapter II provides that, "The state shall, within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this Constitution"
16 (1) (a) "harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy"
(b) "control the national economy in such a manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity".
(c) "without prejudice to its right to operate or participate in areas of the economy, other than the major sectors of the economy, the state shall manage and operate the major sectors of the economy".
(d) "without prejudice to the right of any person to participate in areas of the economy within the major sectors of the economy, the state shall protect the right of every citizen to engage in any economic activities outside the major sectors of the economy".
16(2) The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring;
16(a) "the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development". There is no planned economic development today of 4-year, 5-year â€“ 10-year or 25-year Development Plan, as was the case between 1946 and 1985. Planning the economy of Nigeria ceased when the Babangida Regime introduced the IMF-World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in 1986. Economic planlessness has been more greatly emphasised, since 1999, in deregulation, privatisation, down-sizing of the public service and reform agenda of the Obasanjo regime. The present regime seeks to ensure the continuation of planlessness on the nation through a succeeding surrogate regime by getting the PDP be re-elected at all costs in the general elections of April 14 and April 21, 2007.
Article 16(b) of the 1999 Constitution provides also: that, "the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good", while Article 16(c) provides that, "the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few individuals or of a group".
The on-going privatisation of public enterprises and their sale to a few privileged Nigerians and foreigners are violations of these noble and unambiguous provisions of the 1999 Constitution. The destruction of the houses of Nigerians in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and the sale of the Federal Government houses, nationwide, in which many civil servants, parliamentarians and other Nigerian citizens live, without providing the affected citizens with alternative accommodation is also a violation of the provision of Article 16, Section 2(d) of Nigeria's Constitution, which provides that, "suitable and adequate shelter shall be provided for all citizens of Nigeria". Also, the reversal of the pension benefits of public servants and the deduction from their monthly wages for pensions, in place of the earlier non-contributory pensions; the non-payment of pensions and gratuities, as and when due; the retrenchment and retirement of public servants; the non-creation of employment opportunities and the non-payment of unemployment benefits to those forced into unemployment, are violations of the same Article 16, Section 2(d) of the Constitution, which further provides that, "suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions and unemployment benefits, sick benefits, and welfare of the disabled shall be provided for all citizens of Nigeria. The enforcement of contributory pension scheme on public servants already in the public service, in the name of pension reform, is a violation of Article 173 of the Constitution, which protects the existing pension rights of public servants
DERELICTION OF RESPONSIBILITY BY THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, SINCE 1999, WITH RESPECT TO THE ECONOMIC WELFARE OF NIGERIANS
In order to protect the economy from being operated against the collective interest of Nigerians, by a dominant minority, Section 4 of Article 16 of the Constitution provides that, " the major sectors of the economy, to be managed by the State, shall be construed as reference to such economic activities as may, from time to time BE DECLARED BY A RESOLUTION OF EACH HOUSE OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY TO BE MANAGED AND OPERATED EXCLUSIVELY BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE FEDERATION, and until a resolution to the contrary is made by the National Assembly, Economic ACTIVITIES BEING OPERATED EXCLUSIVELY BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE FEDERATION ON THE DATE IMMEDIATELY PRECEEDING THE DAY WHEN THIS SECTION COMES INTO FORCE, WHETHER DIRECTLY OR THROUGH THE AGENCIES OF A STATUTORY OR OTHER CORPORATION OR COMPANY, SHALL BE DEEMED TO BE THE MAJOR SECTORS OF THE ECONOMY".
It is obvious that the on-going privatisation of the enterprises of government also violates this provision, since neither or both of the Houses of the Nigerian National Assembly have acted in consonance with this section, inspite of the BPE Act No. 4, enacted by the National Assembly in 2002. Nigerians should continue to shout that the on-going privatisation policy of the Federal Government is a violation of all the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution, with respect to the management and control of the Nigerian Economy.
STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND ECONOMIC PLANNING
In order to ensure that not only the National Assembly but also the States Houses of Assembly and the Local Government Councils participate in the planning and in the control of the nation's economy, Article 7(3) of the 1999 Constitution (on Local Government system) provides that, " it shall be the duty of a Local Government Council within the State to participate in economic planning and development of the area, and to this end an economic planning board shall be established by a Law enacted by the House of Assembly of the State". No Local Government Council in Nigeria, since 1999, to my knowledge, has established a Planning Board or has participated in economic planning of its State! Also, no State House of Assembly has enacted any law for that purpose. On the other hand, all that we are fed with daily by the reformist Federal Government is that government has no role in the economy and that rather than plan, it is the market and the private enterprises that should plan and develop the Nigerian economy and grow it to become one of the largest 20 economies in the world by 2020!
EDUCATION AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
The disregard of the Nigerian Constitution is not only with respect to the physical economy but also with respect to the education sphere. Article 18 of the Constitution provides for the Educational Objectives of the country. In this regard, Article 18, Section 3, provides that, Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy and to this end, Government shall, as and when practicable, provide:
(a) free compulsory and universal primary education
(b) free secondary education
(c) free university education
(d) free adult literacy programme
Instead of working towards making education free at all levels, the Federal government plans to privatise all its hitherto owned, financed and managed Federal Government Unity Secondary Schools under a dubious public-private partnership (PPP) administration through which it seeks to reduce the Federal Government financial and administrative commitments to the Unity Secondary School. Instead, government should be grant-aiding the existing privately owned primary and secondary schools, so as to reduce their costs to the youths of Nigeria. Furthermore, the Federal government and the National Universities Commission (NUC) continue to license private universities, including those owned by the President, the Vice President and the leading members of the government and their business partners. These private universities will charge, and are charging, exorbitant fees, thus making education at the university level, as in the primary and in the secondary school levels, less and less free and more and more expensive so as to make education available to a decreasing percentage of the Nigerian population. The Public Private Partnership proposal of the Federal Ministry of Education is thus not only a violation of the provisions of Article 18(3) of Nigeria's 1999 Constitution but also a disservice to the present and the future youth of Nigeria.
DENIAL OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF NIGERIANS
Chapter IV, Articles 33-43 of the 1999 Constitution, provide for the Fundamental Rights of Nigerians, that is, the:
(i) Right to life (33)
(ii) Right to dignity of the human person (34)
(iii) Right to personal liberty (35)
(iv) Right to fair fearing (36)
(v) Right to private and family life (37)
(vi) Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (38)
(vii) Right to freedom of expression and the press (39)
(viii) Right to peaceful assembly and association (40)
(ix) Right to freedom of movement (41)
(x) Right to freedom from discrimination (42)
(xi) Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria (43)
All of these rights have not been adequately promoted and protected by the Nigerian government since 1999. Innocent Nigerians have been killed in their own homes, on the roads, in assemblies, and in their work places more than at any other peaceful and democratic time in our nation's history. Nigerians have been denied their rights of peaceful assembly. Economic, Financial and legal agencies of Government have been used to harass innocent Nigerians on discriminatory bases and for not belonging to the ruling political parties or to the section of the ruling political parties that is a crony of the government. Properties acquired in other parts of Nigeria by Nigerians had been destroyed by government agencies, under the nebulous pretence that they violated plans made many years ago, but which were unknown to Nigerians. Fair hearings had been denied to public officers who had been arbitrarily retrenched, retired or dismissed. Politicians, including parliamentarians and governors, had been removed unjustly or impeached unconstitutionally because they refused to kow-tow to the whims and caprices of the ruling elite. Press barons had been killed or their premises burnt because they held and expressed opinions different from those of the ruling elite. Nigerians have been persecuted and are being persecuted and their freedom restricted. They have been threatened with arrest and detention because they did not, and do not, become a puppet of the ruling elite. Towns and villages had been bombed and razed to the ground, because their leaders expressed opinions different from those running the government. Because of the unconstitutional behaviour and the neglect of the government to cater for the welfare of Nigerians, the nation has become seized by miscreants who have constituted themselves as dangers on our highways, in our own homes, to our banks and even to our foreign visitors, workers and investors who are frequently held as hostages. The non-respect for the Constitution of Nigeria has become the regular behaviour of the ruling elite. These should not continue to be so in a democratic Nigeria, governed under the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
NEO-COLONIALISM AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
The majority of Nigerians supported the emergence of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the PDP into the governance of Nigeria in 1999, partly because of the assumed nationalistic stance and achievements of General Obasanjo, as the Military Head of State during 1976-79. His 1976-79 regime championed the freedom from colonialism of many African countries, particularly of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, etc, with money, men and materials. Nigeria became the haven for freedom fighters in Africa. The 1976-79 regime nationalised the British Petroleum Company (BP) and renamed it. African Petroleum Company (AP). It nationalised land by passing the Land Use Decree. It passed the Indigenisation Decree by which Nigerians became the managers of not only the commanding heights of the nation's economy but also it provided Nigerians with the wherewithal to manage and promote small and medium enterprises. It established the Bank of Commerce and Industries (BOI), and the Nigerian industrial Development Bank (NIDB). The Regime initiated legislation for the establishment of more Commercial and Merchant Banks, which later regimes imitated to increase the number of banks from 21 in 1979 to 90 in 1999. The regime championed the establishment of the second Port Harcourt Refinery; the Kaduna Refinery and the Warri Refinery, which led to the increase in the number of refineries from one in 1976 to four by 1983. Through these measures and the planning processes emanating from them, the Nigerian economy grew at an annual average of 7% during the 1970s until the early 1980s.
However, since the second coming of General Obasanjo and the PDP regime in 1999, reverse nationalistic stance has become the order of the day. Rather than pursue nationalistic economic and political policies to the benefit of Nigerians, the regime has completely sold out to the Western Imperialistic Nations, to the extent that Nigeria, today, is less independent, economically and politically, than it was in 1960 or in 1979. A few examples will suffice.
ECONOMIC DEREGULATION AND PRIVATISATION
The present regime has completely imbibed the imposition of what has become known, world-wide, as the "Washington Consensus", propagated by the World Bank, the IMF and the Western Imperialist Powers, in order that they will continue to control and direct the economic policies of countries that have no independent economic policies of their own.
The Washington Consensus: The phrase, "Washington Consensus", is a term in development policy proposed in 1990 by the Washington-based financial institutions of the World Bank, the IMF and their subsidiary agencies. It signifies neo-liberal, neo-colonial, market economic policies which are not meant to provide an effective framework for combating poverty nor for generating rapid economic growth. Rather, it is designed to tie perpetually the economies of client economies to the apron-spring of the metropolitan â€˜Western economies. The main planks of the "Washington Consensus" were propounded by John Williamson, a World Bank Consultant, and is a synonym for neo-liberalism and market fundamentalism. In its broad terms, the principles enunciated in the â€˜Consensus' were, designed principally for the Latin American countries. The Washington Consensus contains ten broad propositions:
(i) Fiscal discipline via a Fiscal Responsibility Bill that restricts, rather than promotes, public investment in the economy.
(ii) Redirection of public expenditures towards areas that offer both high economic returns and the potential to ensure income distribution, and the provision of basic physical, social and economic infrastructures away from public responsibility to the private domain.
(iii) Tax reform, so as to lower marginal rates and reduce the tax burden in favour of the rich.
(iv) Interest rate liberalisation, so as to enable banks and other financial Institutions to charge the â€˜market' determined rates of interest that are not normally beneficial to the lower income investors, and small and medium scale entrepreneurs.
(v) Free and market determined exchange rates, causing recurrent currency devaluations, particularly in the dependent economies, thus depressing the value of the incomes of wage earners and of the dependent groups in the economy. It renders the value of the national currency virtually worthless and inconvertible internationally.
(vi) Trade liberalisation and the abandonment of trade regulation by the government of developing economies in favour of the metropolitan economies of the West, in a manner that increases the adverse balance of trade of the poorer economies in their trade relations with the developed western economies.
(vii) Dependence on inflows of foreign direct investment as the main engine of growth of the developing economies, a dependence that has had the negative effect of causing capital flight away from the poor economies into the developed economies.
(viii) Privatisation of publicly owned enterprises and the reduction or minimisation of the role of government in the economy
(ix) Deregulation of the economy, particularly the abandonment of economic planning based on time sequences of 4-year-5-year-ten year or other types of perspective planning.
(x) Security of property rights in favour of the rich or of the endowed few, so as to prevent the imitation of the Japanese type of development, through the domestication of foreign technology and expertise.
The 10 propositions were regarded as reforms which should be imposed on pliant countries that agree to be tied to the apron-strings of the developed economies. The original proponents of the Consensus have now admitted that the imposition of a majority of the propositions is harmful to developing economies, particularly currency devaluation, privatisation, trade liberalisation, deregulation, market determined economic policies and dependence on the free flow of direct foreign investment. All the Latin American countries, for which the consensus was originally designed, have rejected the main pillars of the consensus. Some of the Latin American countries, like Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru, are now nationalizing private foreign enterprises and are emphasising the dominant role of government in their respective economies. The original proponents of the 10 principles have admitted, in various fora and in publications at conferences, that the proposals are not immutable and should not be apishly adopted. The East Asian countries have also rejected the consensus, since the 1996 Asian Economic Crisis, and have denied the role of direct foreign investment as the main pillar of their continued development programmes. It has been further admitted that:
(a) Privatisation has become controversial in many parts of the world and has been rejected because of its right-wing anti-people economic consequences.
(b) Deregulation is equally not a policy that reverberates in the more rapidly developing economies of South East Asia (South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan-the Asian Tigers), where the economic policies pursued run much in the opposite direction.
(c) The Consensus is a conservative, right-wing capitalistic, rather than a progressive economic policy. It is more suited to developed than to the developing economies
(d) The Consensus is a geographically and historically specific reform agendum for Latin America in 1990 and not meant to be adopted, hook line and sinker, by other geographic areas of the world, where the economic situations are different. The proponents of the Consensus have confessed that they had not considered the African or the Asian economic scenes when they propounded the consensus; and that some have wrongly interpreted the Washington Consensus as an economic manifesto valid for all places and at all times. They admit that it has become foolish to advocate, as the Federal Government has been doing, rabid liberalisation and privatisation, which is a new form of economic imperialism. The proponents also admit that liberalisation does not necessarily imply a swing to market fundamentalism and a minimalist role of government. Thus, countries that adopt the Washington Consensus are more World Bank/IMF minded than the two institutions themselves and are thus slaves to policies that had not been tested to have succeeded anywhere in the developing world. The concept, design and implementation of Nigeria's privatisation programme have been under the aegis of the World Bank/IMF. The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) itself confessed that it continued to enjoy the best support from the World Bank and its affiliates as partners in progress and that an arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), has been serving as the sole adviser of the Federal Government with respect to the effective implementation of its privatisation programme since its inception in 1999, inspite of the fact that such privatisation orgy has not succeeded in any part of the developing world.
WASHINGTON CONSENSUS AND POVERTY REDUCTION
It is now generally admitted that market fundamentalism, neo-liberalism, privatisation and the minimisation of the role of the government in the economy do not offer effective agenda for reducing poverty, because they do not sufficiently build or rebuild the human capital. On the other hand, the Washington Consensus policies are inimical to the cause of poverty reduction in developing countries. Rather, they exacerbate the poverty of the poor. Also, pursued, as Nigeria has been doing, the Consensus could precipitate an economic tragedy of the type that occurred during the South East Asian crisis, which gave rise to the sudden total collapse of the South East Asian countries economies. The type of privatisation being pursued by the present Federal Government allows the plundering of the national assets for the benefit of an elite few. It is also agreed that no universal economic model, like the Washington Consensus, should be imposed on a country desirous of rapid economic growth. It offers very little and warrants little or no support as a sufficient economic policy directive for serious people-oriented policies. It does not promote equitable income distribution, rapid economic growth or a decent economic and social environment. Instead of sticking slavishly to the principles enunciated in the Washington Consensus, a new economic policy should be advocated that more adequately reflects the goals of development and enhances the chances of local rather than foreign ownership of the means of production for more rapid and equitable economic growth. In many parts of the world today, there is visceral hatred for free markets of the type being advocated by the present regime. It is only practised by the lackeys of the IMF/World Bank and their Western sponsors. Much of the revenue derived from privatising public enterprises, for instance, is not directed to the build-up of human capital or to stimulate productivity in the economy. Rather, it goes pari passu with retrenchment of workers, that depresses the economy, instead of the employment of more workers that stimulates the economy. It gives rise to unduly increased foreign currency reserves which are kept away in developed economies while the citizens wallow in abject poverty and squalor at home.
Devaluation of the Currency: By embarking upon recurrent currency devaluation, as has been the case in Nigeria since September1986, the poor has become poorer and the rich few have become richer and the economy has consequently become poorer. Thus, $1USA which was the equivalent of 50kobo in 1979, and 60 kobo in 1986, became the equivalent of N68 in 1999 and N130 today, without the income or the wage earnings of Nigerians being correspondingly increased in compensation. Thus, N1 today is worth 1/260 of its worth in 1979, when President Obasanjo left office as the Nigerian Military Head of State. N1 today is worth only about 50% of its worth in 1999, when Obasanjo resumed office as Nigeria's Head of State. This is why per capita income per annum of Nigerians, which was equal to $450 in 1980, has fallen to $275 today. It is because of the slavish adoption of the Washington Consensus, of following free/floating Naira exchange rates. It is now broadly agreed that neither free market exchange rates, slavishly pursued by our Central Bank, nor rigidly fixed exchange rates is ideal. Rather, an intermediate policy between the two, with limited flexibility, in a government managed form, is ideal for a developing economy like Nigeria. Discretion, rather than rigidity to untested economic policies, is the hallmark of intelligent economic managers. Such tested economic managers are very few in the present federal government set-up.
DOMESTIC VERSUS EXTERNAL DEBT
In 1999, when the present regime came into office, Nigeria was owing N537.5billion domestic debt and N633.1billion external public debt. The domestic and the external debt miasma commenced from the jumbo external loans and the flippant domestic loan that the Obasanjo regime took in 1978, when such loans were not needed by Nigeria. The succeeding regimes wallowed in spurious domestic and external borrowings so that by the end of 2005, the outstanding domestic debt of Nigeria had increased to N1,525.9billion, about three times that of 1999, and the outstanding external public debt had risen to N4,890.3billion ($35.95billion) also about thrice that of 1999 in naira terms, mainly because of the fall in the value of the naira over the period. These domestic and external debts were owed, inspite of the fact that crude oil prices of Nigeria rose from $16.5 per barrel in 1999 to $70.2 per barrel in 2005. The trajectory increase in the domestic and in the external debts were due to the profligacy of the federal government, despite its down-sizing of the public sector, its due process and its avowed fiscal responsibility. Rather than repay domestic debt, pay pensions, gratuities and other domestic creditors, in order to reflate and enhance a more rapid growth of the economy, the regime embarked upon the repayment of external debt, in order to please its foreign sponsors and its greedy foreign partners and get their support for the unconstitutional determination of the regime to perpetuate itself in office till 2020. The regime bought the bait of the Western creditor nations to pay $12.5billion of the debt at a tranch, in order to receive $18billion debt relief, an amount which no other debtor-nation in history has ever paid at once. While some of the other debtor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, 42 of them, are obtaining complete debt write-off, Nigeria paid such a huge ransom, because the Nigerian Government has more money than sense. Of course, the Western creditors had begun to observe that, because of its domestic economic and political policies, the present regime might run Nigeria into disintegration and might make it impossible for the creditors to be repaid should Nigeria go into pieces, like the former Russian Empire. So, today, the regime is still being pressured to pay much of the remaining $5billion external debt, even when the huge domestic public debt of N1,526 billion is left unattended to. In addition to the outstanding domestic public debt, the regime is owing N875billion in pension and salary arrears, apart from N160billion it is owing to the Lagos State Government in withheld statutory allocation, contrary to the decision of the Nigerian Supreme Court. In effect, the economic charity of the federal government begins and ends abroad and ignores the home. It is this huge unpaid domestic debt, plus unpaid pensions and gratuities and the withdrawal of government from actively promoting the economy, that has led to the increased miseration of Nigerians. Majority of Nigerians are poorer, economically, today than they were at the inception of the present regime in May, 1999.
FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY AND NIGERIAN EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRY TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE (NEITI)
As part of its major reform planks, the present regime prides itself with fiscal responsibility. It has, in its pursuance, sent to the National Assembly a Fiscal Responsibility Bill, designed to:
(i) improve intergovernmental fiscal coordination
(ii) promote fiscal macro-economic stability
(iii) promote fiscal prudence and sound financial management
(iv) ensure transparency and strengthen accountability, and
(v) provide a conducive climate for generating growth and reducing poverty
Again, the Fiscal Responsibility Bill is a carbon copy of the USA Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, transplanted into Nigeria. Our Presidency has a fleet of about 5 aircraft and 4 helicopters for use by the leading members of the regime to gallivant around Nigeria and around the world, while the National Airline, the Nigerian Airways, had been killed and sold by the regime and replaced by a privately owned British Airline, the Virgin Airline! The Presidency alone has 89 Special Advisers, Assistants and Aides, the highest number of aides by any Presidency in the World today, including the USA Presidency. The copy of America's Fiscal Responsibility Act is another demonstration that none of the so-called reform agenda of the present federal government is homegrown. Yet, the regime is insisting that the reforms must continue after the present regime. It must not continue to be so. The reform agenda must be jettisoned because they hold down the economy of Nigeria. They criminalise and pauperise Nigerians. If our governments will comply with the copious fiscal and financial provisions in the 1999 Constitution, that is, Articles 80-89; 120-129; 162-168; and 225-229, Nigeria does not need a Fiscal Responsibility Act. Also, the existence of the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, provided for in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Section 31, and Article 153 of the 1999 Constitution, further renders the Fiscal Responsibility Act redundant.
With respect to NEITI (Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative), the present regime is the only one in the history of Nigeria, where the President also holds the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources. Thus, few people in Nigeria, since 1999, have been able to ask and obtain the necessary and true information about the revenues and expenditures of the Petroleum Industry, not even the National Assembly nor the Federal Executive Council. The President has kept hold of the Petroleum Ministry, the mainstay (90%) of the total Government revenue, exclusively to himself. The Presidency has thus been allocating the lifting of crude petroleum oil and oil blocs as it deemed fit to associates and to foreign development partners, after supposed open bids for such allocations. The regime is lackadaisical in the repairs of the four existing Nigerian refineries. Rather, it prefers to import fuels for domestic use through and from the countries of our development partners. There has been no audited accounts of the Petroleum Ministry since 1999! Thus, NEITI is a suspect at home and abroad. No wonder that there was the recent outburst of scandals in the management of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), which is only a microcosym in the petroleum industry. No wonder that Nigeria, the 8th largest producer of crude oil in the world, is suffering from acute shortage of domestic fuels, and has depended increasingly on the importation of fuel oils, and has been toying with the privatisation of the four refineries. Other oil producing countries in OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) are nationalizing their oil industry, building additional domestic refineries, acquiring refineries in other foreign countries and are exporting refined petroleum products. Only Nigeria among the 11 OPEC countries, Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lybia, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela, is pursuing a domestic energy policy of sell-out of its petroleum resources to foreign and to domestic capitalists. Nigeria built a multi-million dollar Bonny Export Terminal in the 1990s for the exportation of excess refined petroleum products. Today, the Terminal has been transformed into an Import Terminal!
DOWN-SIZING/RIGHT-SIZING OF THE PUBLIC SECTOR
Since May 29, 1999, the present regime has retrenched about 4.8million Nigerians in the civil service, in the statutory corporations, in the state-owned companies, in the banks, and in the insurance companies, through its reform policy of down-sizing the public sector of the economy and minimising the economic role of government. It has continued to place emphasis on the private sector as the engine of growth of the Nigerian economy, whereas the private sector is very weak in Nigeria and depends for its survival and continued growth on the public sector. Because of the jaundiced reform policy in this sphere, many public enterprises have either collapsed, closed down or been sold to foreigners, while the public service which was once vibrant, productive and incorruptible has become a haven of corruption, inefficiency and stupor. The erstwhile security of tenure of the civil servants, other things being equal, has become a mirage. Retirements and retrenchments, without due process, have become the order of the day since May, 1999. The down-sizing of the public sector has consequentially led to the down-sizing of the private sector, because the economic managers in government do not appreciate that a decelerating public sector also leads to a decelerating private sector, and vice-versa. It is an immutable economic causation.
The reform policy of down-sizing the public sector is itself borrowed from the IMF/World Bank. In its January 1999 symposium, published in the World Bank Economic Review, Volume 13, number 1 of January, 1999 (214 pages), the World Bank had as its main theme, "Public Sector Down-sizing", "A symposium Issue on Efficient Public Sector Downsizing". It contained the following sub-themes and topics:
(i) Public sector down-sizing: An introduction
(ii) Cross-country evidence on public sector retrenchment
(iii) The efficient mechanism for downsizing the public sector
(iv) Earnings and welfare after downsizing
(v) Matching severance payments with worker losses in the Egyptian Public sector, and,
(vi) The Algerian retrenchment system
Also, the World Bank Research Observer, Volume 17, Number 2, 2002, discussed, "Public Sector Downsizing, the Gender Implications of Public Sector, Downsizing: the Reform Program of Vietnam". It will again be seen that the so-called public service reforms are not this regime's original thinking but are imposed reform agenda by the World Bank, the IMF and by our Development Partners. That is why, we see the Development Partners but Nigerians do not see any worthwhile development in the Nigerian economy. The downsizing of the public sector has been abandoned even in developed countries of USA, Canada, Europe and in the developing countries of Asia and Latin America, because of its negative multiplier effects, that is, its economic deceleration effects. Retrenchment leads to reduced consumer demand which reduces the propensity to produce and which leads to reduction in the rate of growth of the gross domestic product. It is a suicidal economic policy. All true and sensible reformers in history have increased rather than reduced, employment quantum in very significant manner.
BANKING REFORM AND NIGERIA'S ECONOMY: The Large Banks
When the present regime came on board in 1999, there were 90 banks in Nigeria, 73 of which were categorised as sound/satisfactory, while 17 were rated as marginal/unsound. But as a result of the unsound economic and financial policies of the regime, the number of sound banks reduced to 67 in 2002, 64 in 2003, 61 in 2004 and 53 in 2005, while the marginal/unsound banks increased from 17 in 2000, to 37 in 2005. The weaknesses of some of the banks arose from the arbitrary behaviour of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) towards the banks. Instead of the CBN to be the bank for the banks and assist them, in the same manner that the banks are expected to assist their customers, the CBN had constituted itself as a bugbear to the banks. Because of the phobia of the CBN against inflation, it recurrently and arbitrarily withdrew money from the banks, thus reducing their capacity to create credit and develop themselves and the Nigerian economy. Rather than continue to assist the sound banks to become sounder and the less sound banks to become sound, the CBN arbitrarily increased the required capital base of the existing banks from N5billion in 2004 to N25billion in 2006. The consequence was that the number of banks in Nigeria reduced from 90 in 2004 to 25 in 2006! The CBN and the Federal Government wrongly assumed, and are still wrongly assuming, that the mere large size of the banks will ensure their soundness. This is no less fallacious than that the mere large size of Nigeria's population guarantees the soundness of our economy and the dexterity of our governance. Very large banks in the world have collapsed, while small banks have remained sound and alive. Just as there are small, medium and large industries, so there should be small, medium and large banks. Forced mergers of the Nigerian banks had been creating ripples in the Boardrooms of some of them. We may be finding out later that the forced bank consolidation, which the CBN itself confessed was engineered by the IMF/World Bank advisers since 2000, may become a short-gun marriage in the future. As a result of the forced merger and the N25billion minimum capitalisation, bank ownership in Nigeria has become more foreign controlled than ever before. It is currently the case in South Africa, where the four largest banks there are owned and controlled from Europe. It is the sizes of these 4 large South African Banks that our CBN Governor and our President always cite as the reason for the bank consolidation in Nigeria. It is these large consolidated banks, in partnership with their foreign sponsors, that are expected to manage the $45billion dollar reserves of Nigeria. In effect, we are moving gradually to the pre-independence era, when our banks were largely owned and controlled from abroad. Before consolidation, out of the 100 largest banks in Africa in 2002, Nigeria owned 25 and South Africa owned only 4. Yet, there had not been any bank consolidation in South Africa, which would have had the effect of destroying many of its small banks. The bank consolidation is in the same mode of the privatisation policy which has been concentrating the wealth of Nigeria in fewer and fewer hands. There is still a plan in the offing to raise the minimum bank capitalisation to N100billion so that there will be only about 5-10 large banks in Nigeria. The banking consolidation, according to the Institute of Bankers, caused the loss of jobs immediately before and after the consolidation. Many senior members of staff of the banks are being regularly retired or forced to retire since the consolidation. To date, over 200,00 banking officials have been rendered jobless since the announcement of the consolidation, in July 2004.
Even in the USA; the most capitalistic country in the world, there are very many small banks that cater for special needs of limited areas of the country or for small enterprises. The larger the banks, the less they cater for the needs of small and medium scale enterprises without which no modern economy can develop rapidly. Only about 35% of Nigerians are today served by the large banks. It has become increasingly difficult for small businesses to access investment funds from the large banks, inspite of the avowed policy of the Central Bank to compel the banks to provide such funds. The Central Bank keeps on announcing that there is excess liquidity in the economy while the masses or Nigerians wallow in increasing poverty and deprivation.
THE SMALL BANKS: Community Banks/People's Bank
At the inception of the present regime in 1999, there were 960 Community Banks. Today, they had reduced to about 650. Rather than continue to assist and promote the Community Banks, the regime has decided to abolish them and replace them with micro-finance institutions, with minimum capitalisation of N20million for a Micro-Finance Bank, instead of the former N10million, and N1billion for a state-sponsored micro-finance bank, instead of the former N10million for a community bank. The number of such micro-finance banks is expected to reduce to fewer than 400, thus, further denying the Nigerian rural communities of the benefit of rural banking services. This is the more so, when the People's Bank, with its 750 branches, had been abolished since 2002, and merged with the large Nigerian Agricultural and Rural Development Bank (NARDB), which now largely caters for the large enterprises and large farmers. Also in 1999, there were 150 Finance companies and 120 Primary Mortgage Institutions (PMIs). Today, there are only 82 operating finance companies and 60 operating Primary Mortgage Institutions. The capital bases of the finance companies and of the primary mortgage institutions are being arbitrarily increased so that their number will be further drastically reduced. Their services will thus be inaccessible to the less privileged Nigerians. The Finance companies are also being merged with the micro-finance banks, with the consequent economic disadvantages that their abolition will bring, apart from the retrenchment of workers that consequently arises. It was estimated that over 150,000 full time employees of the People's bank of Nigeria were retrenched, following its abolition. With respect to the Community Banks that employed about 500,000 Nigerians, fewer than 200,000 will remain in the employment of the Micro-finance Companies that may replace them. 300,000 Nigerian employees of the Community Banks will thus join the already crowded unemployment market thereby.
INSURANCE CONSOLIDATION AND THE ECONOMY
At the inception of the present regime in 1999, there were 255 insurance companies in operation. The minimum capital base for an insurance company by 1999 was N25million. The present regime increased the capital base in 2003 as follows:
(i) Life Insurance â€“ N150million
(ii) General Insurance â€“ N200million
(iii) Composite Insurance (Life & General) â€“ N350million
(iv) Re-Insurance â€“ N350million
The result was that the number of insurance companies reduced from 255 to 102.
With effect from March 1, 2007, the minimum capital base of the respective insurance companies was further increased as follows:
(i) Life Insurance â€“ N2billion
(ii) General Insurance â€“ N3billion
(iii) Composite Insurance (Life & General) â€“ N10billion
(iv) Re-Insurance â€“ N10billion
By the beginning of March 2007, only about 35 insurance companies have met the capitalisation criterion. While there is nothing wrong in making banks and insurance companies have large capital basses, the small and medium sized ones that cater for limited sectors of the economy need not be squeezed out of existence. The reforms in the financial sector are thus forced, one-sided and in favour of the rich, in whose hands the financial sector will now be fully concentrated, contrary to the provisions of Article 16(2c) of the1999 Constitution, which prohibits the concentration of Nigeria's wealth or the means of exchange in the hands of a few individuals or of a group of Nigerians or non-Nigerians. Furthermore, the loss of jobs that will arise from the Insurance Consolidation will not be less than 200,000, thus swelling the already congested unemployment market.
The purpose of this assessment is to show that some of the reforms being touted by the present regime are not only unconstitutional but are also inimical to the continued growth of Nigeria's economy and to the welfare of the majority of our citizens. They are also foreign-inspired and not home-grown, contrary to what Nigerians are being made to believe. Nigeria is thus increasingly being dominated by external influences to the disadvantage of Nigeria. We have a foreign-oriented and foreign controlled government, masquerading as a nationalist and reformist government. Even the NEEDS (National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy), which is the economic blue print that encapsulates all the so-called government reforms, was prepared on the directives and with the assistance of the World Bank/IMF. Little is heard of NEEDS of recent. It is likely going to die with the exit of this administration. â€˜NEEDS' has been midwived by six separate Economic Advisers to the President since 1999. It has lacked focus, lacked investment quantum and is not time specific.
It is the anti-welfare stance of the present regime that made fuel prices rise from N18 per litre of petrol (PMS) in 1999 to N65 per litre today, Diesel price rose from N17 per litre in 1999 to N95 per litre today, when available, and kerosene rose from N16 per litre in 1999 to more than N100 per litre today. It is kerosene that the rural population of Nigeria needs and uses most. It has become a scarce product. Until 1999, even at the low prices of petroleum fuels, the then Federal Government spent part of it to set up the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) to provide basic infrastructures which are the main ones still available to Nigerians today. When President Obasanjo assumed office in 1999, the first thing that he did was to cancel the PTF and to substitute nothing in its place, ever since, even at almost four times the price of fuels today compared with pre-1999. The basic infrastructures provided by the PTF have not only not been improved upon significantly, since 1999, but many of them have also been permitted to deteriorate for lack of maintenance or sustenance.
It is necessary that Nigerians be told the source, the manner and the consequences of the on-going reforms, so that they are not deceived into believing that their continuation after the exit of the present regime will be in the interest of the economy and of the increased welfare of the masses of our people. Even the GSM introduction was not achieved by the present regime, but by the previous regime. The GSM is a good communications network, but this regime had virtually destroyed the land-telephone system, in order to privatise it. In other countries, the land telephone system is the main communications system, with the mobile phone system serving as a subsidiary and emergency outfit to complement the land telephone system. The mobile phone system has taken much revenue away from the pockets of Nigerians and from the economy to its providers abroad. The flight of capital that it has occasioned need to be imagined. The so-called employment that it has generated is known in economics as gross under-employment. In 1999, to post a letter through the Nigerian Postal System cost N10. Today, it costs N50. Other postal costs have correspondingly increase by at least 500%.
In 1979, when General Obasanjo was handing over the reins of government, to civilians, he announced to bewildered Nigerians that the best candidate then, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, would not and needed not win the then Federal Elections. General Obasanjo contrived and handed over power to his anointed candidate, whose political ambition then was to be a Senator in Nigeria's National Assembly. A manipulated federal election gave rise to great legal controversies as to whether or not 12⅔ States or 13 States constituted two thirds of the then 19 States of Nigeria. His mishandling of the hand-over of power, though he got world-wide acclaim thereby, subsequently gave rise to less than optimum governance in Nigeria. It eventually led to the military coup d'etat of December 31, 1983, and to the sixteen long years of military rule, until General Obasanjo himself resumed the Presidency again in May, 1999. He has since been moaning that Nigeria made no significant economic progress since he left office in 1979. Now, in 2007, President Obasanjo's regime is in the process of repeating its handing over power mistake of 1979. It prevented the best candidates in the regime from seeking-nomination for the Presidency of Nigeria at the PDP Convention. Instead, it hand-picked a very good and amiable Nigerian, whose highest political ambition was to be the Governor of Katsina State for eight years and retire quietly in 2007 into his farm. The regime also harassed the anointed Presidential flag bearer from choosing an able running mate and foisted on him another crony of the regime. So, the country may be having two candidates of the "Third Eleven Calibre" as the President and the Vice President of Nigeria, should the PDP, through do or die election, win the April 2007 Presidential election. So, if President Obasanjo lives long enough, for the next 20 years, and I pray for his long life, the same period between 1979 and 1999, he may again in 2027, moan that Nigeria had moved some steps backwards from when he handed over power on May 29, 2007, he prevented the most capable Nigerians from ruling Nigeria after him.
There is no doubt that the 1999-2007 regime has tried its utmost best to steer the Nigerian economy and its governance along what it regards as a nationalistic and dynamic path. It has loudly publicised its achievements, at home and abroad, at exorbitant cost to the nation's treasury. However, it has pursued a backward sloping economic curve that has pauperised, criminalised and corrupted Nigerians today more than they were at its inception in May, 1999. Because of its wrong economic direction, the more efforts it makes the less economic progress the regime will continue to achieve and the less, it will continue to meet the economic aspirations of Nigerians. The fastest growing economy in the world today, is the Chinese economy, which is a state controlled and a public sector, rather than a private sector driven economy. The Nigerian economy was actively and successfully public sector driven from the 1950s up to the early 1980s, until the military integument beheaded the public service and killed its effectiveness, and our economy began to nose-dive into the doldrums. Rather than find out what went wrong and take remedial measures, this regime, like its predecessor of Babangida's, continues to depend on a non-existent private sector for its economic salvation. It is a forlorn economic hope.
It is, therefore, necessary for each of the contending political parties, wanting to replace the present regime, in the 2007 elections, to have its own alternative blue print that will be more in tune with the economic needs and the aspirations of the majority of Nigerians. Otherwise, by 2020, the Nigerian economy will not be near any of the 20 largest economies in the world, to which this regime has been basing its aspiration. Today, Nigeria is the 55th largest economy in the world. In 2020, it may decline to the 65th, 75th or 85th largest economy, if the present reform policies continue to be the main planks of Nigeria's economic development strategy.
Sam A. Aluko
Professor of Economics,
30, Owo Avenue, Ijapo Estate,
P. O. Box 1594, Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria.
February 20, 2007
Professor Aluko is a retired economics professor, and former economics advisor for various Nigerian governments for more than 30 years.