Nigeria has earned far more income in the last ten-eleven years of its 4th republic democratic experiment than the prior 35 years before 1999. Nigeria's GDP had grown from a paltry $90Billion in 1998 to about $350 billion in 2009 alone which means that on a year to year basis our GDP has grown by about 300% and on an absolute value, has quadrupled in size in about ten years. Also Nigeria's per capita income (Gross income divided by the population size) has increased from about $350 per annum in 1998 to about $2000 in 2009 (that is about 600 percentage increase). Everyone knows that by GDP terms, Nigeria is a very rich country; but for its size it is still a low, rising to a medium income earning country. The massive GDP growth is attributable to huge rises in the world price of Oil and Gas products and the rise in taxes, mostly indirect tax and VAT introduction.

According to the UNDP report on Nigeria, its GDP has been growing steadily by an annual rate of about 6 percentage points in the last five years to 2009, and not even the global economic recession affected Nigeria as much as the developed world felt it, yet poverty, unemployment, maternal and infant mortality have grown at a faster rate in the negative directions.

You would think that the nearly 600% increase in average income of Nigeria would have translated to better standard of living for the vast majority of Nigerians; that infrastructure would have improved or expanded significantly and that educational and health facilities across the country will be top rate, or at least at the levels you will see in any World bank rated medium-income economy like Nigeria is rated now with its current earnings level! But no, the economic well being of Nigerians have worsened;

infrastructure across the board have deteriorated than the levels they were in the mid 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s when Nigeria was not earning anything near what the state treasury have been getting from 1999 till date: The water tanks built by the colonial masters and the Gowon regime are the only ones existing and all of them are in a state of dysfunction as no town or village in Nigeria today can boast of decent state run pipe borne water. In my home town of Obiaruku, we still have a huge Water tank built in the late 60s and probably commissioned about 1971, but now a dry, decrepit water system; that tells so much story of the wasted leadership Nigeria has had since the 80s till now! In most societies of Nigeria, the only roads you will see are the narrow, windy roads built by the British colonialists or the ones constructed by General Gowon, who had to cope with a 3-year civil war without borrowing, despite the lean resources available then, perhaps the direction of the astute and economically savvy chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was Gowon's minister of Finance, accounted for the tremendous leap of those early years of Gowon's rule! I think Gowon is one self-less and purposeful leader Nigeria has had but has not been given enough credit for his comparatively better economic management of Nigerian resources.

In the last year (2009/10) over 3Trillion Naira was budget for both Capital and Recurrent expenditure and in the next year ( 2011) a budget of over 4Trillion Naira has been approved by the National Assembly. Yes the population has grown in the intervening period and also there has been inflation and exchange rate depreciation of the Naira against the dollar making the un-indexed Naira value worth far less than they were in the 80s and 90s, but the main reason there have been little or nothing to show for these vast increase in earnings and income has been a disproportionate increase in recurrent expenditure arising from jumbo salaries legally approved by the spineless Revenue mobilisation and allocation committee, and also the approvals and passing into law of unethically padded budgets for Revenue and Capital expenditure at often times three times the expenditure values of the items in those state approved budgets by the legislators.

Budget padding or over-loading has become the norm across the three levels of government in Nigeria: All the Budgets at the Federal, State and Local Government are unconscionably and unethically padded by the executives- the presidency, governors and local government chairmen and approved by the various legislative arms of government for contracts and purchases that are either never executed or very poorly and indifferently half-done! Most local government chairmen prepare the annual budget only as a ritual and they are usually padded and over-inflated for minor things as bore hole for schools and toilets for local markets that are either poorly done compared to the massive estimated budgeted costs; or at worst never done and the money for such becomes cash for sharing between the chairman and the councillors who approved the budgets in the first place. Same story at the state levels with more cash frittered away in the pie-sharing game between state governors and State House of Assembly men and women. It is all corruption and treasury looting but this time it is legitimate and legal! So no one can attack the conspiracy between the two arms of government to hoodwink the poor and helpless masses as corruption, but that is what it is.

The story is worst at the federal level where there is so much huge "free cash" to loot! How was it that the government of the first republic and then the Gowon regime was able to establish two refineries, most of the top road networks in Lagos, the various ports authorities in Lagos (Tin can), Port Harcourt and Warri; Nigerian Railway and Nigeria Airways, Nigerian Shipping lines with the little resources available then and all the subsequent government from the 1980s did was to ensure the obituary of all those top state corporations and infrastructure? Despite huge earnings, particularly since 1999 no upgrade of Nigerian infrastructure has taken place. Instead there have been padded budgets- over $10Billion of which spent to give Nigerians "darkness" between 1999-2007! And the monies disappeared into thin air and the culprits yet to be apprehended and sent to jail at the least.

Enormous waste going on in public expenditure and the padding of budgets has meant no development going on, such that Nigerian infrastructure are only comparable to those of war-torn Somalia, Congo DR, and Afghanistan- even Iraq and Rwanda's infrastructure are far better! It is waste such as in the 2010 approved budget, done by the late president Yar ÔÇśAdua government in 2009, when the national assembly passed and approved for the presidency the purchase of 7 Helicopters, in addition to the stream of presidential jets and planes wasting away at enormous cost to the Nigerian people. In the same budget was listed a guesthouse for the Senate president costing the Nigerian people a whooping N750 million. And also in the same 2010 budget, N250 million was listed as expenditure for chasing termites out of Aso rock (the presidency). Then wait for this: a whopping N7billion was approved for the construction of "Aguda house," a "befitting" house for the Vice president- Goodluck Jonathan was then the vice president when the budget was approved. And in this year they have spent the equivalent of $150million dollars to buy three more jets for the presidency. The madness is shocking for a country where over 60% of its population live on less than $2 a day.

You can now see how the politicians and the political office holders, a handful of "horse traders," have turned millions of Nigerians into a life of misery and squalor, causing mass unemployment that has forced our young ladies into unending prostitution at home and abroad; and our young men desperate to get into Europe and US through illegal life-threatening travel through the Sahara desert and Mediterranean sea in ramshackle boats; and others into various crimes including 419, Drug peddling, Armed robbery and more conveniently kidnapping.

What is the way out of this nightmare? I believe it is by the election of credible people across all layers of the government. Most of the personnel parading themselves as leaders and occupying various elective positions since 1999 are to be fair to them, not truly elected by the people. You can see that from their demeanour: They behave so irresponsibly because they know quite well that they did not need the peoples' vote to get where they are, no matter how they pretend, and so they are not accountable to the people! Election rigging and fraudulent manipulation of election results has been the norm since 2003 in particular, and so all manner of charlatans, majority of them corrupt criminals, inept and clueless as to what governance and service is about have found their way as local government chair men,, governors and Assembly men and women.

Long suffering Nigerian masses must seize the opportunity offered by the 2011 election to register, look for credible candidates to vote for, make sure they vote on election day and defend and protect their votes by ensuring they stay to see their votes counted rather than allow one nincompoop to hijack their votes as has been the case in the last two or three general elections. There is always a link between unelected leadership and bad, irresponsible government anywhere in the world: The panacea for good governance is truly elected leadership. The people have suffered enough and their votes should and must count in 2011!

By Tony Ishiekwene

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