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Michael NnebeFriday, December 13, 2013
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A WEEK OF COLLECTIVE DEPRESSION IN NIGERIA

Nelson Mandela in prison

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here do I start? It has been quite a week, one that any Nigerian that loves this country would rather forget. First, it was a sobering letter from Nigeria's governor of central bank, Sanusi Lamido, alleging that about 49 billion dollars of accrued oil revenue in the past eighteen months have not been remitted by the NNPC to the federation account. Then came Obasanjo's public letter to Jonathan about a variety of issues; economic, political, security, and social. Even our minister of finance and the coordinating minister on the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who had been in denial for more than a year, finally admitted a couple of days ago in Lagos that the economy has failed to create jobs or alleviate poverty in spite of the consistent GDP growths, and at best only about 10% of the population is benefiting from the growth and wealth created by the growth. But what really got me somewhat teary eyed this week was reading Mandela's own words against my country. The old man apparently spoke in anger back in 2007, but he was so frank and so blunt in indicting our leaders.

Not surprisingly the one that has generated most comments in the media and elsewhere was Obasanjo's letter. Most people have been highly critical of Obasanjo for being hypocritical and rightly so. Perhaps Obasanjo is the worst possible messenger to deliver such a significant message. On tenure elongation, we knew that Obasanjo promised Babangida and others that he would serve only one term, not only did he reneged on that promise, but attempted a third term that failed to materialize. He accused Jonathan of corruption when Obasanjo formed Transcorp Corporation while in office, and before our own noses went on to acquire many of our priced assets like the Hilton in Abuja, NITEL, and others. He accused Jonathan of training snipers for personal use: Well, I'm not aware of any high level political assassination under Jonathan yet, while I can easily name over a dozen high level unsolved political assassination under Obasanjo that includes victims like Bola Ige, Harry Marshal, etc. On the issue of not listening; Obasanjo failed to listen to his own advisers when he was in power. On the issue of morality coming from Obasanjo? Huh!

Obasanjo's letter represents to me an opportunity for Nigerians to watch two thieves, who had stolen huge loot, and are now publicly fighting over their booty and accusing each other of atrocities. Isn't interesting that Obasanjo first shared the letter with Babangida who advised him to consult a senior lawyer and tone it down before sending to Jonathan. So what we saw was a toned-down version. The truth is that we can disregard Obasanjo, but we cannot disregard his message. Ironically, other than the issue of training snipers, everything in the letter had been in the public domain for some time. I have even commented on most of those points raised by Obasanjo in several of my previous articles. To put Sanusi's letter in perspective, the unremitted amount in question is the equivalent of 150% of our annual budget. So humongous are the numbers that they remain mind-bugling to the average person. What is even more troubling to me is that the NNPC, in their attempt to prove Sanusi wrong, acknowledged that only about half of that amount is unremitted. My question then is where is that half? Sanusi must have written out of profound frustration, as our central bank struggles to manage a bleeding foreign exchange imbalance. In an earlier article I warned that it was costing Nigeria $6 billion annually to maintain our present exchange rate, and that such an expense is unsustainable.

It is true that Obasanjo is not qualified to become the conscience of our nation, but a careful examination reveals that Nigeria is in much worse state financially than our leaders have led us to believe. It is, however, ironic that our national legislators are now embracing Sanusi and his claims about the NNPC non-remittances, the same people that cried foul when Sanusi told us earlier this year that our National Assembly was responsible for squandering 25% of our national budget. Our financial difficulties have been reflected in the tight squeezes we have witnessed in the distribution of allocations to the 36 states and the 774 local governments since the beginning of this year. Many state governors have now borrowed heavily from World Bank and other external bodies to pursue projects, burdening their respective states further even as they misappropriate those borrowed funds. Oil theft of 400,000 barrels a day continues unchecked, contributing further to this financial squeeze. What we are seeing is only a tip of the iceberg, as I believe that trouble times lie ahead unless our leaders are willing to face the realities and address our underlying problems. I am, however, not betting that they would do the right thing. I can only imagine the level of frustrations and moral anguish it must have taken for Okonjo-Iweala to finally begin to admit the truth, the very truth we've been writing about for some time.

As we fight in all these fronts, it appears that Mandela had told us everything we needed to hear about ourselves, and I must add that it is never too late for us to make changes, especially our leaders that he spoke angrily about. It will not do any justice for me to paraphrase the good man; I shall therefore quote him verbatim even as I continue to reflect on his sobering words to Nigerian leaders. Mandela's words:-

"You know I am not very happy with Nigeria. I have made that very clear on many occasions. Yes, Nigeria stood by us more than any nation, but you let yourselves down, and Africa and the black race very badly. Your leaders have no respect for their people. They believe that their personal interests are the interests of the people. They take people's resources and turn it into personal wealth. There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable. I cannot understand why Nigerians are not more angry than they are. What do young Nigerians think about your leaders and their country and Africa? Do you teach them history? Do you have lessons on how your past leaders stood by us and gave us large amounts of money? You know I hear from Angolans and Mozambicans and Zimbabweans how your people opened their hearts and their homes to them. I was in prison then, but we know how your leaders punished western companies who supported apartheid.

"What about the corruption and the crimes? Your elections are like wars. Now, we hear that you cannot be president in Nigeria unless you are Muslim or Christian. Some people tell me your country may break up. Please don't let it happen. Let me tell you what I think you need to do. You should encourage leaders to emerge who will not confuse public office with sources of making personal wealth. Corrupt people do not make good leaders. Then you have to spend a lot of your resources for education. Educate children of the poor, so that they can get out of poverty. Poverty does not breed confidence. Only confident people can bring changes. Poor, uneducated people can also bring change, but it will be hijacked by the educated and the wealthy…give young Nigerians good education. Teach them the value of hard work and sacrifice, and discourage them from crimes which are destroying your image as a good people".

Michael Nnebe is a former Wall Street Investment Banker and the Author of several novels, including; Every Dream Has A Price, Riverside Park, Blood Covenant, Gloomy Shadows, Passing wishes, Prime Suspect, and others.

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