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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Obasanjo's Last Blow: God Save the North

Obasanjo’s Final Blow: God Save the North

Though he was knocked out in the first round of his fight against corruption, the President still has an upper hand in his fight against the North. In a new round of that fight, he is determined to give his already collapsing opponent a final blow. He rests assured that the North will then comatose as long as he lasts in power.
The final blow is nothing other than the importation of finished American agricultural products. In this article, we have tried to browse through the recent history of IMF and World Bank involvement in the economic policies of our country. Finally we will look at how the importation policy will affect not only the North but also the fate of Obasanjo in the 2003 election.

Former President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd), wanted the nation to take an IMF loan in 1986. The conditions attached to the loans were grave, intending to cut deep into the flesh of Nigerians by robbing them of 99% of their wealth. He permitted us to debate freely on the matter.
The country was immediately turned into a large classroom of economics with thousands of teachers simultaneously shouting at the top of their voice, competing for our ears. Theories were flying in all directions. We listened and finally, as a jury, said no. Unfortunately, our decision was not final. The judge first appeared impartial and attentive. He listened to all the deliberation, which, except for the apologetic voices of a few bourgeois economists, was heavily against taking the loan.
It was therefore amazing that he decided to overrule us. He postponed collecting the loan. However, he immediately embarked on implementing the structural adjustment program as designed by the IMF. He pleaded and pleaded. Well, we had no choice. It was a dictatorship. It was either tolerated or toppled. The sad memory of how Vatsa and his group were executed was still fresh in our minds. We therefore opted for tolerance.
So started our lean years. But they differed from those of Joseph in three clear ways. One, they were not preceded by storage. Two, they are not seven, but endless. Three, Joseph was, and is still conspicuously absent.
Space will not allow us to talk about all aspects of the program. Nevertheless, let’s talk about devaluation. The Naira was devalued first from a Naira to a dollar, then to N3.00 per dollar, then to six, then nine, then sixteen, then, then… down it went. Finally it reached N100.00 in 1992. It was expected to reach the IMF ‘bottom’ target of N150 per dollar before the General ‘stepped aside’.
In other words, Babangida allowed multinationals to steal our wealth, wherever it was. For every N100.00 we had, he allowed them cart away with N99.00. They left us with only N1.00!
In this respect, Abacha was a blessing. He stopped the devaluation by pegging the Naira at N85.00 per dollar. In other words, he returned N15.00. He also saved a further loss of N50.00, turning down IMF and World Bank overtures. He did not take a loan from them. Instead, he left a foreign reserve of $9billion! We remain grateful, Sani. May God overlook your shortcomings and grant your soul eternal rest.

As soon as Obasanjo became the President, the West came back with its gambit. Devaluation has already resumed. A dollar is currently N120.00 or more. The IMF and World Bank have set another bottom target for the Naira, which you will know if we reach there. And down we go again.
However, there is a difference between what Babangida did and what Obasanjo is after. While Babangida allowed multinationals to rob our pockets, Obasanjo is, in addition, giving them two offers in his readiness to auction the country.
The multinationals can come and buy off our entire services and production infrastructure either directly or through middlemen. Our market of a hundred million people is also opened to them unconditionally to import anything and compete with our home products that were produced with great toil and risk. Nigeria is now a democracy according to America. It is a market economy according to the IMF and the World Bank. Addition of the two makes it market democracy.
I have heard a lot about the theory and practice of privatization. I am not impressed by the terrorizing Harvard University and IMF grammar that is used to confuse us and prevent us from challenging the program. Behind that smokescreen is a fallacy that can be expressed in this simple primary school language: we have a problem in our house, which is that we have failed to mend our leaking roof. Someone came and said, “Sell it to me. I’ll mend it so well that it will never leak again. You can rent it thereafter.” How foolish we are to agree with him!
I refuse to be impressed. Gauis Obasike is not either. He once publicly expressed his defiance, that if inefficiency is the reason for privatization, then there is no need for privatizing NNPC because it is now improving. (Remember we still suffer from long petroleum queues) I wish other parastatals could afford to be equally bold. Ayu tried it. He paid dearly, perhaps because he is a northerner.
This is a mess. Obasanjo should be more patriotic. We voted for him because he promised to make government efficient by wiping out corruption, not by turning us into tenants in our own house.

Well, NNPC, NEPA, NITEL, etc. are the monopolies of the Federal Government. It can do as it wishes, before 2003 though. However, there is one area that we will not allow the President and his friends to venture into.
The Americans are putting a lot of pressure on the Federal government to allow them to flood our market with agricultural products. Such products, according to reports in the dailies, include grain, dairy and poultry products. This is done in the name of balance of trade and market economy. Other countries refused America this opportunity. Nigeria is ready to grant it, regardless of the consequences. And the consequences are serious. For the first time, our farmers, whose means of production cannot compete with the tractors and harvesters of America, will have nowhere to take their produce. If the importation starts this year, I believe that by 2002, except for subsistence, no farmer will find it profitable to farm. With a farming population of over seventy percent, the poverty that will overtake the countryside is rather imagined.
Nowhere in the world is market free. Not even in America. The simple fact is that technology is unequally distributed between nations. Enhanced technology has made America capable of manufacturing goods at half the cost in Nigeria. Steel is a good example. American steel in Nigeria cost N18,000 a ton in 1997. Nigeria was selling its at N47,000.00! The BPE will ague that the high cost in Nigerian steel is corruption-induced. They use the same logic to support privatization of other parastatals. They said NEPA purchases its machines at 11 times their market price. So if NEPA will be auctioned, the price must be 11 times less than what its records show. But they are not looking in that direction, knowing that no one will support them to do so. They are now turning to say that they are only privatizing its services, not NEPA per se. The machines can rot, implicitly.
But we do not know what theory they will forward in liberalizing the agricultural market. Right now, a ton of Nigerian corn is N17,500.00. American corn, ex-Lagos, is N8,000.00 per ton. Is this also a result of corruption? To the contrary, America is playing a foul game. It is subsidizing its agriculture and the surplus that is actually meant for dumping in the ocean is exported to the Third World. At the same time, here at home, the IMF and World Bank have pressed the Federal Government to withdraw all subsidies on fertilizer and other agricultural inputs. American farmers have machines and enjoy tremendous subsidies. Our farmers have only tools and enjoy no subsidy. The ground of competition here is not leveled, Mr. President and Mr. Privatization.
The government knows very well, it is only ignoring, the advantages of buying home products. Consideration to parameters like pricing and balance of trade alone are misleading. More important factors like unemployment, security and sovereignty of the nation must be given primary consideration. As we buy grains here at twice the offer of America, we are redistributing fairly the wealth generated by other sectors. In other words, a civil ‘master’ (they are no longer servants) or industrialist, for example, is sharing his wealth with a farmer in the rural area whenever he buys a measure of corn or rice. If he prefers to buy from America, then he is impoverishing his country.
Of all the policies of Obasanjo, this, not marginalization, will have the greatest impact on the North. Over ninety percent of its population is agrarian. The market is the only channel through which the national wealth trickles down to them. If they are weeded out of the market, they can as well be expelled from the country in realization of a long-standing dream. The N10billion poverty alleviation peanut can be shared among the favorite remainder.
If this is a rumor, it must end now. Government should categorically deny it. Otherwise, we have cause to apply the jurisprudential principle that ‘a spinster’s silence signifies her acceptance.’
I still believe that it is not too late for government to ‘chicken out’ though I know that the political undercurrents are strong. The South also wants to free itself from depending on the North for various essential food items. Its vulnerability was exposed during the recent ethnic skirmishes.
At any rate, the important thing is that, according to the dailies, it is not a mere rumor. It has caused a recent exchange of portfolio between the minister of Agriculture and his Environment counterpart. The former strongly objected to the decision while the latter, to the knowledge of all and sundry, is a friend of America. That is why the former was transferred to Environment Ministry two days later. But Sani Z. Daura did not impress me. I would have thrown in the towel.

2003 Election
From a purely political perspective however, the President could be deceived by the prospects of winning 2003 elections because, as some believe, the higher the level of poverty, the cheaper the votes.
As a self-appointed adviser to the President, I would like to remind him of a wisdom I recently learnt from a politician colleague. He said a politician has two days of judgment. One is in the Hereafter, which he shares with every mortal. It is certain. The second, which is probable, is in the here-and-now, when he will return to seek a re-election. Then the people will ask him, “What did you do during the last four years in office?” I wonder what Obasanjo’s reply would be. We, the masses here, have started rehearsing our questions. We will not be cheapened by a cabinet reshuffle designed to placate us after our honor and livelihood have been threatened or destroyed.
In 1999 the President came amidst northern friends that persuaded us to vote for him. Next time he will come alone. That is partly because of his foul game and partly because we have resolved to invoke ‘tabbat yada’ on any northerner that comes again to plead on his behalf. The threat, to my surprise, is working perfectly. His former supporters here, knowing very well the efficacy of our invocation, are swearing that they are no longer with him, heaven and earth. They are also promising that they will never support him again in any future election, head or tail.
The average northerners that make these promises, as we said at the beginning of the discourse, have been helplessly receiving the deafening blows of the President. I only hope that they will be alive or strong enough to keep their promise in 2003.

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