Assets’ Stripping Beyond Idiocy
I belong to a school of thought that holds firmly to the idea that the sovereign state should be wealthy, prosperous and sustainable virtually ad-infinitum.
Philosophically, the connotation and denotation of a sovereign entity conveys the immediate and empirical impression and evidence of a big institution that is wealthy enough to collectively enhance the well being and welfare of the citizenry.
Part of my Ideological conviction on what a nation state should be, has found empirical anchor on what some scholars see as the meaning of the concept of sovereignty as encompassed in the encyclopaedia Britannica thus: “Sovereignty, in political theory means, the ultimate overseer, or authority, in the decision-making process of the state and in the maintenance of order. The concept of sovereignty—one of the most controversial ideas in political science and international law—is closely related to the difficult concepts of state and government and of independence and democracy. Derived from the Latin superanus through the French souveraineté, the term was originally understood to mean the equivalent of supreme power. However, its application in practice often has departed from this traditional meaning”.
There is this fortification of my understanding of a Sovereign entity in another fine scholarly work which began by stating thus: "The concept of sovereignty is complex: in terms of International law, the state appears as a sovereign power, as political organization of society, undermining different bodies (authorities) with specific legislative, executive, jurisdictional powers; within the international society in each country it participates in the international relations on the basis of sovereign equality, which causes another meaning of sovereignty, which complements the one specific to the internal life."
"For the international legal order, the sovereignty is a constituent element of state and the international personality requires that the public power is independent, which grants the quality of sovereign state. Sovereignty is generally considered, that general feature of the state, which represents the state supremacy and independence of state power in expressing and achieving the governors’ will as general will, compulsory for the whole society", (Anghel, 2002, p. 107) (Acta Universitatis Danubius, Juridica, volume No 1,2015).
But let us look at what people think when they classify a Country as very rich.
To therefore reach an acceptable determination of our inquiry, we need to read a researched article by Luca Ventura, dated August 03, 2020. Titled “Many of the World’s richest Countries are also the World’s smallest”.
The writer guessed what people think when they think about the richest countries in the world And what comes to mind when they think about the smallest nations in the world.
Some people, the writer argued would be surprised to find out that the wealthiest nations are also amongst the tiniest.
Some very small and very rich countries—like Luxembourg, Singapore, Switzerland and Ireland—benefit from having sophisticated financial sectors and tax regimes that help attract foreign investments and professional talent. Others like Qatar, Brunei and Kuwait have large reserves of hydrocarbons or other lucrative natural resources.
"Shimmering casinos and hordes of tourists are good for business too: Macao, Asia's gambling haven, is the second-most affluent state in the world. Bigger countries with a relatively small population like Norway and the United Arab Emirates, two other oil and gas-rich powerhouses, round up the list of the top 10 richest nations according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)."
But what do we mean when we say a country is “rich,” especially in an era of growing income inequality between the rich and everyone else? While gross domestic product (GDP) measures the value of all goods and services produced in a nation, dividing a country's GDP by the number of the full-time residents is a better way of determining how rich or poor one country's population is relative to another's."
The writer aforementioned then stated that the reason why “rich” often equals “small” then becomes clear: these countries’ economies are disproportionately large compared to their comparatively small populations.
"However, only when taking into account inflation rates and the cost of local goods and services can we get a more accurate picture of a nation’s average standard of living: the resulting figure is what is called purchasing power parity (PPP), which is often expressed international dollars in order to allow comparisons between different countries."
The writer hypothetically affirmed thus: "Should we automatically assume that in nations where this figure is particularly high the overall population is visibly better off than in most other places in the word? Not quite. We are dealing with averages and in any given country, structural inequality can tip the balance in favor of the already privileged."
Deriving therefore from the totality of our understanding of all the above cited authorities, we can assert that in terms of resources and assets, Nigeria is considered to be rich but the Country since the year 2018 became the World’s capital of poverty due largely to poor leadership and abysmal economic policies of governments at every level. Professor Chinua Achebe rightly wrote in his book 'The Trouble with Nigeria" that the foundations of all of Nigeria's developmental challenges begins from poor leadership.
Adumbrating on the issue of whether Nigeria is rich as a nation, a researcher quoted in a United States journal said Nigeria is rich but the people of Nigeria are mostly poor.
This researcher by name Mr. Femi Awoyemi, in a lucid and thoughtful article in the April 5 Leadership (Abuja) highlights that more than ninety percent of Nigeria’s population is poor "and exists largely at the mercy of fate."
In his "Nigeria: Paradox of the Country’s Economic Growth and Poverty Levels," he highlights the results of the Harmonized Nigeria Living Standards Survey prepared by the National Bureau of Statistics.
This survey shows that that 69 percent of the population fits the "Nigeria poverty profile," and that poverty and inequality have increased since 2003/2004. Yet, ostensibly the country’s economy is growing at the rate of seven percent a year.
If Nigeria is getting richer, how can Nigerians be getting poorer? Drawing on the statistical data, Awoyemi observes that much of the growth is related to oil, telecoms, finance, the stock market and real estate. And civil servants and corrupt politicians are also doing well.
Yet the author said none of these industries are labor intensive and do little to reduce the country’s very high unemployment rate. A consequence is that the distribution of income is getting worse, not better.
Citing Central Bank governor Lamido Sanussi, Awoyemi observes that Nigeria’s macro-economic policies have encouraged import consumption rather than local production.
To address increasing poverty, Nigeria needs a "growth inclusive" model that will emphasize domestic production of goods consumed and that will reduce unemployment, he affirmed.
What is not in doubt however, is that a fundamental cause of poverty in Nigeria results from poor policy formulation, implementation and timing.
“In the final analysis, the success of public administration for development can be measured only in relation to the implementation of policies. Policy implementation is of critical importance to the success of government", argues an expert in a book to be mentioned in the subsequent paragraphs.
"However good the political system, however noble the goals, however sound the organizational system, no policies can succeed if the implementation does not bear relationship to the intentions of the policy adopters. The implementation aspect is now becoming a concern and key element in development strategy. It was during the 1960s and 1970s that a series of studies and reports appeared, indicating that policy designs should pay attention to the capacity to implement. These studies show that the implementation aspect is the most important and yet the most neglected."
There is mystifying neglect of implementation issues by specialists and generalists at several levels, the writer of the book on Public Policy said.
He defined it thus:
“Policy implementation, as the process of putting policy into effect by public and private individuals, is difficult to define. Implementation can be seen essentially in terms of the nature and degree of control exercised over the operations of a policy/programme/project".
“In its most general form, it is the phase between a decision and operations. Implementation seeks to determine whether an organisation is able to carry out and achieve its stated objectives. Whether an organization is able to carry out and achieve its stated objectives. It involves developing and pursuing a strategy of organization and management to ensure that the policy process is completed with the minimum of delays, costs and problem", (Public Policy: Formulation, implementation, and evaluation " by RK SAPRU).
In the last 60 years of political independence of Nigeria, successive political administrations have tinkered with one economic policy or the other.
But the most tragic of them all is the policy that seeks to transfer ownership of publicly built assets to private ownership.
When the then President Olusegun Obasanjo –led government kick-started such assets tripping policy it called monetization policy, a lot of arguments were made opposing that decision.
Eric Teniola, a retired senior Civil Servant described this policy as a “monster” in an article published in The Guardian of February 26th 2016.
Eric Teniola a prolific writer, said the policy which was conceived to solve problems, has created more problems.
He also said persuasively that Nigeria can not afford the policy which he defined as "the quantification in monetary terms of those fringe benefits which government used to provide for its workers as part of their conditions of service”.
As records shows, on November 27th 2003, Chief Ufott Ekaette who was the Secretary to the then Obasanjo's administration reportedly told members of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lagos under the headship of Professor Lai Olurode that “Monetisation as a public policy reform must be appreciated in the context of other reforms each of which plays complementary roles with the new overarching economic development strategy of the Obasanjo Administration called NEEDS (National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy).”
Specifically, the following was approved for members of the National Assembly as part of the monetisation policy: (a) Housing Allowance-100 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (b) Transport Allowance-350 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (c) Utility Allowance-20 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (d) Domestic Staff Allowance-75 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (e) Entertainment Allowance- 10 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (f) Constituency Allowance- 150 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (g) Furniture Salary- 300 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (h) Allowance for Employment of Special Assistant- Equivalent of 25 per cent of Annual Basic Salary to be paid (i) Vehicle Maintenance and Fuelling- 30 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (j) Recess Allowance- 10 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (k) Severance Gratuity- 300 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (to be paid once in a life time) after successful completion of tenure".
Besides, the following was approved under the monetisation policy for Federal Civil Servants (1) Accommodation, Grade level—01-06 (50 per cent of Annual Basic Salary), Grade level—- 07-17(60 per cent of Annual Basic Salary and Grade level—-15 & above (75 per cent of Annual Basic Salary. Transportation—- Grade level 01-17 (25 per cent of Annual Basic Salary. Meal Subsidy—- Grade level—-01-06 (N6, 000. 00), 07-10 (N 8,4000.00), 12-14 (N 9,600.00), 15-17 (N 10,800.00), Permanent Secretary (N 16,200.00). Utility, Grade level—- 01-16 (15 per cent of Annual Basic Salary), 17 and above (20 per cent of Annual Basic Salary). Domestic Servant—- Grade level 15(1 GL. 3 Step 8), 16-17(2 GL 3 step 8), PS & above (3 GL 3 step 8). Leave Grant—-01 & above (10 per cent of Annual Basic Salary. Medical—-01 and above (10 per cent of Annual Basic Salary to be paid to NHIS). Furniture Allowance—- Grade level—01-06 (NIL), 17 and above (200 per cent in five years, that is. 40 per cent of per annum). Vehicle loan—- Grade level, 01-05 (100 per cent of Annual Basic Salary), 06-07(150 per cent of Annual Basic Salary,08 and above(200 per cent of Annual Basic Salary. Driver—-Grade level——17 and above (1GL.3 step 8.)
The following was reportedly approved for the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Judges of the Supreme Court under the monetisation policy—- (a) Accommodation- to be provided by the government (with an option to be paid 100 per cent of Annual Basic Salary if opted to stay in personal house) (b) Furniture- to be provided by government (c) Medical care- to be provided by government, including members of immediate family (d) Robe- to be provided by government (e) Transport- official cars to be assigned and maintained by government (f) Security- to be provided (g) Utility- Bills to be settled by government (h) Domestic staff- to be provided (i) Entertainment- to be catered for by Government (j) Special Assistants- to be provided from within the Civil Service (k) Leave Allowance – 10 per cent of Annual Basic Salary to be paid once in each calendar year (l) Hardship Allowance- 50 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (m) Severance Gratuity – 300 per cent of Annual Basic Salary (to be paid once in a life time) after successful completion of tenure (n) Retirement Benefits- Payable on the basis of Approved Scheme of Service."
It must be noted that this monetization policy resulted in massive assets stripping.
In the current dispensation, President Muhammadu Buhari has evolved another clever way of achieving assets stripping but stopped short of calling it by the name of “monetization policy”.
This is so because the government had argued that publicly owned assets ought to be sold to private owners so government can fund the extant budget.
The Minister of Finance Mrs Zainab Ahmed had last week reportedly confirmed that the Federal Government would sell some-government-owned properties to fund the 2021 budget. This is in addition to the government’s growing borrowing also to fund the budget.
The government, reportedly proposed to borrow N5.6 trillion from domestic and foreign resources to fund the 2021 budget. This policy is wrong and must be opposed. The decision by a Lagos based group to kick against it should be supported by all and sundry.
In a letter dated January 16, 2021 by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “The National Assembly, NASS,has a constitutional and oversight responsibility to protect valuable public properties and to ensure a responsible budget spending. Allowing the government to sell public properties, and to enjoy almost absolute discretion to borrow to fund the 2021 budget would amount to a fundamental breach of constitutional and fiduciary duties.”
SERAP maintained that selling valuable public properties to fund the 2021 budget would be counter-productive, as it would be vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement, saying, “it would undermine the social contract with Nigerians, leave the government worse off, and hurt the country in the long run. It is neither necessary nor in the public interest.”
According to the organisation: “The country’s fiscal situation must be changed – and changed quickly – through some combination of cuts in spending on salaries and allowances, and a freeze on spending in certain areas of the budget such as hardship and furniture allowances, entertainment allowances, international travels, and buying of motor vehicles and utilities for members and the Presidency.”
The statement read in part: “The time is now for the leadership of the National Assembly to stand up for the Nigerian people, stop the rush to sell public properties, push for a responsible budget, and support efforts to have the government spend responsibly.”
“Other areas to propose cutting include: constituency allowance, wardrobe allowance, recess allowance, and entertainment allowance.”
“SERAP urges the National Assembly to promptly work with the Presidency to fix the current damaging budgeting process and address systemic corruption in ministries, departments and agencies [MDAs]. Tackling corruption in MDAs, and cutting waste and salaries and allowances of high-ranking public officials would go a long in addressing the budget deficit and debt problems.
“SERAP also urges the National Assembly to stop approving loan requests by the Federal Government if it continues to fail to demonstrate transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained.”
“The current level of borrowing is unsustainable, which means that the National Assembly under your leadership can play an important role to limit how much the government can borrow in the aggregate. The National Assembly should urgently seek assurances and written commitment from President Buhari about his government’s plan to bring the country’s debt problem under control.
“We would consider the option of pursuing legal action to stop the Federal Government from selling public properties, and we may join the National Assembly in any such suit.”
“The budget deficit and debt problems threaten Nigerians’ access to essential public goods and services, and will hurt future generations. If not urgently addressed, the deficit and debt problems would seriously undermine access to public goods and services for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
“The deficit and debt problems can be fixed immediately if the National Assembly can exercise its constitutional and fiduciary duties to push for cutting salaries and allowances of members and the president and vice-president.”
This writer believes that selling off public assets just so the central government can have Funds to implement a budget that is disproportionately scheduled to be heavily used to pay off the high costs of governance and only a tiny fraction to be invested in building capital projects, will not augur well for a nation that should be forward looking.
The most unfortunate thing is that the current government has succeeded in dragging Nigeria into debt trap in such a way that it may take us another 100 years to be able to pay off even as there is nothing on ground to justify such huge scale of borrowings.
At the last count Nigeria’s total debt profile rose to N 31.009 Trillion (&85.897 Billion) as of June 30, 2020, according to the Debt management office (DMO). The figure compressed debt stock of the federal government, 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
To think that the same government that has borrowed so much is thinking of selling off public assets to Fund the 2021 National budget, will automatically go to show that we are dealing with a government that is bereft of any sort of ideas to grow the economy.
Moreover, this same government has frittered away the savings that previous government set up into a sovereign wealth fund.
To make matters worst, most of the 36 states are also burdened with unthinking administrators that are planning to strip their states of choice assets to be sold to the political office holders.
Anambra ranks amongst the states that has already put measures in place to begin this asset stripping Bonanza. The Nigerian Policing is also planning to sell off assets if the Nigerian Police to private owners and the suspicion is that the retiring Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu needs to come clean and tell Nigerians if this is true or not.
It is even much more disturbing that all of these poor policies are coming at a time that the most important worry of the citizenry is how to stay safer from the rampaging Covid-19 Pandemic.
This means that Nigerians are confronted by the Pandemic monstrous class of political assets strippers and the Pandemic of Covid-19.
Surviving these twin evils of pandemics will require resilience on the part of citizens to stand up and demand for accountability.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is NATIONAL COORDINATOR of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @www. huriwanigeria.com , [email protected] , www.thenigerianinsidernews.com .