Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Whispering Drums With Maigani

by Musa Ibrahim

Economy And The Military

When Nigeria became independent on the 1st of October 1960, the total revenue of the federal and the three regional governments combined amounted to no more than £143 million. During this period (1960-62) the only instrument of economic management was the annual appropriations bill known as the budget, which was not related to any oil boom. specified economic goal. But some twenty-years later, the expectation was that by 1981, the federal government would derive, from oil alone, a revenue put at some N21 billion. In other words, the federal government was now going to be able to spend in one day, almost twice as much as was spent by the government in one month, twenty years ago.

Based on these purely whimsical calculations, Nigeria started embarking on gigantic plans and projects unprecedented anywhere in Black Africa. There was the 1962-1968 First National Development plan, the Second National Development plan 1970-1974, and the Third National Development plan 1975-1980. The first plan was under the first civilian administration of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria's Prime Minister. The plan embodied only three main objectives - "a high growth rate for the economy, a rapid development of opportunities in education, health and employment, and the establishment of a modernised economy compatible with the democratic aspirations of the people".

Two years into the plan, Nigeria was engulfed in a political chaos which eventually led to the collapse of the civilian regime, and with the start of the civil war, all talk of the plan vaporized.

The second plan was formulated and was expected to be implemented under a military regime and was radically different from the first in terms of its ambitions. Four billion naira (N4 billion) was put as the federal government capital for the plan; an astronomical sum compared to that of 1962-68 plan.

Like the second plan, the third plan was formulated and implemented (save for the last year, 1980) by a military regime. Covering the period 1975-1980, federal government expenditure for the plan was put at N33 billion. This figure was subsequently revised and increased to N43 billion. The huge sums allocated to the over-ambitious plan reflected the euphoria which followed the 1973/74

For instance, it was thought that oil production would rise to about 3 million barrels a day by 1980 to yield the large balance-of-payments surpluses which, it was expected, would pay for the cost of the plan. In fact, the planners emphatically stated that "finance is unlikely to be a major problem during the third plan period." But that was not to be, and far from the optimistic predictions being realised, oil production sharply fell and soon after, there was a drastic fall in oil prices as well, resulting into payments deficits of N260 million in 1976 and N657 million in 1977.

And in place of money being no constraint, Nigeria had to borrow externally, some $2.0 billion between 1978 and before 1st October 1979, to help pay for the plan. This was the picture of the country's economy on the 1st October 1979, when Shagari was sworn in as President! There were debts and there were deficits.

Yet two accusations against the overthrown civilian government of President Shehu Shagari by the Buhari military junta have stood out. One is the allegation by the military that the politicians had mismanaged the country's economy. The second allegation according to the head of the junta, Leko Buhari, is that "the politicians had turned the country into a beggar nation." Let us pause for a minute and consider the validity of these allegations.

Analysing the entire four year period of the Shagari administration, a highly placed bureaucrat stressed that "the consequences of the civilian administration were that most decision-making and, in general, policy making all tended to be ex post factum, designed to deal with past exigencies rather than anticipatory and therefore designed to bring about desired or preferred social states".

In other words, the regime was mainly dealing with the problems of the past government rather than dealing with the problems of the present and the future. For instance, most of the loans taken by the previous military government of Obasanjo became due during Shagari and having pledged to "uphold all past debts", Shagari had no choice but to start paying them. There were again the huge balance of payments deficits left behind, and as if that was not enough, finance became a major problem because of the global oil glut. Shagari could have resorted to "desperate measures" such as retrenchments or battering the country's crude-oil as the Buhari junta is doing now.

But his was constitutional a government democratically elected by the people and so all desperate measures were ruled out. Prudent management was the only alternative hence Shagari's introduction of austerity measures and these were beginning to yield positive results before his overthrow. So who mismanaged the country's economy?

Agreed, loans were taken by the civilian administration, but what needs to be known is the fact that most of these foreign loans were incurred by state governments who were completely autonomous. The Constitution allowed it and the federal government had no authority to stop state governments from borrowing. And apart from the IMF loan request, the federal government, for all I know, did not sign any agreement for a foreign loan (I want somebody to correct me if I am wrong). So which Nigeria had become a beggar nation in the eyes of Buhari and co? And how many meetings have the Buhari military junta had with IMF officials both in Lagos and Washington since assuming power?

There is one thing I respect about the present military junta in Lagos. They are all very clever. They know they live in glass houses and they know too that those who live in glass houses are not supposed to throw stones. This is the reason for holding the tribunals probing the politicians in secret.

It is the one reason why they are hesitant to bring Shagari or Alex Ekwueme to trial because they know of the devastating effects these men's revelations will have on the entire military establishment. So now that the whole world knows about the military's dirty tricks, it will do the Buhari junta a favour if all detained politicians are released without any further delay. For, as the saying goes, it is better to be late than never.

talking drums 1985-06-17 campaign against death penalty in Ghana