Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Whispering Drums With Maigani

by Musa Ibrahim

"Dan Buzu" goes on leave

Like the Biblical God who created the world in six days and on the seventh day rested, having taken stock of His ingenious creation and pronounced it "Good", Nigeria's Head of the military junta in Lagos, General "Dan Buzu" Buhari recently took stock of his 20 months in office. Giving each of the 19 state governors and all the ministers a 100% pass mark and himself a pat on the back, Buhari uttered that he was content with the work of the junta so far. What he refused to say - or did he forget? - was whether his regime has finally succeeded in "ameliorating the degrading conditions under which the common man had been forced to live by the politicians." Anyway, as a sign of the good times, Buhari decided to take some rest, leaving his strongman Idiagbon in command. All well and good one might say, unless you have an ear to the ground as I have.

The truth is, these past few weeks, the debilitating effects of sickle cell, the disease said to have gripped the entire Buhari clan, have been showing on the General. Already his wife and daughter are in a specialist hospital in West Germany receiving treatment. Buhari himself had intended to join them there as soon as it was politically feasible. Perhaps it is still not politically feasible, what with the rumours of coups and the like still making the rounds in the country, which is why the General is still recuperating in Daura.

But should the good General decide to leave after all, I would very much implore him to make similar arrangements for those detained politicians that are seriously sick to also go out for special medical treatment. I am pleading most passionately on behalf of President Shehu Shagari, whose condition is said to be "critical".

On a last note. Two of Buhari's close associates do not seem to be unduly worried about the state of health of their Boss. Mallam Wada Maida, Buhari's Chief Press Secretary, and Major Mustapha Jokolo, the ADC, have been seen parading the most exclusive shopping centres of London. There is speculation, too, of business deals being arranged and visits to banks to check on their bank accounts. But did not they say that it was a crime for anybody to operate a bank account outside Nigeria? Yes, they said so, but that rule, you hophead, is for ordinary mortals. And you can bet your last penny, but that Wada Maida and Mustapha Jokolo are, in the present dispensation in Nigeria, no ordinary mortals....

Meanwhile, Buhari's assessment or judgement on the Nigerian situation aside, there is unanimous agreement among all and sundry that the Nigerian economy is today in a state of crisis. Some of the indicators are:

(i) massive retrenchment of workers in all sectors of the economy - private and public;

(ii) Raging and maddening inflation;

(iii) Shutdowns and bankruptcies of several companies;

(iv) Shortages of essential and non-essential goods alike, etc. etc.

Also quite obvious is the fact that the crisis is worsening and with no obvious solution to the problem in sight. There is also the fact that unless some solution is found fast, Nigeria will definitely grind to a halt - countertrade agreements notwithstanding. Finally, what the country's policy makers require to be drummed into their thick grey cells is the fact that these problems are fundamental and structural, and thus requiring a systematic change in present day policies. And in order to do that, there is the need to identify first the basic problems that confront the country. Four basic problems mark the Nigerian economic condition:

(a) Since the late seventies to the present day, Nigeria has had little economic growth, indeed the country has had economic contraction or a negative growth instead. Even during the "oil boom" years when there was said to have been an economic growth, the growth rate did not exceed the rate of growth of population, which is really the critical objective. The growth problem was further worsened by the fact that the supposed economic growth was a product of a single sector of the economy - oil.

(b) The Nigerian agricultural sector which is the source of livelihood of the population is in complete shambles. Whereas in many developing countries the problem is how to achieve a balance between producing food for home consumption and producing cash crops cocoa, groundnuts, etc - for exports, in Nigeria the leaders have been doing badly in both. The country is not self-sufficient and last year alone, the country's food import bill is reported to have reached $3 billion! As regards cash crops, Nigeria is no longer an exporter of these goods and this is particularly appalling when one remembers that sales of these cash crops were the mainstay of the Nigerian economy up until the end of the civil war.

(c) There is massive inflation reflected in rapid price increases. This inflation is having a devastating effect particularly on the urban wage earners who have fixed salaries and cannot there- fore adjust their earnings accordingly. The single most fundamental cause of inflation has been over-spending by government which expresses itself in huge budget deficits. Successive governments have always tried to do too much through the public sector and have not succeeded in increasing government revenues to match the ambitious programmes that they always set for themselves.

(d) There is a serious income distribution problem; certain occupations are being rewarded far beyond their usefulness in the national economy, others are not being rewarded enough. In particular, farmers (not the Obasanjo or the Yar Adua types) are not sufficiently rewarded for their efforts in food production and are receiving insufficient incentives. Wage- earners are also relatively under- rewarded. The income going to traders is far too high. The present Nigerian economy rewards import licence holders far too well, the economy therefore encourages distribution of goods and not its production. And as long as it is more profitable to secure an import licence than it is to set up an industry or to grow food, then the Nigerian economy will continue to be in a state of crisis.

If these are the basic problems of the economy - and I believe strongly that they are - what should be the objectives of any successful policy? What targets does government need to set for itself? These and other questions are what advisers of the military junta in Lagos should try to address themselves to rather than quickly resorting to desperate measures such as the archaic conception of …

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