MR. PRESIDENT, SHOW ME THE MONEY!
Lately President Goodluck Jonathan has been going out on a lot of limbs, politically and financially. Notable among his risky political machinations are the recent impeachment of the Adamawa State governor as well as the failed impeachment of the Nasarawa State governor.
The targeting and harassment of opposition governors with impeachment sets a bad precedent and is likely to do more harm to our already shaky democracy. This strategy of beating the opposition into submission or extinction flies in the face of the basic principle of democracy as the mere presence of an opposition is a major feature of a democratic society.
As for his financial fallibilities, the infamous case of the missing/unaccounted for $20 billion readily comes to mind. It will be recalled that he did not and has still refused to accept that the money is missing, needless to say calling for an investigation into its disappearance or whereabouts.
Recently he upped the ante of his financial errors by stating his intention to embark on a misadventure that could have grave economic consequences for the country and may possibly turn out to be a white elephant project. He has expressed an intention to seek for a $1 billion loan to further fight the Boko Haram insurgency.
With an estimated =N=4 trillion said to have been spent on containing the insurgency within the last 3 years without much to show for it, a number of issues need to be seriously considered before taking such a loan, which the President seems to have neglected or is hellbent on ignoring.
I recall during the transition period from primary school to secondary school my father started the practice of giving me a monthly allowance. His reason for doing so was because "I was growing into a man and therefore needed to learn about financial responsibility and management of resources." Me? Growing into a man at the age of 11? My first impulse was to laugh and offer a dissenting opinion about his assertion but I not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, kept quiet and nodded in agreement.
The money wasn't a lot, just a small token. Usually I didn't get anything till the month ended. So if I spent the money before then and requested for an advance, my father would say "show me the money". What he meant by this was I had to prove I had spent the money judiciously and wisely by producing some tangible and educationally useful and inspiring evidence to that effect. This was by no means an easy task as the money was spent mostly on comic books and peanuts, which didn't exactly reflect financial responsibility and prudent management of resources as is expected of an individual advancing into adulthood.
The above mentioned narrative offers a basic elementary reasoning which begs the question, what then was the estimated =N=4 trillion for security and fighting the insurgency actually spent on in the last 3 years to warrant seeking a $1 billion loan? Don't get me wrong. I would very much like to see an end to the carnage that has become the new "normal" in our country but there is a need to show that the funds appropriated for security were spent justifiably as a means of proving that the loan being sought for will be used honestly for its intended purpose.
I'm no security expert neither am I an economist but from the basic knowledge I have been privileged to gain from mixing with individuals who possess qualifications and a vast wealth of experience in both fields, I know that =N=4 trillion is a heck of a sum of money (pardon my French) which if spent prudently on containing the insurgency will have an effect even unborn babies will feel.
I've had the rather unfortunate privilege of arguing in futility with people who are of the myopic opinion that the presence of military checkpoints scattered across vast areas of the North and North-East of the country are an indication that the security funds were and are being put to good use. Nope! I vehemently disagree. Real security is not only seen, it is also felt. You can walk straight up to the fence of the White House unhindered and unfettered, touch it, take a picture and probably heckle Obama but you know you dare not even attempt to jump over it despite the absence of checkpoints and armed guards.
So far, I don't feel the least bit safe despite the checkpoints dotting major streets and highways. After all, the presence of the checkpoints has not prevented bomb laden vehicles from slipping through them. Besides even if checkpoints were placed across the entire length of the country I doubt if =N=4 trillion would be exhausted without producing the desired results. If I'm wrong, please educate me.
Others agree that the security funds haven't been put to good use but say that the loan is required to upgrade the army's obsolete equipment and weapons. True as that may be, equipping the army with state of the art weaponry may not go the whole ten yards as a shortage or lack of modern equipment/weapons isn't the only major problem plaguing the army. There seems to be a serious lack of courage, conviction and motivation amongst the armed forces, as evidenced by various accounts of desertion by soldiers due to the fear of engaging Boko Haram fighters. Granted, $1 billion can do a lot but it can't buy bravery or courage. What the army needs more than weapons is intense motivation and reorientation to bring about a strong sense of duty and patriotism to enable them stand their ground and fight the insurgency head on.
I emphasize the word "intense" because the much needed reorientation is not going to be easy considering how far lost the army is. They have been turned from a body of individuals committed to defending the unity and sovereignty of our country to an armed mob used to intimidate the electorate and the opposition during elections in favour of the ruling party, as was seen from what transpired during the recent Ekiti state gubernatorial elections. Hundreds of armed troops were deployed to "maintain law and order and ensure the smooth conduct of the elections" while villages were being raided and sacked by Boko Haram in Borno State. Talk about a misplacement of priorities.
Impunity has also been a major setback on the army's culture of discipline. This is at an all time high. During the military era the army was known for its impunity but let's face it, it's never been this bad. This was shockingly apparent in the July rampage by soldiers in Lagos over an accident in which a BRT bus knocked down a soldier. The rampage left several BRT buses burnt and vandalised. The army high command denied this without so much as an investigation. There are also hundreds of cases of flagrant human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings which to this day have remained un-investigated.
Nigeria and the Nigerian way of doing things will most likely remain an indecipherable enigma till the end of time. Ours is a country of contradictions on so many levels. The individuals we charge with protecting our lives and properties are the worst paid in the country. During any crisis which requires the need to deploy troops, the logical thing to do is to provide them with a raise or special allowances so they will be better motivated to take up the task at hand. Alas, in my beloved country that is not the case. Soldiers are placed at checkpoints to languish under harsh financial and weather conditions. Several anonymous whistleblowers have granted interviews complaining about nonpayment of their allowances and even a slash in salaries.
Several allegations have been made of senior military officers stifling and embezzling the much needed funding required for the daily operations of army units formed to contain the insurgency. When individuals who's sworn duty is to protect the citizens of a country and its sovereignty use a major insurgent crisis as a cash generating enterprise, then one should be very worried about what could result from borrowing $1 billion.
Sometimes it seems our government suffers from a case of self induced amnesia and dementia. These foreign countries to whom we go cap in hand seeking for a loan are not stupid. They're probably more well informed about what goes on within our country than we are. It's not rocket science, it's simple logic! If $20 billion can get lost under your watch, you sack the Central Bank Governor for performing his legally obligated duty of alerting you to the case of the missing funds and you refuse to initiate an investigation into the truth or otherwise of its disappearance, then you don't need a $1 billion loan! These actions all cast a bad light on the government and they do not inspire confidence as to its genuine need and use for the loan.
How about the huge sums of money which should have accrued to the government as revenue but were lost as a result of the import and tax waivers granted to individuals within the last 3 to 4 years? That too could have been channelled into the fight against Boko Haram rather than seeking for a loan which will attract huge interest rates. Surely, not all those waivers could have been well deserved.
Though I don't pander to the rantings and whispers of conspiracy theorists, I've had cause to listen to a few and some of them are wildly imaginative; the loan may be diverted to fund the campaign and largesse for the 2015 elections. Considering the unsavory come hell or high water actions and utterances of senior members of the ruling party in recent times regarding next year's elections, this theory makes some sense.
Nigerian leaders have a long track record of mismanaging the donations, grants and loans received from NGOs and foreign countries for infrastructure provision, skill acquisition or some other much needed endeavor over the years. Of the truck loads of money received, there have only been cup and spoonfuls of results to show for it. The President has a lot to do to fully assuage the fears of most, myself included, who feel this loan will go the way of past loans.
One way of doing so would be to break the shroud of secrecy which budgetary allocations for defence and security have been cloaked in over the years. With the less than stellar results recorded in the fight against Boko Haram amid rampant accusations of monies meant for security purposes being diverted for personal use, it is high time an audit of such funds is initiated with a view to making sure they are being properly utilized.
I have lost friends to this madness, both civilians and members of the armed forces. It has gotten to a point where I'm reluctant to call and check on some of them or their families for fear of being told they are no more. I want to see an end to this madness. If $1 billion, $5 billion or even a $10 billion dollar loan is required to end this, as long as the money will be put to the true use for which it is going to be borrowed I'll throw my full weight behind it. Till then, I'll stand in line with the skeptics.
Mr. President, I'll support your decision to seek for this loan if you can prove that security funds were well utilized and these funds will be as well. However, as was the practice with my father when I asked for an advance on my allowance, and in the words of Jerry Maguire, show me the money!