A memory of the former president of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton (Popularly called Bill Clinton) stays in my head. I was a student in Washington DC when he presented his State of the Union Address in January 1999. Among other things he assured Americans during that address was, raising his clinched right fist, that “The State of Our Union is Very Strong”.
That assurance has refused to leave my head and I know that that assurance and the truth on the ground then, made him one of the most cherished presidents in the recent times in the USA. The same assurance could not be given by the time President Muhammadu Buhari was taking over from the former president Goodluck Jonathan on May 29, 2015. Since handover on May 29, 2015, the Nigerian press has been awash with tales of woes and debts at the federal and state levels. How did we arrive at this sorry state again?
I remember that by the end of 1983 under National Party of Nigeria, NPN, the economy of the nation went under and General Muhammadu Buhari and his group of military men came to the rescue of the Nation. We wobbled under all manners of debts until 2007 when President Olusegun Obasanjo announced to us that our external creditors have written off all our debts. Nigeria became almost debt free. We nearly canonise Prof. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Dr Oby Ezekwesili as economic wonderworkers. Now eight years after that, still under the watch of Prof. Okonjo-Iweala, our situation has gone from bad to worse. What happened?
We are back to a situation similar if not worse than the 1983 NPN days. States are owing workers months of unpaid salaries and pensions. The story was told of a governor in a North Central state in April this year, who responded to the request of pensioners for payment of the money due to them. He replied that if he has not being able to pay the salaries of the living (the workers) why are the dead (the pensioners) complaining? The reason, which they gave, is the fall in the price of the crude oil.
Yes granted that the price of crude oil fell below our foolish imagination at the beginning of this year. But I know we had gone through years of surplus before the present calamity of the fall of the prices. That is the question I am asking, “Where did our Joseph the dreamer” go that they did not advise our President and his economic team of the possible consequences of eating everything day by day, week by week and month by month?
What is the real work of the economic adviser to the president? What is the work of the minister of finance? What is the work of the National Economic Team? What did they say to the President and the Federal Executive Council?
Is it possible that they failed in their duties to read the world economic permutations and how it will affect Nigeria within this period of oil doom? The Biblical Joseph who was a slave was promoted to the rank of a Prime Minister in the Biblical Egypt because of his vision and economic foresight. His advice saved Egypt from hunger and made it a land of surplus in the period of scarcity. Now see where our own wise men and women have landed us.
Some of us saw this coming but our leaders got beclouded by politics and regional superiority contest that no one had national interest in mind to call a spade a spade. It became more worrisome when the former President explained that Nigerians were not poor. His reason was that Nigerians owned many private jets.
How can poor people own private jets? Now that our debt figures are beginning to add up, the scales are falling off our eyes and Nigerians are asking questions. The Governor of Osun State has confessed that he owes the state workers and pensioners backlog of eight months’ salary arrears. He has said that he is helpless since the state’s revenue base is weak and funds from the federal allocation are now very low. He said he had used the available resources to do capital projects. This means he has not grown the state’s economy. He was simply using the allocation from the federal allocation.
Osun, like many states, operates like poor people on welfare package from benevolent agencies or rather like Internally Displaced People living on hand outs from charitable church organisations and NGOs. What kind of governance is that?
The case of Benue State is also very pathetic. Between 2013 and early 2015, schools were closed for over one and half years and at the moment, the State University is still on strike, all for lack of payment of salary.
In December 2014, a day to Christmas, a staff of government rural clinic who was on a monthly salary of N46, 000 got an alert on his handset that his salary for the month of October had been paid. When he checked how much, it was only N14, 000 Naira that was credited. Not that he only owed bank facility or debt that he was paying at source.
That was all the state government paid him on December 24 for the month of October, with that, he was to celebrate Christmas with his family. The children were to return to school and school fees were to be paid immediately after New Year celebrations. The new governor of the state has said that he inherited a debt of over N90 billion from the outgone government.
The President of the Federal Republic has cried out that he inherited an empty treasury and a huge debt from the former government. Ahmed Joda a retired federal permanent secretary who chaired the President Buhari’s Transition committee exploded last week in an interview that his committee found corruption at every corner of Nigeria.
Last week, the governors of the 36 states were in Abuja, cap in hand, begging for lifeline from the Federal government to be able to pay debts and run the government. Where did we go wrong? How come our own economic team and the American trained and IMF approved economic and financial guru didn’t see this coming? I feel so deceived and used by these crops of administrators who kept telling me we had the greatest economy in Africa.
The reality is that we do not have enough cash to run our country. It is as simple as that they stole all the cash from the national and state treasuries, (remember that the Local Governments stopped have treasuries a long time ago).
They used some of the money to erect electoral bill boards, sponsoring documentaries on radio and televisions, propagating lies. The balance they practically looted in jets to stash away in foreign and local vaults. There are stories and rumours of local and foreign currencies being discovered in underground vaults and bunkers in homes of politicians in many parts of the country.
There is this wicked and scary one of sacks of cash of different currencies that were released from a bunker of a senator which were discovered to have gone bad. They were damp and became torn. He ordered that the many sacks of money, be burnt at a secret ceremony behind his house.
These were all happening at the period state governments were owing civil servants and Pensioners months of unpaid salaries and entitlements. This was at the period when petroleum marketers were on strike for lack of payment of the voodoo oil subsidy and fuel scarcity was biting hard on the ordinary Nigerians.
It was within this period that I bought 20 liters of petrol for N6, 500.00. This was when the National electricity grid nearly or almost collapsed and everything was running on generators. This was the period banks and offices were closing hours ahead of time for lack of electricity.
This was the period airlines cancelled and some suspended flights for days for lack of aviation fuel. At the same period, a public servant, elected by the people was burning millions of currencies of different denominations which he stole and stashed away in a non-ventilated condition. And these were the people making legislations on what to do with internet fraudsters and armed robbers.
They were busy passing life jail and death sentence legislations for young men who rape women but the same legislation was silent on what to do with public office holders and politicians who rape the nation to coma. Where did we go wrong by electing them? What is our fault?
The President has assured us that he will recover the Billions of money in the various currencies stolen from the national coffers. We wish him well in this enterprise but we know too that much of this money have been spent on frivolous activities and some burnt like the story above.
However, the nation will appreciate every kobo recovered for the sake of posterity. Let the President assure us that his cabinet will not indulge in voodoo economics that will insult the psyche of Nigerians. The practice of people mouthing nationalism and patriotism while stealing our common wealth and investing in foreign countries must stop. This practice only boosts the economy of those countries while impoverishing Nigerians.
I have never heard of a president, governor, senator or politicians of other countries coming to rest in Nigeria after leaving public office. None of them ever invests in Nigeria while in office. The reverse is the case of Nigerians. The bulk of the personal investments of our public officeholders are all outside Nigeria.
At the moment, more than half, if not all the former political office holders are in different parts of the world “doing medical Check Up” after “working very hard” for Nigeria. Some others have relocated to those foreign countries where they have houses and made investments to relax with their families after plunging the nation into darkness, debt and penury.
When they were visiting those places while in office, they told us that they were looking for investors. Now where the investors and what are the investments? These are some of the questions Nigerians would want the presidential recovery team to ask them on our behalf.
Nigerian office holders do not make the country conducive for relaxation, holiday and tourism. They treated the country like a jungle for hunting, like a farmland ready for harvest, a mining field for precious stones. Nigeria is not a hunting range. Nigeria is not a mining pit for precious stones. Nigeria is my country and I have no other country I can call my own.
Rev. Fr. Idoko wrote in from the catholic secretariat, Abuja

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