I am proud of the diversity of my friends; their careers and personalities. Perhaps that’s why I was not surprised to discover a friend I erroneously thought to be a finance geek, is actually a well-disguised smuggler. Last month, he informed a few of us of a plan to visit Nigeria for a few days to attend a “social” event, a perfect cover for his real motive to enter Nigeria; smuggling.
The value of the contraband he brought in was ‘merely’ £300, but the potency will perhaps be clearer to those blind immigration officers in a decade. You can rest assured that I don’t know anyone who smuggles explosives or blood diamonds; my friend was only guilty of smuggling books. That little story is the summary of how I got a copy of ‘Why Nations Fail’.
If you’ve not read James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu’s book, you should visit the bookstore. It is a weapon that solves one of Nigeria’s mysteries: why we are so poor and other countries are very rich? The authors say the answer lies in the ability of government to develop inclusive institutions; with a focus on property rights and contract enforcement. The book is big on institutions, because without them people have no incentive to work. What I like most is the argument of government being an ‘enabler’ and not the ‘doer’ a concept Nigerian governments struggle to understand. Another man worth reading is the great Mancur Olson, especially his magnus opus ‘Dictatorship, Democracy and Development’. In The Logic of Collective Action, he asserts that if narrow interest groups with small encompassing interests get control of government, they will divert income in their direction even if it makes the majority worse off. Sounds familiar, right?
Anyone who has read these books will not be surprised by the events at the House of Representatives on Tuesday. It did not surprise me that the Office of the Accountant General paid N999 million out in 128 tranches within 24 hours; or as my thematic thinking friend pointed out N999 million every 12 minutes. This and many other infractions happened because the narrow interest groups that control our government long decided to feed fat at our collective expense. None of the indicted marketers got their PPPRA allocation at an arm’s length because the prebendal nature of our nation continues to encourage the excavation of what should be common wealth by a select few. The real tragedy is when we have a chance to extract our pound of flesh at the ballot box; we choose to vote along religious and ethnic lines instead of punishing those enable the pilfering of common resources with impunity.
Let’s play a little game with numbers: N2.8 billion, $12.4 billion and N1.07 trillion. They all have three things in common: corruption, oil and impunity. In 1980, during the Shagari Administration, an allegation arose that N2.8 billion was missing from the NNPC. At the conclusion of the inquiry, the committee led by Justice Ayo Irikefe was satisfied no money was missing; end of discussion. Let us move to 1994 when the panel constituted to reform the CBN submitted its report to Sani Abacha. The damning line from that report reads: “total receipts and payments in respect of the dedication accounts from inception in September 1988 to June 30, 1994 were $6.195bn and $6.109bn respectively, leaving a balance of $85.943m as at the end of the period.” This was revenue from the sale of crude oil paid into dedicated accounts (outside the Federation account) illegally authorized by the Head of State at the time, Ibrahim Babangida. As we speak, six civil society organizations (CSOs) led by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), are in court trying to jiggle the memories of the CBN and the Attorney General of the Federation. It seems no one remembers where Pius Okigbo, the famous economist that led the panel, left the report.
I spent the last week tortured; trying to write a really angry article about N1.07 trillion. As Hemmingway famously said, “There is nothing to write. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.”