Crux of the matter – The Nation

  • Getting value for public money now will secure the future

President Muhammadu Buhari, on May 28, put his fingers on the obvious: that a squandered past, which went on for decades, is responsible for the current poverty and insecurity. But it is an obvious fact many do not seem to appreciate.

That explains why not a few have jumped on the rather popular conclusion that the president may be making excuses for the perceived failure of his administration to swiftly tackle the problems, as the citizens had expected. There may be some legitimate ring to that. However, the complaints, radical and impatient, could also cut the picture of the tortoise, in an Igbo tale. The tortoise had been captive in a stinking ditch for eons; yet got restless, at sighting the rescue gang to free him, and started bawling: get me out of here! Get me out of here!

The president had told the visiting Emmanuel Ikazoboh-chaired Ecobank Transnational Incorporated board, a banking franchise in some 36 African countries, that the present pains were the direct result of past wastes. “If assets and resources available to Nigeria were properly managed, she would be prosperous and peaceful,” President Buhari said. “But the poverty and insecurity we are experiencing today are results of decades of neglect and resource mismanagement.”

It could not have been better put by anyone, because the statement established a direct nexus between wasted assets (in terms of corruption) and the grim but sure consequences (poverty: the basic result; and insecurity: the natural backlash by the bitter, the angry and the dispossessed).  In other words, neither good nor bad just happens in the public space. Either happens because of deliberate choices: by a corrupt and irresponsible government that drains public resources into illicit private pockets; and by a docile people that keep mum, when felons-in-government cart away the common wealth. That has been the twin-problem of Nigeria and it is just as well the president captured it so beautifully.

Neglect, fired by corruption, is most vivid in the practical collapse of infrastructure – road, power and other social services, for which yearly budgetary provisions are made. Mr. Ikazobor, in his address to the president, mentioned two sad manifestations in utterly collapsed infrastructure: the congestion of the Apapa ports (to which collapsed roads and near-zero parking facilities greatly contribute) and the shambles that the Lagos-Badagry-Seme road had become.  Both incidentally, are vital to trade – and just imagine what prosperity Nigerians could have boasted, had money, at the right time, been spent on these public facilities.

Surely, that would have boosted trade; booming trade would have boosted individual pockets; non-hurting pockets would have led to lower crime rates; and economically buoyant citizens would have been less prone to violent crimes, currently propelling the grave insecurity situation in the land.

It is true: no government can use past neglect to explain away its own inability to act as government, the monopolist of licit and legitimate coercion, to curb if not outright stamp out violent crimes and allied insecurity. If the president were to push such excuses, it would be unfortunate indeed.

But it is doubtful that was the president’s line. Rather, it is that governments should spend public money wisely and with responsibility; and citizens too, should always call their governments to account; and become vibrant partners in the fight against corruption. The few that steal the money of the majority are not ghosts. They live among us. You cannot, therefore, stay mute when these felons carted the money; and yet start bawling that corrective measures, for things your silence was complicit, were not fast enough.

Moving forward, Nigerians must judge the president by his own words. They must call the administration to account and ensure it walks its talk in the shrewd and careful spending of public money. That could well lay the foundation of a new era: judicious spending that ensures value for money, scale up infrastructure, physical and social; and assure a more prosperous and secure future. That is the crux of the matter.

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