By Emeka Uzoatu
Awoken after a shallow mid-afternoon slumber, all I could overhear was Fela Kuti singing from my neighbour’s. It was a song about stealing by the people in authority.
It proved quite apt for all said, even undone, I’m often left wondering if economists have done enough about the link between personal and public finance. Especially when, as always, an impoverished majority sees themselves slaving to make ends meet while a few feeds fat on their toil.
A trending post on the nation’s social media space appears to capture it all. According to the crisp note, while 10,500 professors are paid a total of 4.8 billion Naira only, just 469 National Assembly members are paid a whopping 128 billion.
And again, whilst skilled civil servants work for an eternity of thirty-five years and are hardly paid their pensions and gratuities, school dropouts are pampered with lavish benefits after a mere four-year political tenure.
This takes the front burner now as the last is yet unheard about where the spending power of the average Nigerian is headed in these heady times we inhabit. While the times keep tightening, there appears to be no light at the end of our national tunnel.
More so, given that the government of the day appears never to have found the going easy since their ascension to power. Achieved on an over-hyped mantra of change, it has since metastasized into hopelessness. While inflation rates keep rising, the money in circulation keeps mopping itself up as though by internal combustion.
Of course, many have blamed the unique transformation on several policy mishaps by the key players in the government. But there appears to be more to it than confronts the eye.
First was the drop in the price of crude oil, easily our prim export commodity. From day one, this had them groping for alternatives. Following it’s much-touted Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERPG) the lot somehow fell on loans and taxation; as it were, heaping the brunt of the debacle on the populace all over again.
A situation worsened by the prevailing reality on the ground as typified by the social media message above. What with political office holders living as though in fattening houses while the rest slave to pander to their demands.
To make matters even worse, while all laboured to align to the changed beat, the world was hit with an outbreak of the Covid19 pandemic sans reveille. This one not knowing caution, caught all reeling. And before proper adjustments could be made, we were back to square one.
Then while the nation grappled with its variegated tentacles, the youth of the country pinned everyone down with the #EndSARS riots. Generally peaceful at onset, it was soon mismanaged out of proportion and the nation was once more put in reverse gear as Fela Kuti would sing.
True or false, it’s generally agreed that the Nigerian economy is driven by the informal sector. According to the nation’s apex bank the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) it houses businesses with networth running between 5-500 million Naira.
Though statistics is mostly inadequate, this is fueled by the common belief that a little over 99% of these Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Generally staffed by personnel running between eleven and a hundred, they are arguably the livewire of the country’s beleaguered economy.
To the government, however, the greater concern remains that their non-registration with the CAC means they are dodging their tax responsibilities. Any wonder that their only intervention as yet is its purported target of granting free access to SMEs registration to 250,000 of them across the nation. While the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will have some 7,906 concessions, Lagos and Kano states will have 9,084 and 8,406 respectively. The remaining Thirty-four states will have 6,606 names each.
According to the government’s often-garrulous mouthpieces, the declared aim for this is to fight youth unemployment. This, no doubt, in keeping with the government of the day’s undisguised belief that nothing but idleness made them take to the streets.
Talk of fighting a malady with carrots. However, the analogy pales somewhat when the same government asserts from the other side of its mouth that the same youths cannot go unpunished for their egregious transgression. Already passports are being seized, accounts are being frozen and sooner than later arrests will start being made.
In a well-circulated outburst, the president’s chief spokesman is quoted to have vowed on national television that ‘the culprits must be made to face the music’. Of course the symphony will without doubt be orchestrated by the government.
At the end of it all, it may be noteworthy to caution the government about the possible repercussions of this move. Though the carrot has been waved at the youths, time is needed to measure it’s acceptance.
Already the various commissions set up to look into the disturbances are hardly at work yet. Therefore, one cannot but wonder where the government got the indices it used to arrive at its evidently prejudiced conclusions.
They should at least have let the carrot(s) they fed the populace digest before waving the present stick(s). After all, like I now heard from my neighbour’s stereo, Fela was pinpoint that whoever wakes trouble from its slumber, should be ready for the inevitable palaver that’s bound to follow.
Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.