VIEW FROM THE GALLERY BY Mahmud jega
There was this scene on Animal Planet channel many years ago, of a lone lion in Tanzania’s Serengeti plains, walking towards a herd of zebras several dozen strong. The lion suddenly broke into a run towards the zebras and they all took to their heels, sorry, hooves. After only a few seconds, the lion stopped the chase. The video narrator, Sir David Attenborough, said, “It is a false charge. The lion wanted to see if any of the zebras is sick or has a broken leg, so he could target it. But they are all running well.”
I thought of this false charge in Nigeria last week when Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, threatened to sue the United Nations for, she said, not disbursing all the funds meant for Nigeria that it collected from international donors. Speaking at a press conference in Abuja, the minister said the UN obtained some funds on behalf of Nigeria without remitting them, and that UN failed to provide her ministry with the necessary records. “I stand here as the Minister of Women Affairs to demand from the UN, the account of all the monies they sourced from donors in Nigeria’s name. We want to see the account of what they did. From 16th of October to November 15, if we don’t get those reports for Nigerians to see, we are heading to court…By 15th you will hear the lawsuit number.”
Sue the United Nations? Which part of it? All of its 193 member nations? Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UN Secretariat hardly deal with donor funds, or with anyone in Nigeria outside Presidency and Foreign Ministry. To complicate Minister’s task, UN has seven major organs including General Assembly and Security Council, plus specialised agencies such as UNESCO, World Health Organisation [WHO], Food and Agriculture Organisation [FAO], United Nations Development Program [UNDP], International Labour Organisation [ILO], World Food Program [WFP], UN High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] and UN Population Fund [UNFPA], plus autonomous adjuncts such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund [IMF].
Which one of them is Minister going to sue? Many UN agencies spend money in Nigeria, which they collect either from UN Secretariat or from donors. I wonder; can a recipient sue a donor? Minister Uju’s threat to sue UN was most likely a lion-style false charge in order to prod it to spend more money in Nigeria. Why not start with a phone call or a visit instead to the UN Deputy Secretary General, who is a Nigerian woman? That could bring faster results than a suit at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, which is the UN’s judicial arm.
Central Bank of Nigeria’s [CBN] public statement of October 12 also looked to me like a lion-style false charge designed to see if any fleeing forex traders had broken legs. The apex bank promised, for example, to “continue to promote orderliness and professional conduct by all participants in the Nigerian Foreign Exchange Market.” It reminded me of an incident at the height of Lebanon’s civil war in 1982, when its Ambassador to USA said, “The US government has assured me that it will continue to maintain the sovereignty of Lebanon.” Noting that Israel, Syria, Lebanese National Army, UN Peace Keeping Force, US Marines, French Foreign Legion and 16 different Lebanese and Palestinian militia each controlled a slice of Lebanon, Newsweek magazine’s columnist George F. Will then wrote, “How can you maintain something that does not exist?” Promote orderliness in our forex markets? Is there one in the first place?
CBN also said, “As part of its responsibility to ensure price stability, it will boost liquidity in the Nigerian Foreign Exchange Market by interventions from time to time.” There are only two ways to save the naira; boost forex supply or reduce its demand. CBN increased forex demand by reinstating 43 items that have been excluded from the forex market for some years. Does it have the forex to boost supply? A $3 billion Emergency Crude Repayment Loan said to have been secured by NNPC Ltd from African Export-Import (AFREXIM) Bank in August, meant to shore up the naira, was later denied by the bank. Forex dealers here saw it as a false charge designed to see if they had broken legs.
In the last three months, President Tinubu’s Administration has rolled out several programs aimed at reducing poverty in the country, or at least reducing the suffering of citizens at the bottom rungs of the social-economic ladder. One of the most publicized measures was the August 17 release of N5 billion to each state and Federal Capital Territory [FCT] for them to procure food items for distribution to the poor. In addition, each state and FCT got five trucks of rice. Some of the funds were grants while some were loans.
Also well publicized was Tuesday last week’s commencement of distribution of N25,000 per month to 15 million households under the Renewed Hope Conditional Cash Transfer program. It is aimed at “uplifting poor and vulnerable Nigerians as an immediate intervention to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal and other economic shocks.” Dummy cheques of N25,000 each were presented to five beneficiaries to kick start the program. World Bank Country Representative Shubham Chaudhuri said this “shock-responsive cash transfer” is widely used in many countries and “is one of the most effective methods in assisting the impoverished and vulnerable, who have been impacted by economic shocks or rising living costs.”
Other poverty-relief measures unrolled or promised by the Tinubu Administration include a new national minimum wage for workers; a N35,000 grant to all Federal workers for three months; signing of four Executive Orders to address unfriendly fiscal policies and reduce multiple taxes; funding of 75 enterprises with N75 billion to improve productivity; funding Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises with N125 billion, out of which N50 billion would be for Conditional Grant of N50,000 each to 1,300 nano business owners in each of the 774 local governments across the country between now and March 2024; and 225,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer, seedlings and other inputs to be provided to farmers.
This is all a lot of effort but we must pray that poverty, which is a hydra-headed monster aggravated by insecurity and kidnapping, does not see all of these as a lion-style false charge designed to frighten it. Experts say that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him fish to eat, but I agree with the World Bank man that when a person sinks to a certain level of poverty, the first task is to keep him or her alive. However, with respect to the loans advanced to small businesses, I remember what the then Director General of National Directorate of Employment [NDE], Alhaji Abubakar Mohammed, told editors of Daily Trust more than ten years ago. He said most Nigerians think capital is the only thing required to operate a business, but there is the small matter of acquiring elementary skills of book keeping.
What he said reminded me of a shop owner near my grandfather’s house. He had a drawer in his desk where he kept all his sales. He also had three wives and many children. Every now and then, a child will emerge from the house with a message from one of the wives. The shop owner will open the same drawer, dip his hands in and dish out the needed money. I think even Price Waterhouse Coopers will not be able to audit his shop’s account.
Alhaji Abubakar said another thing, that there are many poverty alleviation programs going on at all levels in the country but they were not coordinated. For example, he said, some young men and women in many of our towns and cities know that almost every day, a government agency, an NGO or the wife of a governor, minister, legislator or Local Government Chairman will come to distribute palliatives. So they sit there every day, waiting for someone to turn up. My fear is that Poverty will see all our programs as a lion-style false charge and wait for them to fizzle out.
Last Friday, one of Nigeria’s most eminent statesmen urged the Presidency and National Assembly to get together and produce a new Constitution. Speaking at the convocation ceremony of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Chief Emeka Anyaoku said India, United Kingdom and Canada succeeded in managing their diversity by structuring their national constitutions; Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Sudan failed to do so while Turkey and Nigeria are works in progress.
The 1999 Constitution as amended must be laughing heartily at Chief Anyaoku’s suggestion. It will say, “How is Constitution the problem when Britain does not even have a written Constitution? The Chief wishes for a return to fewer and more viable federating units. Am I the one that told you guys to increase the number from 3, to 4, to 12, to 19, to 21, to 30 and to 36, plus one hanging state called FCT, which some of you are even saying that its votes are superior to all the states combined? Chief also complained about economy in doldrums and insecurity throughout the country. Is it the Constitution that kidnaps people? Is it me that made the naira to reach 1,000 to the dollar? The Directive Principles of State Policy that I gave to you, do you follow them? All the check and balance measures that I created for you to check abuse of power at all levels, are you people not circumventing them? I beg, this is another lion-style false charge. Corruption and insecurity are running well, so like the lion, you should quit this charge after a few minutes.”