As a young boy at St. Paul’s Primary School, Breadfruit, Lagos, I had this favourite teacher, Mr. Esugbohungbe, an Ijesha from today’s Osun State. His speciality was in moulding our character with illustrative stories from the bible. One of such which stuck in my head (over sixty years ago) was the parable of the prodigal son, who insisted his father should release to him his overall inheritance as he was prepared to go out into the world and survive on his own. All pleas to him from his parents and siblings to the contrary, fell on deaf ears. Eventually, his wishes were met and within a short time, the prodigal son frittered all he thought he had and had to return home in shame, especially as he discovered others, under the strict guidance of their parents, had each multiplied in status and wherewithal.
The import of this parable is for any adherent of whatever religion, especially in the light of the current controversy over prospects of selling our national assets, for which unconvincing ostensible reasons are being dangled. The proceeds from the sale of the assets will either be pumped into the economy to shore it up or to repay our loan, according to the agitators of selling our national assets. This controversy cannot be flippantly handled just like that, as we say outside the ruling class. Under the administration of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerians were made to believe that the foreign debt had been virtually entirely liquidated. Which foreign loan are we, therefore, so desperate to repay and, therefore, warrants the sale of our national assets? On the other hand, perhaps, no nation can float economically without foreign debt even after the previous one had been fully repaid under the Obasanjo administration. If, therefore, countries in other parts of the world owe foreign debt, what is unusual for Nigeria in the same class?
Which other serious country in the world run by sincere leaders sells off national assets to repay foreign debts or improve the economy? The only seeming grace is that so far, President Muhammadu Buhari, has not given Nigerians his official stand. Even then, that is more of cold comfort as his economic team, comprising Vice President Yemi Osibajo and state governors has okayed the move. In which case, the 2019 elections should be seen as so far and yet so near. Even before then, President Buhari must face the fact that he was not elected in 2015 to preside over the looting of Nigeria’s national assets by economic, business and political vermins under whatever guise, including diverting the proceeds to repaying foreign debt.
Do we have any enviable record of national assets disposal? Surely, not in recent history. Under the fog of privatisation and economic reform, a private company was hurriedly registered into which erstwhile national assets – government parastatals, landed property, business ventures, etc. – were misappropriated. A leading figure in the same government, which sold the assets, was offered two hundred million shares gratis by the emergency business conglomerate. That was a trap to compromise the leading figure in government, who accordingly, politely rejected the Greek gift. On the other hand, the other leading figure in government, ever greedy and insatiable, collected his own free two hundred million shares from the emergency company and hurriedly auctioned it at two naira per share, some four hundred million naira. And today, we are prosecuting non-influential Nigerians for collecting one hundred million naira? Why was it necessary at all for a newly incorporated company and blatantly favoured beneficiary of privatisation of national assets to offer millions of shares gratis to those who took the decision to sell national assets?
The first question President Buhari must tackle is: Who are those already lined up to buy our national assets? The same gang in politics, economy, business and those who looted banks, roaming the streets as super enterpreneurs. Here is another question. If our national assets are sold and the proceeds pumped into the economy or utilised for liquidating our foreign debt, does that mean henceforth, our economy will become buoyant, once again, the biggest in Africa or that Nigeria will never again be indebted to foreign creditors? And should Nigeria be once again indebted (which is inevitable for any country in the world) which other national assets will be sold to repay such debt or stimulate the economy in the future? That is why, whether Buhari is going for a second term and especially if he is not, he must not incur the wrath of Nigerians or stain his reputation by inadvertently creating opportunity for business, political and economic thugs to loot our national assets. So far (about thirty months away) and yet so near, 2019 offers a suitable occasion for Nigerians to vote for or against looting of our national assets.
When last time national assets were misappropriated into an emergency conglomerate, how much was paid and how was the amount utilised? Was it pumped into the economy or did it stop Nigeria from from being indebted again? Instead, Nigeria suddenly deteriorated into a nation littered with private jets, some of them conveying government fund from one country to another… With whatever name fraudulent manipulation of Nigeria’s economy had been dignified – privatisation, diversification or even the speculated sale of our national assets – all we progressively ended with had benn shameless parade, initially, of millionaires and lately billionaires, to be imminently followed by trillionaires and first zillionaires in the world, in a nation of inequality where, along with these crooks, well-educated, well-skilled and able-bodied fellow citizens cast aside their human dignity to beg on streets, lament their agonies at door-steps of ordinary aquaintances or offer their children as house helps?