Before this camel’s back breaks, By Uddin Ifeanyi


Reading Time: 4 mins read

The weakening of living conditions in the country gathered pace in the eight years that was the Buhari administration’s rule. Whatever measure of economic health one picked

inflation, unemployment, output growth etc. 

the curve over the last decade has trended southward and the pace has been unnerving. Grisly as it turned out to be, the “cash confiscation” programme of the Central Bank under Mr Godwin Emefiele simply accelerated this process. In the last few days, decisions by the new Federal Government, aimed it seems at boosting the price discovery process in key sectors of the economy, appear to have only further compounded matters.

However, a cursory reading of the nation’s history reveals that since independence, our policy choices have always supported the process of the immiseration of our people. A misplaced and inexplicably exaggerated sense of national affluence has also not helped. Even now, much of the resistance to the Tinubu government’s reforms comes from a coterie of compatriots who believe that the country is wealthy enough to continue to glad-hand its heirloom to all and sundry

if only we can deal with corrupt practices. The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves and its profitable export, especially in the 1970s, did not help, either.

We did not save. As a then Third World economy, we did not invest in institutions, processes or activities (schools, healthcare, technology, infrastructure, etc.) that would increase future yield for entities working in the country. We happily embraced the illogic of the “Dutch Disease”, repatriating all the dollar earnings from our export of crude oil. Not only did we not think of investing the money in building our infrastructure for gas (we have always had more of this) exploration, like we did with our gas, we simply flared it. And as the flames from the gas flaring reached for the skies, polluting our environment, the naira soared on the fumes of the dollars we were setting on fire, polluting the economy.

For too long, we were in thrall to the delusion that money was not Nigeria’s problem. How to spend it was

― and we did, hand over fist.

This penchant for non-productive spending is still as evident in our lavish social and cultural practices, as it was most recently depicted in the quality of vehicles in and length of the new president’s motorcade. In this sense, we have spent every year of the last 60 post-independence years consuming future expected income. Unsurprisingly, in no subsequent year did income from non-oil activity come in as expected (remember we didn’t do much yesterday to boost todays earnings); and the debts rapidly fell due.

Even now, we tend to think of the due debt in financial terms (rising debt-to-output, or debt service obligations-to-revenue ratios). But decrepit infrastructure, and inadequate processes for the production of human capital that is fit for purpose

these are even more burdensome straws that the camel that is the domestic economy has had to endure. Eventually, something has to give

our capacity to make these straws, or the camel’s ability to bear them. Our tragedy today lies in the fact that we never seem able to escape this outcome: that a remarkably ill-prepared segment of the populace is always called upon to bear the burden of years of motiveless bad behaviour.

Listen to official policy pronouncements over the years, and it is clear that the “poor and vulnerable” members of our population have always held the short end of a shortening stick. This invites the question, “When will the fabled camel’s back break?” Use too many metaphors and you would end up mixing them up unconscionably. But in this case, there are two reasons to believe we are either at or near that Rubicon. For one, a burden this severe (it is not just higher petrol prices, the rumours of an expected increase in electricity tariffs, nor the bump to domestic prices from a now-riotous naira exchange rate) has met with a quiescence most unusual.

The optimistic reading for why the streets are not more on edge is that having grokked the need for roots-and-branch reform of the Nigerian state, our people are willing to cut the new government the slack it needs to get the job done. Less charitable commentaries warn of a calm before a tempest. The detail that matters, as usual, lies in between both of these extremes. Either way the Tinubu government’s room for making hay while this particular sun shines started to shrink weeks ago.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.








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