The self-serving bias of the public servant, By Umar Yakubu

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Reading Time: 5 mins read

“Let none presume to wear an undeserved dignity.”

Since the inauguration of President Bola A. Tinubu and the swift announcement of the drastic removal of fuel subsidy, Nigerians have been immersed in coping with galloping inflation and are still reeling in the shocks of having to contend with several neo-liberal economic measures within a short period. The government, too, has been entangled in trying to manage the battered economy it inherited since 29 May 2023. With such challenges on both sides, no one has really had time to evaluate or even discuss the Buhari regime, because in times of crisis, survival is more paramount than reflection. The government could have taken the wise decision to deal with the facts and slow down on blame.

That’s probably why Mr Femi Adesina, the former spokesman of President Buhari could come out to launch two books. One was about his experiences as a spokesman and the other was about the government he served’s tenure in office. I congratulate him for documenting his experiences. Dr Rueben Abati did the same and I believe every public servant worth his or her salt should document his/her experiences for future generations to learn from. If you don’t write about your time, you probably didn’t serve well while in office. But my concern is that because they are not under any probe, save for Mr Godwin Emefiele, and that’s probably because of his involvement in politics, they think it is OK to talk about their regime as if the tremors are over. It is certainly within their rights to write whenever they deem fit but the timing also matters.

On the day of the book launch, Seun Okinbaloye of Channels TV tried to ask some hard questions regarding the administration’s tenure, because he was probably wondering what the content of the book would be. In all of Adesina’s responses, there was not a single one in which he provided data to defend his position, but he kept deflecting every criticism as “the opinion of the critic,” and he even discarded economic data as an opinion on how their regime took Nigeria backwards on many indices of development. Even in terms of the naira design, for which people died, he sidetracked the criticism. As a spokesperson, he probably did very well in discharging his duties in defending his erstwhile boss. Anyone with the skills of being able to enable a red herring fallacy can effectively play that role in an environment in which people are not asked hard questions following their tenures in office as an important form of public accountability. I would like to see him interviewed by Rufai Oseni of Arise or Mehdi Hasan of MSNBC on the same questions that Seun sought to ask him. There would be no room for laughter or wriggling about.

Since the present government doesn’t want to talk about past facts, it is good that we remind it of a few of them before another person comes to insult us with alternative facts through a book. Since everyone has the right to write, we wish to remind the past government that by the time it left office, it had printed N27 trillion, which is one of the causes of the inflation we have today. Now, if the N27 trillion were judiciously utilised, the economy would have picked up. It would be nice to read a book on how the funds were used. By the way, the past CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele just took instructions from the Presidency and printed the said funds, as such he is not entirely the culprit. On what basis were those decisions taken and can any former official of that regime, say Madam Shamsuna, write a book to explain to Nigerians how transparent and accountable they were with those funds or did Mr Adesina capture this in his book? Let us also know which one came first: Did the administration pass the bill before printing the money or it printed it without the approval of the National Assembly? What about the Fiscal Responsibility Act that was clearly violated? Converting N27 trillion at the rate of N500 to $1 is $54 billion!

We would also be curious to know if Adesina captured how President Obasanjo met the country’s external debt of $28 billion and left it at $2 billion; Umaru Yar’Adua subsequently left it at $2.6 billion; Goodluck Jonathan left it at $7.3 billion, but Buhari took it to all of $41.6 billion during his presidency! Before anyone tells you that the government spent the money on infrastructure and social investment programmes, it will also be good to remind people that the average economic growth rate during the Obasanjo administration was 6.9 per cent; it was 7.1 per cent under Yar’Adua; 6 per cent during Jonathan’s tenure, and Buhari managed only a measely 1.4 per cent economic growth. Basic economics says that spending is supposed to spur growth, so what happened that they printed and borrowed more money than the past three regimes and yet all this did less to spur growth? A book on that would be good.

They should also recall that inflation under Obasanjo was 4.6 per cent; Yar’Adua, 15 per cent; Jonathan, 9 per cent, while Buhari left it at 22 per cent. Also, the official exchange rate to the dollar was N116 for Obasanjo; N149 for Yar’Adua; N197 for Jonathan, and N469 by the end of the Buhari tenure. We should note that the total of N116 plus N149 and N197 equals N462. Why the wide margin during the Buhari regime? Another irony was the fiscal deficit. Prior to 2014, the Federal Government revenue shortfall was in the billion naira range. Since Buhari came to office however, it has been in the trillion naira range. Officials of the past government will tell you that this was because they were paying subsidies with the funds for about two years, and that NNPC was not remitting into the federation account in this period. The last budget the government signed was N21 trillion, of which N11 trillion would be borrowed/printed. There is no need to even discuss how we became the poverty capital of the world.

Before anyone shouts at World Bank or IMF, the reeled data are from the government’s owned National Bureau of Statistics. I have decided to focus on the economy, as other sectors are dependent on that. Once the economy fails, other sectors crumble. Since they say they were people of dignity, we await the next former official who will write on facts that may be a worthwhile read.

 

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