$2Trillion Recovery Claim and The Limit of Hyperbole- S.A. Mohammed

We have just been told that Nigeria has recovered a whooping $2 trillion in 12 years. My first reaction to this ‘revelation’ is to ask: Wh...

We have just been told that Nigeria has recovered a whooping $2 trillion in 12 years. My first reaction to this ‘revelation’ is to ask: What is this obsession of the ruling APC government and their sympathisers with bandying high sounding, humongous figures, even at the price of irredeemably damaging the image of the country?

Former President Goodluck Jonathan, while in Geneva last week to receive an award, made an important point which import was not lost on Nigerians. Jonathan had told his audience that when the allegation came last year that the country had lost $49.8 billion in 18 months, he found it outrageous. He recalled telling some German officials he was meeting with at that point, that the said amount might sound neglible for their large economy, but was big enough to cripple Nigeria’s economy. He said he was surprised when the Germans also admitted that a missing $49 billion would equally hurt the very robust German economy. It was the Emir of Kano Lamido Sanusi who raised the claim of diversion of $49.8 billion by the NNPC, a figure he later reversed to 12.5 billion before subsequently raising it to $20 billion.

It is instructive that after a detailed audit of NNPC accounts conducted by a PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC) it was discovered that only the sum of $1.48 billion which was then unaccounted for, needed to be reconciled. Unfortunately, this uncontrolled and sloppy recourse to dropping overblown numbers has continued to do incalculable damage to the image and fortunes of the country.
I wonder if it is part of the change agenda of the new administration to unabashedly inflate figures in order to bamboozle and impress the starry-eyed army of change-chanting gullible Nigerians, as a means of convincing them that this government is indeed fighting corruption.
The latest one which is this shameful claim by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, to the effect that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has, in 12 years, recovered more than $2 trillion (about N400trn at current exchange rate) looted from the national treasury. Again, this animated alarm has cast us in bad light as a bunch of unserious, self-harming people.

It keeps one wondering if those in Government today really know the value of two trillion dollars or the implication of making such frivolous claims. But this is one claim that will never pass for the truth, not before Nigerians nor the international community. In the first place the country’s aggregate revenue in the last 12 years, be it from oil and other sources, is no where near that figure. Let’s break it further down. The 2016 budget of N6 trillion, which is still being debated by the parliament, remains the nation’s highest so far, at an estimated value of $31 billion, using the official exchange rate of N197/$. Let us assume therefore, that our annual budget had been on the same steam for the past 12 years, that would have given us a total of about $365 billion! This is unarguably nowhere near $2 trillion we are told have been recovered from treasury looters within that period.

Unless, of course the AGF would convince us that Nigeria’s treasury thieves have devised a formula of stealing monies not yet earned, the minister would be constrained to defend his qualification to be in that office. This is because it makes no sense that a government that has recovered $2 trillion would be seeking to borrow a ‘paltry’ $3 billion to finance 2016 budget deficit. As citizens, we have swallowed too many of their lies to our own detriment. It started with Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State who in a bid to ingratiate himself with President Buhari, shamelessly alleged that one of the ministers in Jonathan’s government alone stole $6 billion dollars, citing American Government sources. But Americans, not given to suffer fools gladly, promptly denied the loquacious governor.

The next is information Minister who has now being appropriately dubbed the Goebbels of this administration, with a trained knack to speak from both sides of the mouth. With his admirers applauding, he told the nation recently that the Jonathan administration did not buy any arms. It took the intervention of the former President, who had until now maintained his peace, to tell the world that the Buhari government have been prosecuting the anti-terror war with the ammunition procured by his government. It was only then that Mohammed admitted that arms were in deed purchased by the last administration. To cover his infamy, Mohammed went defensive, by claiming that the arms were sub-standard, obsolete with backfiring guns that kill soldiers. I spoke to a military expert who told me that cases of guns backfiring to kill trained handlers are unknown to gun manufacturers, not even to the local ones we have in Awka.

Speaking of Jonathan arms procurement, a Security Strategist, Akin Oges, writing in Beegeagle, a WordPress online source, said: “On the other hand, the Jonathan administration recapitalised the military with platforms that we could have only dreamt of some years before, by far huge achievements in comparison: the Nigerian Navy now has five OPVs amongst other platforms, the Nigeria Air Force now has the CH3A drones (armed version) amongst others and the Nigeria Army has been resourced with world class Special Forces units trained in Russia with some new hardware (REVA MRAPs, Bigfoot MRAPS, MRL 70 etc etc).” It is really quite surprising that Buhari has continued to tolerate people that had always misled him through barefaced lies. For instance, when Mohammed lied through his teeth that the government had technically defeated Boko Haram, it left an obviously displeased President with the difficult option of having to maintain a bold face as a tacit means of defending the tale. But when a certain Borno Village called Dalori was overran and wiped out, last week, with the terrorists murdering over 80 innocent Nigerians, the President couldn’t but cry out that he is now thoroughly embarrassed.

It is obvious that the current lies of recovered $2 trillion is not about Jonathan alone, as it covers 12 years, spanning Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan eras. But if it is just another page out of the script of chicanery already mastered by this government, it is one act of deception taken too far. There is no doubt that some unscrupulous public officials had over time looted a sizable amount of funds meant for the general development of the country. There is also nothing wrong with the present government continuing in the tradition of past ones, to seek to recover such funds stashed abroad.

But fund recovery efforts or lies about them and waging war against corruption shouldn’t be the main preoccupation of the government of a country facing this peculiar emergency, occasioned by the rapid drying up of oil revenue. The fact that this economy is tottering for lack of clear cut reform policy needs no gainsay. While some people continue to clap in ignorance, the international media have been sounding a note of warning. The first red flag was raised by The Economist which accused Buhari’s policy of damaging the economy. A few days later the Financial Times came out boldly to dismiss this administration’s economic management approach as “the height of foolishness.’’

One of the very first reasonably blunt local input to this debate came surprisingly from a camp that admires President Buhari. Reacting recently to the President’s proclamation on the economy, Pat Utomi, Professor of political economy added his voice thus: “President Buhari who was in Kenya re­cently said he would not devalue the Naira. The fact is someone like him should not be talking about such things. Whatever his sentiments are, he should keep quiet so that people who know about these things, should be allowed to talk about them. He has created a major problem for the economy by that statement.” It is obvious that what is required is a carefully crafted economic agenda, designed to take the country out of the woods. The challenge of dwindling oil revenue in a mono-cultural economy, worsening unemployment and collapsing currency can neither be wished away nor solved with recovered funds or body language.

We need a clear-thinking, inward-looking economic team to take us through the value. Unfortunately, this administration has either failed to assemble one or is even scared to showcase what it claims to be one. For the records, this is the only period in the history of the nation where no economist with cognate experience is involved in the management of the nation’s economy. As it stands today we can only guess that the economy is being managed by the finance minister, the budget and planning minister, the Vice President and chairman of National Economic Council as well as the Central Bank Governor, none of whom has a post-graduate degree in economics. Add to that the fact that the president is yet to appoint an economic adviser, and you just realize, to your shock, that Nigeria’s economy is currently on auto pilot. This is sad.

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