Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Of State-sponsored weddings in a depressed economy- Senator Ben Murray-Bruce

By Ben Murray-Bruce
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) just released its World Economic Outlook for 2016 and listed 15 of the fastest growing economies in Africa and Nigeria was nowhere to be found.
The sad thing is that Nigeria had been listed by experts as the world's third fastest growing economy in 2014. We were also acknowledged as the fourth fastest growing economy in 2011 by the British government. So what happened in just one year? How could we have deteriorated so badly in such a short period of time?

This is beyond Muhammadu Buhari or Goodluck Jonathan. This is beyond the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I am not a proponent of politicising the economy. I am not playing politics here. Nigeria is in economic trouble and we have to put our heads together to get us out of this bind. If you are queuing up to buy petrol at as high as N250 in some places, the fuel attendant does not care if you are APC or PDP. If you go and buy a dollar for N320, you do not get a discount because you are APC or PDP.

Our economy is tanking and those of us in government cannot respond to this by buying new jets, new SUVs and build new mansions. We must cut our coat according to our cloth. If we are not producing wealth for Nigeria we should not be consuming wealth from her! We must ask ourselves serious questions like, do we really need 36 states with 36 state assemblies and 36 judiciaries consuming 55 per cent or our national annual revenue? Should we continue to spend 70 per cent of our budget paying the salaries of an ineffective public service?

What is the delay in implementing the Orosanye report to cut down the number of ministries and parastatals that are duplicating their efforts and delivering activity instead of results?

In the year 2016, we need our economy to be not just up to date, we need it to be up to tomorrow! A situation where we spend what little money we have on paying salaries and have to borrow for capital expenditures is a tired yesterday economy that has brought us precisely to this point we are in today. I call on President Buhari to call an emergency all party conference at the Presidential Villa where the federal cabinet, the National Assembly, the judiciary and the 36 state governors can meet to urgently take steps to reform Nigeria.

Surely we cannot continue like this. We are already a debtor nation. If we do not change our ways, we will soon become a beggar nation.

Right now, the only thing that is growing in Nigeria is our population. A growing population and a shrinking economy is not a good combination. We must do something before it is too late otherwise we the elite will have to turn our houses to prisons by building bigger walls and gates to protect us from the people whose future we are squandering. Look at what is happening in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Their currencies have fallen flat, their stores are empty of goods and their people are living in despair. There is a real risk that the same could happen in Nigeria if we are not proactive in curbing our rate of consumption and leading our people out of poverty.

And we should not let our huge population scare us. There are precedents of nations in similar situations as that currently facing our nation who still managed to turn around their situation. China was in a similar situation as we are in the 70s as was India in the 80s. Between these two nations, their leaders managed to pull over a billion people out of poverty. India did it largely by tapping into her large diaspora population who were repatriating not just wealth, but more importantly technology back home. This is a model that best suits Nigeria because we have about 2 million of our citizens in the diaspora of Europe, the Americas and Asia who send home an average of $21 billion per annum.

How have we leveraged on these our diaspora citizens? Do we even have a database of these class of Nigerians? You can imagine the impact if the federal and state governments worked with the private sector to come up with investment ideas and then sent an email blast to the email addresses of these over 2 million diaspora Nigerians asking them to invest!

We could provide the database to the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) to send text blasts to diaspora Nigerians encouraging them to buy shares in the Nigerian listed bourse.

State governments can further target them with tempting offers to attract funds to their states. Just something as simple as selling lands to diaspora Nigerians to build a retirement home could attract billions of dollars worth of capital inflow into our economy.

But instead of thinking of this, what I read in the paper really boggles my mind. I read about states sponsoring mass weddings for their citizens who cannot afford it. I mean, how can this be a priority in the midst of an economic storm? If a state sponsors mass weddings, will they also sponsor mass child support for the products of the mass weddings? Let us think big picture! No Nigerian state should have to sponsor weddings. Instead, let states sponsor free education and their citizens will be able to sponsor their weddings and pay taxes! I am just thinking out loud here and I encourage, nay challenge, other public intellectuals to also think creatively and come up with ideas. Let us help this administration with the intellectual process of thinking our way out of this current economic doldrum before we all go to bed and wake up as Zimbabwe or Venezuela!

My name is Ben Murray-Bruce and I just want to make Commonsense!

 Murray Bruce is the Senator representing Bayelsa East and Chairman of the Silverbird Entertainment Group.

This post originally appeared on ThisDay Live