A tale of three countries By Mohammed Haruna



Professor Paul Krugman, Economics Nobel Laureate and columnist at The New York Times, is the most unlikely person to lecture journalists on how to go about practicing their trade. All his life he’s been an academic until 1998 when he was offered a monthly column by Fortune, the American business magazine, and by Slate, an online American magazine. This made him a “part-time journalist,” to use his own self-description.

Apparently his writings impressed The New York Times; in 2000 it offered him a  twice-weekly column. In no time this earned him the highest praise from some of the most literate and influential magazines in the world. The Economist, for example, called him “the most celebrated economist of his generation.” The Washington Monthly said he was “the most important political columnist in America.”

Three years after he started writing for The New York Times he reduced much of his column into a book. He called it THE GREAT UNRAVELLING: From Boom to Bust in Three Scandalous Years. The book revealed how the radical neo-conservative policies of the George W. Bush administration took the American economy from boom in 2000 to bust in three short years. He attributed the collapse to the greed, corruption and blatant dishonesty of the Bush administration.

In exposing the financial crimes of the powerful and in also showing how the Bush administration turned the American political-economy into what another journalist, Naomi Klein, called “a privatised police state,” – more about her presently – Krugman warned critics like himself to expect the authorities to lash back viciously and to use the most fear-mongering tactics imaginable to make any rational discussion of issues difficult, if not impossible.

He called the anti-dote he prescribed for reporters against the neo-conservatives’ tactics “the rules of reporting.” They numbered five. Those rules seem as applicable in Nigeria today as they were in America under Bush.

First, says Krugman, you must assume that a “revolutionary power” will lie to you through its teeth and must never assume that its policies, right or wrong, are made in good faith.

For Krugman’s revolutionary power, you can easily substitute the present administration of President Goodluck Jonathan for reasons we shall see presently.

Second, says Krugman, do your homework to discover the real, as opposed to the declared, goals of such a power. What its members did before they had power, he said, is a sure clue to their real intentions.

Third, he said, such a power does not feel obliged to play by the existing rules because they never regarded the existing system as legitimate.

Fourth, such a power, he said, is intolerant; it does not accept the right of others to criticize its actions.

Finally, said Krugman, the objectives of a “revolutionary power” have no limit and can therefore never be appeased no matter the concessions.

President Jonathan, unlike Bush, did not inherit a booming economy. Quite the contrary; fiscal responsibility flew out of the window from the very first year his chief benefactor, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, became president in 1999. And throughout the rest of his seven years as president he never kept faith with the annual budgets the National Assembly approved and he signed into law.

However, 12 years on and with nearly three years of the late President Shehu Yar’adua in between, President Jonathan seems to have taken the fiscal irresponsibility of his predecessors to new, hitherto unimaginable, heights, or more accurately, depths.

Nothing speaks louder about our current fiscal mess than the nearly one trillion Naira he has voted for security in this year’s budget, nearly a third of the budget. Compare this to Obasanjo’s last security vote which, at 213 billion Naira, was less than a tenth of his budget for the year.

Of course Boko Haram had not reared its head then, but as Obasanjo himself has implied, its threat is not of not such magnitude that should attract the humongous budget President Jonathan has voted for security. It is wrong, Obasanjo has said for the president to say Boko Haram posed a greater threat to Nigeria’s integrity than our civil war of 1967 to 1970.

Next to the scandalous security vote as evidence of the Federal Government’s fiscal irresponsibility – some may even rate it tops – is the nearly two trillion Naira that it says has been spent on oil subsidy last year in scandalous contrast to the 250 billion that it had voted for it – this in itself a scandalous enough figure.

The fiscal irresponsibility of the Jonathan administration is not the only thing that should give nightmares to anyone concerned about the future of Nigeria. Of even greater concern is its apparent determination, like the Bush administration, to outsource even the most basic responsibility of government to the private sector.

In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein, the journalist I mentioned above, calls this “(the joining) of Big Government forces with Big Business to re-distribute funds upwards…” through the exploitation of the feeling of insecurity among the people created by disasters, natural or man-made.

Klein shows, with graphic facts and figures and anecdotes, how the Bush administration had manipulated 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, among others, to pursue the neo-conservative doctrine of outsourcing even the most basic functions of government – police, prison, security, health, education, etc – to the private sector, mostly, she says, on a cost-plus, no-bid or selective-bid, bases.

In an essay in a collection of essays titled War With No End which I once referred to on these pages not too long ago, Klein showed how the country whose protection has been the central piece of America’s foreign policy – no price for guessing the name correctly – no longer has any interest in peace in its Middle East backyard, or for that matter, in anywhere else.

Israel, as we all know, has since become the world’s greatest exporter of security and surveillance hardware and soft.  “Now,” she says, “rather than seeking stability in the interest of economic growth, Israeli businesses have been some of the noisiest cheerleaders for war.”

Disaster, man-made or otherwise, she said, is no longer considered a threat to growth by the corporations that make up the security sector. Instead they see disaster as a growth market which “many are doing everything to protect…”

With American, Israeli and other Western “security experts” crawling all over Nigeria under the guise of helping the Jonathan administration fight the Boko Haram terror, is it any surprise that the president is trying to re-create Nigeria in the image of the countries these experts come from? Is it any surprise, for example, that Nigeria has been turned into a country under siege by the very security forces that are supposed to protect its citizens, like the Israelis have done in Palestine?

The most glaring evidence of his decision to outsource even the most basic responsibility of government is the no-bid, cost-plus multi-billion Naira contract it awarded to a hitherto unknown private company with the incongruous name of Global Wealth Vessel Specialist Agency (GWVSA) to secure our water ways.

Section 14 (2) (b) of the Nigeria’s Constitution is explicit about the responsibility of government for the security and welfare of the country’s citizens. “The security and welfare of the people,” it says, “shall be THE PRIMARY purpose of government.” (Emphasis mine).

It goes on in Section 20 to say that “The State shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria.”

The Constitution does not say how this should be done. The president can, of course, delegate his executive powers to others including his vice-president and ministers. However, it is stretching the logic of the Constitution’s authority for the president to delegate his executive powers to argue, as some senior government officials, including the Minister of Transport and the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administrative and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the agency directly responsible for vessel movements on our water ways, have done, that this includes outsourcing the security of our waters to a private company.

In an interview with the Sunday Trust last Sunday, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, the NIMASA D-G, asserted that government has not given the GWISNL a contract to secure our waters. He has even gone further to insist that government “did not give or award any contract to any militant,” in refutation of widespread claims that the company belongs principally to Mr Government Ekpemukpolo, a former Delta militia leader who once took up arms against the Nigerian State.

The concession that was granted, he says, is for the company “to provide electronic platform system that will enable NIMASA to police the territorial water ways and bring accountability in terms of vessels that are coming in or going out or trading on our territory.” The GWVSA staff, he says, will not bear arm.

The obvious question to ask is should it not be a primary responsibility of our Navy to provide itself with such a platform? Another question is what qualified GWVSA to provide the platform? Has it had any previous record of providing such service? And so on and so fourth.

In a way, the self-elected leader of the Ijaw nation, Chief Edwin Clerk, provided an answer to why the concession was awarded to GWVSA in an interview with the press over the weekend. “If,” he said, Tompolo, who lives on the water cannot be allowed to secure where he lives, is it the North that he can be given such a concession? We are tired of this blackmail where whatever is due to our people face unnecessary blackmail.” (Sunday Sun, April 1).

Clearly the difference between Nigeria and the countries advising us on how to fight terror is that whereas their governments have colluded with the private sector to fight an economic war in favour of their rich and powerful class, ours have been fighting a war to enrich the kin and cronies of those in government.

And anyone that dares say so should expect a vicious counter-attack.

 

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