(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 24 October, 2022)
The Washington Post of May 29, 1979 reported an exchange between President Idi Amin Dada of Uganda and an agent of a British money-printing firm. The Ugandan dictator asked the man to help him print two million Ugandan shillings worth of 100 shilling notes. The Briton accepted the offer but “gingerly” asked Idi Amin how he was going to be paid for his services. “Print three million and take one million for yourself” was Amin’s answer. The Ugandan leader had a minister of foreign exchange. Before Idi Amin’s engagement with the Briton, the minister had informed the president that “the government coffers are empty.” Amin looked deeply at him and retorted: “Why (do) you ministers always come nagging to President Amin? You are stupid. If we have no money, the solution is very simple: you should print more money.” History says that Amin’s minister of foreign exchange disobeyed his boss. Nobody did that to Field Marshal Amin and lived; but the guy lived. Instead of printing money and destroying his country, he escaped abroad. Amin, however, got someone else to do what he wanted. He printed millions of Ugandan shillings and destroyed the country and its economy – almost irredeemably. History will forever remind us that because of Amin’s money-printing economic wizardry, “sugar cost $5 a pound…and gasoline $39 a gallon.” All these happened to poor Ugandans at a time when “minimum wage was only $30 a month.” A civil servant summed it up to the Washington Post: “No one survived on his salary. You would spend all your salary for a month on food you could carry in just one basket.” Amin was the president of Uganda between January 25, 1971 and April 11, 1979.
When Idi Amin happened to Uganda, we laughed in Nigeria and wondered what sin landed Ugandans in that shithole. We boasted that such a tragedy would never happen to us and our country. Nigeria was fine and strong; it was Africa’s star boy – very big, very rich and very stable. But a blacksmith’s bellow may breathe like humans, does that make it a living thing? We mocked Uganda and Ugandans, we snapped our fingers over our heads and rejected all suggestions that pig-headed buffoonery could be Nigeria’s portion one day too. But let the living not mock the dead; what will kill all mortals is buried deep in the soil of the unknown. It would look like the case of Nigeria is worse than what happened to Uganda under Amin. Last year August, at an online forum organized by the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Association of Nigeria, the 14th Emir of Kano and a former governor of our Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, lamented that “we wiped out in five years all the progress made in the preceding 35 years…” He said at that event that “we have bankrupted ourselves”; we have “set up an economic system where today 90 percent of government revenue goes to debt servicing and we’re still borrowing…And then we get the Central Bank to print trillions because we cannot pay salaries if we do not print the money. And as the money is printed, we create inflation and then we create devaluation.”
Last week, Sanusi was in Kaduna as a guest of the state government at its investment forum tagged KadInvest. J.M. Barrie, author of the 1904 play, Peter Pan, writes that “all of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” Sanusi was the keynote speaker and he spoke, and repeated all he said last year lacing it with devastating statistics; and he got a loud applause from an audience you would think contributed nothing to the making of the tragedy. That audience was made up of elite members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Indeed, sitting regally there was Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a man who enjoys being called the national leader of the party and who saw everything, said nothing but did everything to flourish as the Nigerian ship floundered. Tinubu was at that event as the APC presidential candidate. He, like everyone else there, clapped for Sanusi when the former CBN governor likened the prevailing economic wizardry of the leader’s party’s government to what ruined Uganda under dictator Idi Amin Dada.
Sanusi said the Federal Government had been illegally printing money –it has printed N21 trillion under this regime. Sanusi spoke about “a fundamental lack of understanding of how economics work” by the current managers of Nigeria’s economy. He got applause from those who enabled the heist and are rich by it. Printing money. That is what Idi Amin did in Uganda. The result was tragic. Robert Mugabe did the same in Zimbabwe; the country became a banana republic. The champion before Nigeria was Chavez’s Venezuela. Uganda has happened to Nigeria and we all feel it. That is why the naira in your pocket disappears as soon as you put it there. And you wonder if you are cursed or some witches in your village are determined to make sure naira does not meet kobo in your pocket. It is the reason birds are not chirping like birds and rats no longer cry like rats, just as it was in Idi Amin’s Uganda. Some people in that crowd would be laughing at Sanusi as a wailing wailer. In March, 2020, Tinubu signed a press statement asking the Federal Government to “issue naira” to tackle what he called a “shortfall in public sector naira expenditures.” What does that mean? He may be president next year.
If you missed Sanusi’s presentation at the Kaduna event, do catch-up. He also spoke about the criminality going on at the FOREX market. He doubled down on “a small number of people (rent seekers) who become billionaires for doing nothing.” If you are big and bold enough to burrow your way into the heart of a big CBN man and he gives you $1 million at N400, the market is waiting to buy it from you at N700. Sanusi said that from that single deal, you make N300 million profit – and it may happen in one single day. I cited a May 1979 Washington Post report in the first paragraph above. It contains much more than what I quoted. The Post also reported that “Amin and his cronies and their girlfriends regularly took suitcases full of dollars – up to $1 million on some occasions – from the bank whenever they went abroad.” That was 43 years ago. I would be shocked if you say something like this has not been happening in Nigeria. Sanusi said “Nigeria has always been and will continue to be a rentier state.” He said “the state does not exist for development. The state exists as a site of rent extraction to make those who control the state rich; to turn them into billionaires overnight. That is how the state has always operated. In 2023, if we have an election, we cannot afford to continue with that trend. Any continuation…look at Mali, look at Burkina Faso, look at Guinea Conakry. Look at what is happening (there) with insecurity, if you think it cannot happen in this country, you will be shocked…we cannot continue to push to the brink; we have to come back.”
Sanusi said Pakistan has almost the same population and identical transportation statistics with Nigeria, yet it consumes 21 million litres of petrol per day. But because of subsidy money from the government, Nigeria’s cars, buses and lorries guzzle three times the volume of petrol used per day by its friend, Pakistan. He said there is a one-man business in Nigeria which collects millions of subsidy money for “lifting 129 trucks of petrol per day – more than TOTAL Nigeria Ltd…We have bankrupted the state.” How much fuel do we consume in Nigeria? No one knows. The government that is supposed to know claims it is 66 million litres per day. Sanusi had another bad statistics. “In 2019, officially we were importing 40 million litres per day. In 2022 officially, we are importing 66 million per day. In three years, we have increased our petrol consumption by 50%. Please tell me, is it the population? Is it the number of cars? Just ask yourself if it makes sense that in three years, you increase your consumption of petrol by 50%. Are we drinking petrol? The NNPC says we are consuming 66 million litres per day, so we are consuming more than Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire and others.” Then he remembered that in 2015, the then Minister of State for Petroleum, Emmanuel Kachikwu, disclosed that we were consuming 29 million litres of petrol per day. “We have magically moved from 29 million in 2015 to 66 million litres per day in 2022,” Sanusi bellowed in exasperation.
Like Sanusi, General Theophilus Danjuma on Saturday also repeated what he said three years ago: arm yourselves, destroy bandits or bandits will destroy you. He spoke at the installation of a new king in Wukari, Taraba State. In 2019, he had warned that unless Nigerians armed and defended themselves against rampaging murderers, the people would “die one by one.” He was insulted and derided that time for issuing that warning. I wonder what seer would see clearer than this prophet. How many who heard him and called him names that time are alive today? But because old soldiers don’t die, the grand old former Chief of Army Staff came back two days ago, even more forcefully: “When some few years ago I warned that the armed forces were either not capable or unwilling to protect us and that we must defend ourselves, the first denial about what I said came from the ministry of defence. They said I was lying and they set up a kangaroo board of inquiry to investigate the truth or otherwise of what I said. They invited me to come and testify but I did not go. They wrote their report which stated that I was only speculating and that there was no evidence. But now there is evidence. The whole country now is being overrun and one very clear thing that is happening now is that these foreign invaders are destroying everything and our government allowed them to come into the country.” This is an indictment. Opening the doors of our country to terrorists is treason. Will the accused please enter appearance and defend themselves without being abusive?
A people are as safe as they wish to be. Sanusi spoke to our pains; he expressed fears and issued warnings. General Danjuma told victims wringing their fingers while terrorists eat them one by one to wake up and fight. He said those asking him to provide them weapons were grossly off-beam; the General told the attacked to look for weapons from where their tormentors get theirs. I think that was deep. We cannot be free of economic and forest bandits when we hail and tuck demons under the duvet of inaction and convenient excuses. Sanusi has spoken; Danjuma has repeated his warnings. We can benefit and prosper from the wisdom of the wise. In 44 quick days, the United Kingdom shook off a regime that almost wrecked everyone’s finances. I particularly note how the leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, summed up what happened in that country last week – and why it happened. Liz Truss resigned as prime minister because she could “not deliver on the mandate on which” she was elected and Starmer fired a statement that shredded the Conservative Party and its 12 years in power. He described the regime’s wobbly, in-and-out leadership as a “revolving door of chaos.” He accused the Tories of setting a record-high taxation, trashing British institutions and creating a cost-of-living crisis. He said the incumbent party had crashed the economy so badly that the damage they had done would take years to fix. “Each one of these crises was made in Downing Street but paid for by the British public. Each one has left our country weaker and worse off.” The man sounded as if he was speaking about Nigeria and its reigning chaos.
Nigeria needs a Keir Starmer; it, more importantly, deserves a political system that won’t wail and wait for eight years (or more) to sack a failed party.
By Lasisi Olagunju