By Chima C. Christian
Over the next few weeks, or even months, one of the biggest arguments that will probably dominate Nigeria’s political landscape is the propriety or otherwise of the sale of national assets. To be fair, some of these discussions will be born out of patriotism, some out of enlightened self interest, and others out of sheer greed, partisanship, blind loyalty, sentiments, willful blindness and small-mindedness that has appallingly characterized our political discussions and decisions.
The biggest flaw of this proposal is the motivation behind it. Having listened attentively to the proponents, the dominant factor behind their call is navigating Nigeria out of recession. Nigeria, with this kind of approach will be a perfect replica of a kid whose first impulsive reaction to “recession” is to sell off the assets he inherited from his rich parents without taking enough time to study the implications of such decisions.
Away with the impulsive kid analogy. It will be good to remind ourselves that negotiations of this magnitude, should we decide to sell, are characteristically lengthy, usually ranging from two to five years on the minimal average. Because of the country’s predicaments and the seeming haste to get out of it, the negotiation process will most likely be rushed and as such, Nigeria will lose out big time. Moreover, expert negotiators advice against negotiating from a position of weakness. At the risk of sounding too repetitive, Nigeria is currently on her knees and desperate, this is a grave weakness that prospective buyers will not hesitate to exploit. If we sell our national assets now, chances are higher that those assets will be grossly undervalued.
I don’t have data-backed updates on the state of these assets we are about to place on the hawker’s tray but general street knowledge suggests that some (especially the refineries) are in horrible states of disrepair and are grossly underperforming. To sell such items, there are two models to use. One is to delay selling off the item, spend a considerable amount of resources to refurbish it and then place it behind show glasses. The other is to either out of haste or some other reasons immediately put up the item for sale and take bids from prospective buyers. None of these models is practically better than the other, that’s why the choice of application is dependent on the uniqueness of the situation on hand. To get the best value from the sale of our national assets, feasibility studies must be conducted to determine the viability of such moves and the best model to apply. But the kind of quickly-get-out-of-recession mentality now on display is a grave threat to the outcome of such studies. Nigeria cannot afford to receive only the scrap value of her national assets just because we are hungry today. We must insist that such decisions, should it be made, must be after intelligent analysis.
With due respect to all the expertise on parade at Aso Rock, there are legitimate concerns that the resources obtained from the proposed sale may not be efficiently utilized to achieve the objective, which is: getting the nation out of recession. Going by the way this administration has managed the resources at its disposal, including the loans obtained thus far, one can rightly nurse those worries. Beyond the “we will inject”, “diversification” and the “economic stimulus” grammar, government actions (and inactions) have been severely inconsistent with the desirable results. The question to ponder on is “should we sell our national assets without any evidence of prudent management of the proceeds to get us out of recession?” It is overtly simplistic to think that more money alone will solve all the problems. To get out of this valley, we need more money, yes, but we need to compliment it with good policies. Until government gets its policies and priorities right, recession will not bulge a bit, no matter the amount of resources made available to the government. More money alone has never loosely translated into economic recovery and will not do so in our case.
Still on expertise. Despite the enormity of the challenges facing this administration, and the efforts members of Team Buhari are making to surmount them, there are serious competence questions hovering around some members of this team. Every prudent leader understands that someone can have competencies in one area and not in the other. This is a key determinant of role assignment. Having served for almost a year, some members of Buhari’s cabinet need to be either reshuffled or outrightly replaced. Until square pegs discontinue trying to fit into round holes and causing our economy great discomfort in the process, even if we sell all our national assets and our personal belongings, it will not be of much benefit. Selling of national assets cannot cure a competence problem.
Back to the impulsive kid. With the sale of the first batch of assets, he quickly comes out of recession (so he thinks), thanks to the generous buyer. He resumes servicing his air fleet, stretches his siren-blaring convoys. How unappreciative will it be for him not to buy expensive cars for his area boys and call girls. They must be paid humongous salaries, outrageous allowances and estacodes for every journey (including journeys from sitting room to bathroom). He continues serving the usual twelve course meals at all meetings, resumes his white elephant projects. There is too much money, no need for settling disputes in boardrooms, even minor disagreements must be settled in battlefields, thanks to allies for supply of quality arms and ammunitions regardless of human right abuses. Lest I forget, the kid invests in unproductive ventures, saves the leftover in a very volatile account. Lo and behold, another recession, worse than the former, but he is already armed with the winning formula. No need looking for buyers, he saved their numbers. The cycle continues until there is nothing more to sell but himself. Nigeria.
Chima is a civil rights activist, public policy analyst and a good governance advocate. He writes in from Nnewi, Anambra State. He can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter via @ChimaCChristian