Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, the vocal Catholic priest from Sokoto, has come under attack for his Christmas comment on the state of the nation. Some people went to the extent of publishing the percentage of regional spread in appointments by this regime, as a way of showing that Kukah’s assertion that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), favours the North, is without basis.
In their statistics, the South-West enjoys more appointments than every other geopolitical zone. Therefore, with the weight of the South-Western appointees, the South, taken as a region, has more political appointments from this present regime. Some others, especially from the Presidency, said the cleric was fanning the embers of national discord while calling for a coup against the regime.
Nevertheless, I am one of those Nigerians who do not see Buhari’s sin from the angle of pro-North or anti-South. There is something fundamentally wrong with his regime, not because he favours a particular section of the country. Every leader has a natural penchant to favour their own people. Even in the Bible, Israel’s first king was pro-Benjamin tribe because he was a Benjamite. The US president, Donald Trump, is pro-business because he is first and foremost a businessman. His appointments favoured businessmen, whom he could trust.
To me, Buhari’s regime is wobbly because, instead of sweeping away the corrupt crowd he met in the office, he allowed them to consolidate their rent-seeking enterprise. Immediately, he was declared winner of the 2015 election, the country’s atmosphere perceptibly changed. People began to talk about the body language of the President. That was the time he could have struck. The rent-seeking cartel was actually expecting the broom; they were ready to go. The new President would have firmly shown them the door. It would have been a revolution. But he missed it.
After reading my piece on this column last week, entitled, “Kidnappings and tragedy of a rent-seeking economy”, a couple of readers asked the question, how do we get out of the rent-seeking mode? What is the solution? The first thing to know is how we got into the situation in the first place. And how the rot is getting even deeper.
For instance, rent-seeking has seeped into the corporate sector, so much so that it is now seen as an employment-generating practice. The banks are known for taking advantage of the customers every day. The banks are expected to take care of their shortcomings by providing banking infrastructure wherever needed; also establish financial inclusion infrastructure for their customers even in the rural areas.
But what have these so-called new generation banks done? They have now mainstreamed PoS deposit and withdraw centres in every nook and cranny of the nation. They make money/commission from the PoS. Meanwhile, these banks no longer pay attention to the ATMs that usually dispense money. So, as the ATMs are not serviceable in many places, people are expected to withdraw from the PoS petty traders.
Some would argue that the PoS merchants have provided employment for many jobless people. Yes, it has. That is what rent-seeking economy does to a people. It is now seen as a means of enterprise, because the average PoS makes money from the poor man whose bank cannot provide the service, yet deducts monies for such services unrendered.
From a theoretical standpoint, the moral hazard of rent-seeking can be considerable. If “buying” a favourable regulatory environment seems cheaper than building more efficient production, a firm may choose the former option, reaping incomes entirely unrelated to any contribution to total wealth or wellbeing. From what is going on in Nigeria, we are now a textbook example of rent-seeking theory.
Many a company in Nigeria does not care about the job; so long as they “know” a politician or senator or House member to “push” their contract, they are assured of payment after the contract is awarded. Excellence has been murdered on the altar of “political connection”. That is rent-seeking for you. This is exactly why there is no serious Research and Development going on in the country. The companies are not motivated to invest in such “waste of time”. They believe that it is no longer about getting the best products into the market that makes your company competitive. It is about knowing the regulators to “talk to”.
According to economics experts, this results in a sub-optimal allocation of resources – money spent on lobbyists and counter-lobbyists rather than on Research and Development, on improved business practices, on employee training, or on additional capital goods – which slows economic growth. Claims that a firm is rent-seeking therefore often accompany allegations of government corruption, or the undue influence of special interests.
In the Western world, there is rent-seeking. But it is not as crass as it is over here. Theoretically, it affects their economy too; but it is only in the public sector, the institutions are so strengthened that the corporate environment is shielded. For instance, in the US, there is perceptible transparency even in government circles. That is why they have official lobbyists. Over here, who is a lobbyist? Anybody that knows somebody is. And they collect rent for such a privilege!
Now back to Buhari. When this regime came in, there were already rent-seeking cartels in every corner. Because of the “contrived” halo around the new President, these people became jittery. They were expecting the hammer at any moment. This is not to say that Buhari’s incoming team members were saints. The expectation was that he was going to replace the incumbent cartels with a brand new set of cabals. This is what happens in government anywhere. The implication is that the incoming president’s team would change the colour of governance to rhyme with the tone of their own philosophy.
But Buhari did not make the change. Therefore, the “bad eggs” in his incoming team took advantage of this lacuna and carried out a quiet coup. They negotiated with the old cabal, merged forces with them, and then came back to Buhari to convince him to work with the “old order”. This is where the revolution died.
Everything rises and falls on leadership. The bulk stops at the table of the President. If Buhari had wanted to uphold his “change” mantra, he would have. But he did not do it. The people around him took advantage of it. They milked the moment to the last drop. I believe this was why the President took a long time in appointing his ministers after he was elected. To buttress this point, it must be noted that many Nigerians with admirable public record were approached for an appointment, but were eventually dropped for lacklustre citizens. Femi Falana, for instance, said he was approached, and was even given security vetting. But he was later discarded.
Buhari was in quandary. Should I make a clean sweep, or should I compromise the revolution? The rest is now history.
I am of the opinion that because Buhari hesitated, the rent-seeking crowd doubled. The old guard joined forces with the new guard. And this is why we are where we are today. Every bad thing has doubled. Corruption, insecurity, hunger, fiscal confusion, economic stupor, everything has two fangs now. The rent-seeking cartel of the PDP joined forces with that of the APC after Buhari ascended into office. The evil this has brought upon Nigeria may take decades to dissipate.
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