Nigeria Is Not Broke, The System Is Broken!, Written by Ibukun Omole

The Tinubu regime is yet to fix the economy after one year in power. The regime is asking Nigerians to be patient, yet they could change the National Anthem and speed it through the legislature and presidential assent within two weeks. This only shows that it’s not as if better economic policies take time to make. It is that those in power are not interested in making them. Because of the celebration of the first-year anniversary, public hearings on financial sector legislation were indefinitely postponed last week. The indefinite postponement of the public hearing on proposed amendments to the controversial CBN and NDIC Acts is a stark reminder of the Tinubu-APC government’s priorities. This prioritization of ceremonies and events to celebrate themselves over public duties raises questions about the government’s prioritization of the people and accountability to the people who have grievances they needed to express at that hearing. There was no better way to be reminded that this government was never committed to the welfare of the people, and we are not the priority when it comes to the time and resources of those ruling us.

After one year of excruciating and ever-increasing hardship, Nigerians are still being reminded that the country is broke as if our resources are limited to revenues from the many taxes and other austerity measures that the government has been introducing, especially in the petroleum and electricity sector. When we complain about the cost of governance, they ask us to pay tax so that the government can meet revenue targets, but we are failing to meet revenue targets because our real resources are being cornered by some few people. No country can perpetually survive on taxing the people. You can’t take what we don’t have. Instead, the people’s resources should be used directly for the people. One year after, Tinubu’s tax collector model of Capitalism will create a failed state and it will be the failure of the capitalist economic system currently run in Nigeria.

Despite the heavy taxation of Nigerians in the first quarter of 2024, the Nigerian government missed its revenue generation target by 745%, yet Nigerians are groaning under the pains of taxation. What if they actually met that target? We’d probably be dead! This model of capitalism claims to incentivize people to work because it has assumed that humans are naturally lazy, but the people of Nigeria are already incentivized to work by sharp poverty and hunger. It is the heavy taxation and crazy austerity measures that is making it impossible for us to work and be productive. If we cannot afford electricity, transportation, telecommunication or even bank transactions because of taxation and austerity, how can we be productive? This is why our GDP growth rate declined from 3.46% to 2.98% in the same first quarter of 2024. The decline in GDP growth rate is also a symptom of a bigger issue – the country’s reliance on the oil sector and the government’s inability to drive focused and productive work in other sectors of the economy. Other factors include the monetary tightening policies (prescribed by the IMF for Tinubu’s Chicago economists) that have further stifled productivity and growth. Tinubu’s policies are making Nigerians unproductive.

The FG’s reliance on taxes and austerity measures is not sound economics. “WIDEN THE TAX NET” is not a reliable way to run an economy. It only escalates the problem. It will only perpetuate inequality and poverty. Just like the inaugural “subsidy is gone” pronouncement, Tinubu’s policies are not carefully thought-out to address inflation, exchange rates, and insecurity, and prioritize the development of multiple sectors. These are the issues making our economy unproductive and making it hard for people to work. These are issues that can be addressed in one fell swoop if policies are carefully thought out by the people. The only issue is that they require a radical shift in the government’s approach. It requires a government that prioritizes the needs of the people over corporate interests, and this Lekki clique in government does not have such a history.

Aside from that we cannot afford that approach, we don’t even need that approach in the first instance. What we need is to put this country’s resources under the democratic control of its people, not Dangote or Otedola. Not Shell or CCECC. The solution is to decentralize the control of all sectors of our economy and put it in the hands of the people, not to take more money out of their hands. Nigeria has natural resources like petroleum, natural gas, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc, etc and if these resources are mined by each community to distribute the resources equally to everyone, no Nigerian will be in poverty. Petroleum, coal, and natural gas are useful for transportation, electricity, and other energy needs. Tin is useful in the food industry. Niobium and Iron ore are useful for the iron and steel industry which supplies it to every manufacturing sector. Limestone and Lead is useful in the construction industry. These resources are useful in every sector of the economy. Nigeria has a large expanse of arable land for agriculture. Nigeria is not broke!

In fact, Nigeria is rich! Both Tinubu and Shettima spent 8.46 billion Naira on travel expenses alone within the last three months. 90 billion Naira was recently spent on subsidizing the Hajj pilgrimage by the government- another corrupt convergence of state and religion in Nigeria out of which National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) got 24 billion Naira. In fact, investigations put the total spending of the government on the 2024 Hajj pilgrimage for over fifty thousand pilgrims at about 441 billion Naira. This is a country where less than this amount will stop ASUU strikes for the next year and keep our universities open. This is in a country where minimum wage negotiations have degenerated into a strike, in an unfolding tension between labor and capital.

The strike is because the government’s offer of between N48,000 and N54,000 is grossly inadequate when the labor unions’ demand for N484,000 was actually stepped down from the N615,000 that is necessary to make a minimum decent living in Nigeria. Even if the government pays N615,000, the focus on figures for minimum wage overlooks the broader issues of economic inequality, sharply rising inflation and the informal sector. Some people are already of the opinion that Tinubu will only increase the minimum wage to tax it back out of us. Nigeria’s informal sector, where minimum wage hardly applies, is much larger than the formal sector. The fact that the NLC and the TUC are not opposed to the broader neoliberal policies of privatization and deregulation of this government shows that action by them will not be enough to resolve the crises on the ground, even if it might be a good starting point. Even if they start to oppose privatization and deregulation, insecurity (inspired by the undemocratic policies of this government) will continue its own impact on the economy.

A day after the one-year celebrations, ISWAP issued a quit notice to Borno communities while IPOB autopilot got into it with soldiers and killed five. Terrorism and banditry in the North are making agricultural productivity impossible. In the South East, agitations for Biafra has made sit-at-home a reality that’s making people lose productive days. While Tinubu is threatening fire and brimstone on the agitators in the South, terrorist attacks in Nigeria are a symptom of deeper social and economic issues. Terrorism cannot be shot to death. That only happens in Hollywood! The government’s response should be to address the root causes of poverty, unemployment, and social inequality that has made terrorism an option, rather than solely relying on military force. The approach must be inclusive and democratic.

That democracy is what is missing in the ideology of Nigeria’s political class. Recently, the Vice President of Nigeria, Kashim Shettima, opposed the call for a parliamentary system of governance in Nigeria which is represented in the ongoing debate about a Bill in the National Assembly for a new parliamentary and regional governance model. His opinion that Nigeria does not need system change but good governance might sound like an innocent critique of the parliamentary system of government, but it is actually very revealing about how discarding Nigerian politicians are of anything that could remotely reflect the opinions of the masses. Nigeria actually needs a system change beyond the parliamentary system of governance which can be a great first step toward direct and radical democracy. Direct democracy is how we can actually fight terrorists, bandits, and militants like IPOB and ISWAP. A parliamentary system of government is not enough. The regional government is not enough. Restructuring is not enough. Without the right to self-determination for all Nigerians, they are great democratic steps that might lead to deeper tribalism. Without a free and fair comprehensive referendum on all of the contents of the constitution of Nigeria, nothing is going to end insecurity in the North and the South. It is this political solution that can allow any economic solution to work effectively and make the economy productive. Any other thing is ‘patch-patch’.

But these important steps are not being taken because they are not the priorities of those in power. They are not the priorities of the system. The priority of this system is broken. We need a system that prioritizes the welfare of the masses over the pockets of a few politicians and their crony capitalists. They would rather tell us Nigeria is broke than address these issues. When we talk about system change, we actually mean changing these priorities for all of us. This is what Nigerians need to demand with the protests, rallies, and strikes of the coming days. This is how Nigerians must own these direct actions to ensure that they effectively achieve their demands. This is how we must change ourselves as individuals too, by reorienting ourselves toward prioritizing the welfare of the people over the comfort of our rulers.

Omole Ibukun writes from Abuja, Nigeria, and can be contacted on 09167636201


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