False hopes lead to a dead end
IN the midst of euphoria over the swearing-in of President Muhammadu Buhari as Nigerian leader on 29th May 2015 in the presence of over 50 foreign Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers etc., Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma (rtd.) delivered a stunning verdict on our political parties and our breed of politicians: “General Danjuma will certainly be one of the most influential people around President Muhammadu Buhari.
He was also one of the most influential people during Buhari’s stewardship as Head of State between 1984 and 1985. Buhari served under Gen. Danjuma in the Army and they have known each other during war and peace times.
Besides the fact that both of them served in the Army and retired as Generals, both also abhor indiscipline and corruption. Danjuma only recently urged the new administration to probe the outgoing administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
“What we are hearing is that the treasury of the country is empty at the federal level. I am calling on the new administration to investigate what happened to our monies as soon as Buhari takes over power on May 29. With that, some of the stolen funds would be recovered,” the former Minister of Defence said.
Buhari, during his campaign, also underlined his readiness to tackle corruption head-on once he gets to power. General Danjuma’s blunt assessment has rightly sent a jolt to the right quarters. However, the issue requires to be discussed within a much wider perspective. Perhaps, we should start with the thesis of Peter Poster in his new book, “The Psychology of Anti-Capitalism”.
Foster was born and educated in England, where he studied economics at Cambridge before working for the Financial Times of London. He has written nine books.
In “Why We Bite the Invisible Hand: The Psychology of Anti-Capitalism”, Foster delves into a conundrum: How can we at once live in a world of expanding technological wonders and unprecedented well-being, and yet hear a constant drumbeat of condemnation of the system that created it? That system, capitalism, which is based on private property and voluntary dealings, is guided by the “Invisible Hand,” the metaphor for economic markets associated with the great 18th Century Scottish philosopher Adam Smith.
The hand guides people to serve others while pursuing their own interests, and produces a broader good that, as Smith puts it, is “no part of their intention.”
Critics, however, claim that the hand is tainted by greed, leads to inequity and dangerous corporate power, and threatens not merely resource depletion, but planetary disaster. Foster probes misunderstanding, fear and dislike of capitalism from the dark satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution through to the murky concept of sustainable development.
We don’t have to understand the rapidly evolving economic “natural order” to operate within it and enjoy its benefits any more than we need to understand our nervous or respiratory systems to stay alive.
But that also makes us prone to support morally-appealing but counterproductive policies, such as minimum wage legislation. Foster notes that politicians and bureaucrats – consciously or unconsciously exploit moral confusion and economic ignorance.
Ideological obsession with market imperfections, income gaps, corporate power, resource exhaustion and the environment are useful justifications for those seeking political control of our lives. Indeed, we should accord due recognition to the robust thrust of the speech delivered by “JK” (Justin King, the former Chief Executive Officer of J Sainsbury, the supermarket chain) at the Annual Dinner of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
He argued that one half of the equation is the distrust of politicians by citizens but the other half is that politicians themselves have issues with businessmen/businesswomen. “Who is to blame for this popular antipathy to so much capitalist endeavour? The blame lies squarely at the door of the business community itself (and our business colleagues).
If the business community is comfortable with the idea that its social responsibility extends no further than doing the minimum they can legally get away with and no more, it has become its own worst enemy.
By stirring the hornet’s nest, General Danjuma’s views deserve consideration. Front page headline of “Nigerian Tribune” newspaper of 26th May 2015: (i) $32 billion subsidy fund, source of Nigeria’s problem – Saraki “Chairman Senate Committee on Environment and Energy, Senator Bukola Saraki, on Monday, said mismanagement of fuel subsidy regime was the source of the scarcity currently being experienced by Nigerians.
Saraki, who spoke with Senate Correspondents on national issues, in Abuja, on Monday, said he had earlier raised issues about the fuel subsidy regime, but was misunderstood by the Federal Government.
He said the amount involved in the subsidy was in the region of $32 billion, adding that if the Senate had got to the root of the matter in 2012, the problem would not have resurfaced again.”
Americans were somewhat bewildered by the front page editorial of “The Nation” newspaper of May 27, 2015. Headline: “HONOURARY HIT WOMAN” Yale University’s odd recognition of Okonjo-Iweala “The award of a honourary doctorate degree in Humane Letters to the outgoing Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is a stark demonstration of the willful blindness that can affect even the most enlightened of Western institutions.
Okonjo-Iweala becomes the second Nigerian to receive such an honour in the university’s 314-year history, after Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who was awarded a honourary Doctor of Letters degree in 1980.
There is no doubt that the minister is blessed with a larger-than-life reputation, not least because of her global prominence as a senior executive at the World Bank and her first tenure as Minister of Finance which was distinguished by major fiscal and economic reforms, most notably the debt write-off negotiated with the Paris Club of creditors in 2005.
However, if Okonjo-Iweala is to be assessed on the basis of her current performance as opposed to her past achievements, it is hard to see how Yale can rationally justify its award.
If she has received worldwide renown for the things that she did well, she cannot avoid censure for what she did badly. •Bashorun Randle, OFR, FCA is a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region.