As we Bow Before the Dragon, Again
For seven days, Mr President and his high priests were at Mount China beseeching the Great Dragon of development funds. For the country, it a ritual that comes every four or eight years, and it is a serious business.
Just like the worshippers of ancient Baal, we wail and cut ourselves while appealing to this god of development. Come save us we plead. Build our roads, airports, refineries. Give us dollars, plenty of dollars so that we may build temples of development across our country.
At elaborate ceremonies, we sign piles of documents and come back home to declare good tidings to the people: “The Chinese have graciously assented to our demands. They are coming. This time you people shall see wonders and signs.”
But as soon as the Chinese and their dollars (now renamed Yuan) get here, we recreate them in our own image. They become de-mobilised and behave just like us. What takes them two years to build in their country would take twenty years to complete here at an astronomical cost.
That has been the story until last week when we started another round of supplication before the Chinese. It appears we have matured a little bit. This time we told them: “Give us cash and swap our currency with the Yuan so that we can put a leash on the almighty dollars.” At least that was our understanding until the recent clarification which is yet to be clear to us.
Unbelievably, we even asked the Chinese to stop dumping their products on us and do something about our trade imbalance with them.
The fiery dragon acknowledged our complaints with a humble bow and put six whopping billion dollars on the table for us to use on whatever out hearts’ desire. "Show us the project and the money will come," they declared as they waved President Buhari goodbye.
Of the two dozen trips the president has made, the China trip stands out. China remains one country that we could do a lot with. But we must recall that transnational development relationships come with very knotty issues. What looks good today may not look so good down the road. It takes an incredibly smart country to navigate the potholes and arrive at a predetermined destination. The problems are usually at two levels. One, the nitty-gritty of the agreements, and the local anti-development demons who are always battle ready to truncate well-laid out plans.
The development culture and rugged determination that propelled China into an economic giant does not exist in Nigeria. Take a very simple example, the Oshodi-Apapa expressway in Lagos. It may be less than 30 kilometres. But for the past 30 years or so, NO Government has been able to fix that road despite its critical importance to the country's economy. To me that road is a testimony to our perverse or jaundiced attitude to the ideals of development. If we are not faithful in these small things, how can we be faithful in the big and more important ones?
The big test for this administration is yet to come. Going to China to shop for fund is the easy part. What will happen when we get to the draw down stage? There is something else looming not too far into the field. Those who have been attempting to sabotage the budget may already be moving their battle formation into the implementation stage. Civil servants who have been boxed in by the Treasury Single Account are rearing for their pound of flesh as soon as the projects get underway. They will discreetly or wantonly, (depending on their perception of possible danger), throw obstacles in the way of contractors in order to, as Warri boys would say, "obtain" something for themselves.
I hear a monitoring and evaluation team has been set up to see the budget through the implementation stage. I hope that team clearly understands the onerous task ahead and commit to a 100% implementation of the controversial budget.
Let it be that as Nigerians wake up each day after the budget is passed, there would be evidence that the railway lines are emerging kilometre after kilometer; that the power transmission and distribution lines are emerging kilometre after kilometer; that the power generation is steadily increasing; that the refineries are increasing their capacities and our importation of petroleum products and fuel queues are diminishing.
If we do not see these makeovers the next 18 months, Nigerians will completely lose faith in their country.
Nevertheless, let it be out that we cannot keep going around the world asking other countries to come to our aid for everything that we need to do. It is an act which brings shame to Nigerians. Let us set forth this time and never go back to our old ways. I wish President Buhari, the best of luck.