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Saturday, 12 April 2014

World Bank’s cat and mouse game with Nigeria

There is this cat and mouse game between two erstwhile “paddy paddies” – the World Bank and Nigeria. It is a strange but not disturbing development. Also, it is not clear what specific events led to outbreak of hostility, which, for the moment, no matter the disguise, is some mutual unfriendly embarrassment.
One, especially the World Bank, used to prop up the other, Nigeria. And calling a spade a spade, World Bank is the (economic) voice of America. In the past decade, national elections organised by lackey administrations in Nigeria were always marked by large-scale irregularities, a euphemism for rigging. As in other parts of the world, such malpractices would always generate public protests. But instead of allowing protesters to make their point, Nigerians are always insulted with unsolicited sermon that the rigged elections were better than the previous ones.
To worsen matters, a decoy is always sent out that election riggers must endeavour to investigate “…inordinately high election results.” How can a thief investigate himself? Then, why were people’s protests against election manipulation in Egypt and Ukraine endorsed by the same foreign do-gooders ever opposing Nigerians from determining their destiny?
That is the pursuit of foreign strategic interests in Nigeria. The world woke not long ago to be confronted with a World Bank assessment, ranking Nigeria as one of the extremely poor countries in the world in the same class with China (?), India and of all countries, Bangladesh. It is not as if the report on the level of poverty in Nigeria is false. But the fact that such an assessment came from the World Bank was mind-boggling. Critical Nigerians could only be delighted and disgusted. The delight was that at long last, widespread anger among Nigerians on the frightening poverty in the land was confirmed by the World Bank.
In the past, economic neo-colonialists, garbed as foreign investors in pursuit of their countries’ exploitative interests, were always in Nigeria, flattering the country’s potentials. Accommodated in very posh areas of Abuja and Lagos, and always conveyed in bullet-proof state of the art vehicles, the dubious investors turned blind eyes at poverty in Nigeria. The World Bank report, acknowledging extreme poverty in Nigeria is, therefore, a major break from the past.
Equally, the World Bank on extreme poverty in Nigeria is disgusting not the least, owing to its hypocrisy at the expense of Nigerians. Does the report portray a love or concern for the poor in Nigeria? Instead, the report is partly aimed at having a foot in both camps, struggling for political control in next year’s presidential elections in Nigeria.
If the World Bank (or more pointedly, the United States) ever thought Nigerian government would take the blow, lying low, that miscalculation is better forgotten. Abuja virtually instantly fought back with the sudden “rebasing” of factors to astronomically increase the country’s GDP to N82 trillion. And that was a devastating response to neutralise whatever negative impact the World Bank report on the level of poverty was expected to have. In fact, rather unkindly to the Nigerian poor, all debates are now and for a long time to come, on the self-assessed GDP.
Of course, Nigerians are best judges in the cat and mouse game between the World Bank and Nigeria. We did not need the World Bank or even the United States to validate the level of poverty in the country. Nigerians see poverty, live poverty, smell poverty and condemn poverty everyday, even in festive seasons. And that is at whatever city or slum, Abuja, Lagos, Yanyan or Ajegunle.
Could the World Bank report on Nigeria’s level of poverty have been a routine official development? Such doubt should be weighed with another assessment of Nigeria by Ms. Bisa Willias, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs. What is notable is not just the assessment but also the timing, along with the World Bank report on Nigeria’s poverty.
According to Ms Willias, “If you asked me, I would say that corruption is extremely high (like poverty?) in this country (Nigeria); there is no other polite way to say this. It is extremely unfortunate because Nigeria, as a country, has tremendous intelligent people, who do not have to be corrupt; because they have all it takes to be successful. Nigerians are so resourceful and they are living in abundance of wealth and to acknowledge the fact that there is corruption is disheartening. Corruption is something Nigerians ought to want to handle in order to restore the image of the country. They ought to be proud of their country and it is not acceptable for the citizens to say “that is how life is in Nigeria.”
On the surface, that view seems to be blunt from a friendly country. In the United States, such a corrupt situation under any government (Republican or Democrat) will be easily addressed by voting out the government in an election to the White House or the Congress. On the other hand, it is virtually impossible to attain such a feat, at least, so far. The irritating weapon ironically encouraged by biased sections of the press is a nebulous incumbency factor, making it day-dreaming to expect the defeat of a bad government at presidential or state level.
Nigerians are enlightened enough to vote for a change of government at federal or state level but the situations is such only a ruling party at the federal level can employ state force to dislodge a state government, even if popularly embraced by voters. But the so-called in incumbency factor means only one party will force itself on Nigeria for life. What choice do people have in that situation except to protest against such forced occupation? And when people protest against such provocation, foreign governments are always there and, in fact, are always counted on to frustrate the people’s legitimate resistance by acknowledging bogus election results.
In effect, the unpopular administration responsible for corruption in the country is kept in power by foreign intruders. How then will corruption be tackled by a government sustained in power by foreigners against the people’s wishes? In the local parlance, “United States, which one you dey?”
On its part, Nigerian government will be self-deluding with its whited sepulcher gracefully labelled “rebased” GDP. Whether GDP is rebased or not, where is electricity supply in Nigeria? Or which GDP anywhere in the world has any value in the dark? Where in the world is GDP not related to living standard of the people, especially in employment prospects? Is the rebased GDP meant for decoration on the state of Nigeria’s economy?
This time, Finance/Economic Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is completely born-again. Reacting to World Bank report on the state of poverty in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala said India’s poverty level is higher than Nigeria’s. That was after the same Ngozi claimed the government had created two million jobs in agricultural sector. The minister was the same born-again when she pledged that the government would create 10 million jobs this year. She either meant every claim or pledge and has not denied any aspect.
Ten million new jobs in Nigeria this year? Even in the next five years? How many of such jobs had been created in the last five years? How many of such jobs has the world’s biggest economy, United States, created in the last five years? Nigerians are more concerned about extreme poverty in Nigeria and cannot bother about the situation in India. Neither is the higher level of poverty in India (even if true) an excuse for the prevailing extreme poverty in Nigeria. British Chancellor of Exchequer might as well justify poverty level in Britain by citing higher level of poverty in the United States on account of the American higher population.
The sudden coding of ties between Nigeria and the World Bank might not be completely separated from the row on the election of a new World Bank President some two years. Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala announced her candidacy. Instantly and more in a “how dare you?” eye down, America’s Barrack Obama addressed the press on the lawns of White House in Washington where he announced his country’s candidate, a hitherto invisible Korean American, Jim Yong Kim.
As expected, the American won hands down. Okonjo-Iweala had to lick her wound.
There should, therefore, be no surprise at the World Bank assessment of Nigeria’s poverty level, as extremely poor. That is not to say the report is false. In the past, the World Bank would not have released such negative picture.

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