Over the years, even staid World Bank economists have remarked on the economic, social and political parallels between Guyana and Sub-Saharan Africa in the post independence era. Coincidentally our recent oil find, which is mirrored off West Africa and originated when our continents split apart eons ago, might just make the parallels more pointed.
Nigeria has been pumping petroleum for decades and it was thought that the revenue flows from the “black gold” would have catapulted Nigeria into the “developed world” category. Corruption by government officials, however, never channeled oil revenues into the development of the country and left the most populous country in Africa mired in poverty.
However in May 2015, after three failed attempts, Major General Muhammadu Buhari was elected as President of Nigeria on an “anti-corruption” platform, just as had our President Brigadier (rtd) David Granger. In his seventies like our president, Buhari had been trained at the military academy at Mons, England and later in the United States. He had seized the Nigerian Presidency in a coup briefly during 1983-85 but then stepped aside and became in his words, a “converted democrat”.
But in the one and a half years in office, Buhari has seen the economy under his watch collapse into a recession with unemployment rising rapidly among the restive young population. While the fall in petroleum prices has contributed to the recession, this should have been averted by the increased revenues that was supposed to have flowed into the Treasury after “curbing corruption”.
All of this is of course very reminiscent of what has taken place in Guyana, where the alleged “billions and billions” that were being “siphoned” from our treasury has evidently not been staunched or was a figment of the imagination since even salary increases for Public Servants have not been granted. Then, of course, there were also the very real drug money that circulated through the underground economy that percolated into the open economy through many crevices occupied by “small men”.
Buhari has been accused of focusing on stopping “corruption” which is a negative act rather than promoting growth of the economy which is positive. Like Guyana, there have been numerous “investigations”, come high profile arrests and prosecutions. While there is still corruption, as in Guyana, it is now confined to a tighter coterie that keeps the money sequestered from flowing downwards and sideways. More pertinently, the government evidently threw out the baby with the bath water when it closed numerous governmental accounts and centralized them all into one account at the Central Bank. This has led to severe problems in intermediating funds into the very broad based economy.
As in Guyana, there is a severe loss of purchasing power in the hands of ordinary citizens and rather than stimulating the economy through appropriate fiscal policies, the Buhari regime, like his Guyanese counterpart, simply announce grandiose plans for “revitalizing manufacturing” and “diversifying agriculture”. Sounds familiar?
Of recent there have been not so jocular calls in Nigeria to “bring back corruption” since the ordinary citizen’s experience is that there was much more money flowing in those “corrupt” days than at present. Calls for Buhari’s resignation are becoming common and has prompted him to suggest that he needs extraordinary powers, above the constitutionally stipulated ones, to bring the economy around. Ironically, several of his “corrupt” predecessors justified their accretion of powers outside the constitution on similar grounds.
It is possible that Guyana may follow Nigeria down this path also after oil starts to flow?