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Patriotism and the 2017 budget

By Ikeogu Oke

President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2017 budget to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 14.  It should be of interest to Nigerians, beyond the fiscal details of the presentation.

This  interest, which I consider as important as those fiscal details, arises from his hint at patriotism as a critical factor in reversing the country’s current economic woes in addition to the implementation of the budget, which the president entitled,  the “Budget of Recovery and Growth … designed to bring the economy out of recession and to a path of steady growth and prosperity.”

The President made a direct reference to patriotism in his remark about “those courageous and patriotic men and women who believed in Nigeria” and who “are now seeing the benefits gradually come to fruition,” having seized the opportunity provided by the current economic challenges and turned them to account with their “creativity, talents and resilience.” But his indirect hints at patriotism as a critical factor in pulling the country out of recession and putting it on the path of sustainable economic growth  are even more significant. This reminds us that “we wasted our large foreign exchange reserves to import nearly everything we consume. Our food, our clothing, our manufacturing inputs, our fuel and much more.” And that “by importing nearly everything, we provide jobs for young men and women in the countries that produce what we import, while our own young people wander around jobless.” And that “by preferring imported goods, we ensure steady jobs for the nationals of other countries, while our own farmers, manufacturers, engineers, and marketers, remain jobless.”

The President explained  the slow but sure disappearance of “that old Nigeria” and the rise of “a new era…in which we grow what we eat and consume what we make.” In this new era, he added, “we will increasingly grow and process our own food, we will manufacture what we can and refine our own petroleum products. We will buy ‘Made in Nigeria’ goods. We will encourage garment manufacturing and Nigerian designers, tailors and fashion retailers. We will patronise local entrepreneurs. We will promote the manufacturing powerhouses in Aba, Calabar, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Nnewi, Onitsha, and Ota. From light manufacturing to cement production and petrochemicals, our objective is to make Nigeria a new manufacturing hub.” Yes. President Buhari has his critics some of whom he perhaps cultivated through his actions. But I doubt that any of them can contest the sincerity of these words and the relevance of the associated propositions to solving the country’s lingering economic problems if they are implemented.

Regardless of our financial situation as a nation, our attitude as a people is critical to our economic survival during this period of recession, and our prosperity afterwards. We cannot be patronizing imported goods at the expense of our own, consequently starving our manufacturers of funds and denying our citizens of jobs, and expect to become a self-reliant, let alone prosperous nation.  And when I read his plea to buy “Made in Nigeria” goods, I recalled when the United States, during the Clinton presidency, was facing severe economic challenges with the concomitant rise of the Japanese economy in the early 1990s, with Japanese goods, especially the technological ones, seeming generally preferable to their American equivalents even to Americans. Even the United States government countered the trend by sponsoring the “Buy American” campaign through radio jingles and whatnot. So President Buhari’s call to buy “Made in Nigeria” goods has an American precedent. And it is simply about patriotism, about putting the survival of one’s country first, like the Americans who responded positively to the “Buy American” campaign and returned to patronising American goods in preference to foreign ones.

Incidentally, this is one aspect of the budget presentation speech that can resonate with economic experts and laymen alike. Even our recent profligate past, in which we earned so much from oil without saving for the future, showing lack of patriotism on the part of those responsible, is a clear indication that financial buoyancy alone does not guarantee economic security, especially in the light of what we now face partly as a result of that profligacy, suddenly confronted with lean times and the sudden drop in the price of oil, our major revenue earner.    Without the right attitude by  Nigerians and government officials who would be directing spending in implementation of the budget, without a deliberate choice to put our money where our mouth is – in our country – the N7.298 trillion 2017 budget may turn out a budget of capital flight rather than recovery and growth as the president has pronounced it.

Unfortunately, even under Buhari’s watch, the government has been negligent in following his patriotic blueprint for economic revival. Otherwise, the Senate’s purchase of “108 Toyota Land Cruisers” in April this year at the cost of “N3.8 billion” should have been patronage directed at the local auto industry, which evidently needs the money for its survival and growth more than the Japanese owner of the Toyota brand. What is worse? The Senate allegedly spent twice the normal price on the vehicles!

Lack of political will blamed for the country’s inability to save in a time of plenty under the immediate past government. But I think that dereliction also reflects lack of moral will and patriotism on the part of those who should have ensured the savings, seeing that the supposed lack of political will did not prevent them from taking good care of themselves in their private capacities.   The same situation can repeat itself  and prevent the implementation of Buhari’s redemptive pan-Nigerian economic blueprint as articulated in the budget speech, unless he has the political and moral will to compel government to buy “Made in Nigeria,” thereby leading by example and giving governmental justification for his administration’s mantra: Change begins with me.

Imagine the impact of Nigerians knowing that their president uses products from what he acknowledged as “the manufacturing powerhouses in Aba, Calabar, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Nnewi, Onitsha, and Ota.” Imagine the effect of their seeing him drive or be driven around in a “Made in Nigeria” car. Imagine the result of their hearing him persuade government agencies, especially those in the executive arm directly under his control, to patronise Nigerian goods as a priority, having been known to do so himself. How inspiring that would be to the cause of ensuring the country’s economic revival and subsequent growth under his watch and in accordance with his blueprint of economic patriotism!

Oke writes from Abuja

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