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Nigeria’s 35-year Economic Gains Wiped Out in Five Years, Former Kano Emir Sanusi Says

Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and immediate past Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has maintained that all the economic gains made by Nigeria in the

Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and immediate past Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has maintained that all the economic gains made by Nigeria in the last 35 years were wiped out between 2014 and 2019 when ill-advised decisions were taken by the managers of the country’s resources.

Sanusi, who is the leader of the Tijjaniyya Islamic sect in Nigeria, was a guest, along with the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, in an online forum organised on Thursday night by the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Association of Nigeria.

The association is led by a former Minister of Information and Communications, Mr. Frank Nweke (Jnr).

The former Emir of Kano, who is also addressed as Khalifa Muhammadu Sanusi also said on Saturday in Kaduna at a colloquium marking his 60th birthday that no one can afford to be a conformist in an abnormal society.

Sanusi, at the Harvard Kennedy School event, argued that incompetence has no religion, ethnicity or gender, but remains a purely personal attribute.

He stated that religion has been elevated to an unnecessary place of importance in the country, which it does not deserve, noting that the development has continued to be a part of the distraction from the real problems besetting the country.

The leader of the Tijaniyyah Sufi sect in Nigeria stressed that by the end of this year, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be worse than it was in 1980, pointing out that spending up to 90 per cent of the country’s revenues on debt servicing was unsustainable.

“You look at the World Bank economic quality indicators and you will be shocked at what you are seeing. If we take Nigeria’s GDP per capita on a PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) basis, in 1980 it was $2,180 and by 2014, it was $3,099, which increased it by 50 per cent.

“Between 2014 and 2019, this number fell to $2,229. At this rate, by this year or next year, Nigeria’s GDP per capita on a PPP basis will be back to where it was in 1980.

“We have not moved. We wiped out in five years all the progress made in the preceding 35 years. That is the kind of conversation we should have which we are not having. And what are the key drivers of this: you’ve got rising population growth, slow GDP growth, higher rates of inflation, and devaluation of the currency,” he said.

He stated that rather than focus on religion and other inanities, Nigerians should interrogate the incumbent government on its social policies, how demographic movements can be controlled, and how to fix the issues underlying a lot of Nigeria’s challenges.

He maintained that rather than being a religious issue, the rapid increase in population has made “farmlands become houses”, while “grazing routes have become farms”, explaining that the conflict between herdsmen and farmers is over resources and not ethnicity or religion.

According to him, while the population of Nigeria has been increasing at over three per cent per annum since independence, the jostle for scarce resources has been worsened by desertification, environmental degradation, erosion, pollution, the disappearance of water resources in the Chad Basin, and the Niger Benue.

The Chancellor of the Kaduna State University opined that Nigeria was only aligning with Reverend Thomas Malthus’ economic theory which states that when the population increases with a limited supply of land, it will get to a point where diminishing marginal productivity and pestilence and war will follow.

“If you continue seeing this as Muslim versus Christian, Fulani versus chiefs or whatever, you miss the point, which is that we need to watch our growing population, how to make investments to grow the economy to support the population and how to provide the economic sustainability that will protect the purchasing power of people,” he added.

Sanusi posited that the narrative should be how to have a good and efficient government, which he said, Nigeria seems to lack.

He said that the practice of Sharia has become political, stressing that hands had been cut off, yet decades later, stealing and other crimes had not stopped, while it appears that only the poor Muslim bears the brunt.

Sanusi argued that the monies that are spent on Islamic pilgrimages every year by the government, especially on those who could afford it over the years were enough to educate a huge chunk of the population of the north.

He declared that a government that pursues wrong economic policies will get the wrong economic outcomes.

He added: “For decades in this country, we have wasted our resources. Look at the fuel subsidy, which I’ve been talking about since 2011. We take trillions and trillions of naira and tell people we are giving them cheap fuel.

“At the end of the day, we have bankrupted ourselves. You’ve set up an economic system where today 90 per cent of government revenue goes to debt servicing and we’re still borrowing. We are spending trillions on fuel subsidy. And then we get the central bank to print trillions because we cannot pay salaries if we do not print the money. And as the money is printed, we create inflation and then we create devaluation.

“And then we find that we have to pay more on subsidy because today if you remove the fuel subsidy, you’ve got to pay about N400 per litre of petrol product and we are an oil-producing country.

“If we had removed this subsidy when we said we should remove it, even if it was in 2015, we will not be here. So, this is not about Buhari (Muhammadu) being a Muslim or Osinbajo (Yemi) being a Christian. This is about what are the economic policies that are being pursued? Are the policies that will create jobs, economic growth, or are they policies that will moderate population growth or lead to prosperity?”

He noted that having been trained as a Catholic at the young age of eight and there was no attempt to convert him and being exposed to that environment at the age by people who “showered me with love,” it was impossible to have a narrow world view, given his life experiences.

“If the president, for example, acts in a particular way, that is the president; that is the individual that he is and he’s not acting in the name of Islam or the name of the north, or the name of religion, if he’s a northerner or Muslim.

“And even if, for example, you have a president who uses the machinery of government to promote the interests of one segment of the political elite, religious or ethnicity, that is that person doing it, not just something informed by their religion.

“If you, for example, are in government and you promote corruption or injustice or inequity, even if you say you are a Muslim or Christian, are those particular attitudes the reflection of your faith, or are they just a reflection of your incompetence or your weaknesses as an individual, or your moral failings as a person?” he queried.

He argued that the poor Muslim farmer in Zamfara State is today not better off because he has a Muslim minister, adding also that the poor Christian farmer in Kafanchan, is not better off because he has a Christian minister from his area.

“For the poor people in this country, whether they’re Muslim or Christian, what is it that unifies them; it is hunger, poverty, unemployment, insecurity, infant mortality, maternal mortality, and those things do not know religion,” he posited.

Sanusi, who also spoke at a separate event in Kaduna to mark his 60th birthday, stated that no one could afford to be a conformist in an abnormal society.

He also stated that nobody can ignore the fact that things are not working in Nigeria.

Sanusi said he had paid the price for speaking out about the issues, stressing however that “Nigerians are the ones paying the real price.”

He said the price Nigerians are paying for, “is the price you see in increased poverty; it is a price you see in insecurity, in a high rate of inflation, in loss of values of our currency, in the numbers around malnutrition, unemployment, out of school children, maternal mortality and infant mortality”.

He said for the past two years, he had not been talking much, not because he was afraid of speaking, but because all the things he spoke about had come.

“When you are in a society that is so abnormal, you cannot afford to be a conformist, because if you all conform, things will not change,” he said.

“Many years ago, when I was screaming about the billions being spent on fuel subsidy; I remember there was an attempt to attack my house in Kano; then I was in the CBN. Where are we today? We are face-to-face with the reality -that fuel subsidy is unsustainable.”

According to him, those calling him “controversial or calling me an enemy or critic, will not make those facts go away. So, anywhere we go, we must face these facts.”

Sanusi said at 60, he is not happy, “because 60 years ago when I was born, the United States government advisory was telling investors that Nigeria has a better economic future than Japan. Today where are we and where is Japan?” he queried.

Also speaking at the Harvard Kennedy School event, Kukah argued that the problems in the north have been further worsened by the elite who manipulate the people through religion and see development as solely the function of government.

“Somehow, the unresolved issues of ethnicity and religion have now come back to haunt us. And I perfectly agree with the fact that if we were never in this situation, none of these should matter. And they shouldn’t.

“But we are so far away from those ideals and those realities. Power has been used to close opportunities for national integration because those in power have given the impression through the processes that got them to power, that certain identities are important.

He maintained that the governing elite and even public intellectuals have been unable to create a roadmap by which diversity can be properly managed so that the people can come to terms with the fact that diversity is an opportunity, not a liability.

“This is largely because we are never able to address the issues of finding the ingredients for national integration. The result is that religion has become a weapon, and also in northern Nigeria it has become a weapon for mobilisation.

“Tragically, again, as I said, the politicians have mobilised their people based on religion, and they have never been able to deliver. We don’t need to look any further.

“The tragedy in Zamfara and the whole of the core 11 or 12 northern states, the fact that the north itself has become a crime scene, and that by extension spilled over to the rest of Nigeria (confirms this).

“So, just to say very clearly that the political elite in northern Nigeria and their counterparts elsewhere appreciate the fact that the consistent manipulation of religion is largely responsible for the unravelling of the country as we have today,” he emphasised

Kukah said that the northern political elite has always used the Sharia debate from 1979 as one way of stalling debates on the future of the country, culminating in all the states of northern Nigeria adopting Sharia law.

“It is now important for us, given the tragic situation we’re in now, we can return to the scene of the crime, and the scene of the crime is that you have an elite that does not commit to religion, but purely commitment to power, using religion, raising the hopes of ordinary people, whether they are Christians or Muslims, to the possibility that they will be represented and compensated.

“The south and other parts of Nigeria are making more rational choices to support welfare. The northern elite seems to believe that everything has to be done by the federal government,” he said.

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja and John Shiklam in Kaduna

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