Opinion: Disambiguating Obi-nomics by Steve Osuji

Buhari’s government lacks competence capacity

Obi-nomics sounds cool, isn’t it? And it has gained much traction too just as the Peter Obi presidential aspiration is riding on a great momentum of its own. Obi today is the cause celebre of Nigeria’s politics; making waves everywhere he goes and most importantly, giving Nigerians hope that all is not lost for our dear country yet. Even if he ends up as a mere aspirant, Obi’s politics, economics and exemplary lifestyles will impact, if not define our tomorrow.

But back to OBI-NOMICS, which seems at once misunderstood and derided even out of ignorance and mischief. But as we know, mischief borne out of ignorance can be quite daunting to manage. But let’s give it a shot here.

From Peter Obi’s speeches, treatises, policy directions and actions as a two-term governor, it’s easy to glean that his political economy and philosophy are rooted on MASTERING THE BASICS and building therefrom to create a glorious future. Obi is grounded on policies that are huge in social impacts and with high human development indices.

Some indicators: by Obi’s 4th to 6th year in office, Anambra had perhaps the best educational system in Nigeria in terms of infrastructure, facilities, study environment and personnel. It was not by chance that Anambra State candidates became all-round best in all national examinations ranging from WAEC, JAMB, UNITY SCHOOLS ENTRANCE EXAMINATIONS, NECO, etc. In his time, parents moved their children from private to public schools. You will never see a ramshackle school in Anambra as may be manifest in most other states, including Lagos, the supposed centre of excellence.

Obi has said recently that his first duty, should he become president of Nigeria would be education, the second would be education and likewise the third. He understands that education in all its ramifications is the soul of the modern world.

In Anambra, Obi invested massively in education, public health, road networks and workers’ welfare. These are his economics. After 8 years at the helm, Anambra has the best urban and rural road network in Nigeria. Hardly any town or community in the state was left untarred. He addressed agriculture and food production by catalysing large scale private commercial farming in the state. Some of the numerous billionaires in the state were encouraged by Obi to delve into farming.

Obi modelled his economics around achieving the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. As noted earlier, among his high priorities were education, healthcare, especially child and maternal mortality, food security and provision of basic infrastructures like roads and erosion control. The UN and World Bank systems found Obi and his Anambra a model development outpost in Nigeria. It’s a well-known fact that Obi won all the awards from international development partners for their methodical approach to socio-economic development during his time.

Before his arrival in office, it was common knowledge that Anambra suffered nearly one year of salary backlog stretching back to the time of former governor, Chinweoke Mbadinuju. Unpaid pensions and gratuities were the norms. In Obi-nomics, timely and regular payment of salaries, pension and gratuities was taken for granted. His government cleared the backlog of the workers’ entitlements running into billions. At his exit from office in 2017, not a dime of wage was owed to any worker. No contractors were owed and not a kobo of debt did Anambra State owe anywhere.

A revelation emerged recently: the Taraba State governor recently said he was moved to ask Willie Obiano, the immediate past governor of Anambra how he raised funds to build a brand new airport in these lean times? Obiano had responded confidentially that it was made possible by the huge savings left by Peter Obi. But the Anambra Airport is poor economics. It’s not in tandem with OBI-NOMICS. It’s clearly a white elephant project that would probably not yield its keep. The reason is that the Asaba Airport is only about 20 minutes away while the airport at Owerri is about 45 minutes away. So Obiano was on an ego trip, he had no economic thinking. Obiano took Anambra from zero to about N60b debt. That is what most governors in Nigeria do.

On the contrary, Obi left Anambra in her most buoyant and liquid state since the creation of the state. Obi had a 50-year strategic savings plan for the transformation of Anambra into a modern and self-sustaining state. Foreign currency savings in state bonds and fixed dollar income deposits were long term projections to place Anambra in the best financial stead to grow and develop in the manner of first world States.

Prudence, financial acumen and vision for the future: these are components of OBI-NOMICS. One day, the story shall be written about how a state like Anambra under Obi, which earned among the least was able to perform so much and save so much without borrowing a kobo.

In a country most governors are on a borrowing binge, where debts and attendant debt service obligations are choking the citizenry, where many governors borrow and embezzle, it is most salutary to see a state with zero debt and a green bottom line. It is also ironic that the most buoyant states in Nigeria with the highest potential for fat IGR are the most debt-ridden states. And according to Obi, this is the result of maniacal waste in government, misplaced priorities and corruption.

LET’S USE LAGOS STATE AS CASE STUDY: Lagos State for instance earns about N50 billion monthly from IGR yet it is currently being asphyxiated by debts. By end of 2021 Lagos was carrying a domestic debt of N658b, that’s 15% of total debt stock among the 36 states plus the FCT. It borrowed a whopping N150b in 2021 plus approximately N600b IGR and another an100b fed allocation yet it has no metro rail, the 4th Mainland Bridge remains on the drawing board, no major highway was commissioned last year and the entire city-state is as choking as a boiling cauldron. The state remains two-thirds slum with 75% of its inner roads almost impassable, especially with the rains setting in.
Even with so much revenue, Lagos remains the 3rd worst city to live on earth. It is characterised by dirt, squalor, traffic jam and lack of clean water. Apart from a daily punishing commute averaging 4-hour and punitive taxes, the citizens unbeknownst to them, are also paying punitive loan servicing annually. Ironically, Lagos is surrounded by large bodies of water which could be deployed to much imaginative use but they are largely undeveloped and underutilized.

Where’s all the money going? What are the fundaments and the driving philosophy of her political economy? The past two decades have witnessed haphazard development and misplaced priorities and now a crippling debt peonage. Hardly any sector of her economy has been developed sustainably: public schools are still a no-no for the child of any right-thinking person; most still prefer private health services and infrastructure remains a far cry from minimum standards. Basic metro line rail has been 12 years in the making!

Lagos is a clear example of a state that could benefit from the OBI-NOMICS model – that is, to master the basics and build from foundations. It’s never too late to reinvent oneself.