The 5K Conundrum

During electioneering campaigns, politicians are known for one thing—making lots of promises. These promises range from the conservative to the quixotic spectrum. One promise apparently attributed to the new administration is now causing some headache—or should I say, “Twitter ache”.

The only leaking faucet worse than a drunkard’s mouth, is a politician’s mouth during campaigns, especially, when such a politician is driven by an urge to impress potential voters. A politician can promise to paint the sky red without offering any plausible means of doing such. The listeners don’t bother to ask how—the spirit of gullibility reigns supreme. Don’t blame the politicians! Those who want to stick to achievable promises, quickly learn that their audiences prefer the implausible to the plausible.

The promise causing the present internet storm, is the “alleged” promise by President Buhari and the APC during campaigns to pay ₦5,000 monthly to 25 million poor Nigerian families subject to certain education and immunization criteria, and to pay unemployed graduates monthly for a one-year period. The president has already denied much of the promises “made by the party”, but for the purpose of this article, let’s assume that the 5K promise was actually made.

Senators of the opposition PDP triggered the internet furore by moving a motion to compel the executive to fulfil the alleged promise. The APC’s senators quickly shot down the motion, leading to outrage by many Nigerians, accompanied by support by other Nigerians. The APC’s defence is that the 2015 budget is a “PDP budget” and so, does not capture the social welfare plans of the APC.

Granted that the PDP caucus is likely playing to the gallery, seeking to punch holes in the APC’s manifesto, the foundation of the present administration, it is accepted among the honest, that the maker of a pledge should fulfil that pledge. Some complainers have wailed that the government owes them five months arrears of 5K each. Those who say the PDP has no moral right to bring the flammable motion, having presided over the country’s socioeconomic descent, have countered these ones.

Setting aside the emotional arguments, the campaigns are over, let’s be pragmatic. Can Nigeria afford such a welfare programme? Fulfilling such a promise would cost ₦125 billion per month, summing to ₦1.5 trillion per year. Even if the phased version of five million families annually, attributed to Vice-President Osinbanjo is considered, that would cost ₦25 billion per month, ₦300 billion per year. Would this be the best way to use scarce resources in the midst of a global oil price slump, market over-supply, leakages and theft of crude oil through our famously porous maritime borders?

One defence usually put up is that a fight against corruption, and blocking of leakages would avail funds for the welfarist programme. Are we kidding ourselves? Would the leakages be blocked by executive fiat without strong institutions? Let’s even assume that every leaking pocket were to be mended; how do we avoid falling into a new version of political patronage? Who decides who is “poor enough” to benefit from the programme? Without strong institutions and an effective checks-and-balances system, some individuals would end up being endued with power from on high.

Returning to the question of affordability, in the midst of a lengthy wish list and scarce resources, this 5K promise brings a form of social awkwardness. It is good to help the poor, and it is good to improve economic indices via infrastructural development. Nigeria has a huge infrastructural deficit. Even the blind can see the thick darkness caused by insufficient power supply. I can conveniently argue that 5K would have no “concrete” effect on the poor—it would just further entrench them in poverty.

Which is better? Throwing 5K at the poor or using scarce resources to improve Nigeria’s condition, thereby helping the poor? The billions of dollars estimated as being required for infrastructural development will not come from the sky. It would come from wisely managing resources, being aware of the opportunity cost of going for one item in lieu of another. 5K a month would not lift any one out of poverty. However, stable power supply, good roads, security, low inflation, a conducive business environment and a functioning judiciary will provide an engendering clime for poverty reduction.

The government should humbly tell Nigerians that it made the 5K promise, but present realities make the execution unsustainable. Honesty would give it a way out, as millions of supporters still have some goodwill left for it. If President Buhari does not address Nigerians truthfully, proponents of the #our5k campaign will not let him rest. If however, he decides (and finds a way) to pay the 5K, he should not forget the other promises. This conundrum should have never happened.

Image Credit: mygrowthpoint.com

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