By Abba Mahmood
Every day, it is becoming obvious that this government came to power with no clear idea of what to do with the power it got. Tardiness is becoming one of its recognisable hallmarks. The impression is being created that President Muhammadu Buhari even after contesting for the presidency four times had no clear agenda, no clearly identified goals, and no clear team to help him actualize these goals It took him 166 days to name his cabinet. Nigeria is undergoing one of its worst recessions in its history. The president in his wisdom appointed an economic adviser recently but posted him to the office of the vice president. He appointed a finance minister whose only previous experience in governance was finance commissioner in her state and has very little exposure nationally or internationally. He appointed a lawyer in charge of budget. He retained virtually all the heads of parastatals appointed by the previous government and, where few were removed, those acting were appointees of the previous government.
After almost a half-term in office, it is now that the cabinet came for a retreat on the economy. It is only now that some people in government are talking of a so-called roadmap on oil and gas. Now, there are at least 10 former ministers of finance and at least six former Central Bank governors who are alive. Since the president does not want to get economists into his government, why can’t the government call these and task them to look at the economy and come out with solutions? At least that may save us the embarrassment of government officials blaming the previous government on the current economic situation or the vice president saying recession was caused by Niger Delta militants!
In Nigeria’s recent history, there was no government that was development-oriented that did not have an economic think-tank. Under Babangida, Prof Ojetunji Aboyade of blessed memory was heading the policy team. He was one of the best economists Africa has ever produced. Under Abacha, Prof Sam Aluko, also one of the best, was chairman of the Economic Intelligence Committee. The Nigerian economy had never been better managed than at that time. In the first term of Obasanjo, it was Prof Ayagi that headed the team before Okonjo-Iweala became the head of the Economic Management Team. You can’t have the right result when you don’t have the right team. This is not rocket science.
As it is now, no serious investor can ever contemplate investing in this economy under this dispensation. As any student of economics knows, it takes at least 18 months for any good project to come on stream. In the next 18 months, it will be time for another round of elections and a new transition. So investors would rather wait to see the next policies even if this government is to continue beyond 2019. In any case capital is a coward: it only goes where it is safe. So, with the level of uncertainty in the economic indices, even Nigerian investors will be reluctant to invest here at present. The exchange rate, interest rate, monetary policy, fiscal policy and indeed the entire economic policy of the government are not yet clearly predictable or even identifiable. In other words, it is already a legacy of failure.
By the time European airlines stop coming to Nigeria, the rating of the country will further go down. And now the government is even considering selling off national strategic assets to fund budgets. Recession comes often. If government sells these assets now, what will they sell when the next recession comes? In any case, the constitution is very clear: government must control commanding heights of the economy. So, selling these assets is even unconstitutional. And if these assets are sold to some individuals, they will control the nation’s economy and ultimately its politics. The gap between the rich and the poor would have widened, and those controlling the nation’s economy would enslave the rest. This is a dangerous scenario which government must not allow to happen.
The most unfortunate thing is that no one knows the direction the country is heading to, as far as policy formulation and implementation are concerned. Various government officials give conflicting signals to the public in their pronouncements on critical issues affecting Nigeria. In the midst of all the current confused situation, government resorted to a sloganeering campaign tagged “Change begins with me”, during which the president and Nigeria were all embarrassed when Buhari read a plagiarised speech written for him by an incompetent speech writer! Buhari and his team should better know that they have stopped exciting anyone anymore. If they have any plans for Nigeria, no one has communicated it to the public yet.
The cumulative effort of all these is that the president and his government have lost enormous goodwill both here and outside. Even the people of Kano, Buhari’s political base and where he got his highest votes, are feeling disappointed because the economy of that ancient commercial centre has collapsed and their youth are getting destroyed by drugs. There is desperation and frustration everywhere. People can’t wait to change the change unless there is urgent change. You can’t take the entire national economy and hand over to one section of the country and expect the rest of the country to remain happy or satisfied. The president should know that there is poverty, hunger and despair everywhere in the land.
History is on the side of the oppressed.