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Buhari, a President without economic think tank

By Omoh Gabriel

In this column  in August last year, I had cause to ask how far  President Buhari can go in managing a tough economy. There has been growing concerns about this government’s handling of the economy.

At the moment, there seems to be no clear cut economic blueprint for which government policies are framed. It appears to me that every minister is working by intuition without any economic guiding principle.

Buhari
Buhari

The President is yet to appoint his Chief Economic adviser, have an economic management team or a think tank that meets regularly to discuss what is on ground, what measures needed to be put in place to address them quickly.

It is like the focus is all about looking for thieves, catching them, and recovering what they have stolen. This is good and fair enough. After the President has finished the recovery of the looted funds, what next and how will the looted funds be channeled into the economy to benefit the ordinary Nigerian?

What the ordinary Nigerian is interested in is food on his table, good school for his children, good medical care and shelter and security of life and property.

In any economy, the goal of macro economic policy is to achieve full employment of resources, balance growth, stable prices of goods and services; and a stable currency through a healthy balance of payment.

As it is today, all four macro economic indices are pointing south. This government seems not to understand or know what to do to address the situation. The government does not need to go too far to know what to do. Nigeria has several development research documents that speak of ways to better manage the economy. But the problem has always been that leaders are often not focused enough to implement them faithfully.

In most countries today, the economics of the middle class has taken the center stage. This is because if the middle class is doing well, the purchasing power in the hand of this class will make the economy to grow. When in 1986, General Babangida introduced the famous Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), it was with good intention. But half way down the line of implementation, the programme was derailed by Nigerians who kept crying of the hardship the programme was putting the nation through.

President Babangida before coming up with SAP had a retinue of very bright minds as his advisers. Babangida had a team then that was called the Presidential Economic Advisory Council. This body was busy preparing documents and seeking informed opinion from operators in the private sector.

He went to the point of instituting what was then known as Corporate Nigeria — a yearly gathering of captains of industry to tap their knowledge of the economy before any policy initiative.

When President Olusegun Obasanjo became the President, the economy was near its knees. He realised that he could not manage the economy all by himself. He appointed Professor Chukwuma Soludo as his Chief Economic Adviser and set up an economic management team.

The team went to work and prepared a document called the NEEDS. It was the second of its kind to SAP. The document was the basis on which the nation was able to secure a debt relief from the Paris and London clubs of creditors. In fact it became the Policy Support Instrument for which the International Monetary Fund IMF, based its monitoring and evaluation of the economy on.

Nigerians’ expectation was that the next government after Obasanjo would take the economy to the next level. President Umaru Yar ‘Adua came up with 7-Point Agenda and Jonathan the Transformation Agenda. They were mere slogans without content or direction.  President Umaru Yar’Adua followed with the appointment of Tanimu as his Economic Adviser. He again had his economic team. All his appointees followed the seven point agenda.

The immediate past President had his team and his economic slogan was Transformation.

Buhari and his team must realise that they do not yet have a coherent, credible agenda that is consistent with the fundamentals of the economy as it stands today. What the government has been saying contains some good principles and wish-lists, but as a blue print for Nigeria’s security and prosperity, it is largely ineffective. The President should for the sake of Nigerians who voted him to power present a credible development agenda to Nigerians.

What the President must know is that the fundamental challenge of his government on the economy is how to set economic objective of creating ten to twelve million jobs over the next four years to have a dent on the ever growing unemployment and poverty in the country.

The real challenge is to craft a development agenda to deliver dividends of democracy within the context of broken public finance, and an economy in which painful structural adjustments will be inevitable if current trends in oil prices continue. Mr. President must come to terms with the fact that programmes such as war on corruption, security, power, infrastructure, etc, are  instruments to achieving the macro economic objective of full employment.

As it appears, this government seems to be disoriented and unorganised in the economic front. What is the economic slogan of this administration? What is the economic direction of government ministries, departments and agencies? All we hear is war against corruption, I will not devalue the naira, we will invest in agriculture, and we will invest in solid minerals.

So far, there is no policy direction toward these sectors. This government campaigned on the basis of stimulating the economy. Buhari’s stimulus strategy as of now is not focusing on cherry-picking projects that can create jobs almost instantaneously, as well as on programs that can deliver immediate returns to Nigerians.

It is now all out war on corruption. The projects and programs this administration should get into include infrastructure, education, health, and energy.

It is a shame that nine months into the life of this administration, these sectors are yet to feel the presence of this administration. The budget is riddled with confusion and yet to be passed. Almost one year is gone with little to show for it on the economy.

The President has already reneged on his unemployment benefits he promised during his campaign to pay N5, 000 unemployment benefits to Nigerians and other social welfare provisions.

The informal sector in Nigeria is very vibrant, with millions of underemployed youths.

This ought to be one sector this government of change should concentrate on to unleash its potential on the economy.

This sector ultimately will generate employment opportunities. This government should wake up and face the task of reconstructing the Nigerian economy; period.


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