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Bye-bye Soludo and welcome Lamido: Vision or mission impossible?

By Adisa Adeleye
After the departure of the erudite Soludo from the Central Bank, hope has risen high that the new Governor would not only keep the good works of his predecessor but would improve tremendously on the job of managing the monetary side of the national economy.

There is no doubt that Professor Soludo has put the banking system on a solid foundation by his reforms which culminated in the consolidation of about 88 local banks into 24 financial solid ones.

While many would prefer the hardworking Economics Professor to continue his ‘good’ works till doomsday, as it is the practice’ in some civilized communities, many Nigerians devoted to ‘growth’ economics would be glad to see the back of the wizard, who in office, was a decent disciple and as an apostle of economic conservatism.

Indeed the classical economists of the 18th and 19th countries and their devotees in the quarter of the 20th century would want to rise from their unmarked graves to celebrate the triumph of their discarded principles in a developing nation of the 21st century.

The new man from the banking sector , Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, strikes one as somebody who is aware of the responsibility of the exalted job, who knows what to do and who is prepared to do a decent job [if allowed to do it].

His screening exercise before the Senate was perhaps a fine testimony by a developmental economist with a vision for infrastructural reconstruction.

Like many patriotic commentators on the national economy, the new Governor saw clearly that no real development would come to the country without adequate power supply, refurbished dilapidated infrastructures and self – sufficiency in food supply.

With these, all other goodies would follow.

It is a case of making the right choices of the welter of conflicting policies [with apology to the blind adherents of the President’s 7 – points Agenda] Surely security could not be maintained in an atmosphere of total darkness or agricultural production expanded with simple implements in traditional settings.

Bad roads would certainly impede the movement of agricultural products to urban Centres of consumption.

The noble Lamido Sanusi has just re-echoed the songs that many Nigerians had rendered many years before and which Professor Aluko first chorused some forty – five years ago that no meaningful economic progress would be possible without infrastructural development.

We are happy to learn that 14 billion road works contracts have been signed; that River Niger would be dredged; that modern Railway system would be available and that power would improve to 6,000 MW at the end of the year.

A more disturbing aspect of the national economy which the new Central Bank Governor would face is the ever rising bank lending rate to the customers. The new man (from the banking sector) attributed such high rate to increasing operational cost of the banks in an atmosphere of power shortage.

It must be understood that power supply is a general problem in the county which is not peculiar to the banking sector alone.

The big manufacturers, the small-scale entrepreneurs and individual business class – all clients (borrowers) of the banks share in the pain of inadequate power supply.

However, these classes of borrows are made to bear the cost of not only imposed darkness but also some atrocious hidden charges of the banks.

On the question of the value of the naira, the new governor appears a bit funny by supporting the abrupt devaluation of the naira during period of low price of crude oil.

If income from oil is reduced, a serious government would reduce its expenditure or try to improve income from other non-oil sources.

You need not cut salary, but cut unreasonable and fat allowances of political office holders and also import of non-essential goods.

Devaluation in a totally import dependent economy is an unpardonable sin against development and growth.

One of the many economic sins of Prof. Soludo was his inability to allow the value of the naira to rise during the period of high foreign exchange reserves, and the maintenance of regime of low naira value which proved disastrous to the manufacturing sector (in terms of cost of raw materials, machinery and spare parts) throughout his regime.

A high exchange rate, even if stable, could not lead to economic growth in our type of economy.

During this period of global economic crisis many developed economies cheapened the price of lending by encouraging entrepreneurs to borrow and keep alive, to produce more goods in order to prevent inflation and to keep their workers in employment.

Here in Nigeria, the interest is kept unreasonably high making borrowing difficult to the real sector.

The big banks’ credits are being directed principally to importers of petroleum products; big Asian importers of vehicles – Jeeps of all sizes and cars of exotic nature to ply our badly constructed and poorly maintained roads.

Also, some of the users of our scarce foreign exchange have little or no impact on domestic economic expansion through infrastructural development or employment generation.

Shoddy commodities are imported into the country (with fake declaration to evade taxes) to compete unfavourably with domestic products, leading to the closure of many manufacturing plants. That is Soludo’s legacy.

If Lamido Sanusi is to succeed, he should direct his main attention to the problems of tight monetary policy (high lending rate), low naira value and reasonable management of supply of money to stimulate dormant domestic economy.

As for the choice of Central Bank Governor from the North, the President might be trying to change the opinion of the critics that Northern leaders are ‘bad managers of the economy’.

As Professor P. Ekeh once noted in “Government and Development in Nigeria” that, ‘whatever other gifts the Fulani aristocracy possess (and there are few other groups that are so well endowed in Nigeria indeed elsewhere in Africa), economic production has not been one of its strong points’.

Now it is left for President Yar’Adua, Mallam Lamido Sanusi (Central Bank), Dr. Mansur Mukhtar (Finance), Dr. Shamsudeen Usman (National Planning), and Economic Adviser, Alhaji Yakubu – a formidable economic team to shame the critics.

If they pull it through, the nation will be eternally grateful to these Northern stars for the elusive macro-economic stability with full employment (Federal Character or no Federal Character).

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