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Time to go Dr Okonjo-Iweala – 2

By Dele Sobowale

“The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide full employment and its arbitrary and ineuitable distribution of wealth and incomes”. John Maynard Keynes, 883-946, in The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Published in 936.

[This week I continue where the series ended last week with my WELCOME DR OKONJO-IWEALA, published last year August when she returned as Finance Minister].

While you are getting busy finding answers to the questions above, let me draw your attention to the statement above made by Keynes at the end of his magnum opus. Although written 75 years ago, the observation is as relevant today as when it was written in 1936.

In fact, it has become more relevant in the modern global economy – Nigeria included. At the moment, over 200 million people are looking for jobs all across the world – perhaps about 42 million of the job seekers are in Nigeria alone.

Part of the reason, as you must have known, as World Bank Managing Director, is the fact that growth, estimated at 7% per annum in Nigeria, is not creating jobs and the benefits of growth are not being shared broadly. Now as in the period before the Second World War, when Keynes pointed to the destabilizing impact of “arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes”, Nigerian politicians in all the political parties governing at the federal and state levels have institutionalized income inequality and narrowed access to employment.

Take a look at the high profile selections made before the just concluded elections and you will notice the increasing strangle hold on political positions by a few families or cabal in virtually every state. Kwara might as well be called Saraki State. But, what was once limited to one state is now becoming national.

In Plateau, the governor appointed his son as Special Adviser; “arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes” is not better illustrated than that. To some extent, the same is true of states under “progressive” governors. Dr Okonjo-Iweala is surely familiar with the broad outlines of Keynes theory which guided economic policy from the late 1930s until the conservative elements staged a come-back which has resulted in the current global recession.

Certainly, she must ask herself where to start redressing the inequitable distribution of wealth in a country where legislators earn over 100 times the take home pay of a professor.

Previously, a country growing at 7% would have been churning out jobs at a rate that will almost guarantee full employment; if not labour shortage – given population growth rate of 2.85%. Instead of scramble for workers, such as we experienced during the Gowon administration in the 1970s, people are still being laid off and factories are closing.

In addition to all these, the Finance Minister came the first time when the international price of crude oil was heading for the roof. Given imminent global recession on account of economic crisis in the US and Europe, she might have arrived just in time for the price of crude to head for the basement.

She needs all the luck in the world to avoid becoming the scapegoat for what might follow.

That was last August; we are in another August and the economic debacle facing us reminds me of historian Trevor Roper’s Last Days of the Third Reich, and the Chapter on Two Winters. The first winter was triumphant for the German Army in Russia; the second was disastrous.

Over 800,000 German soldiers perished in the snows of Stalingrad. Last year, you enthusiastically claimed that your mandate is to manage the economy in order to create jobs. At least that was what the President told you.

Well, Madam, the same President, a few weeks ago, announced that “During the campaign, our emphasis was more on job creation, power, but now what worries us most is security. This is because you must be alive before you will eat food.” Obviously, your boss does not realize that if you don’t eat you will be dead soon enough.

What concerns us here is the fact that your role in government had been demoted. Job creation, power and food security will now take the back seat. Henceforth, the Minister of Defence, the DG-NIA, the National Security Adviser, the DG-SSS and the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, will take preference over the Economic Management Team which you co-ordinate.

Since you were probably aware of what happened to the US during the wars in the Middle East, you need not be told that, when a nation tacitly selects guns (metaphor for security) over gari (metaphor for jobs, power and food), the allocation of funds head towards destructive pursuits not constructive objectives. That has been the verdict
of history which will not change because the country now embarking on that venture is our own Nigeria.

Again you are aware that even nations which have expressed the burning desire to create jobs – US, European nations, South Africa, Brazil etc – are failing woefully to achieve the goal of job creation mostly on account of lopsided income distribution. A nation, whose President had declared employment a secondary concern, has no chance whatsoever.

So, Madam, forget jobs. The core mandate for which you were recruited has become part of A.O.B (Any Other Business) at the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting. That is not your fault. Let me quickly add, you just went to work for the wrong boss.

However, let me point out your personal faults for which you should seriously consider throwing in the towel. Basically, it comes to one word CREDIBILITY. Last August, you were a highly credible Managing Director of the World Bank. Even, some who disagreed with your debt repayment option accepted the fact that it was a step in the right direction.

Your second coming was fraught with dangers – of which you were probably not aware. But you were warned. Let me again take you back to last August. In the second part of WELCOME BACK, DR OKONJO IWEALA – 2, the following observations were made.

“ WELCOME DR OKONJO-IWEALA; YOUR COURAGE IS ADMIRABLE

“The man who enters a room by breaking down the door can be justifiably accused of violence. Yet something must be said about the state of the door”.

Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, Nobel Prize Winner in Economics.

Nobody who studied economics in the United States in the 1960s to 1980s could have avoided the great Harvard Professor of Economics and iconoclast. You must have read some of his books during your years in the university. If you are wondering why this is important, it is in reference to your press conference on Wednesday, August 25, 2011 during which you were reported to have said that, “There has been a lot of debate on fuel subsidies and we have all resolved that removing it is a good direction to go on. You have to leave it to us to decide when it is prudent to do so”.


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