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For an emergency national economic conference

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
LAST week, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka was in Abuja. And at a meeting with the Minister of   Information and Culture Lai Mohammed, Professor Soyinka called on President Muhammadu Buhari to convene an emergency economic conference, for experts  to brainstorm on the way forward for the Nigerian economy.

Such a conference of experts was necessary to enable a diagnosis of the problems in order to assist with recommendations to help us out of the woods.

Prof. Soyinka added that: “I agree with those who say the economy is bad. It is obvious and it is so bad…The economic condition of a nation does not deteriorate overnight, something came before the deterioration. A certain prolonged process of attrition that happened in the past  is now knocking on the door. The consequence of the past mis-governance is what we are undergoing right now”.

Similarly, Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, lamented to THISDAY newspaper, of Saturday, 20 February, 2016, the “total collapse” of the Nigerian economy. He added that: “If there is no confidence in your economy and your currency, then there will be capital flight. If there is no liquidity of the forex market, the volume of forex inflow will be low.

Portfolio  investors

If portfolio investors do not have confidence that they can seamlessly repatriate the forex they brought in without losing value, then they will hold back their investments”. And at the weekend, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Chairman of the BUA Group also weighed in, arguing that the lack of a transparent exchange rate policy and inequitable distribution of foreign exchange to all key players in the key sectors of the economy is causing serious setback to economic development.

The views of members of the national bourgeoisie corroborate the position of the Nobel Laureate, that “the economy is bad”. The condition of the poor also speaks loudly about the current economic difficulties in the country.

An investigation by THISDAY newspaper at the weekend noted that: “the Nigerian economic crisis is spiraling out of control, with the ordinary man on the street now  feeling the pinch more than ever before. The prices of basic food items and other consumables are now shooting beyond their reach”.

Indeed, the  situation  in Nigeria today, as noted by leading economic players, calls for the type of emergency economic conference that Professor Soyinka advocated.

Over the past couple of months, we have experienced the incredible drop in value of our national currency, against major international currencies. This has triggered panic at all levels of the economy. The main point has been narrowed down to whether or not there is a need to devalue the Naira. President Muhammadu Buhari, who ultimately has to take the decision, has maintained a consistent position, against the devaluation.

As recently as last weekend, he told a presidential round table on Investment and Growth Opportunities at an International Conference in Egypt, that he was opposed to devaluation, because Nigeria cannot compete with developed nations that produce to compete among themselves and thus can afford to devalue their local currencies. Buhari said that Nigeria was neither competing nor exporting, “but importing everything including toothpicks”.

President Buhari’s position against devaluation seems clear enough; and at the Egypt gathering he also stated that the priority of his administration was to ensure national food security as well as the encouragement of local production and efficiency.

Nevertheless, there are also many experts who worry about the lack of clarity in economic policy under the present administration. It is worrisome that the president has no economic adviser and Buhari has not put in place an economic team that will assist in formulating policies as well as engaging with citizens about the economic direction that the government is taking for the overall development of the country.

There is opacity in the economic management process, which is quite troubling, and the administration is not effectively communicating with the constituency of Nigerians that voted it into power in 2015. I think this background makes it imperative to hold the emergency national economic conference that Prof. Soyinka suggested last week.

But while he wanted a conference of experts, I will like to suggest that the base of such a conference be wider, taking  in the most representative segments of the Nigerian society, in order to achieve a national consensus on the economic choices that the administration will make into the next couple of years.

A conference of  all  persuasions

An emergency national economic conference should bring in the economic experts, representing the different economic persuasions in order for us to distill what will be in the best interest of Nigeria, in the context of the push and pull of the international capitalist system.

Then we should ensure that representatives of the national bourgeoisie, in the so-called “Organized Private Sector” are adequately represented, as well as organizations of medium and small-scale entrepreneurs. Similarly, the Nigerian working class movement and their trade unions as well as peasant and farming groups should be given a major part in this emergency conference.

And to ensure that this is a genuine national process, organisations of women and youth as well as the unemployed and civil society organisations should be included.

President  Buhari should take very personal interest in such a conference, because of the way that its resolutions can  impact on the economic programme of his administration into the future. The truth is that Nigeria is at the crossroads that will define its economic health into the  future. The administration in power has inherited a serious economic condition, akin to a poisoned chalice. What we are dealing with is the culmination of the irresponsibility of the past couple of years. President Buhari has been given the mandate to provide the leadership to take us out of this crisis.

That is why he must trust the Nigerian people more; as well as accepting that he can learn a lot from expertise that might not presently reside within his administration. An emergency national economic conference will certainly bring all that expertise under one roof for the betterment of our country. And the fact that such a conference will cut across all classes of society could help to deepen the legitimacy of the choices that the administration might be forced to take, by the economic situation. We can use an emergency national economic conference to create a national consensus. The economic situation is not good and it can get worse; but the patience of citizens can hold for as long as they are sure that things might take a turn for the better. Otherwise, they could turn anger against the administration. I have no doubts in my mind that President Buhari is committed to turning things around for the better; an emergency national economic conference might just be a very useful instrument in that journey for betterment.

Monthly revenue allocation: The Kwara State checklist

EARLY this week, the monthly revenue allocated to each state of the federation, for December 2015, and shared  in January 2016, was published by the Federal Government. The regular publication of these allocations is one of the great gains of our democratic experience since 1999.

At least citizens can tabulate exactly what accrues to our states on a monthly basis and then match these with development on ground. This issue of allocations, especially their drop in recent months, has been central to the narrative of financial difficulties in Kwara state, for example. The government regularly asserts that allocation has dropped from about N3.5billion per month to about N1.4billion.

Well, there is some good news in respect of the sums shared in January 2016. Kwara state’s 16 LGAs got a total of N1, 627, 118, 514.16, from the Federation Account. As for the Kwara state government, its Gross Total Sum from the Federation Account in the same January distribution of December Allocation was N2, 549, 647, 979. 48 and the Net Total sum was N2, 055, 320, 700. 54. This means that in January 2106, Kwara state has taken the sum of over N3.6billion from the Federation Account.

Of course that is a lot of money! But the downside to the allocations coming to Kwara state is the pattern of expenditure. Are they patterns that represent the best interests of our people? That is a question that will generate a lot of heat. But what is not in doubt is that the group in power in Kwara state, since 2003, has consistently taken decisions that served the personal interests of the hegemon and his crowd of hangers-on, than those of our people.

Huge monthly  pension

For instance, from the allocation we are talking about, the government will still pay the huge sums (allegedly running into millions)  as Bukola Saraki’s monthly pension! And despite the huge sums received on behalf of the sixteen local government areas of Kwara state, these local governments are no loci of development today.

Salaries are owed for months, and even within metropolitan areas of Ilorin, Offa, Omu Aran and others, there is an absence of municipal governance: refuse has overtaken many urban areas, including even major streets in Ilorin; while economic activities that used to revolve around local government secretariats in the past have disappeared in Kwara.

What is clear is that the problem sometimes isn’t the absence of money alone, but the deliberate enthronement of a control system which alienates the resources of the state to satisfy the personal ends of a structure of political leadership, such as Kwara has been saddled with since 2003.

Unless and until Kwara state dismantles a political and spoils system that is tied to a  suffocating bear hug and personality cult, it will not find the levels of development commensurate with the potentials of our people and state.

The reason is simple; as Kwara state is run today, the most central political project is Bukola  Saraki’s personal survival and personal ambitions. Where his ambitions clash with those of the state, then the interests of the state suffer.

This is because at all times, it is what satisfies  Bukola Saraki’s interests and ambitions that they prioritise in Kwara state. This is not how a rational community or state ought to be run. Kwarans agonise a lot about this structure, especially the more self-respecting and politically conscious sections of the elite.

The task that faces the bona fide citizens of Kwara state is to organise to uproot this structure of domination; hegemony that has set us back and deepened underdevelopment, since Bukola Saraki’s emergence in 2003.

It is only when we have reclaimed our state, that monthly allocations from the Federation Account can be meaningfully and transparently applied to serve the best interests of the people of Kwara state!

 


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