By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
I am constrained to write you again so soon . Our sick economy ought to be receiving intensive care management. But it is at home receiving the sort of attention that street corner patent medicine dealers are noted for , and pity from passersby . Even founders of Jonathan’s TAN have passed by , mocking our helplessness , touting their Ojuelegba ‘staphylococcal’ ideas . It is true that some of those weeping, cursing and feeling bereaved, raped and bled this economy. Others have lent their sympathy to the rapists. They will spit curses at anyone who doesn’t share the folly that the rapists are saints or that we are all too evil to condemn anyone. Be that as it may, we elected you to clean up their confusion and the filth.
To curse your luck is to trivialize our confidence in you. We handed you prerogatives and powers, and are entitled to some expectations. You have constituted a cabinet but we are yet to see a responsive, communicative, forward thinking, economic team. You are not to blame for the tragedy that has befallen the economy but it is your responsibility to initiate smart and effective containment strategies. You promised severe cost cutting. You don’t have a chief economic adviser yet but you have four media advisers /assistants. Such incongruities invite mockery and despair. Preoccupation with superficiality is not your style. Propaganda is good but it cannot prop a bleeding and famished economy. The economy begs for some of the zeal in the anti- corruption fight.
Nigeria is presently fighting on two fronts. The war against boko haram is now intractable. All hopes of a promised early, decisive and comprehensive victory have been tempered by the persistence of the monstrosity and its perpetually high casualty and destruction scales. We berated Jonathan for failing to contain the insurgency. The deadline you set has passed. We no longer mourn. Too many are dying and we can’t die mourning. Are we to spare you our hopelessness? Is Bring Back Our Girls campaign now public nuisance? There is an urgent need to find a solution to the insurgency because our capacity to engage in a protracted battle with the insurgents has been hampered by a lean purse.
Propaganda is a good war strategy but sometimes bluntness and forthrightness help to manage expectations and allow the people weigh options with sobriety. We depend on you for the truth about casualty figures so our fallen military heroes don’t die anonymously. The military has reclaimed all of our territory but the tenancy of the menace appears practically untouched. Even IDP camps have been violated. While the military’s mop up operations continue, you must work out adjunct solutions. It’s your duty to locate and interact with the heart and soul of boko haram.
There is yet another war. Peril has been forced upon us by the conspiracy of collapsed crude oil prices and very thin foreign reserves. The horizon is so bleak families live in palpable trepidation. The cost of ‘pure water’ has just doubled. This economic war has potentially more disastrous consequences than the boko haram war. But it would appear that the government has not appreciated the lurking calamity. Unlike the war against terror the public’s confidence in the government’s ability to contain the economic demons marshaled against us has waned.
It’s no ones fault perhaps that crude oil on which our collective parasitism depends has lost most of its nutritional value. It’s also perhaps not your fault that those who came before you were afflicted with prodigality and greed. You have rightly gone after them and their disgorgement. But you must keep your eyes on the slippery slope. The naira is hurtling down dangerously and its seeming refractoriness is complicated by the anxiety of a public that has been bamboozled by the incoherence of those handling the economy. The frenzy with which prohibitions are churned out and the absurdity of the frequency of adjustments are enough to trigger a stampede. Only a few still believe Naira is a dependable store of value.
Such an anxiety can only be doused by calculated, proactive, reasoned , monetary policy administration and attitudinal changes. Nothing dissipates the confidence of the public more than taciturnity and pervasive haphazardness in the face of a progressively worsening situation. The rhythm has been disastrously staccato. Obama would have addressed his nation every other day. We must now diversify our economy. Our dependence on imports must be curtailed but we cannot shut down the existing economy abruptly. Businesses cannot import, manufacturers are shutting down, no one can explain why they have to die without a struggle. Their bewilderment is met with poorly reasoned, shortsighted, inflexibility.
Naira has been devalued, effectively. Replacement costs are fixing prices. Billions in dollar subsidy are being siphoned by a privileged few and their cronies in arbitrages. Where will all of these end? If economic management of treacherous circumstances like ours is not that simple, engaging the public so that an adopted strategy does not seem to depend on voodoo would help. One would have thought that an economic team with a functional chief economic adviser would have been deployed to manage the public to educate them on the reasons behind government’s decisions.
It took your government so long to know that the foreign reserves it was depleting to prop naira ended up in the pockets of BDC owners. Unscrupulous Central and commercial banks’ officials have been left to mop up government’s dollar subsidy. They and their friends are the sole beneficiaries of your cheap dollars. When the government wakes up to this perfidy, known by even bread hawkers on the street, our misery would have deepened. Littering the polity with opportunities for corruption is recklessness.
Since you haven’t dismantled bold signposts of corruption that confront our every gaze, why wouldn’t you be less carefree? Sir, do you believe the police have done anything to stop their men collecting bribes from motorists in broad daylight and ridiculing the country? Or you just don’t give a damn? We have gradually come to accept that even you can’t touch that. You are being demystified sir.
Nigerians voted you because they wanted to banish certain ghosts. They wanted all forms of ostentation and frivolity in governance exorcized. They wanted you to set examples in personal sacrifice to further probity and frugality in public expenditure. Above all they wanted you to build institutions and change debilitating cultures. They may have wanted too much, it seems. Let us accept that your budget proposal filled with maggots was an accident . It’s unforgivable that you have not tendered a national apology. It might be helpful ,
in your characteristic frankness, to let us know when our expectations are a bit inordinate. No one could have imagined that your aides would have to mount a “needful waka” cyber operation to address rumours of presidential truancy that your too frequent international travels have sparked. It was taken for granted that you would be preoccupied with our numerous domestic issues , that no one would call you Gulliver . We may have been misled by your pledge to curb the profligacy that the presidential air fleet represented. All these ‘waka’ in the face of a botched budget, nose diving naira and rampant boko haram seem frivolous. Our foreign affairs minister and ambassadors are paid to represent you sir. “No be only you waka come naw?”. Let the vice president stretch his legs too.
Our economy is in dire straits, but we can always blame it on the gods. Our politics is still rotten, whom shall we blame? I had imagined that you would reform the APC and make it a principled party. Your admirable personal qualities must be transmitted. Good leadership is in sowing positive values in institutions. You have rubbed off on nothing. You have carried on as if the filth that party intrigues entail are beneath you. Like a white colonial district officer in an Ogiri (foul smelling Igbo seasoning) market. But we made you leader to sanitize the party. You only need to start, others after you will continue the process. If Obasanjo had not allowed ‘third term’ play tricks on him, if he had infused virtue into our politics, we would not have been this destitute.
If you finish your tenure and your righteousness has no impact on the way politics is done in this country then you would have failed us woefully.
What is your excuse now sir? You have political capital. Set the right examples with your party. I had hoped that the governorship candidates of your party, after your ascension ,would come to look increasingly like you. Pastor Chris has affected his pastors, from their pointed shoes to their hairstyles. But Bayelsa and Kogi elections came and left many dispirited. When APC candidates talk about corruption these days, babies start laughing. Influence the party in such a way that only change agents of visible integrity would dominate elective positions. Change must start from within your party. Internal party democracy must be nurtured and steered to serve other moral values.
Lest I forget, do not allow the PDP to die. I don’t know how you will achieve that. It is a duty above all other duties for you to nurture and sustain multiparty democracy. Show magnanimity to the PDP. Extend a hand of fellowship to PDP politicians. Encourage them to stay and rebuild their party. That is how to be the father of the nation. A one party state is a failed state. As we kill corruption, we must slaughter “winner takes all” mentality and make political decampment look like basic prostitution, ‘ayilara’ grade. This country yearns for a social and economic revolution.