“In the long run, we are all dead.”
By Dele Soboowale
ECONOMISTS love to talk about the long run as a theoretical concept.None of them expects governments tend to base their economic policies and programmes on that indefinite date. The reason is clear. People don’t live in the long run; they live for today, tomorrow and perhaps next year. The benefits governments promise must be enjoyed in the shortest possible time; otherwise they become totally irrelevant to the needs of the citizens.
At any rate, Nigeria’s economic history is replete with grandiose promises for a robust future by virtually all the governments since 1976 – all of them asking Nigerians to make sacrifices in the short term for a buoyant economic future. In the agriculture sector we have been deceived with the Operation Feed the Nation by Obasanjo; the Green Revolution by Shagari; the Structural Adjustment Programme by Babangida and the Sugar self-sufficiency programme by Obasanjo/Yar’Adua/Jonathan administrations. None has yielded the benefits promised to Nigerians. They have only succeeded in enriching the already super-wealthy who had taken advantage of duty waivers which are invariably included in the salad bowl of delusions served to Nigerians.
Invariably, the great benefits are promised for a distant future. Thus Housing for All; Health Services for All and Full employment by the year 2000 were promised by a government in 1990. The Millennium Development Goals – all eight of them – were promised for 2015. Neither Babangida nor Obasanjo was in government in 2000 or 2015 to explain the failure to deliver on the promises.
That explains why the Economic Recovery and Growth Programmed, ERGP, now being flagged off by the Federal Government evokes such great skepticism. The most rapid economic growth is envisaged for after 2020. Ordinarily that would not have been too long a period to wait. Two unpleasant facts, however, stand like the Zumo Rock, in the way.
The ERGP and the political time table in Nigeria are not in tandem. The tenure of this government ends in 2019 and there is no guarantee that the tenure will be extended by voters. If it is not, a new government might simply revoke the contracts and start afresh. Then, as has always been the case, all the benefits promised will never be delivered to the people.
Furthermore, the implementation of the ERGP is just starting, with the usual round of launchings and political grand-standing. But, any time soon, election fever will grip the nation. The people who are supposed to make the ERGP work will soon be caught up on the whirlwind of election activities. It has been our experience that considerations of long term take second place to next election among Nigerian politicians. And, the election fever will not end until February next year. The President who is supposed to drive such a monumental programme is going to be busy fighting for his political life. No man fighting for his life has time for anything else. Obviously, the real push behind ERGP will not come until 2019 – if at all. And, if Buhari is not re-elected, then ERGP will die prematurely.
Since this is the only life-line the Federal Government has thrown to Nigerians now trapped in increasing poverty, it requires no great intelligence to understand that this excellent idea proposed by the Minister of Budget and Planning might have a short life span and its impact on poverty alleviation might never be felt by Nigerians.
The new development being unveiled was crucial to the success of the economic component of the Vision 2020 programme embarked upon by Malaysia in the 1990s. The major and vital difference between the Nigerian and Malaysian programmes lies in the fact that the Malaysian leader who launched the programme was certain of remaining in power for several years after the commencement of the project. So, he could have ensured it was irreversible by successors. It could be amended; but not totally reversed. The Nigerian experiment has not fully taken off and can be abolished as early as next year.
With such a short expiry date tagged on it, anyone expecting the ERGP to lift us out of poverty must be self-deluded. This is a programme that should have been started in 2015 – if only Nigerians had elected a President who understands how economies work and who understands that you prepare the recovery programme for an impending recession before it occurs and not after its onset. We are paying the price of economic illiteracy at Aso Rock and we will pay more dearly if the occupants don’t leave – voluntarily or otherwise.