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Who is minding the economy now?

…Nigeria can survive without oil — Segun Awolowo

By Dele Sobowale

EVER since he was appointed the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Export Promotion Council, Mr. Awolowo has been singing the same song. When it comes to sounding like a broken record, he is in good company. The Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Plc, President Buhari never changes his tune anywhere he goes.

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His second in command has also picked up this awful habit of repeating himself. Is it because they think Nigerians are dullards or because they are the dullards themselves? Yet in every sentence they have repeated ad nauseum Nigerians have not been told how they plan to grow the economy and reverse the deepening poverty in the land – perhaps because they have no idea how to do it.

“There is every reason to believe that four more years under Buhari will make us poorer than we are today. At the moment the per capita income of Nigerians is just a little above what it was in 2012. If Nigerians make the mistake of re-electing him, we might find ourselves back to the income levels of the 1980s.

Buhari and Osinbajo have no economic plans to avert that disaster. That is why they never talk about it. Incompetent rulers don’t want the aspects of their monumental failures discussed. Instead they want to divert attention to things that will not affect our well-being in the future.”

Each time Awolowo has made the assertion he had failed to tell us under what conditions Nigeria can survive without oil. He has also failed to tell us if we are creating the enabling environment which will eliminate our fatal dependence on oil. Lastly, he never sets a time line for that feat to be achieved.

Apparently, it can happen any time and by itself. It is doubtful if Awolowo is an economist like the late sage. But, Pa Awolowo would have been the first to label what he has been repeating as hogwash. That will not deter him from repeating it because the Export Promotion Council has been one of our abiding failures among institutions of government. He too has nothing new to report.

Of immediate concern right now is the fact that the Nigerian economy which just crawled out of recession is no longer being managed by anybody in government. Buhari does not understand economics; Osinbajo is only a little more literate on the subject. The Minister of Finance acts more like a cashier than an economic planner. The Minister of Budget and National Planning conducts some research pointing the way to policy thrusts but he cannot implement. Obviously, there is no coordinator like Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. And without that government cannot channel resources to the areas where above-average growth can be achieved.“

Inexplicably, this government stumbled on the idea which would have yielded rapid growth. The Social Intervention Programme, SIP, was the best option for rapid growth. But, they regarded it as a political gimmick instead of an economic programme. They then compounded the error by putting propagandists and barefaced liars in charge. Today, it confers no political advantage to government and the economic opportunities are lost.

Let me explain. When the FG allocated N500bn to SIP in the 2016 and 2017 budgets, economists worldwide assumed that SIP was going to be the main thrust for reviving an ailing economy because it was the highest allocation to any sector. No global leader would commit himself on paper to use SIP as the instrument for economic revival and then allow it to be under-funded. Everybody in government must be made to understand that this is the President’s top priority – which must be adequately funded.

Instead of following up on the commitment implied in the budget, Buhari turned his back on it. Less than N90bn was released for SIP in the first year and even less in 2017. Then the deception started. In December 2016, VP Osinbajo was still assuring Nigerians that 150,000 teachers would be engaged. They were not. That is what can only be called self-destruction – because 150,000 new employees earning steady income would have created a multiplier effect beyond the incomes they earn.

The impact would have reached all the way down to the farm gate and manufacturing enterprises. It amounts to creating 150, 000 new customers for a whole range of enterprises – hairdressers, fashion designers, carpenters (they need beds, don’t they?), food sellers. They had the kernel of a true economic programme designed to stimulate rapid growth. They threw that away and they are now left with the scam which SIP has become.

Osinbajo was in Akure Alagbaka Primary School recently to share a meal with the kids. Apart from the publicity stunt, it was the first time I have read about a real school benefiting from SIP. So, I will go in my own time to see if the meal is served every day. But, if Osinbajo really believed that what was served that day was standard fare, perhaps he should return to the school and spend a year to gather more wisdom. The kids were not fooled; may be VP was deceived.

Ministers left their offices for election, National Assembly members also went away. The 2018 budget, which is important to Nigerians, remains uncompleted. If we had someone in charge of the economy he would have stayed back to mind the store. The President is back in London. Did we bargain for this in 2015 and should we allow it to continue after 2019?

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