By Dele Sobowale
For every folly of their princes, the Greeks feel the lash— Horace, 65-8 bc. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, P 61
THAT the people perish for lack of good leadership has been one of the abiding verdicts of history. The Nigerian situation today is proving Horace right. In the last three months, I have found myself in several states, east, north, south and west – Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kogi, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Niger, Edo,Imo, Kwara, Oyo, Ogun, and of course, Lagos. There is a common thread linking all of us in this country today, irrespective of the government and the political party in power – a sense of despair about the economy. We needed no Brookings Institute or World Poverty Watch or the British Prime Minister or Bill Gates Foundation to tell us that our dear fatherland has not only become the largest hatchery of people living in abject poverty, the situation is getting worse every minute. We have thousands of economists to do that for us.
“The economist, like anyone else must concern himself with the ultimate aims of man.”- Alfred Marshall, 1842-1924, VBQ p 45.
If memory serves me right, there is still a Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, NISER, at Ibadan. Virtually, every university, excellent or quack has an Economics Department. One wonders how they get the lecturers to teach in some of those universities situated in remote areas because if a good wife or husband is hard to get, a good economist is almost impossible to find in this country. Why are they not conducting economic research instead of waiting for foreigners to do it for us? Even most of the few good ones are not discharging their responsibilities to Nigeria. My stable-mate, Henry Boyo, a monetary economist, seems to be the lone voice shouting himself hoarse in the wilderness of ideas called Nigeria. With Boyo taking up monetary policy, I have deliberately taken up issues on fiscal policy and the consequences of the decisions and choices made by governments. One of the most important decisions in management in the private and public sectors had always been the selection of people put in charge of the portfolios which determine the fate of people. Buhari has failed woefully there.
“Economic growth rate softens” – CBN.
President Buhari started his administration by committing a blunder which his sycophants, know-nothings really, called wisdom. For five months he refused to name his cabinet. And when pressed, he announced that Ministers are only “noise makers”. That observation turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. He eventually appointed only noise-makers.
Until Buhari became President, all the previous leaders of this country announced the name of their Chief Economic Adviser, CEA, almost simultaneously with those of Chief of Staff and National Security Adviser. They had reasons. In the modern age, every President or Prime Minister knows that security and a vibrant economy are two top priorities of government. For those positions, they must search for and appoint the very best people they can find – not based on loyalty but on competence and integrity. Buhari appointed no Chief Economic Adviser. Instead, he made Osinbajo the Chairman of the Economic Management Team, EMT. The VP might be a brilliant lawyer. For Buhari, that was folly in capital letters. And the nation paid dearly for it in 2016 when the economy went into recession and grew at less than one per cent in 2017. Economic events don’t respect Presidents, VPs or any bumbler. You either get it right or your people feel the lash. Nigerians have been feeling the lash ever since. By the time 2018 rolls into history our economy would have grown at less than one and a half per cent while our population would have surged by over three per cent. Thus, for the third straight year, under Buhari, Nigerians would get poorer on the aggregate – with no hope in sight.
“Everything that is done in the world is done in hope” – Martin Luther, 1483-1546.
There is a strong correlation between the rising suicide rate we are now experiencing in Nigeria and increasing despair. All over this country now, millions of people have nothing to live for – no jobs, no money, no shelter and no hope. The only solution to these problems is rapid economic growth which has proved almost impossible for Buhari’s government to achieve. That is bad enough. What really deepens social depression is the knowledge that right now Buhari and Osinbajo have abandoned governance. They are now so focused on their re-election campaign that the next six months will be totally lost. The President too is not listening to the Central Bank pointing to the possibilities of another recession.
Six months is a long time in economies.
Manufacturers are groaning about unsold stock and exporters’ goods rot at Apapa. Yet, there is no one in Buhari’s government to attend to the economy. Even if this government gets the nod for a second term, it will find an economy so severely damaged by its neglect of its responsibilities as to overwhelm everybody. The capital market, in any country, is one of the strong indicators of peoples’ hope about the future of the economy. The monumental losses which investors have suffered this year constitute a clear testimony to the mounting loss of confidence in the Nigerian economy. The notion that “a stitch in time saves nine” is most applicable in most financial transactions. Just as a small pot hole on a road, not patched in time, eventually becomes a death trap, a breach in the economy not mended creates bigger problems later. That is why wise Presidents have appointed someone who would not be engaged in campaigns to manage the economy at a time like this.
An economy on auto pilot is often one on the way to a crash. It is a safe bet that when it happens Buhari will not be honest enough to admit his fault. He will lay the blame on previous governments. The ruling party is certainly not leading us in the right direction; it is allowing events to dictate the outcome of our economic fate.