By Dele Sobowale
History does not repeat itself; man does —Professor Barbara Tuchmann
THE Harvard Professor and expert on 13th and 14th century Europe, one of whose books I read only after finishing the VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, left several historical insights from which Nigerian leaders and their advisers, as well as My Fellow Countrymen/women would benefit if only we read history – or anything else for that matter.”
But, George Santayana, 1863-1952 did not escape my attention in 1967 in Boston University Library. “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That was what Santayana told the world. It is a message routinely ignored by successive Nigerian governments. They operate as if the world, or at least, Nigeria, began the day they were elected. Nigerians, especially the partisan members of political parties as well as most opinion leaders indulge them. For many of us, it is a situation of selective remembering and selective forgetting. We evade the truth whenever it does not serve our political interests even if fellow Nigerians suffer greatly as a result.
Consequently, Nigeria is today the poorest nation on earth and one of the three for which hope is dimming that they will ever recover. Who is to blame? Start with the military. Unelected, and ever fearful of being deposed by coup, they spent a disproportionate percentage of our resources on self-protection and not enough on building the foundations for strong and sustainable growth which would have made it possible to escape the poverty trap in which we now find ourselves.
The only time the Nigerian economy grew at more than four per cent per annum was under General Gowon (1966-1975) and it was not domestic aggregate increase in productivity that made that feat possible. It was the astronomic rise in the price of crude oil. Since then, no military government had been able to produce three per cent annual growth of Gross Domestic Product, GDP. In fact, the two recessions the nation ever experienced were under the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari (1984) and civilian President Muhammadu Buhari (2016).
We were also not better served by civilians.
The years (2012-2014) GDP grew at over four per cent, mainly under Jonathan, coincided with the period when crude oil prices reached its peak. The economic policies of the Federal Government had nothing to do with it. If anything the massive and almost lunatic corruption at the time made it impossible for that government to lay the foundations for strong economic growth in a world in which crude no longer held sway.
For every folly of their (governments), (Nigerians) feel the lash —Horace 65-8 BC (amended) (VBQ p 61).
Most Nigerians, not being economists, only feel the lashes – hunger, poor infrastructure, inadequate health services, education sector preparing our kids for the nineteenth century, increasing insecurity and all the tragedies associated with deepening poverty. Every economist, if he is honest and professional, also suffers from the whip. Unlike others, however, he knows well in advance that the blows are coming and the reasons why.
Anywhere else in the world, citizens listen to the non-partisan economists who have proved to be consistently correct with their predictions. Companies invite them for discussions when planning for the future; investors consult them. Nigerians do none of this. My Fellow Citizens actually believe governments while gleefully forgetting that “Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” (I.F. Stone, VBQ, p 80). It is almost axiomatic that the only time governments tell the truth is when it is favourable. Anything else runs the gamut of half-truths to total falsehood.
Two examples would serve to illustrate the points made here – one from the past and another from events in 2018. During YarÁdua/Jonathan administrations, millions of naira and precious time were wasted promoting VISION 2020. As a guest lecturer at the Government College, Ughelli, Old Boys Association annual meeting, I told the audience to forget it. Nothing like that would happen. But, Jonathan’s government still clung to that fiction until he left office in 2015.
Three separate articles were published on this page last year predicting that investors on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, were in for a severe beating. A friend and investor called and accused me of being “a prophet of doom”. He did not believe the forecasts. I asked him to call back in October. He called in August after losing millions of naira. He lost more by December 31.
One common characteristic of these two incidents is the refusal of Nigerians to act on the advice of independent public analysts instead of government and its agencies. The Director-General of the NSE can never declare that a crash is imminent; he will be sacked immediately. Only independent economists and financial experts can do that. We are the watch dogs of society. Another friend who took the advice and sold most of his shares asked me how we cope with being regularly ignored. My reply was simple. Prophets are accustomed to being ignored until the disaster occurs.
This brings me to the reason for writing this article today. On Saturday, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect a President. A major reason for electing presidents all over the world is always their ability to manage the economy and improve on the welfare of their citizens. No known instance can be found in the last thirty years in a democracy where a government which has demonstrated incompetence in economic management was re-elected in a free and fair election. The ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has wracked up the worst economic performance of any previous government in three and a half years.
Even 2019 has already been declared a disaster by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and other global institutions – whose forecasts have proved more accurate than the false and rosy estimates which the Buhari administration projected for 2016, 2017 and 2018. There is no reason to believe that the Federal Government will spring a pleasant surprise by growing the GDP at four per cent this year. There is nothing in the 2019 Budget to warrant that optimism. Instead, it is a safe bet that, just as this government to deliver on the promises of the last three budgets, it will most probably fail again in 2019. By December 2019 all Nigerians will receive is another round of excuses.
The gang that cannot shoot straight
Obviously, anybody wanting Nigeria to reverse the downward trend into poverty will have to vote for another political party. Buhari/Osinbajo team simply doesn’t know how to manage an economy for rapid growth and can never learn. Osinbajo as the head of the Economic Management Team is the classic example of putting a square peg in a round hole. He is a total misfit. The Ministers on the team have also not made up for the short-comings of the Vice President.
American columnist, Mike Royko, with the CHICAGO SUN TIMES in a book titled GANG THAT CANNOT SHOOT straight ridiculed the US Mafia with that best-seller by pointing out that the hoodlums missed their targets most of the time and then turned around to either lie about it or offer excuses for failure. Buhari/Osinbajo team had missed on so many targets that – out of shame – all they do now is to go about lying and offering excuses.
Bear that in mind when you vote on Saturday. If you re-elect them you have no right to complain about the disaster which will follow.