August 18, 2020

Coping with Sobowale’s expired ideas

Coping with Sobowale’s expired ideas

By Rukky Ighodaro

COLUMNIST Dele Sobowale could be damn forthright. His candour can be seen in his habitual self-confession by calling himself “Area Father”.

Ordinarily, one would have indulged Dr. Sobowale by continuing to classify his weekly verbiage and composition in such light as pure entertainment but for the fact that he carried that comic streak into a matter otherwise requiring sobriety and rigour last Monday in the esteemed Vanguard newspaper.

In the said article titled: “That bad news from VP Osinbajo”, the columnist took charlatanism to a different height. This response is, therefore, informed by the need to save the unwary who might have been tempted to conflate his high-sounding jargons with reason and substance. They certainly are not.

His entire argument can be summarised in three points. First was his querying the competence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law, to lead the management of the nation’s economy. Second was a sweeping statement that the handling of the nation’s economy on the Vice President’s watch in the first term of the Buhari administration was a disaster. Third was the uninformed attack on the National Economic Sustainability Programme, NESP.

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To begin with, it is a measure of a poor understanding of issues not to know that the headship of the economic council is constitutionally vested in the Vice President. Just as it is crass ignorance to suggest, like Sobowale did, that Professor Osinbajo is by his legal training ill-equipped to provide sound leadership for the nation’s economic team.

If one may ask Sobowale: What exactly is leadership? It simply means the ability to harness the talent or potential of each member of a team to achieve a group objective.

There are countless examples in history. Lee Kuan Yew generally celebrated for transforming Singapore from a Third World to the First World was a lawyer. Former Chancellor Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom read history. Yet, under him, Britain recorded relative economic progress.

Similarly, Henry Paulson who was US Secretary of Treasury under George W. Bush studied English for his first degree. Coming home, Chief Obafemi Awolowo trained as a lawyer, yet he is still remembered today for providing sound leadership for the Nigerian economy under the General Yakubu  Gowon administration in the ’60s such that the country prosecuted a bloody civil war that lasted more than two years without borrowing a Kobo.

In any case, anyone who has more than a passing knowledge of the successful development model in Korea and Taiwan would know that it is ascribed more to lawyers and engineers, respectively.

Sobowale’s second fallacy was the assertion without evidence that the nation’s economy floundered in President Buhari’s first term. On the contrary, the economy the administration inherited in 2015 was technically bankrupt.

If the columnist’s memory failed him, the rest of us remember that it was indeed a case of perfect storm for the country then as PDP’s 16 uninterrupted years of squandermania climaxed with the steep crash in commodity prices in 2014/2015. Oil prices fell to $30 per barrel from the average of $100 it sold for consecutive years under PDP.

As a result, more than two-thirds of the country’s 36 states were owing salary arrears by the time the Buhari administration came in on May 29, 2015. So, the new government had to assist states with a financial bail-out. This was the true position of the nation’s economy in 2015, as against the lie that Sobowale told in his column.

It took uncommon prudence and creativity of the economic team led by Vice President Osinbajo for the economy to be nursed back to stable health in another two years even without any significant rise in oil price.

Rather than malicious attack, Sobowale ought to praise Osinbajo for inspiring the think-tank that illuminated the country’s path to recovery by the second half of 2018 from the “worst recession” experienced since 1982.

Finally, when people like Sobowale attack NESP as ill-thought, one can only pity them for wallowing in ignorance.

The truth is that the NESP is a child of circumstance necessitated by the unexpected. The writer clearly betrayed limited knowledge of economics, planning and public policy.

For a man who claims to be widely read, it is clear that Mr. Sobowale has not had that intellectual discipline to read either the ERGP or the NESP.

If he had, he would have found answers to some of the issues he raised, including how the figure of N2.3 trillion was arrived at and where they will come from (limited fiscal space and raking in of balances in some Special Accounts and CBN supervised lending to businesses).

Another falsehood by him is the claim that Minister of State Budget and (National) Planning admitted the failure of the ERGP. If Sobowale is sure of his fact, I challenge him to bring out the statement or quote to back his claim.

Economic outcomes

What the Minister of State did was to initiate the process for developing a successor plan to the ERGP which expires at the end of 2020. Indeed, there is an all-inclusive process of articulating this successor plan which goes beyond NLC, ASUU, NANS which is the limited scope of what Mr. Sobowale sees as stakeholders in the national economy.

The truth is planning has a lot of unknowns. No self-respecting economist who is not a reader of tea leaves will say that he can tell with specificity the economic outcomes at the end of a year. Moreover, planning is not about economics alone – a point which Mr. Sobowale recalls in a rare moment of lucidity when he calls for wide-ranging input from various sectors into the planning process.

The IMF predicted X growth for the world economy in 2020 in October 2019, but has had to review that forecast due to the unforeseen COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it is predicting a fall in global output.

In any case, it really does not appear as if Mr. Sobowale, despite all his pretentious quotations from various sources, is given to deep reading.

If he was, he would know that the first order of business in the ERGP was to restore oil production – a task which required building peace in the Niger Delta and which was successfully carried out by VP Osinbajo.

On a final note, one observed in the said article that Mr. Sobowale was full of bile in a manner unbefitting of a man of his experience who should be sharing wisdom. Only those suffering from memory loss would deny that the Buhari administration employed 500,000 young graduates under the N-Power programme.

The rest of us don’t and are reasonable enough to appreciate patriots who are genuinely committed to nation-building.

Mr. Ighodaro, an economist, wrote from Abuja.