Osinbajo’s promise and reality’s sting
It is almost impossible not to respect, even like our Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.In sheer intellect, he packs more than a punch.
So slight of build, his physique seems such a deliberate mischief conjured by nature to have one up against anyone who would not readily see the gargantuan brain and guts compressed in that frame. Once he has a chance to speak, facts, figures and plans get laid out in the most convincing manner. And the intellectual power-house that Osinbajo is comes out in sharp contrast to his slight frame and can even get intimidating on its towering scale.
On the economy, on politics and just about anything that ails Nigeria, he has so far, true to his calling as a first-rate attorney, been the most compelling advocate and the most coherent, convincing voice of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
As chairman of the National Economic Council, he has not only been at the heart of the administration’s boldest rescue plans, he has publicly taken charge of the process and never let any opportunity pass him by to explain what the government is doing to deliver on its promises to Nigerians.
Where people see barrenness of ideas or vacillation in the government, he conveys a certain depth of knowledge and sure-footedness that are very comforting. Where signs of poor preparation for the task at hand seem very obvious, he comes along with words and data that speak readiness and capacity to deliver.
While the lawyer in him is so persuasive on the basis of logic, facts and figures, the preacher in Osinbajo conveys the Buhari gospel truthfully from the heart and practically makes you believe the evidence of things not even seen, hold, almost tangibly, the reality of change still expected!Now, that is the problem.
He has been so good at his job that should that reality of change not descend on Nigerians, and in good time too, the vice president runs the risk of becoming the man who gave a credible voice to a farce.
He was in Lagos over the weekend for what was dubbed a Town-hall meeting where he fielded questions from many groups on all kinds of issues, reiterated the promises made by the Buhari administration and articulated the steps being taken to fulfill them.
Among many other things, he disclosed that a ‘Social Register’ of the poor to whom a promise of 5000 naira monthly grant was made is being compiled and that as soon as the budget is passed, payment of that sum to the deserving citizens would begin.
He struck the right note on the chord when he identified corruption as a killer-epidemic which has no ethnic or religious boundaries in Nigeria. And because public office has been the biggest arena of corruption, it is hard to improve on Osinbajo’s exhortation to Nigerians to ensure that their country becomes one in which anyone who holds public office is held accountable and is made to explain his or her wealth.
Though a worn line in the face of the agony of fuel scarcity, his submission that Nigeria’s reliance on only public refineries is a problem and that private refineries run better is true. In fairness, the Buhari administration has also signed approvals for those desirable private refineries and a few may begin operation someday soon but the administration should speak to their continued delay or refusal to come on stream till now.
Equally worn but re-assuring, coming from Osinbajo, is the acknowledgment that the most effective way of moving goods is by rail and that this government will work on the rail system. This, he explained, is why investment in rail transportation has been made cardinal in the new budget.
Nigerians, after so much fanfare about road-map, sale of distribution companies and generating companies without much improvement in electricity supply are, however, tired of the same stories told by the vice president on gas supply, fluctuating megawatts or obsolete transmission lines. Even Goodluck Jonathan, whom the then opposition dubbed clueless and got Nigerians to kick out of office, knew enough to cry out publicly that lamentation or excuses should yield place to transformation.
I, however, agree with Osinbajo on the Yuan deal as predicated on the need to have some credit with the Chinese so that doing business with the Chinese can be done without the dollar.
For me, apart from the unassailable argument of the agreement being good for ease of doing business with China, the dollar is already acknowledged as having its own problems worldwide and Nigeria should do what is best in her own interest.
According to experts, this is only reasonable in the face of the wide berth between a very muscular dollar and a not-so-muscular American economy as evidenced in the fact that the United States accounts for only about 24 per cent of worldwide gross domestic product and only about 12 per cent of global trade but about 61 per cent of the world’s output is within the dollar zone and the same percentage of the world’s countries peg their currencies to the dollar.
Also, according to the influential journal, The Economist, the widening gap between America’s dwindling economic power and its financial muscle is creating problems for all countries but especially those in the dollar zone, with the disadvantages of dollar dominance now outweighing its benefits to those countries.
Consequently, the economies of the dollar- denominated countries have had to dance to the swinging fortunes of the American fiscal policies as even the slightest hint of a rise in rate in the U.S. sucks capital from emerging markets, battering local currencies and share prices. Nigeria, of course, has seen more than enough of those!
And why not find another way with trading partners when the U.S. share of global imports has fallen from 16 per cent to 13 per cent and America is the biggest export market for only 32 countries down from 44. More interestingly, China has become the best export destination for 43 countries, including Nigeria, up from only two (2) before now!
While the lawyer in him is so persuasive on the basis of logic, facts and figures, the preacher in Osinbajo conveys the Buhari gospel truthfully from the heart and practically makes you believe the evidence of things not even seen, hold, almost tangibly, the reality of change still expected!
Even if, on economic or global financial evidence, the dollar still has no rival, it is obvious that its dominance is shaky. And a country like Nigeria should be pro-active. Common sense, please!
The government’s avowed intention to bring loans to small and medium enterprise at single digit interest rates is a song many governments before now sang in their promises to spread wealth, build small businesses and make such the fulcrum of growing the economy. Good idea! But till now, it has been little more than an idea. The middle class has perished and the gulf between the common wealth-pillaging haves and the vast majority of suffering have-nots has widened into a gulf capable of swallowing up the entire country.
Osinbajo should not only lay out facts or designs on how the administration would do things differently in town hall meetings, he should also ensure from his vantage position as the number two man of the administration that these plans are implemented without delay.
It was so reassuring as he spoke of the readiness of President Buhari as well as himself to provide honest, competent leadership for Nigeria, and expressed his appreciation of the pains, birth pains, he called them, Nigerians are currently enduring.
And as soon as I heard this, memories of a little illustration given by the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola during the international campaign to revalidate his 1993 presidential mandate came flushing back. The Ibrahim Babangida regime had deployed the worst lies and subterfuge to justify the annulment of that most peaceful and Nigeria-unifying election, one of which was that it was marred by violence and irregularities. Not to be outdone, Abiola went on an international media tour to debunk the lies. I remember him telling the newscaster, Reid Collins, of CNN that even if there were such pockets of irregularities, the world must not forget the reality that pains must always be an integral part of child-birth! To a cringing Collins, perhaps not used to such imagery being articulated on television, Abiola said: “For a child to be born, there will always be pains, cries and even spatter of blood here and there! But once the baby is delivered and the cry of the newly born is heard alongside the voice of the mother, however exhausted, everyone forgets the pains of the process and celebrates the birth of a new life.”
Osinbajo, of course, was not this dramatic in his submission but his message on ‘birth pains’ two days ago was clear: What Nigerians are going through as the Muhammadu Buhari administration seeks to reset the nation on the path to prosperity is the necessary pain that must attend the birth of a new life.
The problems, however, remain the length of time already spent and the intensity of the pain as the midwives shuffle around the labour ward.
The vice president has been quite adept at convincing Nigerians that the good times are on the way. However, the administration must intensify efforts at making those days arrive sooner than later, lest Osinbajo’s voice starts ringing hollow.