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The path that led to recession

By Matthew Ozah   |   19 October 2016   |   3:10 am
President Muhammadu Buhari Photo credit: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

President Muhammadu Buhari Photo credit: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

Indeed, these are not the best of times with a floating economy as the future looks bleak and dark like the skies of Baghdad or Syria after a bomb blast.

It is, therefore, commendable and a welcome idea when, President Muhammadu Buhari the other day, urged his ministers to put on a thinking cap and think outside the box on how to tame the behemoth called recession. But, surprise as it may, the ministers are yet to come out with any solution, than a few insatiable businessmen and some leaders of the political class, who continue to plot ways to loot the nation come up with splurge, proposing to sell off some of our national assets.

No doubt, the government needs to act fast to stabilise and strengthen the forces weakening the economy. But, that does not give any justification for a few individuals to lure government into selling our ‘cash cow’ assets which will invariably endanger future generations. The advocates behind this dubious idea argue that, among others, the sale will boost foreign inflow of capital to the economy as well as help to execute the 2016 Budget and ultimately curb recession. Notwithstanding the weight and details of their argument, the prescription is highly fudged and a perfect finesse. Of course, it is not only odd or misplaced points, it has a strong stench of enlightened self interest. Above all, it looks like an orchestrated plan by a few individuals to buy the commonwealth of the people.

It is a general belief that an idea that cannot work will never be moral. More so, the ethic of conviction and responsibility holds that such stances as the selling of assets are merely impractical, wrong and unjustifiable. Over time, successive governments have sold about 138 Federal Government owned companies. The question is: What guarantee do Nigerians have that these new sales will not go the way of others like Nigeria Airways, NICON and so on that collapsed naturally after being sold.

A few decades ago, Nigeria would have become a paradise if our oil wealth was well managed. Today, it is a common conversation among Nigerians who are affected by the current economic situation, as they reflect how things used to be good in the not too distant past. Of course, our leaders’ inability to save and the frivolous spending habit led us to this mess. A case in point and to mention just a few instances, in the 1970s. General Yakubu Gowon administration believed that Nigeria’s major headache then was not money but how to spend the nation’s oil wealth. In order to cure this ailment, his administration embarked on an adventure that produced moneybags overnight, by implementing the Jerome Oputa Udoji panel report which recommended increase in the salaries of public servants, among others. Three years later, sensing that, the Udoji antidote did not have any serious effect in reducing the nation’s purse, the General Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 1977 splashed our wealth on a jamboree as he hosted a wasteful Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC). As if these are not enough shock for the economy, the government and, indeed, successive administrations further made Nigeria a dumping ground of all sorts of imported goods as they jettisoned agriculture and manufacturing.

To say the least, it is unacceptable and disgraceful that, Nigeria, being an oil major and exporting nation for over five decades has no Sovereign Wealth Fund savings to fall back on. Of course, there is no doubt that ‘serious’ attempts were made by both Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan administrations to put in place some savings through the backdoor as it were, but failed. Obasanjo recently accused state governors as being responsible for his inability to save during his civilian administration, as he put it, they frustrated the attempt.

However, it is important to note that, the key reason behind the failure and why the governors refused to yield is rooted in Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution. That section made it mandatory for revenue generated by the country to be deposited in the Central Bank and later shared among the Federal, state and local governments. The question therefore is, with all these loopholes in the 1999 Constitution, why has it been that difficult for the National Assembly of the previous administrations and indeed, the current Eighth Assembly to initiate and facilitate the amendment of the Constitution and save the nation from taking one step forward and three steps backward?

With the eerie recession wind blowing across the country, the Buhari administration is desperate and determined to pacify and give the people some measure of hope. Perhaps, riding on this premise, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo the other day, likened Nigeria’s economic situation to Israelites journey to the land of Canaan. While speaking at a church service marking the nation’s 56th Independence Anniversary, Osinbajo said: “This leadership will take us across the Red Sea and take us to the new Nigeria. The promise of God to our nation is that He is building a new Nigeria… We are on our way out of the wilderness to the land flowing with milk and honey.” That seems to suggest that, this government has handed over our economic and indeed, all problems to God. Therefore, Nigerians should look up to God and wait for manners to fall from Heaven.

It is high time our leaders sat up and did the needful rather than rely on prophesies or the manifestation of miracles that will stop the economic nightmares. Countries like United States of America and Ghana at one time or the other were faced with recession yet, they came out, with a stronger economy. What stops Nigeria from learning from such nations? Or are we only good at talking and giving eloquent speeches most of which portions are lifted from other leaders? Just as we observed in President Obama’s 2008 inaugural speech in Buhari’s recent speech to launch the ‘Change Begins With You’ campaign.

What this seems to suggest is that our leaders are only good at talking and speaking about our challenges, rather, than taking practical steps in tackling them. In earnest, Buhari administration conscientiously wants the best for Nigerians, yet it has no power, means or the will to achieve that purpose. Whatever happens now depends on how the government chooses to handle the situation.

It is believed that Buhari’s past records make him look like a paragon. Thereby, placing Nigeria on a good stead to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank and invest in the economy. Buhari must be commended in his fight against corruption but he should bear in mind and realise that corruption is fed by unstable economy and any victory against corruption without stabilising the economy will be short-lived.

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