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What’s really wrong with the economy?

By Reginald Uwadiegwu Ibe   |   05 October 2016   |   3:35 am

High-level government officials and ranking politicians tell us that the problem with the Nigerian economy and the reasons we are in such a very deep recession are the crash in crude oil prices, renewed Niger Delta militancy and, of course, corruption. Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said the other day in Lagos that a failure to save for the rainy day as well as poor monetary and fiscal policies were partly responsible for the country’s current recession. He also revealed that the Central Bank of Nigeria subsidised Bureaux De Change operators with $66 billion between 2008 and 2015 at US$6 billion a year.

What is really wrong with the economy and why no real lasting solution is indeed at sight is that beyond these superficial clinical analyses of why we are in a deep recession, there is no effort to address or seriously interrogate how we descended into the valley and how to get up and out of it. There is as yet no well-articulated, integrated and mass communicated plan, programme or holistic agenda to rescue Nigeria. Besides hoping for a projected upturn of crude oil prices about mid-year 2017, the experts and officials who projected we would be speeding out of the recession early 2017 and the CBN Governor who says we will be coming out of the recession by the fourth quarter on this year, may indeed be building castles in the sky.

We are not only too shy of confronting the fundamentals, we are too scared of facing real realities. Our national mindset is corrupt, false, fraudulent, opportunistic and potently predatory. Our political structure is a fraud. To call Nigeria a nation is a lie. To describe Nigeria as a federation of states is patent falsehood. To describe the civil services as the service arm or executing agency of government is blasphemy against the truth, for the civil service is more an organised crime syndicate than anything else. The political infrastructure is systemically corrupt and patently deformed.

So what is wrong with the economy? What is wrong with the economy has been wrong for too long. The biggest problem is the false federation, which has reduced the job of governance to merely sharing oil revenues and devising legitimate activities and projects with which to steal the shared oil money. As such, a candidate contesting for president, governor, legislator or councilor does not have to produce plans of how to develop and empower the people. His mind is focused on how to steal the oil money in one way or the other, not how to build industries, roads, schools, hospitals or power plants. And until that fundamental mindset is transformed through true federalism and fiscal federalism, there can be no incentive for governors, elected and appointed officials to pursue development of their constituencies as their cardinal enterprise.

Until and unless government, including members of the executive branch, legislators, bureaucracy, agencies and parastatals understand, accept and commit to the fact that their cardinal purpose for being elected, employed or appointed is to cater to the peoples welfare through meaningful economic, social and infrastructural development, industries, business and employment creation, Nigeria is not likely to realise her true potential.

So, correcting and reforming our national and individual mindsets and attitudes is the starting point of the reformation to get us out of the economic hole.

The economy had to collapse because there have been no real economic development plan since the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Obasanjo regime tactfully destroyed Nigeria in every respect and the Buhari administration is too timid and now too harassed to call him or any of the destroyers of the economy to order. What didn’t the Obasanjo administration do to kill the economy and destroy the public service? As a teaser, it not only declared a free-for-all party at the public treasury but also shared Nigeria’s physical, industrial, housing, investment, service and production assets among cronies or office holders; $16 billion of public money was spent on power without producing or adding enough megawatts of power to the national grid. Most of that money is in private pockets and private jets.

Conventional wisdom, is that if you fail to plan, then you have planned to fail. And the story has not changed till now. Presidents Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and now Buhari would seem to have all failed to plan and as such planned to fail. Almost every Nigerian including the market woman, vendors or school child will instinctively tell you that the government has no plan at all and that is the problem. And if government indeed has an economic plan as some claim, where is the plan? Is it being hidden from Nigerians as a security measure against Boko Haram or Niger Delta militants?

The first step towards getting out of the biting recession is for the Federal Government, its economic advisers, the National Assembly, state and local governments, international development partners including China, the World Bank, IMF and the African Development Bank (AfDB) to agree on a plan of Economic Action to stimulate the economy especially through Micro, Small and Medium real production enterprises to process all of what we have and can have as raw materials, into prosperity from the grassroots up.

The Buhari administration, if it wants to save Nigeria, must create an attractive and conducive environment for investors, especially in micro, small and medium enterprises at the village or local government level, where raw materials are available or potentially available. It is in the short and long run interest of the government, security and stability for government to go out of its way to create, encourage and grow a majority productive middle class to sustain and grow the economy.

President Umar Yar’Adua realised the necessity of an economic development plan and produced a sound one as Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020. President Jonathan like President Obasanjo did not see the need for economic development plan and totally ignored Vision 20:2020. The plan was not even published or subjected to public appraisal and input since President Yar’Adua died. What on earth could be wrong with government throwing out for national debate, modification and consensus, the Vision 20:2020 Plan? Must we insist on re-inventing the wheel?

The avoidable economic disaster we are now enduring has proven beyond every reasonable doubt that body language means nothing where there is no plan. Local and international investors and key economic actors say they want clearly articulated economic policies and statements, not body language that may speak confusion and alienation.

So Mr. President let us hear and see your economic development plan for real, in a comprehensive package in print and video, so we can be carried along as citizens.

And talking about planning, exactly what are the projects to which the revenue from the sale of assets would be applied? The Railways, 12 lane Interstate Expressway, the public and private universities, Small and Medium Industries, Industrial Gardens and Parks or are we selling Strategic National Assets to pay salaries or money for the big boys? What is the plan for utilising every kobo realised from the sale?

The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as Chairman of the National Economic Council should perhaps articulate and provide Nigeria with a mass communicated economic blueprint. How do we spell inclusive governance? Exclusive governance also excludes transparency and accountability apart from excluding the people. And that is the perfect recipe for corruption.
Uwadiegwu is an economist and management expert.

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