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SAIBU: There Are Signs Of Change As Everybody Is Shaping Up




Dr. Femi Saibu specialises in public policy and macro economy theory, and lectures in the Department of Economics at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) Akoka. He tells IKECHUKWU ONYEWUCHI that the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, in the last 100 days, has made moves that block leakages in government revenue and check money laundering. 

Looking back at the last 100 days of the Buhari-led Federal Government, how would you appraise the state of the Nigerian economy?

NOTHING much has changed. But one begins to see signs that the economy would improve. There are moves in terms of institutional arrangement to kick-start the economy for greater good. 100 days is long in the life of a government, but short in that of a nation.

One may reason that he has a fixed number of term and that he promised to kick-start the economy immediately he gets into government, but if one looks at the way the economy was in the last minute, then we realise that, for a new government to start, it needs some time. He wants to get things right from the beginning.

We should not expect him to rush into actions that would have us later condemn him for. For structures in the economy, one can see that the perception of people in the grassroots is that things are changing.

For instance, electricity is improving because the distribution companies are becoming more serious and responsive to customers than before. The response-rate to customers’ problems, from what I have seen in my area and other places I have recently visited, is that they are responding. It means that the leader matters most in governance.

That people see that this man is someone not to toy with is indeed desirable. Someone told me recently that the distribution companies are now scared because they do not want to be used as scapegoat. So everybody is shaping up.

That may explain the improvement in electricity supply. The talk of what is generated not getting to customers is acknowledged, but what is important is that the customers are getting some value for money spent.

On the issue of corruption among office holders, anybody that wants to steal now would have to do that intelligently. It is no longer possible for someone to sit somewhere and award contracts to his children and others. That time has passed, at least for now.

Those things build confidence in government and loyalties and trust. We see that even when there are no new sources of revenue, the existing ones would go where it is supposed to.

It is in Nigeria that everyone spends any currency. The structure of the economy is now being laid and everything controlled by this new perspective to governance.

Government has been fighting to instill a frugal monetary policy in the past 100 days, how would you appraise its success? Government’s posture is that it has to streghten the naira in view of global challenges.

The current approach is to give value to the Naira. It is, today, difficult for anyone to use frivolous items to get Dollar from the official rate and then go to sell at the black market and make moeny without doing anything.

The incidence of this would reduce. In the short run, those engaged in the activities would shout, but if the many others who have been suffering from such activities would give support to government, it would be for the benefit of the nation.

It would strengthen the Naira and reduce imported inflation. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS’s) latest data shows that unemployment has gone up by about 68 per cent in the last three months; what does that say of the government given that it rode on the narrative of job creation into office? There has not been any significant economic policy that has been implemented; no serious programme on ground.

They are laying foundation, solid and very expensive that involves all stakeholders and partners across the globe. The capital market was reported to be running at a loss due to the lack of policy direction in the last 100 days; does this trend, in anyway, tell bad of investments inflow? The reason it is at the level we have it is because investors trust the new government. It could have been worse.

Individually, one could say some losses are worrisome, but on the avearge, the fall was not the same with what obtained some months ago. In fact, the current policies the government has managed to insulate the economy from the global shock.

Imagine if we hadn’t curbed the exchange rate, or government allowed capital flight, what would have become of the economy? Because of the institutional framework, the leakages that would have occurred in the capital market have been blocked.

Realistically, I don’t think there has been significant investment into the country. Investment is an irreversible decision, so it is not dished out recklessly.

Therefore, most investors, both local and international, are waiting for the direction of government’s policies and actions. They want to see whether government would sustain the current tempo of restructuring.

With these, everything is slow. But they want to see if there are policies that would protect propery rights or would encourage domestic and foreign investments before they come in.

By the end of the year, when government would begin to take control of the fiscal policy through budgets, then one can see those things that would reflect government’s focus.

We shouldn’t forget that the current government is implementing the policies of the immediate past one; the budget is that of the previous government as well as the revenue forecast, though that has been low in coming.

There are committments the previous government made that the new one has to fulfil at all cost. By next year, through the budget, we should be able to see the policy thrust of government in the short term, from which we would judge the long term. We should be able to gauge capital inflow and outflow.

It is pertinent to note that the level of capital flight experienced in the previous government has drastically fallen. Channels through which they perpetuate money laundering have been reduced.

A state in the southwest rescinded on the practice of paying for West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) fees for its residents, a move that runs against the welfarist posture of the ruling party; is this a sign that Nigerians should not expect the realisation of all that was promised by the party during its fervid campaigns earlier in the year? Political promises and economic policies are not exactly the same.

In most cases, political promises are achieved towards the end of a government. What is given as promises is the ultimate they hope to achieve as a party.

It is not that one would come into office and declare free education and transport system for all. The states that are in financial crises are being assisted to raise bonds to finance debts. After this, they are expected to be sustainable and can see areas of achieving promises.

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