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Ah, recession again

By Dan Agbese
31 July 2016   |   4:24 am
Our economy has slipped into recession. Again. It is bad news. Inflation is already at an eleven-year high of 16.5 per cent. It all means that harder times are on us. How I wish I could summon holy ghost fire to consume the demons behind our continued economic challenges.

buhari

Our economy has slipped into recession. Again. It is bad news. Inflation is already at an eleven-year high of 16.5 per cent. It all means that harder times are on us. How I wish I could summon holy ghost fire to consume the demons behind our continued economic challenges. Sorry, I am not a prayer warrior.

Many of us, untutored in the esoteric science of wise and foolish spending, otherwise known as economics, know much too little about recession. But we have been through it so many times that we now know recession makes the hard times even harder. We now need a basketful of Naira to pay for a measure of gari. Snag is the Naira has made itself scarce, as it is bound to do in times such these. Our Nigerian economy, the biggest in Africa, has assumed the height of a Lilliputian. It is still piling it on, making nonsense of our individual plans. Just pray we do not fall too hard.

Our economy has a dark mind of its own. It has ruined many a well-laid plan for national development. But this blight has been creeping up on the country for as long as anyone can remember. Is anyone surprised? Hardly.

President Buhari commented on this latest bad news from the economic front last week. He told Ambassador Nassir Bourita, a special envoy of the king of Morocco: “There was a time we had so much money and took things for granted. But with the fall in the international price of oil, we are now managing.” The gods are not to blame, see?
The chickens must be laughing all the way as they return home to roost.There are, as indeed, there must be, cruel ironies in our current situation. We knew if we continued the way we did the fat years of abundance were bound to yield place to the lean years of scarcity. We knew that given the volatile nature of crude oil in the international market, oil wealth is a mirage.

It is unreliable. That is why wise oil producing nations channel their earnings from oil to the diversification of their economy. We have blissfully paid lip service to this; hence our agriculture in in the lurch and a country with 78 per cent arable land holds the trophy as the largest importer of food. Diversification was once the mantra. I can’t see where we have put the oil wealth other than individual pockets. It must qualify as diversification: you diversify it from the public treasury to private bank accounts.

We do have problems learning from our mistakes. We have been through this recession road before. Not once; not twice. No one should suppose that this is the first time our country is being dragged through the gut-wrenching trauma of recession. It forced the Murtala/Obasanjo administration in the 1970s to introduce austerity measures to rein in excessive and reckless expenditure in the public sector.

When it hit again in 1981/82 President Shagari reached for the same measures to save the economy from collapse. Too small, too late. Thus when Buhari took over in 1984, he found a mountain of foreign debts the country could not afford to service. He introduced counter-trade, trade by barter by another name, to make the country regain the confidence of its trading partners. Since then, our economic fortune has been something like a yo-yo.

It did not quite do the trick. We cried to the IMF/World Bank for a bridging loan of $2.5 billion to get us through the rough times. But we were frightened by the their universally prescribed pills. We came to know these as IMF/World Bank conditionalities. Pills too bitter to swallow. We rejected the loan under those conditions. Instead, the Babangida administration opted for a homegrown alternative under its structural adjustment programme, believing this would bring less pain and a better response to the economic challenges. It was not a hard-headed economic decision. You could feel it bobbing on the crest waves of sentiment intended to make it popular and acceptable. It did not work out. The pains came and the president had the egg in his face.

These measures could not pull the economy out of the woods because they were essentially reactive. They failed to address the fundamental problems of the economic and, therefore, whatever solution they were intended to provide turned out to be mere cosmetics. In any case, once oil commanded a better price in the international market, all home grown measures to redirect the economy were immediate abandoned. Successive administrations have done nothing radical to refocus or tackle the fundamental problems of the economy. The truth, unbelievable as it may sound, is that because of the cheap and easy crude oil revenue, no administration in the country has made it its bounden duty to properly manage the economy. Seen an economic road map any where in the files? Oh yes. Vision 20-20, right?

It is the curse of crude oil. It has been our lot since we learnt to play the wealthy nation on the international scene. When a nation descends from the Olympian height of its fabled wealth, it confronts a nasty problem: the management of its sudden poverty. This takes much more than tightening the belt.

With the recession upon us, Buhari, in addition to his many challenges, has to manage our poverty. These present some very peculiar challenges of their own. There is no running away. There is no dithering. The economy is the pillar of national as well as individual survival and development.

Buhari may have to constitute a new economic team made up of more people from the private than the public sector. The private sector is really the engine of economic growth and development. Our economy, and I have words of the experts for this, has been sustained essentially by the informal sector. To give it its true name, market women.

The president and his economic team should hunker down and produce a road map that would guide us through these tough times. We will, surely, get out of the woods but how we do so and the shape of the economy on the other side of the shore should matter to us too.

Tongues As Weapons
These should be interesting times. Each day we see a parade of politicians on their way to the market square to square it up with one another. I can think of nothing remotely more entertaining than the possibility of seeing these well-fed big men acting like pugilists or Mighty Igor’s amateur wrestlers. But don’t bet on the possibility of seeing them in a makeshift ring. Politicians are wise guys. They fight with their tongues, not their fists. I suspect this is why their tongues are always sharp and make mince meat of the truth.

I can see that the PDP. Its men are still bawling like spoilt infants since Nigerian voters sent their president and presidential candidate home last year. Leadership tussle has beset the party since someone woke up last year and saw that Wadata House was an empty house.

The two senior fighters for the leadership of the party are Senator Ahmed Makarfi and former governor of Borno State, Modu Sheriff. Each day they look like they are poised to use the fists to settle their leadership claims over the party. Given the quirks of nature, the party once seen as destined to rule the country for an unbroken record of 60 years, is desperately casting about for a piece of straw. It should be possible for both men to accept that sometimes the law is a drag in a power tussle. I recommend they settle their claims the good old Nigerian way of settling disputes. They should drag each other to the market square and do either Mohammed Ali or Mighty Igor on them. Their foot soldiers would cheer them. And we would we applaud from the popular side.

And oh, who would not be amused by the running sore in the national assembly? Never in its twisted political history has Nigeria has confronted with this level of shame and embarrassment? If our lawmakers are daily caught up in the web of law breaking, my take is that their moral capacity to make laws for the good governance of this country really, really is impaired.

Whatever happens, the senate president, Bukola Saraki, has established himself as a fighter and a survivor in our political waters where the piranha are the kings and lesser fish are mere fodders. As far the former medical doctor turned a very successful politician is concerned, only he matters. As far as he is concerned, those who accuse him of dragging the national assembly and indeed the entire country through the mud, miss the point. If you can afford a battery of well-paid lawyers, it is not your business to blink. Your business is to make your rival blink. See? Keep your fingers crossed.