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And the penny dropped

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John Odigie-Oyegun

John Odigie-Oyegun

President Buhari and the national chairman of APC, Chief John Oyegun, made honest admissions about the state of our national economy the previous week that were profoundly disturbing. Buhari said that because of the drastic fall in the price of crude oil in the international market, “suddenly, we are a poor country.” He also confessed “it has been difficult running Nigeria’s economy” because of the low oil price.

Oyegun said his party did not know that things “were as bad as we eventually found them…”Taken together, the import of the statements by the two men is to suggest to the electorate that the change promised by the party has so far been arrested in its tracks by the poor sales record of crude oil in the international market. What is new? We blame falling oil prices every time our economy goes through the dark tunnel of difficulties.

This is the standard excuse. But I think it is now badly frayed at the edges; tattered even. We know that the bulk of our earnings come from crude oil, a steady 80 per cent since Oloibiri changed our idea about cheap wealth through the barrels of crude oil in 1956. Whatever happens to us must naturally be the fault of crude oil, whose price is not dictated by the seller but the buyer. I wonder if there are still takers.

Crude oil has always served us notice that it is not a reliable commodity for effective and focused economic management and developmental planning. Our national budget is based each year on what we expect to earn from crude oil. If we are lucky in a particular year, the price holds and even goes up, dumping large quantities of petro-dollar in the national treasury. But what quite often, the price nose-dives or even crashes and all our well-laid economic and development plans are suddenly thrown out of kilter. We are forced to penny pinch to stay afloat. We refuse to admit our faults; we heap them on crude oil. Poor crude oil.

A nation’s economy is everything. Manage it well and all other things are added to it. Management it poorly and everything is taken away. The management of our economy has always been a major challenge to successive governments in this country. It is so critical to what the country makes of itself that it presents itself as the single most important challenge for the country and its leaders.

This is not the first time our country has been confronted with the ugly realities of its lack of wisdom in depending almost totally on one product: crude oil, for 80 per cent of its revenue. 1978 brought the lesson home; so did 1981/82. What creative solutions did we devise in 1978 and 1981/82 other than the temporary austerity measures? When the ill wind headed south, we returned to our profligate ways, somehow convinced we had cushioned the economy against the bad behaviour of crude oil. I just wonder why we are surprised each time crude oil takes us round the bend.

Buhari stepped into office last year only to be confronted with the frightening challenge of managing poverty, not perhaps, the prosperity he expected. He said his prudent management of the lean resources has shielded us from knowing the truth about what he is grappling with. Now, we know. Our economy has never been this bad. The years of poor economic management have built up a cumulative burden on the economy.

And so, from being a rich and comfortable country with the highest number of private jets in Africa, Nigeria has suddenly become once more poor, desperately poor. It is forced to climb down from its high horse as the largest economy in Africa. The mathematical abracadabra that catapulted Nigeria to the number one position a few years ago as the biggest economy in Africa was always suspect. It was self-delusional. We cooked up the figures. Nigeria could not have suddenly displaced South Africa with a better-managed and diversified economy.

Nigeria is not just a victim of the vagaries and the volatility in the crude oil market. It is more importantly the victim of poor planning, lack of consistency, policy summsaults and the tendency to feel good each time the goddess of oil is kind enough to put more money in the national treasury. Our economic planners simply refuse to task themselves with planning for the future without the easy oil revenue. The myth of our national wealth is seductive.

The right lessons have never been learnt and if they were learnt, they were never applied to protect the country from being rich today and desperately poor tomorrow. If Buhari remains true to his commitment, he may yet pull us out of the woods. But my take is that he goofed when he composed an economic team without the titans of the private sector. The private sector is the engine of economic development all over the world. Its inputs in economic management could not be ignored without doing damage to what the gurus in the public sector might come up with. Buhari cannot afford an opaque economic and development policies. He needs to be transparent, to recognise and respect the current developmental wisdom of public-private partnership. He needs to give us a road map, an economic blueprint, spelling out the time frame and the systematic process for making crude oil progressively account for much less in our revenue profile.

In his 2007 manifesto, Buhari said his number one priority was “to turn around Nigeria’s economy on path of sustained growth and improved quality of life.” That challenge sits, with a smug face, in his in-tray.

Oyegun’s confession that his party did not know that things “were as bad as we eventually found them…” points to a fundamental flaw in our electoral process. It reminds me of what the late Chief Adisa Akinloye, national chairman of NPN, told me in 1983 in his office in the presence of the late Ubah Ahmed, the then national secretary of the party. He said that for the first six months after the NPN stepped into the boots of the departed generals, it did not know what to with power. Hard to believe but it was true.

I would hate to think that APC did not do better than the defunct NPN. Oyegun’s so-called confession or honest admission points to the unsettling fact that perhaps like Akinloye’s party, his too did not think beyond its primary objective of dislodging PDP from Aso Rock.

It is not a valid excuse for Oyegun to argue that “nobody ever expected the price of crude oil to collapse the way it has done….” Nobody blames the party for failing to see into the future of the crude oil market. I do not think prophecy is its strong suit. Still, all the indicators of a failing economy were out there in the open public space. Did the chairman miss them? Even before the baton changed hands between Jonathan and Buhari, it was no secret that the price of crude oil had crashed. Nor was it a secret that civil servants and pensioner were owed areas of their salaries and pension in at least 27 states of the federation from three to eight months.

I expected the party to do a proper study of the economy and all the other pressing national problems to properly arm itself with facts and figures and have suggested solutions to them. It seems APC failed to do this basic research. It took something away from its state of preparedness for leadership. Not funny.

The problem with our political parties is that winning an election by hook or by crook matters more to them than what they intend to make of power once they gain it. Democratic governments are party-driven. Ours are contractor-driven. It seems to me that this is a valid explanation for the sterility in government thinking, planning and policy direction generally. Modern governments are products of intellectual inputs. I see ours degenerating into money-making ventures.


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5 Comments
  • Oduna

    a party that has chibike amaechi who was chairman of governor’s former and Babatunde fashola in its fold cannot confess to not knowing that thing were this bad. they knew the state of the economy just that they wee bereft of ideas on how the handle the headwinds

    • Adesuwa

      True

  • Irreligious

    Dan what are you saying? `78 `81 `82. Is it not the same group of elites of those years who have come back to reap the whirlwind of their blind greed? How can you be surprised when they parrot: “nobody ever expected the price of crude oil to collapse the way it has done….”. And some of these people are the richest men on this continent while the people are returning to the dustbin. The other day, in a boast reminiscent of a coup-day speech, one of this extremely corrupt men bragged that a few of them sat in a room to take the decision to excavate Muhammadu Buhari an impose him on the polity. You are right. The only reason these people kill, maim, cajole and whine their way to power is to water their primitive egos and intellectual vacuity. That is why we are in a long season of excuses – that they never do well because they did not inherit a fortune from their imaginary forebears!

  • Ifiok

    Oga Dan, no sane private economists or business men, would like to serve in this government economic team. The head will not even listen to their contributions if it does not contain the protection of cows roaming aimlessly in the streets of Abuja.

  • bobo

    Return the money you stole from Edo State!!!