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Beyond the economic blame game


Buhari and Osinbajo at the National Economic Council Retreat
Against the background of Nigeria’s seemingly complex economic challenges, what President Buhari or his government really needs more is a lesson in history than one in economics.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) has been ranked among one of the most consequential Presidents of the United States of America due in part to his efforts to help resuscitate the U.S. economy during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when stock markets collapsed, the economy tumbled and unemployment rate was very high.

The FDR’s Brains Trust comprising experts helped advise FDR through building the New Deal. Within the first 100 days of FDR’s Presidency, they put together and passed through Congress an economic plan that included banking and financial reforms, civil and public work of roads, dams and other projects, and large scale job and employment schemes.

In many ways, the election of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2015 paralleled that of FDR of over 80 years ago. President Buhari inherited a stalled economy with oil prices, its major foreign exchange earnings, in a free fall.

Since the inauguration of President Buhari in May 2015, the economy has taken a further downturn with measures of real GDP growth, unemployment, inflation, exchange rates and the misery index worsened.

In fairness, immediately following the election, a Presidential Transition Committee, more akin to the FDR’s Brains Trust was put in place. Similar to the FDR’s New Deal and anchored on the ruling APC’s Manifesto, it submitted its report in June 2015 based on three Pillars of Relief, Recovery, and Reform.

Since then, ministerial appointments have been made, a ministerial retreat held, and a National Economic Council Summit held recently. Yet, the lack of economic direction, leadership and coherent team is palpable. Nigerians can feel it in their daily lives with power, fuel, and foreign exchange shortages.

While it is true that Buhari inherited an economy whose foundations were very shaky, it has been widely observed that after nearly one year in government, there is a limit to sermonising about the bad economy inherited from the previous administration.

There is no doubt that previous economic management was characterised by elitism, intellectual arrogance and rank ineptitude on the part of the then economic managers. It is almost as if the current administration has been trying its best to avoid the over-bloated and over-rated economic management style of the past administration. Unfortunately, these features have now been replaced by the other extremes of lethargic approach to management and lack of coherent economic direction and team.

Others have clearly argued that there is no vibrant economic team to tackle these economic challenges and provide clarity and direction of economic policies. Even the administration’s natural allies, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have called on the President to put in place a credible economic team capable of proffering lasting solution to the current challenges bedeviling the country.

While the enormity of the problems the administration has inherited is not in question, people who voted for change are impatient. And justifiably so, Nigerians are no longer interested in polemics, or general statement about the state of the Nigerian economy. By simply lamenting the problem, the current administration under President Buhari is simply rehashing the feelings and agony of average Nigerians. Nigerians want to move forward; they want concrete results. They want solutions.

Most Nigerians admire the President and Vice President for their integrity and moral capital. But moral capital has no value in a vacuum! The value of their moral capital lies in its being exercised to better the lives of those they govern. Nigeria must move beyond the fantasy of individual self-determination and face the problems of the state head-on.

Nigerians want clarity of vision and purpose from the President to correct and address the inherited economic problems and challenges. What is the economic focus of this government? What are the exact economic plan and economic direction vis-à-vis the country’s dwindling fortunes, the diminishing income from oil, the diminishing value of the naira, the fuel shortages, and incessant power outage?

Nigerians want actions on these economic issues and for the President to mobilise and carry them along in accomplishing his vision for a turnaround.

They expect an economic team which should know the paradigm shift and provide an economic road map as well as benchmarks to measure the planned actions. There are many areas that government can pursue to stimulate the economy. It is government’s duty to pick specific items and do something concrete in agriculture, industry, infrastructure, education and other social sectors.

The state governments are also expected to have clear individual direction for their states’ economy especially in internal revenue generation, with less dependency on oil revenue allocation.

Like the administration of FDR, President Buhari’s administration is now expected to have put in place clear economic direction and agenda. There is need for a technical economic team within and outside government to help tie up all the loose ends, review the retreat and discussions, and come up with some form of specific policy guidelines and holistic plan. Unfortunately, it appears the government is afraid of help from economic expertise outside of the immediate party domain, which may not necessarily be self-sufficient or self-reliant.

President Buhari does not have time! One year is already gone, with only two years (2016 and 2017) left for the administration to bring about a turn-around of the economy.

Like FDR, President Buhari can still be a consequential president in Nigeria’s history in terms of turning the economy around. He should translate his personal moral capital into positive economic outcomes for ordinary Nigerians. That was what FDR did to uplift the lives of ordinary Americans in the midst of the Great Depression. Buhari should learn from history and do the same for Nigerians.

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  • Arize Nwofor

    You cannot compare the U.S. economy of 1933 with the Nigerian Economy of 2016. It is akin to comparing night and day! While the United States had an industrial economy with a solid productive base, Nigeria has nothing to show for nearly 50 years of a bull run in the oil and gas sector. Asking Buhari to adopt some of the measures taken by President Roosevelt, like a massive public works program, will surely lead to unintended consequences in Nigeria.

    FDR’s public works program produced positive outcomes in the United States of the 1930s because resources were mobilized from within the U.S. and as such the measures taken to reflate the economy were able to percolate through it. But in our own case in 2016, embarking on any public works program now certainly will not produce the desired outcomes that we may expect because most of that wealth will may end up being exported, because of the absence of a productive base.

    To put it mildly, PMB is between a rock and a hard place.