Osinbajo still didn’t get it
The federal government’s economic team, led by the National Economic Council (NEC), has once again received a hard knock for its poor understanding of how to grow a national economy.
Bill Gates; yes, Bill Gates of the Microsoft fame, who came calling a couple of days previously, was reported to have told a special session of the NEC that Nigeria’s ongoing Economic Recovery And Growth Plan (ERGP) is broadly flawed.
He said for the ERGP to be effective, it must reflect the people’s needs, and it should give priority to human capital development over physical capital, contrary to the present composition of the ERGP.
He then advised the federal government to review the ERGP – I should interpret that to mean reconstitute the NEC.
Gates’ observations and recommendation are a rehearsal of what many another knowing person have stated soon after the ERGP was launched over one ago.
The All Progressives Congress (APC)-federal government’s tragic lack of proper grasp of the fundamentals of national economies became evident from its first annual budget (2016) proposal.
That Appropriations Bill had many firsts: it was the first to be declared missing (read recalled), after it had been presented and submitted to the National Assembly.
It was also the first Appropriations Bill to be be-deviled by the strange phenomenon known as “padding”.
Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who somehow materialized in Nigeria a couple of days following the Bill’s presentation to NASS, expressed her misgivings about the feasibility of self-same 2016 Appropriations Bill.
It eventually took disproportionately long months to get the Bill into a passable working document. I remember dubbing the 2016 Bill, “Only Half a Budget”; and later went on to call for its re-working: “Rework Budget 2016”, both on these pages.
Subsequent pronouncements and actions by the federal government on matters touching upon the national economy, all of which culminated in the much advertised Economic Recovery And Growth Plan, have done little more than expose the weak links in the extant national economic team.
As in the previous administrations, well-meaning counsel and suggestions respecting how to get the Nigerian economy on the path of recovery and growth have not been shortcoming.
What is troubling, however, is that the APC federal government and leading members of the party, wittingly or unwittingly, give the impression that they are more focused on looking competent in the eyes of the Nigerian masses, than they are interested in demonstrating competence in leadership.
Consequently, many a well-distilled counsel have gone unheeded. This trajectory is at once highly insensitive and irresponsible in a federal government.
It is therefore debatable whether Bill Gates’ recent engagement with the National Economic Council will significantly impact that disconcerting trajectory.
The straight-talking American had hardly finished giving his counsel when leading members of APC present at the special session launched into their usual image-burnishing campaign, with NEC’s chairman, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, leading the charge.
Half-unexpectedly, Osinbajo issued his all-too-familiar response to any criticism of the federal government; “…high oil prices and economic growth of the previous years did not translate into a better life for most Nigerians because grand corruption prevented investments in healthcare, education, and infrastructure… To put Nigeria’s money to work for Nigerians is doing the most with the least… we have stayed true to that vision.
Even as oil prices went into free fall, we ramped up investments in infrastructure as well as our social spending… We are working to guarantee basic education for all persons, whilst also upgrading and modernizing the quality of secondary and post-secondary education… Because this is the 21st century, we know that it is also important to ensure that our young people are prepared for the economies of the future…”, thus averred the vee-pee among other things.
Another impulsive defender of the APC federal government present at the session was Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, who was just as predictable as the vice president; “…adjusting (reviewing) the ERGP was not the issue but the budgeting system was the question”, he was reported to have said, adding “…with priorities set clearly to addressing human capital development.”
He was, however, humble enough to concede that that session with Bill Gates was the most important that has been held since the Muhammadu Buhari administration; because, according to him, “the NEC had been focusing on the provision of electricity, roads, and others, without priority for human capital development”.
Therefore, Your Excellency, reviewing the ERGP is the issue; the budgeting system has nothing to do with the conversation(?). Surely, the controversy-hugging governor would, in retrospect, see the wisdom to be more circumspect in his future public remarks.
Typically, these two no-holds-barred spokespersons of the ruling APC party wholly missed the kernel of Gates’ message, clearly encapsulated in these words, “…although Nigeria was approaching an upper middle-income status like Brazil, China, and Mexico, there was need for all its citizens to thrive in maximizing the huge potential of the country…”.
While Gates was stressing citizens’ active participation for sustainable infrastructural development, (infrastructural development must align with the citizens’ limited technological exposure), Osinbajo was advocating futuristic technologies for the citizens!!!
In words of a syllable, while the august visitor’s feet were firmly planted on planet earth, his principal host’s feet floated in space, in a regime of unrestrained abstraction typical of Nigerian leaders.
Afam Nkemdiche is engineering consultant, lives in Abuja.