It is crying time again in Nigeria over economic crunch. Consequently, there has been call for a National Economic Summit. But neither the cries nor the summit is necessary right now.
For me most of the cries are dishonest and for the wrong reasons and the conference will not be productive.The policy thrust such as the control of forex, restriction on imports, over which many are uncomfortable, were done in the best interest of the country. Most of the criticisms of the policy actions are ideologically and politically motivated.
An economic summit will therefore not produce the desired impact. Most of the problems are already too well known. What is required is hard-work, collective sacrifice in the national interest and sincere commitment to Nation- building efforts.
First, let us review the cause of the cries for purpose of evaluation. Broadly, the criers cry for more dollars where the foreign reserve has been badly depleted, they cry for the removal of import restrictions following the ban on some items for collective economic survival sake.
They cry for devaluation when we have no much to export in order to be able to earn more foreign exchange and when as member of OPEC we have little or no say beyond what has been agreed by the body on oil production. And they cry for unfettered market forces to rule the wave even if the approach has proved quite unhelpful since 1985 in Nigeria. They cry and shout about human rights when corruption is being fought. In a word most of these cries are for individual reasons or small group’s interest. But national interest should prevail.
The cries are against reason and not for the good of all citizens. It is a shame that the economy has been made too dependent on the dollar and imported goods over the years and we are unready to give up bad old habits. In a word, government’s current actions are good measures being put in place to safeguard the economy in the interest of all citizens instead of just only few elite. They are genuine efforts to address the spill-over effect of many decades of bad governance and profligacy in the country. They have been initiated to advance the national interest of our country.
But critics would have none of these not necessarily because the policy measures are ineffectual, but largely because of their political and ideological orientation in total disregard for history and reason. There had been no honestly, patriotism and sense of nationalism in the cries.
For instance , they say ideology plays no important role, but cry for a particular one to dominate and use ideological tools and values to discredit present efforts. You don’t call such people to a national meeting and expect something fruitful from them. They have long made up their mind to resist change. It is more of a mindset issue.
Rather than national interest they talk of globalization and global practice even when we have nothing yet important to offer for sale at the global market. They forget that development is in the final analysis is a localized business for the improvement of the quality of life of the individual and his community. They cry and preach falsehood that the state has no business with doing business even in the face of ample evidence of state participation in nation- building elsewhere .
They ignore the obvious pains and frustration of the ordinary citizens from great calamity at home as exemplified, say by mass poverty, unprecedented high pyramid of unemployment and retarding underdevelopment across the country. They forget that the state was created to provide security and protect life and property of citizens and ensure the proper development of the human society. And it has always intervened especially in critical and difficult moments of society as was the case in 2008 to save the banks whose default created global financial crisis.
And critics cry and tell lies with statistics pointing to unconvincing picture or situation of barren growth without development- just to confuse. Quantitatively there has been 6% growth for some time in Nigeria since 1985 when market- based Structurally Adjustment Program (SAP) was introduced but qualitatively, life has been nasty, brutish and frustrating for majority citizens. They forget that economic growth makes no meaning to a family with five unemployed graduates, not sure of the next meal or has no easy access to clean water, electricity, roads to take his wares to the market, health centres, etc.
In short, in the midst of orchestrated growth, there had been mass unemployment, vast poverty, and deep rooted under development all over the country with hard hitting effect on majority families. All these are already in the public domain and we do not need a special conference to identify them for necessary action. By 2015 the situation had become terribly bad thereby warranting genuine cries for change which was effected through voting of that year.
Migeria can be said to have commenced a reconstruction of itself. It is therefore disappointing the measures aimed at stemming moral, social decay and economic decline had led to avalanche of complaints, resistance and cries as though we are a people not ready for change and progress.
Truly, the cries are unnecessary today because the current measures are meant to to obliterate our unclean past which we so much hated and to lay a solid foundation for a new world of our collective dream.
Most of those crying loudest- the elite are not honest, sincere or patriotic. They are are the architect of our horribly failed past which benefited only a few of them. The grand resistance is normal and understandable-quite akin to that between forces of darkness and forces light. It is a product of emerging value conflict in Nigeria within the elites. What I see is a sort of shadow- boxing in the name of economic woes by a section of the Nigerian elite.
A section of the Nigerian elites have been crying wolf where there is none and are unprepared to take necessary prescription based on correct diagnosis to heal the development wounds. Their cries are largely rooted in individual greed, partisan politics and ideological bias and they reflect a reluctance to make due sacrifices in the national interest. They are indicative too of the elites’s heightened level of unpatriotic disposition to national unity and development today.
The cries are also a reflection of the ideological struggle between those who believe in the market forces and pro-state led economic management. Thus they are signs of serious irritation and value- split within the elite class. Of course there has been pressure from abroad too as exemplified by the IMF which had visited and advised the country to allow the market forces to determine exchange rate without caring about the circumstances that warranted some restrictions.Whatever may be the case, most of the cries are uncalled and wrong- headed.
Yet, this is not to deny that there is serious economic hardship in Nigeria. It is also not to ignore patriotic concerns of well- meaning citizens such as Prof Wole Soyinka – a Nobel laureate – who had called for an economic summit which to this writer is not necessary for a number of reasons already advanced not the least being the insincerity of the political class. Partisan politics do not favour a national economic summit at this moment. Look at the partisan attitude to the 2016 budget proposal and you will appreciate the frustration that will attend a national economic summit today
While it could even be misconstrued in some quarters as a vote of no confidence in the government of the day, the greater worry is that the conference would be dominated by ideologues and unpatriotic elements who are out to pursue personal and small group’s agenda rather than national interest. Most of the critics are ideologues and the conference could be hijacked by hard core ones among them who care a little or nothing for anything outside the confines of their ideological cocoon.
Properly evaluated and understood, Nigeria is not actually faced with economic crisis but complex development challenge developed over time.
Fortunately, most of the problems and what is to be done to resolve them are already known and in the public domain. Of course they are largely not economic in nature. The conference is therefore not necessary or desirable now. What truly remains is positive action or effective implementation. And this can be handled by the party in power which was voted in on the mantra of change and which had already submitted a budget to the National Assembly awaiting necessary action. While we need to exercise patience, such conference is better handled at the sub party level by the party in power at least to minimize ideological and political tensions and negative implications.
The steps taken so far to address issues of forex, devaluation, and importations for which people are crying are correct and in the best interest of the country. It demands sacrifice and cooperation, not protests or a national conference to accommodate and make them work. For now what is urgently needed is the reflation of the economy to boost the purchasing power of the consumer. This could be done by settling the huge domestic debt and investment in infrastructural development. We do not need a conference to know and do such things.
In the other parts of the essay, I shall expatiate more on some of the issues raised here and respond to recent criticism of current efforts to revamp the economy by some ideologues and show why the state should the lead- driver of the the economy.
Dr Abhuere, FNIM,retired Director with the NYSC and is the Director, Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja.