On the surface the idea of a National Economic Summit may sound easy and promising but it is a land mine of sort in practice .It holds little or no prospect of making much positive difference to the present situation. The trend is already emerging. As already hinted the greatest obstacle will be political sentiments, ideological orientation and affiliation and value- conflict within the political class . For instance,as explained below, those who had made the loudest noise or cries about the economy are ideologues and politicians outside of the ruling party.
The trouble is that they seem to be doing so blindly most of the times.To call for a national Economic Summit is to grossly underestimate the power, ideology and associated emotions of political parties. No sincerity of purpose can be can be expected or achieved no matter the appeal to patriotic sentiments and spirit of nationalism. Besides it sounds like a referendum and I do not think this is necessary now. It should be realized that the season of campaign for votes is over and the party in power has a four year mandate. This is time for action and not grand national conference. Party values and orientation will frustrate the latter.
Nigerians made their choice by voting out one Political party in favor of another to carry out the necessary redemption .Those voted in have the responsibility to fix things. It is a well known fact that the condition as at May 2015 and long before then had been highly deplorable in nearly all fronts . They need time to repair past damages and arrest the embarrassing decay. Let us be patient. Quality change does not come easy. It takes time and the task of bringing about the desired change has been been democratically assigned already to some groups.
While this does not preclude group discussion of the economy especially at the party level, I see some misperception of the problem which in turn will result in misdiagnosis and thus wrong prescription. A call for a national economic summit presupposes that there is only economic crisis at hand. No. It is far larger and complex. We have development crisis at hand caused by many decades of neglect of infrastructure, poor management of resources and misrule. In other words even before takeoff , the problem has been wrongly defined and narrowly framed with serious implications for practice.
For the avoidance of doubt, there is serious development crisis in Nigeria. Development is a multi- dimensional process including cultural, Social, economic, political, moral dimensions of life. In Nigeria. Briefly there had been serious moral and ethical challenge in public life, poor governance, infrastructural decay, production crises to corruption, wastage, profligacy, insecurity to mention a few of the many factors outside the economic realm.But it has been so even before the election and no amount of summit can change the situation over night except through self correction and motivation of the ruling elites.
While most of the problems have been identified awaiting action, there has been no visible Action Implementation Committee (AIC) on ground to solve them head-on. This should be our area of greater concern. The purpose of government is to deliver development to all citizens in all corners of the society. And it has to find the best way to doing this based on the basic needs of the people and peculiar circumstances of the society in view. This is where ideology or philosophy of life comes in as inner light to a group. As a guide to human actions including policy making,ideology can be extremely important. The ruling party at the Centre- APC, has one- a guiding philosophy but it seems to me that the party has been shy in pushing its own variant of capitalist ideology.
Instead of burst of development activities across the state in line with its manifesto and great enthusiasm about its political philosophy,what we see in the APC these days is a growing show of fatigue and lull of action, and increasing reluctance especially to get the state to be truly involved in the development task. Rather than pushing hard on its manifesto, the party has been receding on it -perhaps because it does not want to be stigmatized by the west as having much sympathy with socialist ideas. But there is no ideological tight rope any longer. The world is more interested in what works in a given community under assured state of security, stability and rule of law. And workable ideas can come from any corner of the globe.
Perhaps outside president Buhari who has continued to talk and be preoccupied with fight against corruption, insecurity and unemployment as his priority, there has been uncomfortable distance between the party’s manifesto and its members. But the president is only one person even if the most important. He needs the active participation of party members especially the elites. Instead of this, most of the Party members had been lukewarm. There has been no burst of developmental activities at the state and local government areas. No attempt to mobilize the people for development .
There are no visible efforts to promote and sustain mass support through effective citizenry participation. For instance reflationary measures, settlement of domestic debt and some populist undertakings within the context of party manifesto could expand the circulation of money, enhance purchasing power of citizens, promote economic activities including employment positive identification with change and sustain hope in anticipation of better things to come.
The ordinary citizens have thus become confused and nearly frustrated. Some of them have even wondered about the essence of the promised change.The state is hesitant about its role. The political parties appear conflicted and afflicted .Even the budget has become difficult to pass in a National Assembly where the APC commands majority votes. Development has thus become a poor victim of intra party feuds and inter party rivalry.Rather than party supremacy, individuals seem to dominate. Something some where seems to be amiss. But contrary to current thinking the problem is not the absence of ideas but the failure to implement them. Here, only the APC can help itself out and not a conference of political and ideological rivals and misfits.
Patriotism has been on rapid decline in Nigeria since her independence in 1960. Consequently there is acute shortage of it today to allow for any frank ,objective and dispassionate discussion of our development issues at a national economic summit. For years, emotions, dogma, ethnicity or sectionalism, irrationality, intra- party feuds and inter party rivalry had dominated the scene and they are not about abating. As we write, even those who have no business with the dollar are crying and quoting the adverse Naira exchange rate to the dollar.
But in a state of heightened patriotism, the exchange rate could be even as high as N1 to $1000, it would not matter as long as we know where we are going and do the needful to strengthen it with the March of time.the right action here is intensified production for both domestic and external markets and the protection of infant industries against external invasion. Over time, the Naira would regain its strength. It is amazing and irritating to discover the vast extent the Nigerian economy has been made dollar -dependent at the moment. It is akin to Liberia after her civil war which I decried during my visit to that country. It tells me me that that great harm had been done to the economy and something much more practical than conference talk is needed to redeem the situation. We should get working rather than talking. It shall be a waste of precious time.
Luckily many of the leading problems have since been identified. To recall, these include fall of oil prices at the international market, scarcity of petroleum products at home, declining capacity of manufacturing from 59.50%_ 54.90 in the last quarter of 2015, harsh environment for development due to huge infrastructural deficit, bureaucratic bottle neck to do business,lean foreign reserve of $27.8 only, billion,fall of the Naira before the dollar [email protected] exchange rate of N400 to a dollar, high unemployment rate, high level of corruption, mass poverty, monocultural economy, insecurity etc. However all these are not new. While their severity is part of the reasons the PDP was voted out of power, all that is needed is an action plan and implementation committee and these can be done without having to hold a conference.
The must -do list is long and the ruling party has many of the items in their manifesto which should now be given the widest publicity and internalized by its members for necessary positive action. These are : maintaining sound macro- economic policy environment ,running efficient government and preserving the independence of CBN, restoring and strengthening financial confidence through effective supervision, monitoring and regulation of financial institutions, making the economy to grow very fast-real.
Others are :embarking on vocational training, entrepreneurial and skill acquisition for graduates,creation of small business loans Guarantee Scheme to create at least 1 million Jobs annually, integrate the informal economy to the mainstream, full implementation of National Identification scheme for relevant data, expanding domestic demand and undertaking associated public works programs, embarking on export and production diversification, investment on infrastructure.
Yet others include expansion of sub regional trade through Ecowas ,AU, making information technology, manufacturing, agriculture , and entertainment key driver of ourconomy, balancing the economy across regions by creating six six new regional economic development agencies to champion sub regional competitiveness, put in place a N300 billion with N50 billion for each region to be managed by REDS, encouraging private sector enterprises and supporting places currently reliant on the public sector, amendments of the constitution and land use act to create freehold, lease hold with matching grants, creating additional middle class of at least two million new home owners during first year in government and one million more annually with a mortgage system to match.
Definitely these are fine proposals but as those familiar with our problems know, planning has never been the obstacle to national development in Nigeria but poor implementation of plans. Ineffective management and lack of executive capacity have been the bane of the economy and we do not need a conference to know and rectify such perennial anomaly. The responsibility of fixing the economy belongs right now to the APC and the party can do it effectively in synergy with the various arms of its government- especially the executive arm. It can go anywhere to get the good and capable hands to fix the economy . Such people can come from the party, across parties, and even beyond the shores of Nigeria.
So it is more a question of the physician learning to ‘heal thyself’ .The APC must not lend credence to the impression that while it worked so hard to win election, it forgot to do an action plan or simply left the post election state management to chance. It appears to have failed to put in place an action group to execute its action plan or seems at a loss of what and how to use political power for meaningful development.While most of the problems have been identified awaiting action and ideology is important, people especially the youth are worried that they are not seeing visible action implementation committee on ground working to solve problems head on. The best physicians here will come from the APC.
Dr Abhuere, FNIM, is the Director, Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja.