“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.” That is not original to me. The original author was Mark Anthony in Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) play Julius Ceasar. But the great(est) British writer/poet had provided the most appropriate opening statement in response to the announcement by the Vice President (The VP), Prof Yemi Osinbajo. What we have in Nigeria right now is not a case of the blind leading the blind. If it was so, that situation can be easily corrected.
Our situation would have furnished material for a great comedy – if it does not portend a great tragedy unfolding. What we are experiencing is a puzzling case of the blind attempting to lead, not only blind people like them, but, clear-eyed individuals as well.
The VP might be a brilliant lawyer; but, he is an atrocious economist. His first four years as the leader of the Economic Management Team, EMT, led Nigeria to the brink of total economic catastrophe and the sooner he steps aside the better for everybody.
“Promises like pie crusts are made to be broken.” Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745.
The Buhari administration has broken every promise made with its annual budgets and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP, shamelessly. Nobody in that government has demonstrated the decency of showing remorse for each target missed and plan bungled. They just go on and release another whopper out of contempt for fellow Nigerians.
Nigerians need to be reminded that when Osinbajo’s EMT announced the first budget – Budget 2016 – it was the first insight we received that our economy was in serious trouble because the EMT comprised of cheap propagandists who were promising more than what they could ever deliver. They pledged 3.0 per cent Gross Domestic Product, GDP, growth in 2016; we ended with -1.4% and a recession which real economists, unlike their own Voodoo economists, had predicted accurately. For four years the EMT led us to a cumulative GDP growth of less than 1.5 per cent – while population galloped along at over 3.0 per cent. They got richer and Nigerians got poorer.
Buhari, in his inaugural address, actually promised that the FG would employ 500,000 graduates as teachers among the fantasies released as targets to be achieved during his first term. Instead, graduate unemployment rose. No remorse for deceiving the young people.
When recession hit in 2016, and was about to be followed by 0.8 per cent GDP growth in 2017, the FG hastily introduced the Economic Recovery and Growth Programme, ERGP, in April 2017. At the launching, Osinbajo spoke like a real lawyer – meaning he did not actually expect intelligent people to believe what he said.
Again, among the delusions set forth in the ERGP was the promise to create 15 million jobs. The ERGP was buried recently. No jobs were created; instead more jobs were lost and without apologies or remorse, the VP is once again making more promises which will not be kept. Here is what he said.
“To this end, the Federal Government developed the NESP (National Economic Sustainability Plan) with a stimulus package of N2.3 trillion to give fillip to the economy across various sectors.”
To begin with, Nigerians must ask themselves if they have any reason to continue to believe a government which has proved so invariably untrustworthy. Gamblers and forecasters know how to fix the odds for a team which had lost the last ten matches in a row when it steps out for the next one – especially when it fields the same set of players or clones of the habitual losers.
The Buhari Economic Team is essentially the same set of fumblers. The VP knows very little economics; the President knows even far less. The Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning can only occupy that position in Nigeria – despite the surfeit of world class economists in the country. The truth is; this team and its game plan have failure written all over it even before the NESP gets underway. They don’t know how to prepare annual budgets or medium term projections. They certainly cannot execute even the dreadful plans they propose. Just take a look at the results in the last five years.
How they determined that N2 trillion stimulus is what we need was not explained. Apparently, we are supposed to accept the words of Osinbajo who for five years has been bearing false witnesses each and every time he speaks on the economy. Well, as P.T Barnum said: “A sucker (fool) is born every minute”.
Furthermore, how we will source the funds is shrouded in mystery as usual. Judging from the track record of the last five years, they will most probably take a begging bowl to China again and pile more debt on our children and grandchildren.
Meanwhile, most of the funds borrowed will be given away, wasted and stolen – not invested on projects designed to repay the loans as sensible leaders of advancing nations often do.
While all the observations made above are important, the most troubling aspect of the VP’s introduction of the NESP is related to the timing and methodology of arriving at the decision.
Only recently, the Minister of State for Budget and Planning, Mr Clem Agba, announced that the failure of ERGP called for starting from scratch to formulate a new plan, the NESP. That was about the only sensible statement that has come out of officialdom since 2015.
One would have expected that the fresh start will entail getting all segments of the Nigerian society involved in charting the new future – especially young people. After all, the future the government is toying with belongs more to the youth than to us – old goats above 70.
A forum should have been created for all professional associations — NLC, ASUU, NANS, pensioners etc – to make inputs into this programme and to build a consensus around the outcome. Inclusiveness, in this case, should not be a gimmick to reduce objections to the plan. It should aim to tap into the hidden genius of the Nigerian people in a way that will stimulate active support instead of inducing customary passive acceptance – which remains the bane of most government programmes.
What we now have represents an ambush. The FG has decided our future without involving us and the attitude is “take it or leave it”. Nigerians will mostly leave it and that is why it won’t work. It is Buhari’s plan; not ours.
Nigerians must also ask what role the Economic Advisory Council, EAC, headed by Dr Doyin Salami played in shaping the NESP. Were they consulted and does the final plan reflect their inputs? They, at least, are economists. Without any attempt to invest them with the aura of infallibility, I think Nigerians will feel better if they know that professionals had a heavy hand in the outcome – just as we will all sleep easier if we know that health professionals (doctors, nurses, radiologists, x-ray technicians, pharmacists etc) are in charge of the COVID-19 and not mechanics in fine suits. So, how much influence did the EAC have on the ESP? If they had none, it will be safe to ask that they should be disbanded because it is difficult to imagine a more important reason for their appointment.
In the end, we are faced with the same question we ask every time the government announces economic plans and programmes; “Will NESP work?” Unfortunately, the answer remains the same; “Not bloody likely.” Reasons for the answer will follow in the weeks ahead.