I cannot but start this column with the timely insight from the three wise men. From Chief Olusegun Obssanjo came the message that the economy is in doldrums as a result of the very poor managerial skills of the present occupant of Aso Rock and his lieutenants. Wole Soyinka simply saw in the same personality the attributes and character of a ‘Nebuchadnezzar.’ Out of the blues came another scathing remark. Dr. Christopher Kolade! ‘Jonathan is not a good leader,’ he said. These are all eminent men! They hardly speak until it is necessary. One of them was actually pushed to the wall being a former diplomat renowned for reticent predilections. The charges bother on corruption, cluelessness, impunity, insensitivity and inability to manage national disasters like the ongoing war against insecurity and terrorism, economic recession and the penchant to use official security apparatchik to run the opposition aground. The recent invasion of the All Progressives Congress (APC) data centre in Lagos by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) and the forced detention of my person at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport for over one hour by the same agents of DSS, for no justifiable reason, is still fresh in my memory. This is really sad considering the fact that this selfsame personality is being pilloried for pitching one section of the country against the other through divisive politicking.
Insecurity is spreading like Ebola with the attacks and freeing of prisoners from Koton-Karfe, Ekiti and Minna prisons being latest additions. The attacks on the Kano Central Mosque is telling. The Northeast is seething under the rapacious and murderous escapade of terrorists. The economy is crashing despite gargantuan magic bullet remedies being prescribed and applied by the one and only Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (NOI).
The three wise men and numerous others cannot be wrong because we are all living witnesses. Be that as it may, let me say that in a colony of madmen, the sane man becomes the madman. This is pitiably our condition today. Instead of sending what the late Chief Bola Ige would have described as the ‘five fingers of a leprous hand’ on a begging mission, I think President Goodluck Jonathan should change his attitude and act. He should retool his think tank, stop genuflecting before Idriss Derby of Chad, stop dancing AZONTO with his trousers on fire (apologies to Obasanjo) and take urgent charge to safeguard our country from the Dracula of insecurity, terrorism, and the FAILED STATE epithet now staring at our faces.
I am really saddened by the terrorists’ siege of the Northeast and their expansionist drive to other parts of the country. I am equally saddened by the wave of kidnapping in other parts of the country and the inability of overly traumatised Nigerians to daily live their life in tranquil mode. I am horrified by the inability of President Goodluck Jonathan to perform the ground breaking exercise for the $16bn Warri Gas City project, owing to threats by ex-militants. Mr. President has not visited Chibok since over 200 girls were abducted 239 days ago due to security concerns. Sadly, the girls are still in captivity. He has not visited many scenes of carnage in the Northeast where horrific treatment is being meted on innocent Nigerians by insurgents. He may well not visit the bombed out Kano Central Mosque for the same reason. So where else can the President go?
How did we come to this sorry state that even the President cannot move freely in a sovereign country? If Mr. President with all his military armada can be prevented from carrying out official functions, what hope is there for the masses of this country? In the Northeast alone, over one million persons are said to inhabit the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) according to Red Cross and United Nations estimates.
Obasanjo’s alarm about the rot in our economy is not novel only that those on the driving seat of power would rather wish that he keeps quiet and let the ship of state sink. The government cannot say they don’t know what Obasanjo is talking about. The core of Obasanjo’s message is that we have all it takes to have been better prepared for this economic meltdown and he is right on target. The present administration, having had it so good in terms of oil inflows, abandoned all known economic models and logic in the time of boom. Through austerity measures however, they have sadly transferred the burden of their poor planning on the poor masses who daily live below a dollar.
Having enjoyed higher oil prices since 2010, it is shocking that the present administration was quick to impose austerity measures as a result of falling oil prices. While the concept of austerity measures is a globally accepted economic theory to revive a dwindling economy, the ones recently announced by our economic czar, NOI, are nothing but a misbegotten antithesis. The irony is that the poor masses of this country continue to live by the sea yet they daily wash their hands with spittle.
For our economy to suddenly collapse due to ongoing slump in crude oil prices means that our much vaunted economic strength was small afterall. Why do we travel the same road several times, yet act as if we have never been forewarned of the existing dangerous bends, hills and valleys? As they say, those that fail to plan have planned to fail. I thought NOI was appointed to help plan and streamline the finances of the Federal Government which should include saving for the raining day. Where are our savings? It is no secret that crude oil has been selling well above $100 in the last three years. Yet the budget benchmark did not exceed $80. Where is the balance? Where is our money?
Where lies the true worth of the World Bank’s ‘economic expert?’ Should we bypass NOI and go back to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the WB to seek new solutions to our economic woes whereas one of their ‘very best’ is here coordinating (read presiding over) the economy? Has NOI deceived the world’s financial institutions, the Nigerian government and the masses about her economic savvy-ness and wizardry? Is NOI still there? Is it that she no longer believes in global best practices, where officials resign their position when responsibilities committed to their care fail, no matter how inadvertent. Why has she not resigned her position to redeem her dwindling image? I think the present realities do not suggest that our economy is being ‘coordinated’ by an expert.
I call on NOI to immediately resign. She has failed in her duty to safeguard the economy. She has not delivered on her mandate. Her second coming has been nothing but a disaster. She cannot afford to continue to rub salt on the grave injuries she already inflicted on Nigerians by pretending that all is well while the economy continues to slide into the abyss. She is now more of a problem than a solution. The Naira has been devalued. The proposed 2015 oil benchmark has been reduced from $78 to $73 and further to $65. It may be revised further downwards because oil prices are still on a free fall. In fact, analysts foresee a situation in which, by June 2015, crude oil will be selling at about $60-$65 per barrel. What will NOI do when that happens. As a layman, I know that our economy will not only convulse beyond measure, the budget will become unrealistic and unrealisable.
Need I say that imposing austerity measures in a country slowing towards recession is a fundamentally flawed response because austerity leads to the collapse of any economy. According to experts, Keynesian economics which requires government to help sustain demand suggests that austerity measures should be imposed when an economy is booming, not waning. It is heart-rending to realise that instead of saving during the boom, this administration went the road of prodigality and profligacy – it is still highly steeped in corruption irrespective of deafening outcry. Now that their lack of planning and profligate attitude has become manifest in this oil glut, they now want already distressed Nigerians to bear the cross. This can be nothing but a sacrifice of death!
NOI knows that the best economic medicine is infrastructure spending. Yet she has kept the capital spending at a paltry 23 per cent on average. She equally knows that what Nigerians require at this time is a stimulus package and not austerity measures. The minister definitely knows a lot more than she is telling Nigerians at this time. She has consistently deceived Nigerians by saying that the country is not “broke.” But today the truth is out in the market. With NOI’s austerity measures and currency devaluation by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) according to Obasanjo, “We (Nigerians) will all sink deeper in poverty except for those who have corruptly stashed money abroad and who will start to bring such illegal and illegitimate funds back home to harvest more Naira. All the economic gains of recent years and the rebuilding of the middle class may be lost.” To escape the looming economic woe, the President and his economic team must avail themselves of the timely advice of Obasanjo by reinventing and applying the needed “political will, the discipline, (and) the ability to take the hard measures to reverse the trend” which is grossly lacking at this time.
Above all, Nigerians must not allow Obasanjo’s apocalyptic prediction – based on sound evidence – to came to pass. The only way to do that is by voting the present crop of leaders and their hired economic saboteurs out of office in 2015