Reason Number 4: THE ECONOMY. WHOSE ECONOMY?
(Warning: Long post)
This should be the final part of this series – Why President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) should be re-elected in 2019 despite the array of disaffection (many justified) with his stewardship so far. Till date, I have discussed three reasons – PMB’s deft use of red herrings to deflect and confuse, the state of the viable opposition party and the support of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and its effect in the political calculations for 2019’s presidential elections. I round it off with what should ordinarily have been the major determinant of any incumbent’s re-election prospects, but which sadly will not play a determinant role in 2019 – an economy superintended by an incumbent.
Depending on whose side of the political divide you are on, your take would be either that the economy has deteriorated under the PMB led APC government, or that the economy is being retooled for better prospects in the future because this government inherited a ‘bankrupt’ rent economy from its predecessor. I believe there are merits in both sides of this argument. The decider therefore is who is better able to marshal its side of the argument.
First, the truth is that Nigeria’s mono economy has always been a rent economy, of taker ‘landlords’ who amass wealth directly or indirectly from state resources with little or no backward investment to further grow that economy. Most of the investments and/or savings of these rent seekers are taken overseas, which develops those foreign economies at the expense of the source economy. Those foreign economies in turn ‘lend’ to our economy at exorbitant cost, ‘our resources’ that had been ‘flighted’ overseas!
And because the Nigerian economy is mono-centric on oil, the only viable data past leaders have truly gathered and watched have been those related to Brent crude and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) indices. So, the economy’s relative competence depends on the price of crude, and the vagaries of that market. It is for no other reason that many within and outside government see the Federal Government’s oil vehicle, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), as the cash cow that that must be milked, little or no questions asked. This for me is the real reason why attempts to reform the NNPC by statute will continue to falter and fail. Too many selfish, entrenched interests. Unless … (Story for another day)
Now this over reliance on oil has stymied whatever growth could have happened elsewhere to expand and grow the Nigerian economy. It is therefore not surprising that given this rent mentality, even the infrastructure of our dependent product has been left to decay – refineries, pipelines, depots and others in its value chain. Yet you get this cyclical argument – who is the better manager, government or the private sector? Over and over again – debating a solution PROCESS to death! So, whether it had still been the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any other political conglomeration that had won in 2015 Presidential elections, the economy would still have needed urgent and PAINFUL fixing. I suspect that even those who malign the present government’s handling of the economy would agree with this reducible minimum. Even the economy’s manager under the last administration now admit this much. So, the only question being how honest and competent any attempt at fixing the Nigerian economy would have been, based on which side of the political divide was in charge.
And this is where again the ENTIRE political class (yes, of all shades and hues!) failed this economy. First there was this inordinately long delay, which confirms the argument the APC as a party and perhaps PMB himself was ill-prepared for office. Or how else would you campaign that the economy needs fixing, yet ‘watch’ its slow bleed for over 6 months after taking office, while at the same time attacking the fundamentals of the same economy as known to foreign investors?
Eventually after PMB named his economic team, rather than begin to interrogate the policies or lack of it from the team, most commentators and opinion leaders outside of the ruling party (the official opposition was AWOL all this time, remember?) focused on the qualification of the dramatis personae, comparing for instance, the ‘qualification’ of PMB’s (now ex-)finance minister with the immediate past occupant of the office! How she had only being a ‘commissioner for only 4 years’ before her appointment, while the former had been ‘a world renowned financial juggernaut’! And this went on for months, trying to score cheap political points, unfortunately further sending wrong signals to investors. The president himself did not help matters by his old-fashioned comments on state control of the economy! Not even within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) did we have any decent dissent about how to move the economy forward! Even at the official level, the ruling party did not for once engage in any meaningful debate on this! Our political class – long on slogans, short on nous! I digress, sorry.
So, the economy would still have needed re-tooling, whoever had been in charge in 2015. The point being a fundamental rethink who have been needed. The truth is that such an overhaul cannot be successfully carried out in 8 years, regardless of the APC’s unguarded pre-election rhetorics of 1 or 2 years! And honest, non-partisan economists will confirm this. The first world economies, when the need arose for reconstruction, despite the MARSHAL plans and the likes of it, took decades to recalibrate and rebuild. This is another verifiable fact.
This is yet another area where the media managers of the ruling party let the country down. Rather than focus lightly on what was done wrongly in the past, and now begin to sensitize about the painful choices ahead, they rather dwelt of the mistakes of the past! Why else did they reckon Nigerians got rid of the former ruling party in the first place? Nigerian political class – long on slogans, short on nous!
Now, with the forgoing, one should think that re-election would be difficult for the husbandman of this economy. No? But again, because the opposition, although loud about the criticisms of the ruling party, has been short, very short on well thought out alternatives, if at all, they have cut the APC a lot of slack! A bad economy should have been a platform for the opposition party to seek to re-launch its seriousness for office, by in-depth critiques, by the offering of alternatives. How many seminars or colloquium have the Nigerian political class organized on the economy, for instance? Most recently, you see a spattering of comments and critiques here and there. But these are just uncoordinated efforts by political contestants to gain the ear of the electorate for votes, nothing deep. Nigerian political elite – long on what is wrong, again, sadly short on what is needed!
This is where I think PMB’s government has been allowed wriggle room to score another masterstroke, albeit on the sly. What is the government doing? Pandering to the class that is most hit by the re-tooling process with its several palliative measures – the N-power program, the school feeding programs, ‘Tradermoni’ initiative, and the like.
Yes, those in the lower and upper middle classes may scoff and ask ‘where is the proof of the impact of all these programs’? They cannot see it because it could not have impacted them directly. Rather they should ask those at the lower, most vulnerable base of the consumer economy. It is only then that you will appreciate this master stroke. And of the electoral mass, which segment has the highest voter pool? You guessed right! But why do I call these initiatives sly? Because they are long on impressions, sadly too little a drop to envelop the masses of the people. But, hey? “E go better, e go better – no be im dey make poor man tey for city?” Right? You catch my drift!
So, yes, many will argue that the economy is still very weak, that the policies of this administration could have been better thought out, and the execution of it better managed. Yes, yes and yes! But what would still have been the result after just 4 years, is the question many have not provided answers to!
I believe it is too early to call out this APC government on the economy, knowing as we do that the fundamentals of a decentralized economy takes more than a 4-year cycle anywhere in the world. So, I suspend judgment, not being a ‘disenfranchised’ beneficiary of the rent economy! 😉
In other words, what should have been the Achilles heel of PMB’s government has suddenly become a get out of jail free card! You do not believe me? Wait until after the coming gubernatorial elections in Osun State, Saturday next (22nd September 2018).
Because of the palliatives this government is handing out to the most vulnerable economic class, left, right and centre, I believe it would be given a renewed mandate by electorate at the next presidential elections. WHOSE ECONOMY? ECONOMY OF THOSE AT THE BASE OF THE PYRAMID!
To round up this series, it is my firm belief that the 2019 presidential elections is President Muhammadu Buhari’s to lose. I wager he should win re-election if he is on his party’s ticket; even if the race is tight, as it might well be, depending on who the PDP picks as its nominee.
FINAL WORD: It is often said that one week is a long time in politics. All my permutations may change overnight. So, let’s say my views are valid for today? Ok? Ok! In essence, please do not take this as a political advisory! Enjoy the coming election season! 😎
©Adewale Adeniji. 17th September 2018.