Monday, September 26, 2016 8:51 am
By Bolanle Bolawole
“…It is important for us to understand the nature of this recession in which we have found ourselves…If we did not have the vandalism in the Niger Delta as we are currently suffering, we will not have this recession today” – Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
As the economic crisis bites harder and the recession deepens, it has become necessary to interrogate previously held truths and ask unpalatable questions that may unearth issues that the powers-that-be would rather securely keep under wraps. We do ourselves grievous harm if we look at their faces or consider how they feel or react when we hold their feet to the fire. We the ordinary people suffer the perilous times more than the leaders; if they suffer it at all! They hear about it and talk about it but it is not more than mere statistics to them because they don’t feel it in the real sense of the word.
We are the ones wearing the shoe; they glide about in their presidential and private jets and bullet-proof, state-of-the-art limousines fuelled and maintained at whopping costs at public expense. They are more than adequately protected from the vagaries and vicissitudes of economic depression. Their needs and wants that money can buy are met at public expense. They don’t wake up thinking about the basic needs of man – food, clothing, and shelter. They don’t go to bed worrying about where their next meal will come from. Their children go to the best schools; they and their family enjoy the best facilities everywhere. They are called public servants but Nigeria serves them instead!
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria appears to recognise the Vice President as a very important public servant on economic matters. He shall be Chairman of the National Economic Council, which shall also consist of the state governors and governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. As important as his position is, we must note that the VP does not have the last say since the National Economic Council that he chairs only “have power to advise the President concerning the economic affairs of the Federation…” Stripped of all adornments, the VP is nothing more than a glorified adviser on economic affairs to the President.
Taking a cue from ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, the President is not even obligated to accept his VP’s advice. On the surface, it would appear as if Osinbajo is being allowed by President Muhammadu Buhari to handle the economy but grapevine sources dish out misgivings. While too much secrecy surrounds government, there is no smoke without a fire. Intrigues and power-play, as much as incompetence and inefficiency, have been the grave yards of many governments. Based upon the foregoing, I have 11 questions for Osinbajo. I expect him to forthrightly address them – or he should forever hold his peace!
One: Does he actually preside over the National Economic Council as enshrined in the Constitution? Two: Does he perform his constitutionally assigned role of an economic adviser to the President without let or hindrance? Three: Has he offered the President advice on the economic depression? Four: How will he describe the President’s attitude to the advice he gives – excellent; satisfactory; not-too-satisfactory; poor; very poor? Five: Does he have unfettered access to the President? Six: Does he have the ears of the President? Seven: As the Number Two Citizen, is his position and person accorded the expected respect and deference by official and unofficial sources around the President? Eight: How is he carried along on important Government decisions: All the time; some of the time; once in a while; rarely; not at all? Nine: Is he aware that strident criticisms of the performance of the economy are direct or indirect indictment of his capabilities and competencies? Ten: Is he aware that his performance in this government will rub off positively or negatively on the geo-political zone where he comes from?
If we know our leaders too well, we may never get a public answer to these questions; and if at all, it could be what is safe and proper to say in public. But, again, there is no smoke without a fire. As much as our leaders may try, a lot of information they wish were suppressed would still escape into the public domain. For instance, we know that the intransigence of the President on devaluation of the Naira left the issue unresolved for too long until the currency had suffered irreversible losses. When, eventually, he succumbed, the quantum of devaluation needed had become appalling. This was like the case of the proverbial sick person in Yoruba folklore who was required to simply say to, to get healed but insisted he would not say to to to. He ended up paying thrice the price! Who are the unofficial economic advisers who have erected themselves between the President and those constitutionally assigned the responsibility? They should come into the open so we can know them and hold them accountable, instead of pillorying the wrong people.
We would also like to examine their economic blueprints and subject same to public scrutiny. The President and his unofficial economic advisers will also do the country a world of good if they sit in the meetings of this administration’s economic team, contribute to arguments and be mindful of how decisions are arrived it. It makes little sense to stand aloof, unmindful of the efforts that produced a decision, only to whimsically toss it out of the window. Much time is wasted this way before decisions are reached. The officials assigned the duty of managing the economy keep going back and forth with very little to show for their efforts. They are presented as incompetent when this, actually, may not have been the case. They soon get exasperated and discouraged. They soon get unsure, unsteady, and uncertain in their steps.
By the way, is there an Economic Team? Who are the members? The President has left the country guessing. So, our guess has been that the VP, CBN Governor, Ministers of Finance and Budget Planning; possibly the DG, Debt Management Office; and a few other Presidency officials and Special Advisers and or Assistants constitute the official Economic Team. No one should expect that state governors would have the time to commit full blast to the National Economic Council; neither should we expect Ministers, DGs and others who have other statutory assignments to take care of. So, the team is amorphous as it is. The job appears to be everyone’s job which ends up being no one’s job. Has it been deliberately structured this way so it may fail? Is this a ploy to make for the continued relevance of influence peddlers and unofficial economic advisers around the President? Is it also true what we hear that this government is opposed to a bi-partisan approach to tackling “this depression”?
And that it must be the duty of the APC-led government alone so that the impression is not created that they are not on top of the problem? That under no condition should be independent-minded persons be allowed to meddle in what is now seen as purely the “family affairs” of APC? I dare to say that, this way, we can only sink deeper in the miry clay. All promises that we will exit depression by the fourth quarter of this year will, in the end, turn mere cold comfort. When we are dangerously close to the timelines set for depression exit (DEPREXIT) and nothing is happening, they will shift the goal post! We have suffered that again and again in this country. Can the VP please name those working with him on the economy? We need to know so we can examine their credentials – and also hold them accountable. Proffered solutions must be openly traded before they become policies. There is too much monkey business about the way the economy is being handled at the moment.
All hands must be on the deck for us to exit depression. Government policies must be clearly discernible and consistent; not ‘ban this today, unban it tomorrow, ban it again the next day’ ad nauseam. Fiscal and monetary policies must align and reinforce one another and not work at cross-purposes. The CBN appears too fussy about protecting its assumed turf while government is too flustered to mount a challenge. The three tiers of government must work as congruent; everyone for himself and God for us all will move us nowhere near DEPREXIT soon. At no other time since the Civil War has this country been this divisive as well as frustrated with the leadership. The Buhari Presidency has neither been the rallying point nationwide that it ought to be nor has it provided the effective leadership that the times demand. My final question to Osinbajo: This government, if it got nothing positive at all from previous governments as it has shouted from rooftops, got a peaceful or quietened Niger Delta handed over to it; who frittered that peace?
The late President Umaru Yar’Adua, a deep and thoughtful thinker, no doubt, assiduously cobbled together peace in a region whose restiveness had blighted previous military and civilian administrations – but within weeks of coming into office, this administration squandered that peace and brought back Niger Delta militancy, which in turn has brought “this depression” (Osinbajo’s words quoted above). If renewed Niger Delta militancy is what has brought “this depression”, then, the APC\Buhari administration is to be held responsible for on-going unimaginable and unpardonable suffering of Nigerians.
What we lose in revenue in just one day as a result: “over one million barrels of crude oil on a daily basis” (again, Osinbajo’s words) multiplied by the cost of crude oil per barrel on the international market is more than all the advertised cash\property recovered by the anti-corruption agencies plus the garrulous posturing and international junketing of this administration in search of elusive FDI. Kobo wise, Naira foolish! Whereas I pity Osinbajo – suddenly, he is grey hair all over and looks older than his actual age – it gets easier by the day to scapegoat and sacrifice him on account of his perceived but orchestrated (mis)handling of the economy.
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