We seem to be a highly distracted nation which lays emphasis on the routine and mundane whilst refusing to pay great attention to the fundamentals that make life worth living. While it is understood that democratic institutions need to be built and strengthened, the people need to be alive, earn a living to pay their bills in a currency that is worth its name as a store of value. Issues about the rule of law, fighting corruption, democratic consolidation among others, are as important as attention to the economy and the living conditions of the majority who are impoverished.
The country has been through a “One week one trouble” kind of scenario. If it is not the Department of State Services arresting judges in the middle of the night which led to an uproar and consuming national debate, it is the altercation between the President and his wife. If it is not about budget padding, it will be about charging presiding officers of the legislature to court for offences bordering on the political disagreements in the ruling party and withdrawing the charges after a few court sittings. The earlier drama was about refusing to appoint ministers until six months into the new regime and labelling them as of no use to the administration even before they were appointed. There have been arrests upon arrests of former public office holders and re-arresting those on bail without any serious movement in the trial of the cases of those already charged to court. Sensational stories of billions upon billions of naira recovered and found in the homes and offices of suspects but everyone knows that these remain at the level of stories; media trial of those in court or yet to be charged, etc. If so much has been recovered, why are we unable to fund the 2017 federal budget?
The whole action and inaction of government and its key officials in recent time look like deliberately orchestrated sensationalism to keep the attention of the people away from the ravaging economic governance challenges so that they would be perpetually engaged discussing virtual inanities. The Federal Government seems to be operating with a junta mentality. Yes, a junta that overthrows an elected government in a coup usually focuses most of its time justifying the coup. This can only be done by making the former government look so bad in the public eye. The strategy is clear; if the people are to focus on the economic hardship and challenges, the government will be in serious trouble and will find it hard to explain to citizens what it is doing with the time and other resources entrusted to it, in terms of improving livelihoods, economic productivity and the rating of Nigeria in the comity of nations. The economy bleeds and the government, beyond general statements and comments devoid of specificity shows no concern about it and to buttress its lack of interest, it refuses to come forth with a coherent strategy and plan to get Nigeria out of the woods.
Many companies including foreign airlines have started voting with their feet and are leaving. The naira has taken a terrible battering; inflation and unemployment are at an all-time high whilst the rhetoric from government is about what they plan to do rather than what they are doing. The major highlights of the rhetoric are about sources of getting new loans, the Chinese currency swap which made headlines and thereafter came to nothing and recently, testing the waters by flying a kite to sell quality national assets. There is no surefootedness rather, all the talks are tentative, lacking in boldness and courage that stems out of knowledge and quality evidence-led analysis.
It is either the Buhari administration is prepared to govern, to rescue Nigeria out of the current economic mess or it vacates the hot seat. The kitchen is not a place for dishing our excuses. It is hot and those not ready to take the heat have no business in the kitchen. It is a place to prepare food which is the vital energy for life. Whoever requests and is given a position to tend to the kitchen on behalf of millions of Nigerians must be ready to deliver on this mandate. Apologies will not do. The government also has the option of getting more competent hands to help salvage the already dire economic situation. The ruling party has so many great minds that have been left out of the loop. For instance, why is a Prof. Pat Utomi, with all his incredible knowledge, an outsider to this government? This is just to mention a card-carrying member of the ruling party and more names outside of the ruling party can be mentioned.
Evidently, the government is allowing politics to trump economic governance and this is bad for our society. The arrogance of not knowing what to do and yet refusing to get on board those who know and have the experience will only make sense if the President and his team were dealing with their personal affairs. But holding the fate of over 170 million people and treating it with levity is unacceptable in a constitutional democracy.
The people and the media seem glued to the trick of distraction. The fact that the Medium Term Expenditure Framework 2017-2019 has been sent by the President to the National Assembly awaiting approval is no great news for our focus. The interrogation is almost non-existent and very soon, the legislature will do the usual ritual and approve of the same. But it is imperative for the civil society and private sector to get more serious with their engagement of economic policy and the management of the economy. Civil society engagement should be more encompassing than the engagement by the NGOs. We need the professional associations, the media, academia, among others to begin to engage the economy from a knowledge-based perspective. The private sector should also engage from the bigger picture which is beyond their sectoral interests so that the agitation for an improved economic environment gets stronger.
This engagement should proceed on some fundamental principles. The principles should include prudent management of our resources which emphasises building the Nigerian economy through the deployment and use of resources including human and technological. It should also focus on the practical implementation of the buy Made in Nigeria campaign. The scarcity of foreign exchange should be an opportunity to challenge Nigeria’s human resources to come up with local replacements of the materials being hitherto imported. It is not about lamentation by the authorities such as the one the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, was doing the other day about the non-implementation of the automobile policy. Pray; who will implement the policy if the minister is engaged in lamentation, talking like someone out of government whilst it was his duty to implement the same.
The engagement should focus on policy coherence which coordinates all economic renewal efforts. It should focus on accepting certain levels of present hardship and forbearing ostentatious consumption as a sacrifice for our tomorrow. We need to stop the distractions and focus on the real issues of development; reduce the politicking and position the economy in its prime position.
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