Economic Mismanagement and a Bag of Rice
By Undung Pam
Much as I appreciate what the media has done by publicising the speech delivered by Dr Oby Ezekwesili at the Inaugural Business Lecture of the Lagos Country Club, I am still not quite certain about what that speech hoped to achieve. You see, Dr Ezekwesili did a fine job of detailing the current issues in the country, she even took it a step further by saying the problem did not begin with President Buhari’s government, but had been brewing when Goodluck Jonathan was in office. The former minister explained how bad policies had led to this downward spiral we now call ‘recession’.
Donning her advocacy cap, she called on the citizenry to ‘convict’ the government to retrace its steps and to sit up. At that point, I knew that this speech was a dud. I must hand it to her though that she is a great communicator. Anyone who is able to analyse their audience and feed them what they want to hear is great, really. I mean, delivered in Lagos Country Club, I’m sure she would have received a rousing ovation. But, take that same speech to the market place, to the homes of those who have lost their jobs, to the pockets of those who have yet to receive their salaries and they would ask, “how does this speech affect the cost of a bag of rice?” When Jonathan was president, how much was a bag of rice?
Not too long ago, there was an odd sort of ‘campaign’ that took social media by storm in Nigeria. It was a #BringBackOurCorruption campaign. As painful as it was and still is to read those words, they were emblematic of the mindset of most people at the time. So, you say the problems started with Jonathan? The average individual would tell you that at least they were able to feed, take care of their families and maintain a reasonable lifestyle. This wasn’t so much an advocacy for corruption, it was more of a pun. If you say Jonathan was bad and corrupt but things were reasonably better for the average individual, then bring back the so-called corruption. It was that simple. When you think of it, nothing makes much sense to a hungry man. But when he is fed, when he has something to go home to at the end of the day, and a reason to rise early and the start of the next day, then you can have some support for your crusade.
On the matter of her allegations that the economy was mismanaged or defunct, need we be reminded that when Jonathan was president people got paid, they could eat, the economy grew at 4 percent, and inflation was at 9 percent? Beyond that, the Nigerian youth graduated with high hopes for jobs as a result of the GIS Scheme and the support of private companies that were springing up everywhere. Those who had decided to be entrepreneurs also got the support of the same government through the YouWIN Initiative. Even as oil prices fell and then finance minister, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, recommended belt-tightening measures, it was clear that the government was not prepared to have the poor suffer more at the expense of the rich. If that indeed was mismanagement, then we may very well declare that this present government has sent our economy on a suicide mission from which there is very little hope of return.
Looking at the figures Dr Ezekwesili presented at her speech, it is certainly true that the growth percentage dropped, but with active management the economic team managed to keep the economy on positive growth path. What do we have now? An abdication of economic management. The government clearly has decided to ‘wing it’. Even former president Obasanjo, under whom Ezekwesili herself served, advised them to focus their energies on more productive concerns and stop the blame game. Nigerians are not deceived. The actions of the current Administration clearly show their ineptitude and absolute lack of intellectual content.
The former Minister of Education also noted that both governments; the present and immediate past, failed to adopt the right policies to deal with the crash in crude oil prices, which began in mid-2014. How is she any different from the current government she is so eager to accuse? When you relish pin-pointing problems without proffering any cogent or actionable solution, you are ineffectually saying that you don’t know the answers. And if you don’t know the answers, could you try and give us a breather? We have been on this ‘whodunnit’ merry-go-round for far too long. When are we going to stop saying who did what, or who should have done what and actually get something done? If Mrs Ezekwesili has answers, she may as well start spitting them out. And by answers, I mean something more than a clamour to begin another advocacy group.
The way I see it, we will need more than a #BringBackOurEconomy hashtag to get back what we have lost.
Undung Pam is a social commentator contributing from Jos, Plateau State.