NIGERIA IN ECONOMIC WAR WITHOUT A GENERAL.
“We are faced with a challenge that no government in the history of Nigeria has ever faced. So, we have to redesign our economic planning and change our thinking.” Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, VANGUARD, March 3, 2020.
Professor Osinbajo was speaking as the Chair of the Economic Sustainabilty Committee, ESC, set up by President Buhari early in the week. On the same day, the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on the review of the Impact of the virus on the Economy, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, was also addressing the nation with respect to her committee’s assignment. Permit me to clap with one hand for reasons which need to be explained to be fully understood.
On one hand, it is commendable that General Buhari (rtd) and indisputably tired, is just in April setting up committees to examine grave matters of national interest which other more pro-active global leaders have faced once COVID-19 hit China – the second largest economy in the world and increasingly the source of numerous imports for other countries. Despite the fact that China is half a world away from us, within the context of the global village, that Asian giant is actually closer to us than the Republic of Benin. An old sage has warned others before us. “When your neighbour’s wall is on fire, it becomes your business”. (Horace 65-8B.C, VBQ P 171). COVID-19 set China aflame. Then it moved to Europe, Asia and finally America weeks ago. Those are our economic neighbours. We are just now setting up the committees to address the imminent economic catastrophe. One must clap with one hand based on the principle of “better late than never”. Perhaps now, we might escape total economic, political and physical annihilation as a nation. I doubt it.
The other hand is down for cardinal reasons which are inextricably linked like Siamese quadruplets. One, Nigerian governments’ committees, from time immemorial, are notorious for making recommendations which are riddled with compromises and which are consequently useless. Cast your mind back to all the Committees on Health, Education, Agriculture etc. Nothing suggests these two committees will produce a different result.
Two, it is unclear why there are two committees instead of one. Globally, at the moment, no nation is considering these two unprecedented challenges as separate issues. A predicted mild global recession for 2020 has now escalated into a possible depression, as well as a fundamental revolution in global business. Furthermore, the threat of a possible rebound of COVID-19 lurks in the background calling into question when, or if, whole sectors of global economy might recover eg airlines, tourism and cruise ships for years.
At any rate, the two committees give cause for concern for three other reasons. First, Buhari’s penchant for selecting the VP or a Minister to head a committee despite the person’s demonstrable lack of competence in the core subject matter. Osinbajo was the Chairman of the Economic Management Team, EMT, for four years and we knew how far that team got us. As a Professor of Law, he is undoubtedly extremely intelligent. But, Albert Einstein, , regarded as the person with the highest Intelligence Quotient, IQ, ever is on record for saying that “I gave up reading Economics because it was too difficult”. It is doubtful if I could have been a great lawyer or nuclear scientist also.
Similarly, the Finance Minister is straddling two disciplines – public health and macro-economic analysis and recommendations. She lacks the capacity to function as an expert in each of them. We have the wrong two team captains.
There is a clear and present danger that, given areas of overlap in their assignments, the committees might come up with different recommendations on the same issue. Reconciliation of divergent views will take more time than we can afford right now. Anarchy is fervently knocking at our gates nationwide.
Right now, global crude oil producers have now been boxed into a corner for reasons too numerous to explain here. Nigeria in particular is in a deep hole from which it will be difficult to crawl out. To get out of their own recession, consumers need cheap oil — the cheaper, the better. Nigeria will be ruined if it sells at less than $40 per barrel for a long time. Most of our external loans and domestic debts were based on the assumption that we might never get as low as that. Now, $30 appears like a price we would be too happy to get. The despairing question is: what do we do now? We have never thought of it. We must NOW.
Every war fought by every country, since time immemorial, requires a General – a vigorous leader who is conversant with several aspects of the struggles and who can delegate but not abdicate his ultimate responsibilities. He must, above all, be a spell-binding speaker whose words can lift the morale of the people – even when the tide of battle is against them. Where is our General for this monumental fight for our lives? Because, the current global catastrophe had been frequently likened to the Second World War, WWII, permit me to bring into this discussion, the role of three leaders during that war and how by sheer oratory they got their people to rise to the occasion, make the sacrifices needed and to overcome adversity. It has been so down the ages.
“Words can achieve all that an enemy can hope to achieve. “
Euripides, 480-450 BC. VBQ P 282
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drugs used by mankind.”
Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936, VBQ P 282
Franklin D Roosevelt, , US President, was confronted with an economic depression at home and war abroad. He merged the two. Measures were introduced with bewildering rapidity by his government. He united the country behind him. But, above all, he institutionalised the “Fire Side Chats” during which at regular intervals, he talked to the American people – like a Father. Repeatedly he told Americans “the only thing we need to fear is fear itself.”
Sir Winston Churchill, , was the dean of the orators – a position he shared with Adolf Hitler on the other side. When Germany had Britain down on her knees Churchill defiantly announced. “We shall fight ……
Hitler, on his own part kept Germans fighting at least eighteen months longer than they could have done without his morale-boosting exhortations. Just as important as battalions, aircrafts, naval ships etc, WWII was also a war of words uttered by leaders seen on television everyday with well-scripted messages.
By contrast, Nigeria has a leader with a bunker mentality. He emerges reluctantly to address the nation without energy or conviction; no fire. The monotony of delivery will make a statute weep. It will amount to self-deception of the worst kind to assume we can make headway with such a leader in the war ahead. The committees can end up with excellent recommendations – accompanied with great implementation plans and timelines. But, they cannot escape asking Nigerians to make more sacrifices. Only a great speaker can enlist that sort of support now or ever – especially after the leader himself had openly failed to make the sacrifices he will demand later (medical trips abroad and eight aircrafts in the fleet; one for daughter) of the people.
Finally, why set up new committees instead of asking the Economic Advisory Council to expand its work to include the impact of COVID-19 on the economy?