FACT: We are ‘technically’ in a recession.
FACT-CHECK: Kemi informed us that Buhari’s administration inherited the biggest economy in Africa
REALITY-CHECK: The Buhari administration have plunged that economy down the abyss of recession.
Call the first two assertions a contradiction, you may be right, refer to them as metaphors, your may not be far from the truth. They may even be hyperbole, who knows, this government is used to poking fun at serious issues. It’s no more news that we are in a recession. The minister of finance has informed us that we are ‘technically’ in a recession. What does it mean; our economy is contracting. Imagine a child that is suffering from kwashiorkor, instead of growing, the child is depreciating because such a child lacks adequate nourishment. Our economy is suffering economic kwashiorkor. You do not need to be an expert neither do you need to be in the opposition nor dislike the president to know that we will be here approximately one year after May 29th 2019. However, the administration has spent its first year in office heaping blame at the doorstep of the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency accusing that administration of profligacy, monumental corruption, battering our image home and abroad, recklessness and mismanagement and if care is not taken; they might have blamed him for the fall in oil prices too.
Sometime in 2014, I carried out a research on energy outlook for Saudi Arabia. In the process, I learned about shale gas and how the US was harnessing that alternative source of oil to orchestrated significant changes to global oil supply by depending on local production to shore up imports. I learned that the US could even overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil exporter.While the predicted year for this paradigm shift was 2017, some believed it would happen earlier while others thought it was a myth. I would classify Buhari and his team to belong to the later group or perhaps ignorant of such knowledge that was in public domain. The signs started to emerge with the US lifting embargo on oil exportation and shale gas oil production rigs increasingly dotting the US landscape with positive impact on local US crude oil production. It was not rocket science to know that the fall in oil price was good for Western countries which are the major consumers of oil from Organisation of Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC) which Nigeria is an active member. All they needed was some alternatives like shale gas and Tesla, the electricity car producer and oil prices will plunge. Given the recession which has hammered their economies in the past few years, countries like the US, needed some relief for their economies to rebound completely from the 2008 Great Recession. A presidential aspirant in an OPEC country should have a clear strategy to counter such inevitable future which portends negative outcomes for his or her home country.
During the elections in Nigeria, Buhari didn’t have any visible economic team. Who knows, he did have some invisible squad which the physical eyes cannot behold. I want to believe so because the Minister of Information, Lai Muhammad recently asked Nigerians to look ‘closely’ if they wanted to see Buhari’s economic plan which ordinarily should be very obvious, well documented and available in soft and hard copies. The president won the elections based on the promise to wage war on corruption, bring security for Nigerians against the rampaging Boko Haram terrorist, revitalize the power sector and create employment for the teeming Nigerian youth as reflected in his inaugural address. While this is not a comprehensive assessment of the Buhari’s presidency, I want to categorically state that the outcomes we have today are not strange. Any person who has observed the Nigerian polity since May 29th, 2015 should have the inkling that we were heading for a cul-de-sac. Funny as it may seem, the first few weeks of this administration, there were improvements in areas such as power and petroleum products availability, given the narrative from the presidency and APC which demonized everything about 2011-2015, they coined a term known as the ‘body language’ of Buhari which was attributed with the magical powers of keeping everything in good shape and working well as expected. Those who felt concerned shouted themselves hoarse that such a ridiculous attribution spelt doom in the near future.
Then the president started his foreign trips with the fleet of presidential jets that he had condemned when his predecessor used them. According to his aides, he was up and about, flying up and down from one country to another, repairing our battered image. Whenever he came back, his senior media aide released a press statement which he started with ‘take away’ from our dear president visit to the US, France, and many other countries he visited. Soon after, he was airborne again and trust Nigerians, they nicknamed him the ‘flying president’, ‘ajala the traveller’ and many others monikers which the Nigerian people found amusing and a way to ease the pressures of the economy which was gathering momentum. Either the president on his visits was soliciting for funds, to buy arms or he was negotiating with creditors to lend us some money. Back home in Nigeria, there was no political leadership, he had faith in civil servants, the permanent secretaries whose traditional, conventional and appropriate role in public service is administration and management; strategic management and development of the president’s and his party’s polices which these civil servants are not in a position to carry out were left to them. They are not supposed to be partisan but to serve any government that emerged; they were made to become political leaders in their various ministries against best practices and expectations.
It took President Buhari six months to appoint his ministers; even at that, there was no comprehensive economic plan, there were no economic advisers, our president in all his numerous foreign trips did not embark on one trip which was largely economy stimulating without incurring debts. He went to China to ask for $2 billion loan instead of to seek long term Chinese investments in terms of industry and partnerships. The railway which he renegotiated predated his presidency and was almost at completion. I would not want to dwell much on the innuendos of Buhari because that would fill a book which anyone can title, “how to destroy an economy in one year”. The Naira was defended like an eagle guards its offsprings, our president told us often that he was waiting for people to convince him to implement well articulated policies to make the Naira market friendly, that was a president who contested for 12 years before clinching the highest office of the land without any idea on what to do about our Naira. Investor’s funds were trapped in Nigeria, they couldn’t repatriate their funds, and a policy that is not favourable could see their investments tumble in value so those who wanted to come and invest kept their distance. Those who were already here sought for ways to leave before it got worse. Investors wouldn’t know at what exact value they are transacting and what happens when they came into Nigeria and this means an exit strategy was not clear. No sane foreign investor ventures a foreign direct investment (FDI) recipient country without a well articulated and clear exit strategy.
Let’s move on. The lamentations won’t save the situation. However, let’s juxtapose Buhari’s approach to governance with that of Theresa May, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Imagine Theresa May became Prime Minister and spent one year lamenting and bemoaning the Brexit and apportioning blame to David Cameron for not working hard enough to keep UK in the European Union within her first year. Imagine there was there was no stimuli for the UK economy, no serious economic plan to counter the consequences of the plummeting pound which hit its lowest ebb in 30 years. Imagine she delayed appointment of her ministers to six months after being named Prime Minister and then allow the economy to go on autopilot for one year while travelling the world to talk to friends of Britain without any concrete plans to sustain the economy. Within that period she would just dish out the funds she met in the treasury and trigger Scotland to reignite their secession bid creating divisions and resents. What do you think would happen to the UK economy after one year? If you can answer that, then look ‘closely’ as suggested by Lai Muhammad so that you see what happened to Nigeria between the periods of May 2015- May 2016?
After suffering similar fate with Nigeria, Britain boosted its economy because the new government is pragmatic and visionary. Businesses were in trouble, what did the Prime Minister do, instead of bemoaning the Brexit, she faced the economy squarely, appointed all the relevant minsters and ensured there were stimuli for the economy and the tide turned in a few weeks after the Brexit. Last week, the UK attracted $32 billion investment in a takeover of a company by Japanese investors. May’s ministers are moving around assuring friends and allies that they are on top of the situation. The foreign minister of UK met with his US counterpart and briefed the press. It was after addressing the economy and internal matters that ‘Mother’ Theresa started travelling to the EU to meet Germany, France and other influential EU countries to negotiate and lament Brexit. What was the approach here, the exact opposite, the economy was abandoned and what we did for one year was corruption war and blaming the past administration, Naira policy was on pause for over year without any market-friendly policy. Buhari was visiting countries not to attract investment but to bash the Jonathan’s administration, borrow money and buy arms. He didn’t move around with our business community to attract and negotiate deals. I remember Buhari embarassing a business mogul, because he dared to smuggle his way into Buhari’s entourage and use Buhari’s image presumably as the president to woo investors. It was just a matter of time before we arrived here today. If you know anything about management, you would know that any business left for one year on autopilot will not remain the same. And the most probable outcome is depreciation instead of appreciation.
Ask me the major factor behind the recession; I would answer President Muhammadu Buhari, not the fall in oil prices. He can go on blaming the past government for not saving enough for him to come and plunder and become a lazy president, his actions and inaction in the past one year is enough to wreck any economy – US, UK, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Chile, Canada, Switzerland- just name any country. There is no country that his undefined approach to governance which defies commonsense and does not follow any theory or model of free market economy that will survive Buhari in the past one year. In the near future, people in democracies may tell their citizens, “don’t elect a ‘Buhari’ for us”, if we find ourselves in 2019 with the status quo.
I admire our minister of finance because she is physically attractive, I like her, she is beautiful and has a very infectious British accent, however, as we speak, our economy has defied her beauty and is instead getting uglier by the day. I would not blame her entirely because it takes a commander-in-chief to set out his vision for the economy, get his economic team to set out the economic plan and then work with the minister of finance who should be a member of the economic team to achieve the mission set out in detailed policy directives.
I hope the president realizes that he is the trouble with Nigeria as one foreigner commentator said the other time; ‘Buhari is Nigeria’s problem, not its solution’. I hope the president can make amends soonest; Nigerians need some reprieve from their contracting economy. Our economy requires some combination of therapy from a team of doctors led by the chief medical officer, in this case President Dr. Buhari to help our economy recover from this economic kwashiorkor.