Friday, September 9, 2016

Nigeria At An Economic Crossroads

By Ndubuisi Ukah
To say that Nigerians are economically hurting at this moment is no exaggeration; to state that most Nigerians have never had it this economically difficult in their lifetime is not an overstatement; the fact that most Nigerians are out of work and go to bed hungry now is no longer news. The pains are palpable in the voices and faces of everyday Nigerians on the streets and in the work and market places across the land – driven by the current economic recession. And while it’s luring to heap the blame squarely at the doorsteps of fallen crude oil prices, it would be best to put the blame to where it rightly belongs – on our visionless and prodigal leadership class, who instead of building the nation’s future by responsibly planning ahead for times like these, irresponsibly chose to build and nurture an unprecedented corruption industrial complex.


What we are experiencing right now in the country is a practical realisation of the age-long saying that “he who fails to plan, plans to fail”. For decades, the leadership class rather than engaging in the patriotic act of nation-building, has spent most of their time perfecting the shameful act of betrayal of public trust by repeatedly engaging in massive looting of our “easy-to-come” petro dollars, at the callous expense of everyday Nigerians. Stories abound of looting in the billions of dollars of monies earmarked for road construction, Niger Delta development, power rehabilitation, refineries turn-around maintenance, and fight against Boko Haram even as innocent Nigerians, women and children were being raped, abducted and killed by the Boko Haram renegades, etcetera. As such, in the light of the above and other several well-documented gross mismanagement of our national wealth by an irresponsible, greedy and visionless political class, it’s unfortunately, fair to conclude that the current economic recession has been a long time coming.
It’s also fair to acknowledge that all of these frustrations led to the CHANGE vote by the Nigerian people in the last election. The election was simply aimed at making a statement against impunity and business as-usual.
While the current administration has recorded some success in the areas of reducing corruption in public service and curbing the free reign of Boko Haram in the Northeastern part of the country, it’s clear to any objective observer that not much has been done to instill needed confidence in the economy, especially by way of sound fiscal and monetary policies. There doesn’t seem to be a steady hand in-charge of the economy at this time and this doesn’t bode well for the administration after 15 months of coming to power. 
All one hears most of the times on the pages of newspapers are platitudes and pockets of incoherent and reactionary interventions by the apex bank. It is well known that nothing hurts an economy and scares investors and the business community during an economic recession more than equivocation and non-steady economic steering hands. Considering that recessions are not uncommon in nations’ economic lives, one tends to believe that what our economy is suffering more from right now is not simply the recession, but the feeling of hopelessness in the recession. A time as serious as this calls for decisive economic leadership and clarity of direction.
Mr. President, if I were you, I’ll be on national television engaging in question and answer sessions as often as possible, explaining the present economic problem and possible solutions in very simple and clear terms to the Nigerian people. You owe it to them and they rightfully deserve it. The Nigerian people are hurting so much right now and they don’t seem to get the sense that someone is caring, listening and doing something to alleviate their sufferings.
The Nigerian people are a smart people; they get the fact that the problem did not emanate with this administration, but they also understand that things could really get worse if nothing urgent and serious is done right now by the administration to stem this ugly tide.
Mr. President, there has to be that sense of the fierce urgency of now on the economy, just like you’ve demonstrated in the fight against Boko Haram and corruption. This time calls for you to seek help from the best Nigerian economic experts wherever you can find them.

Mr. President, now is the time for you to talk to the Nigerian people directly and not via tweets by some aide; you have to be seen instilling hope by directly engaging the Nigerian people on your policy solutions to this very serious economic problem. Now is not the time for you to just listen to one “trusted” aide and sublet decision making to him or her; this time you must listen to all aides and then make decisions in the best interest of the country, bearing in mind that this is your administration and only your name gets attached to any successes or failures of the administration. Now is the time for our time-wasting and financially-draining federal legislature to earn their bloated salaries and allowances by rolling up their sleeves and getting to work for the suffering Nigerian people.
Now is the time for the president to step into the communities and engage with parents who have been left behind by the Nigerian economy even before the recession, and who are now forced to watch their children go to bed hungry and in some cases, die because of skyrocketing costs of food and healthcare. They need to hear directly from the president that things will get better at some point. Now is the time for the president to engage directly with our unemployed graduates.
Now is the time for the president to step out and speak directly to our senior citizens, who after giving decades of their lives in service of country still regularly collapse and die in long queues in an endless wait for pensions and gratuity that never come, simply because their fellow citizens in power conspired and decided to embezzle funds that were budgeted for paying them.

Mr. President, while this is an undoubtedly difficult time for your administration, our country and its citizens, it also provides a golden opportunity for you to separate yourself from the pack of presidents; this time provides a rare opportunity for you to leave your name in the sands of our nation’s annals as the president who led us out of a serious recession and spread economic prosperity across the land. This time provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to re-shape and irreversibly position Nigeria on a path of economic progress so that when historians, our children and our children’s children look back at this moment 50 years from now, it will be told that you were the president that beat back the worst economic recession of our life time, the worst national security threat of our life time – Boko Haram – and an all-time high corruption in our nation’s public service.
Dr. Ukah writes from the United States.


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