OPINION: What is President Buhari doing with the economy? Garba Shehu writes
In the face of the recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics that the economy is in recession, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, wrote this article explaining what President Buhari is doing with the economy. Read below:
LET me start by asking an important question: who wants to kill racy introspection?xxx There is a cacophony of voices telling the Muhammadu Buhari administration to close its eyes to the past; that given the enormous tasks that lie ahead, history and its consequences for our nation should be the least of the government’s preoccupation at this juncture.
I disagree. Let us keep a fiery memory of the past so that we don’t repeat its mistakes. Look back, look ahead. The future must of necessity be built on the foundations of the past.xx The Conservative Party took power in Britain six years ago from Labour. Check the British press, they are talking about Labour 24/7, is anyone complaining?
Japheth Omojuwa, one of Nigeria’s top three influencers seemed tasked in his patience reacting to calls that we must stop talking about the immediate past administration in this country.
“People are still talking about who ran governments in 1865 you want us to forget those who left government last year? (Expletive)”
Music icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who many agree was a philosopher disguised as Afro-musician taught in one of his songs that without knowing where you are coming from, you won’t know where you are going. Wise men say that the empty can doesn’t disappear by simply kicking it down the road.
To avoid repeating the past mistakes, Nigerians must come to terms with what went wrong with the past, how bad were things, what was done wrongly, what the past government should have done, before we come to what needs to be done to right those wrongs. Believe me, episodes from the Jonathan era can fill books, and other possibilities such as courtroom drama thriller. Against this backdrop, I sought to hear our erudite Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun on where we are coming from, vis-a-vis the administration’s chosen path to recovery and accelerated growth. What is the administration doing to revitalize the economy? She spoke at length on the many measures being put in place, many of which are not glamorous. They of necessity come with pain. Why should Nigerians be asked to endure pains? Why should they be asked to make adjustments?
The simple explanation is that the economy was broken, and just as they do the broken leg, you must bear the pain of fixing it. The current situation was caused by years of mismanagement and corruption. As explained by President Buhari again and again, trumpeted by Madam Adeosun and other senior officials, we solely relied on oil, the price of which was as high as US$140 per barrel. Government simply reticulated oil revenue through personal spending by corrupt leaders, wasteful expenses and salaries. This was done rather than investing in what would grow the economy. Economies grow due to capital investment in assets like seaports, airports, power plants, railways, roads and housing. Nigeria has not recorded a single major infrastructural project in the last 10 years. In short the money was mismanaged.
In addition to failing to spend money on what was needed, no savings were made by Government unlike other countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Norway. To compound the problem, the previous government was borrowing heavily and owed contractors, and international oil companies. When this government took over we had accumulated debt back to the level it was before the Paris Club Debt Forgiveness.
All these factors were building up to Nigeria heading for a major crisis if the price of oil fell. Nigeria did not have fiscal buffers to withstand an oil shock.
The oil shock should and could have been foreseen. These are matters that both the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II and Professor Chukwuma Soludo, both of them eminent former Central Bank Governors had occasions to warn the government of the day about, but they were clobbered. The dire warning was written all over the wall, but they were ignored by Nigeria’s economic managers.
What should they have done?
They should have had the courage and vision to do as the present administration is doing through the Economic Team, the Ministry of Finance under Madam Adeosun and the various agencies of the state to envision a better future by first of all fighting corruption. Look at what a civilian administration is today doing to the military, investigating their finance and accounts that the military could not do to themselves.
See what the current administration is doing sanitize the huge salary bill by eliminating payroll fraud. So far, the federal payroll has been rid of about 40,000 ghost workers. More than eight billion Naira stolen monthly has been saved.
We are also saving on wasteful expenses like First Class Travel and Private jets for official trips.
The federal government is not limiting the reforms to the centre but forcing State Governments to reform their spending and build savings or investments.
Government is also increasing spending on capital projects especially on infrastructure needed to make Nigerian businesses competitive and create jobs. The administration is at the same time blocking leakages that allowed government revenues to be siphoned into private hands.
Currently, there is focus on key sectors (apart from oil) that can create jobs and or generate revenue such as Agriculture, Solid Minerals and Manufacturing. If these things had been done when the oil price was as high as US$140 per barrel, Nigeria would not be in the current predicament. We would not be suffering now if we had no cash reserves but we had regular supply of power, a good rail system, good roads and good housing.
Now that the oil has fallen as low as US$28 per barrel, it is very difficult to do what is needed but they must be done to save Nigeria. There is no other way if we want to be honest.