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Tinubu’s first weeks: Killing ‘em softly?

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We shall be towing the tacit wisdom in the thinker’s truism that the greatness of a nation is not so much in the great deposit of its natural resources, but in how it treats its workers, the ordinary, productive, taxable legion of its citizens.

One of the most instructive moments for me was the statement uttered by the usually cerebral and putative intellectual who happens to be a former colleague in the print media business, the editor of business titles of Nigeria’s biggest publications, including being appointed the Chief Economist at Zenith Bank Plc a few years ago. Marcel Okeke was a guest on my radio programme two Saturdays ago (on TopRadio 90.9 FM) wherein he raised many red flags to underline the disturbing actions and fiscal policies of the new Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration which would not augur well for the well-being of ordinary Nigerians. He also insisted that the downward trajectory precipitated by Tinubu’s recent economic pronouncements was ‘irreversible’!

His final words were ominous and sobering; he admitted he was close to tears merely talking about the matter, and thinking of the inevitable outcomes for the majority of Nigerians…the turmoil and trauma the nation’s poor would have to undergo in plodding through the Tinubu years. Yet, we had only spent less than 30 days!

Many Nigerians have been taken aback not merely by the audacity of the Tinubu presidency to animate vigorously the national ‘tension’ nerves when it declared “Oil Subsidy is Gone!” – almost triumphantly, on his first day on the saddle – but also the flagrant admittance and seeming negligent shrug that there were no palliative measures on ground or in the pipeline to immediately mitigate, to some extent, the expected Machiavellian tendencies of Nigerian marketers, distributors, producers and drivers of the different segments of our consumptive economies.

Of course, as soon as the new president dropped his prepared speech on 29th May 2023, pump price of petrol jumped maniacally from N185 per litre, at the very worst, to excess of N500! It didn’t take long for the ordinary folks to feel the “high impact” of the new Sheriff. Expectedly, other areas of common interactions – transportation, staple foods, buying and selling, goods and services, etc – have taken a cue, and jumped out of the immediate reach of most Nigerians.

Some Nigerians have clamoured for a business-minded president – one who knows the intricacies of moving and using money and resources to serve and prosper the owner through lucrative and enduring projects and proposals. Now, you have one whose claim to proficiency was through the big American oil business as espoused by the behemoth called Exxon Mobil corporation.

Unfortunately, big money movers and players do not usually worry about the debilitating effects of making profits on the exploited communities. All eyes are unscrupulously fixed on the bottom line, and tokenism called corporate service responsibility could be arranged to calm nerves of complaining groups or a disquiet environment.

To keen watchers of the polity, there seems to be a fresh fear that we now have a president who prioritises economic gains and corporate prosperity over and above other ‘base’ considerations which apparently can slow down the march of commerce and industry. In quick succession, the president floated the Naira, and cancelled the fraud-prone parallel forex market; thereby letting the Naira rumble with other foreign currencies in a free market tradition of the capitalist ideology.

Knowledgeable people in economic affairs and equitable governance are worried that the majority of Nigerians would be gravely impacted by consequences of what appear like the new government knee-jerk measures to arrest what has been  a largely spiralling mess bequeathed by nonplussed predecessors. They are worried that the demise of the working class is near – and the attendant socio-political upheavals this may engender.

In a well-argued article of 15th June, 2023 titled “Floating Naira: Death knell for Nigerian Economy?”, Okeke brilliantly encapsulates the current Nigerian challenge into what we can describe as a tripartite mix of unpalatably harsh but inevitable countermeasures inelegantly administered.

First, he laments the cul-de-sac we found ourselves before the advent of this administration: “As a country, Nigeria has been largely import-dependent: a large proportion of the citizenry having preference for foreign goods and services; factories importing machineries and raw materials; Nigerians in their numbers going for foreign degrees and certifications and paying in hard currencies, etc. This reality and preferences exist side-by-side with scarcity of dollars and other foreign currencies over the years. The country has largely been a mono-product economy – depending almost entirely on earnings from crude oil export. No substantial foreign exchange inflow from the export of non-oil items. Indeed, successive administrations had in reality paid only lip service to ‘effective diversification’ of the national economy…”

Then, the straight-shooting economist highlights the dilemmas of the current managers of our economy: “Arbitrary fixing of the exchange rate (especially Naira to dollar) and multiplicity of exchange rates and ‘black markets’ have been the order of the day in Nigeria over the years… Now that the Naira will become a ‘floating currency’, its true strength against the dollar and other currencies will begin to show… But, as a largely import-dependent economy with very limited forex earnings, the (looming) excess demand for forex (over supply) would likely take the Naira down a bottomless abyss. The immediate impact of the Naira floating will include a fast depletion of the stock of foreign exchange reserves of Nigeria… The fast-weakening Naira will also join the aftermath of sudden petrol subsidy withdrawal in further driving up the prevailing hyper-inflationary trend to dizzying heights. This is inevitable!…”

Finally, it is not all lamentation and doomsday predilection. His way forward is a suggestion in common sense and holistic pragmatism in wrestling the ogre of our  economic challenges. His quotes: “Highlighting all these ugly possibilities is not in any way intended to support or defend the existence of a multiplicity of Naira exchange rates against the dollar, as has been the case in the country in the past years. The unorthodox forex market management in place all these years gave so much room for fraud, opacity, patronage dispensation, insider dealings and other abuses…. However, floatation of the Naira (as reported) should have been implemented in a less hasty manner than what is taking place now. Floating a weak currency (if at all it is a necessary option) ought not to have come by fiat like the fuel subsidy removal also being implemented. The two critical economic policies should have come as integral parts of a wholesome full-scale economic development blueprint for Nigeria…

“It will therefore be most politic for the present administration to swiftly come up with its full-scale economic development blueprint. This will fully ‘incorporate’ President Tinubu’s manifesto and inauguration address – to avoid the dangers of initiating critical economic policies in a staccato manner. Also, former President Buhari’s ‘Nigeria’s Agenda 2050’ could still be adopted or adapted… to avoid terrible mistakes of the recent past in the management of the nation’s economy….”

A word – or more precisely, a bunch of pregnant words – should be enough….

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