With Osun elections in the bag, the 2023 elections are getting clearer and so, it is trite to bring back to the front burner the critical economic issues that should drive the elections. Indeed, our people are our people and one cannot expect many to understand the highfalutin economic terminologies that may emanate from the stables of some of the candidates. In fact Osun election is very instructive. Oyetola, a Chartered Accountant who tried to manage the terrible financial situation of that state was kicked out by the people and replaced by a fellow who was earlier faced some investigation as to the veracity of his school certificate exams and who was also enmeshed not long ago in some exam fraud scandal. The new governor makes no pretensions to being an intellectual of any sort, but he is popular. And popularity wins elections, simple. Moreso, the incumbent and soon to be ex-governor, was sitting on a liability of 16 months unpaid salaries! His predecessor, Aregbesola had invested short-term funds in long-term projects with no potential for cashflows. On some months, Osun state had received as little as N6,000 from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, and on one month, she received a negative allocation – meaning it owed money to the Federal Government. These are the results of deductions made for those borrowings. Even though Oyetola tried to fulfil his own end of the bargain, he couldn’t make good on Aregbesola’s debts and that not only caused a rift between them, it earned him a sack by the people.
The incoming governor, who has shown much prowess at dancing, has promised to pay down these debts. Maynard Keynes said famously ‘in the long-run we are all dead’. The poor people of Osun State of Nigeria figured that they are better off collecting their monies now. Who knows how many of them had died whose entitlements may get into the hands of corrupt civil servants on a later day? I cant blame them. Most Nigerians are pretty hopeless about their prospects as things stand, with the totally dismal situation that President Buhari’s non-governance has wrought on the people.
But I digress. If the people of Osun have overturned the status quo and voted in a PDP governor, that is worthy of investigation. Even though on the streets, some indigenes have said they are likely to vote APC for the presidency, but that too should not be taken for granted. The loser in the Osun elections, was the Labour Party, which could only manage about 2,700 votes, and came 5th after PDP, APC, ADP, and Accord. It was a woeful performance. This number is less than the number of people that showed up for the Labour Party campaigns in Osun less than a week ago. The non-performance sort of justified the analysis of some of us that structures do matter and that for now, the structures of the big two parties are the only ones formidable enough to win elections in Nigeria. Structures take time, commitment, and a lot of money to build. Our people are still largely poor, illiterate, and hungry. And this is where the issue of economics comes in. We are not doing anything presently that shows that we intend to lift these people out of the poverty and illiteracy and hunger, so that they may take more rational decisions in determining those who lead them. There is generational poverty and hunger all over the place. Just visit any of our suburbs and you see it in stark reality. Poor parents raising children that will most likely grow up poor and shorn of opportunities. They haven’t known another life since they too were born into poverty. I intend to interrogate today, the stated economic ideologies and ideas of some of the gladiators, to know which could quickly work for us and save the country from threatening perdition.
I will consider Abubakar Atiku, Peter Obi, Bola Tinubu and a friend who responded when I called for manifestos and economic ideas – Adewole Adebayo of the SDP. Dumebi Kachikwu of the ADC also reached out but called for a personal meeting which I’ve been unable to fulfil due to work schedule.
ALHAJI ABUBAKAR ATIKU
In short, Atiku sticks to his capitalist ideas. Fair enough. But it gets me worried, and I am still looking for how it will work for Nigeria. I await details. If the strategy is about a straight adoption of capitalist ideas, market forces and privatization, a thinking person must worry about our poor people. Are we going to throw them in the ocean? 15 million children out of school carrying bowls begging for food everywhere. How do we impact them and change their worlds? How do we touch them and change their views of life? If we could take the majority of out of school children into school and keep them there for 6 productive years, this country will change forever. I am not sure market forces will help us with this because there is obviously no money to make from them in the immediate. Drive around Nigeria and you will see how unproductive our people are. All over Nigeria, too many people of working age wake up daily and just hang around. Yes, market forces and the good, old capitalism can help with industries for these people and provide employment. But we have to face reality. Capital goes to where it is most welcome. And capital goes looking for returns that make sense. There is a global competition for capital too, today more than ever as the world is flatter than ever. Whereas we have serious needs that should attract capital, but our insecurity crisis, and the skills deficiencies of our people means that foreign investors must be very careful coming here. We end up traveling around the world, seeking to drag investors down here to little avail. We have to look inwards.
Alhaji Atiku should therefore know that using the basic capitalism template will not work. Even with privatization, I think we have sold most government agencies that have cashflow in this country. and the sheer idea that we should sell everything – and waste the money as usual – is another kool-aid we bought from the west. We can see what we did with the electricity sector. Today, the private companies (DISCOs) are still being run by government, after several trillions of naira in interventions. There has to be another template. Except there is a tweak to the Atiku strategy – for someone told me he has this wonderful plan coming – I will not be able to support what will land Nigerians in more poverty. Capitalism is about winner-takes-all. Already the winners have emerged and have been taking all. They emerged because their parents send them to the best schools – home and abroad, while we neglected the vast majority to the elements. ASUU is on strike still, but daily we see pictures of the children of our politicians graduating seamlessly from the best universities abroad. The winners have emerged and are not looking back as they take all the advantages – in the workspace and in business. Of course, a few fail, and a few lucky and hardworking folks emerge from among the hoi polloi. There has to be a different way. We cannot continue like this and prevent social implosion.
This reminds me of Kemi Badenoch, the Nigerian-British lady angling to be the Prime Minster. In presenting her case on the floor of the House of Common, she spoke a tad disdainfully about her background in corrupt Nigeria where politicians pocket the commonwealth. Fair enough. The problem is that Britain herself was established on stealing and pocketing other people’s resources and Adegoke did not tell us the role her father played in the looting after all they lived in Victoria Island among the rich and mighty. Is she one of those people who just hate their heritage? But my quarrel was when she said Nigeria practiced Socialism and she believes in markets and people making money etc. Socialism? I asked. Where? And where do people queue for the Dole in Nigeria? Where do we find Council Houses where poor people are housed in nice flats paid for by the local government? And where is our own National Health Service (NHS), which is the biggest establishment and the biggest employer in the UK, with 2.1 million working for it? This is the problem with folks who mouth capitalism. They are blind to reality. What we need to do is energize our population and make our people productive. This will require a combo of several strategies including mass mobilization, direct interventions, enforcement, public works, maintenance, and recruiting more into security services, teaching profession, environmental sector, agriculture value chains and what have you. The one-track minded approach of delusional capitalists will never work for us. It is trite to engage Alhaji Atiku who is also in pole position for the presidency especially with the Osun victory – which should make his main opponent sit up. If we get an Atiku presidency with the ideology he espouses, apart from him complaining how the APC government has totally ruined the economy, even his own ideas can only put us in more trouble. People who think like that care nothing about how we will clear 15 million children from our streets.
I have had time to listen more to Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and even though I still believe that this platform cannot win him the presidency, I think he deserves a lot more attention for his ideas. He is the figures man, always rolling out statistics of what is going on elsewhere. He may still be short on painting a picture of his own vision for Nigeria, because we cannot become Bangladesh, Morocco, Egypt, or China at the same time, but he is playing a critical role as a pacemaker of sorts. And he has got the attention of many youths. This should send some jitters down the spine of some of his opponents too. When Obi reels out his statistics on TV, he usually falters when it comes to the question “what do you really want to do about this?”. He sometimes tries to avoid hitting the question or tries to change the topic. Still, what I can garner from his ideas are the need to curb our excesses and indiscipline. This idea MUST be taken on board by whoever wins the next elections. It was what Buhari promised but did the opposite by running the most corrupt and wasteful administration in the history of the country while burying his head in the sand like an ostrich. Nigerians who had been afraid when he ascended in 2015 have today become emboldened and no government transaction goes without a huge kickback. Even the private sector is equally corrupt. We cannot even get rid of corporate beggars in our airports. Everybody is actively looking for who to shake down. Are the youths themselves ready for the strictness that Obi espouses? Time will tell. Obi also hopes we get as productive as all those countries he mentions and that we get serious with our infrastructure.
In repeating the need for Nigeria to stop being a consumer country but transit into being producers of value, Obi hopes to energize our industrial sector too. He looks like he will make a good administrator who will be able to whip people into line by active and dynamic management. I respect that. We need that. But as a loner in government (if he does not have control of the National Assembly), I wonder how he will not be frustrated out of his mind. He caps his economic discourse that the solution is to support more SMEs (small and medium scale enterprises), but I say that is what Nigeria has always claimed to do. Statistically, Nigeria has the highest number of SMEs of any country in the world – at almost 50 million. My study of entrepreneurship shows that only mismanaged countries have that many SMEs. I am in possession of McKinsey’s advice to the Indian economy, and they are recommending India should have more big companies that can compete on the global scene. More SMEs for us just means we intend to remain small. Most of our SMEs are into the import business. And those who are not importing depend fully on imported machinery. The reason why SMEs are successful in say China is because the Chinese have demystified technology, and that technology is easily accessible by those SMEs. That is why a small Chinese shop will insist on producing minimums of 10,000 for our importers. Go figure.
One of the guys that command my attention in this race is my friend Adewole Adebayo of the SDP. In terms of ideas, we align a lot. Many would have heard him challenge the idea that there are no jobs in Nigeria. Though a lawyer, he has a deep, historical perspective on economics more than many economists that I’ve met. He understands the concept of public goods and how governments must never shirk their responsibilities by hiding under privatization and other capitalist concepts. Like I have been saying, we can see that in this season, it is politicians campaigning to us, NOT the private sector. For a politician to come and send people to go to the ‘markets’, or private sector for jobs and the basics of life, is criminal. Wole understands this and incorporates it in his campaign. The platform for me may be a challenge but this is one philosopher that we may do well to have in government.
Wole sent his economic agenda to me, and I will summarise below:
- Stop massive revenue leakage and off-balance sheet rackets siphoning more money than enter into the Federation Account
- Full independence and professionalism of the CBN
- Reform of the legal system for prompt commercial law adjudication and respect for contracts
- 75% spending on social services for poverty eradication programmes and job creation
- Massive works creation through social welfare spending to create lifetime employment for middle classes.
- Public Service reforms for living wages and pay parity across all federal government employments from CBN to school-teachers
- Agro allied investment by direct intervention and lend-lease support for farmers to achieve food security, industrial inputs and export surplus
- Minimum of $250bn annual budget each from year 2 to year 4 of our administration
- Single digit inflation target
- Single digit unemployment target
- 4-year foreign exchange stability with focus on rate stability not parity.
- General security to conduce to economic activities and productivity.
Wole seems to get it in many areas. But he must be careful with inflation targeting. You target inflation usually at the expense of growth. And only growth can tackle unemployment. Otherwise, Wole has given things a good shot
This veteran has been in the news as if he’s the only one contesting. Incredibly, many who are sworn not to vote for him are dragging him over the choice of his vice, the cerebral Kashim Shettima. My opinion on that is that there is choice. I think they should stay focused and move forward with their strategy. The bottom line is to win an election. When you have the reins of office, you can assuage and compensate. All the religiously balanced tickets we have been having have not helped the people so far. Maybe the unbalanced one will do the magic. The bottom line is a better life for our people. Simple. As far as religion is concerned, I am a centrist. I like many things in Christianity and many things in Islam. I pick the good of both sides. Funnily, nobody is advocating for our animists and traditionalists, as if they don’t exist. Yet many of those shouting Christian and Muslim are traditionalists themselves. That is colonial mentality right there.
I am a convinced BAT-ist majorly on the back of his centre-left economic ideology as garnered in Bola’s writeups and his colloquia speeches. He gets it as far as I am concern. He expresses concern for Nigeria’s majority poor, and while not going down a socialist route, he also understands the local and international interests that have held us down and is ready to stake his life fighting them to ‘let my people go!’. Supported by the cerebral ex-banker, Shettima, I believe this team will make a great difference and set Nigeria on a good path. I think it may be better for such a team to come on board after the serious mess created by Buhari because as they are in the same party, they will spend less time agonizing about how bad things have become. The other options will spend their first terms agonizing. Because indeed things are awfully bad. And I don’t envy whoever takes over this poisoned chalice.
On balance Tinubu decries the over-financialization of our economy (the focus on banking and finance rather than manufacturing and industry for jobs and sustainable economic growth). He is anti-austerity (because clever-by-half finance ministers since 1980 will tell the people to tighten their belt while all the looting goes on). He favours higher taxes for the rich and even offered himself as starting point (if only Buhari wasn’t so vacant). The Tinubu ticket – in my humble opinion – can set in motion the needed elite consensus by which our elites will signal that they appreciate this country by contributing more for our turnaround. Indeed, that is the only way forward. Tinubu, like Adebayo, also gets the idea of public goods and how we need to incorporate our people in the economy – talk about economic inclusion over financial inclusion. I hope he wins
And I wish all of the candidates god-speed.