…I wish to reiterate that I support Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s quest for Nigeria’s presidency, strictly on principles. He is the only one whose narrative has impressed me – especially what he has said and written before the political season. Many politicians wait till this time to run around making vain promises. But Tinubu has been saying some things before now…
Let me introduce readers to some articles I read lately that further shaped my opinions on the imperatives facing Nigeria as she totters on the brink of survival. Almost everybody agrees that 2023 is a make-or-mar year for our politics and economy. But as usual, and in keeping with the thoughts of Socrates, Plato, Lee Kuan Yew, and other all-time greats, Nigerians – who are unfortunately too poor, too uneducated or half educated – will likely be swept off their feet by issues and attributes that will not help their lot. They will look for those with the gab and good looks of Obama, and most likely remain in bondage. But first the articles.
In an article that critiqued the success (or lack of it) of the microfinancing model in saving people from poverty, an article in Bloomberg examined how the incursion of smart Alecs into that space has caused more grief than good and exposed as false the idea that once poor people got more finance, they’ll be fine. This article encouraged me to dig further into the nagging idea of whether what our people need is financial inclusion or economic inclusion. The focus has always been on financial inclusion, by which we give more attention to banks under the pretext that too many Nigerians are unbanked, but perhaps we should be more concerned that too many of our people are excluded from the economy in the first place. They are lost. They have no skills worth selling or are trapped by their environment. They wake up each morning not knowing where to go to earn something. The world feels hostile to them and they sink into despair. That is economic exclusion. Those are the ones that need immediate help, not more bank accounts. What is more? A recent report also came out, showing that Nigerians have opened more accounts than the population of seven West African countries put together; and that 70 per cent of these accounts are actually dormant. Therefore, oursis not particularly financial inclusion, in my humble opinion.
The third article is from Professor Francis Ogbimi, who has been on this subject for long, but is, as usual, ignored and forgotten in one corner. He wrote on the 5th of May in the Vanguard newspapers that economists and the World Bank people have deified money by positioning the idea that only money could solve the problem of poverty – or indeed any problem. This thinking has failed Africa for the reason that economists have ignored history in their analysis and failed or refused to understand the science and art of industrialisation and development. Ogbimi asserts that all the economists we have been getting to run our economy have been indoctrinated and turned into non-patriots for this reason.
These articles are very important in setting the background for this writeup. At this point, I wish to reiterate that I support Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s quest for Nigeria’s presidency, strictly on principles. He is the only one whose narrative has impressed me – especially what he has said and written before the political season. Many politicians wait till this time to run around making vain promises. But Tinubu has been saying some things before now, which we shall discuss here. Again, I am not driven by money at all, and have not collected a dime from anyone. Many Nigerians just think everything is about money and have falsely accused me of chasing money on this subject. It is just a pity. We share the same country but we don’t have to think alike or be driven by the same monetary motivations. I will thus proceed to discussing seven reasons why Bola Tinubu will most likely be stopped in his quest to become the president of the Federal Republic. I call these his seven grievous sins. Perhaps this game is already in play. On principle, I will continue to support this man at the level of his ideas and nothing more, no matter what happens. I believe he has seen it all and is ready to sacrifice everything he owns for his country. However, Nigeria is under siege and capture by very vicious guys, local and foreign, who don’t want things to get better. We see them and their statements every day.
Tinubu is the ONLY candidate I have heard or seen talk or write about the need for government to pursue full employment as a strategy. None of the other people have tried. Peter Obi said the core thing to do is to focus on small and medium enterprises (of course, after Nigeria has been able to cut expenditure on all the nonsense that take our money – and I agree with him on the latter). But Nigeria has also been pursuing the SME strategy for decades now with negative results.
One: Anti-austerity and Countercyclical Policies
At least since the days of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala as our coordinating minister on the economy, Tinubu has always advised against the adoption of austerity measures in a period of recession. I will not quote his past speeches here because of length but anyone who is interested can research and find them out. Tinubu has always advised that contrary to the advices of multilateral agencies, Nigeria should not be shutting down government expenditure in times of a downturn because it further damages the system. Note that Nigeria has always been in economic turmoil since Independence. In fact, I agree with Tinubu when he stated in one of his speeches that Nigeria has always been struggling with economic depression actually. The symptoms are complete – high unemployment, high poverty, high levels of illiteracy, higher propensity to crimes and so on. I think we need to be properly alarmed by our situation in order to get the sense of urgency required to make a change. It is this sense of urgency that Nigerians have not seen in the past seven years. He therefore advised – rightly – that in a recession, governments should consider ‘countercyclical policies’ which help the economy to lift out of the cycle of despair, rather than those (procyclical policies like austerity) which further deepen the people’s misery. Again, just last week, the Global Misery Index was released, showing that Nigeria became the 11th most miserable country, down from the 15th position. The misery index is an addition of inflation and unemployment, and I will provide a few of the evidences in this article.
Two: Pursuit of Full Employment
Now, when he declared his ambition to run for president on May 4, Governor Kayode Fayemi was asked a question about employment, to which he gave the cliched response that government’s role was not to provide employment, but to provide the enabling environment for the creation of employment. This is an emotive issue for me. What is an ‘enabling environment’? In Nigeria, this ‘enabling environment’ answer is the kind of stuff that sends everyone in government back to sleep, because it is hard to measure. But if we were to be honest, an enabling environment for businesses includes a hard consideration of issues like our internal security issues, energy crisis, human capital crisis, reputational crisis, environmental disasters and such like. I think it is better to unpack these issues and pursue them one by one, rather than dismiss serious issues under a two word, oft-repeated sweet nothing: ‘enabling environment’. We must understand that we have focused on this enabling environment omnibus for decades now, with little or no result. We must also note that the private sector is not in the business of providing employment and when politicians are campaigning, they are promising voters that they will DIRECTLY see to their welfare, not send them to the private sector, which now employs more robots, apps, and computers, to go and struggle or die trying. Tinubu is the ONLY candidate I have heard or seen talk or write about the need for government to pursue full employment as a strategy. None of the other people have tried. Peter Obi said the core thing to do is to focus on small and medium enterprises (of course, after Nigeria has been able to cut expenditure on all the nonsense that take our money – and I agree with him on the latter). But Nigeria has also been pursuing the SME strategy for decades now with negative results. In the field of Economics, the pursuit of full employment by a government is very key. By full employment, it is meant that unemployment should be reduced to say 3 per cent to 4 per cent. No government should sleep with a 33 per cent unemployment rate. They should be resigning with the kind of figures we have here. Or at least having sleepless nights, not deceiving themselves and the people that they are creating ‘enabling environment’ to encourage the private sector to employ. No entrepreneur will take on one additional staff than he needs because of patriotism.
Three: Mass Mobilisation To Save Nigeria From Collapse
And so, when Tinubu spoke about employing 50 million youths to tackle our insecurity problem, because according to him ‘we need to reduce the source from which terrorists recruit new members’, Nigerians mocked him for saying that the agbado (corn) and cassava that the youths will eat is grown here. Again, Nigerian youths missed the point. There is no way we will solve our insecurity crisis except we mass mobilise our youths to do the job. And so, this is an opportunity, indeed, to solve the unemployment and insecurity crisis in one fell swoop. The proposal demands deep scrutiny rather than mockery. Maybe what we should be looking at is 10 million or 15 million youths taken off the streets to solve our existential problems, but I think the man has hit on something critical; our government must hand over power, and ownership of this country back to the youths. The insight and experience of older people is useful at the level of politics, leadership and wisdom, but the operationalised aspect of fixing the nation is fully a matter for the youths of Nigeria to tackle. I can even give a back-of-the-envelope calculation of where this employment may come from; we need at least five hundred thousand teachers if we are to tackle the phenomenon of 13 million out-of-school children. We need a massive social security system that takes children off the streets and keeps them in school and this can take out another 300,000 young Nigerians to do the job nationally. We need millions of people taking care of and obsessing over our physical environment and therefore creating a new outlook and reputation for our country through trees, grass, flower planting and maintenance. We need a national task team around plastic pollution. We need millions of new workers to boost our police, immigration (to stop this nonsense whereby anybody walks into Nigeria unchecked and at will from anywhere), civil defence, the Department of State Services (DSS) and indeed the Armed Forces, and so on. The real impediment to employing these much-needed millions of our youths is because our leaders cannot bring themselves to pay the humongous monies involved in such a critical investment. That it is a good, and in fact, inevitable investment is not in question. We just need to check for ghost workers, using technology.
Four: Fiscal and Naira Sovereignty
I asked him about this the last time we saw and told him plainly that it was a dangerous idea on several fronts. First, it is about de-dollarisation. From what I have heard so far, the Americans don’t play with their currency. They can tell you to devalue yours, but you try to hurt theirs at your own peril. Tinubu has espoused it several times that we needn’t have to sell crude oil, realise the dollars, change these back to naira, before paying the salaries of those who do tangible work, especially in the public service. He believes that if we assert the sovereignty of the naira, then we can employ quite a few of those we need to employ to turn around our fortunes. The downside to this is that printing more naira to pay salaries will drive inflation. I think one of the things government could do in the interim is to really engage the youths in the production of the real things that we need. We don’t have to apologise to anyone about this strategy. By being productive beyond the primary products that we are currently stuck with, we can visibly reduce the dependence on foreign products, and the constant search for the US dollar. Our currency may do better, and inflation may trend down because money will circulate more here in the country.
Tinubu has specifically mentioned and several times too, in his colloquia, that there is a need to moderately close the economy to the influx of imports, to give Nigeria a breather to organise herself and be able to produce the things our people need. He stated clearly that this is what the developed nations did. And he is very right. Remember the Tea Party? It was the culmination of resistance by the Americans to the dumping of goods on the new world, and it marked the beginning of the American Revolution.
Five: Moderately Protecting the Economy
I am praying that we don’t have a president in 2023 who will only be interested in foisting the same policies that have crippled us at least since 1986. If that is what we get, the country will be totally ruined in barely a year. They will surely lose control. I mean, how can we dig in more on those hopeless policies, when we already use 96 per cent of our revenues to service debt; we are losing control of the deregulate aspects of the energy and fuel markets, and inflation on staple items since 2015 is like 400 per cent, not to remind us of the huge unemployment crisis. We have constantly deluded ourselves about the size of our GDP, which as my friend, Professor N. Susungi, once described it, is a large, fat, grapefruit with very little juice in it. All of the people who have declared for president so far are for the continuous opening of the economy to all sorts – and they will argue that Dr Mrs Iweala is heading up the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Tinubu has specifically mentioned and several times too, in his colloquia, that there is a need to moderately close the economy to the influx of imports, to give Nigeria a breather to organise herself and be able to produce the things our people need. He stated clearly that this is what the developed nations did. And he is very right. Remember the Tea Party? It was the culmination of resistance by the Americans to the dumping of goods on the new world, and it marked the beginning of the American Revolution. Britain waged three wars on China, insisting that they must continue to dump opium (of all products), to continue to addict the poor Chinese! China resisted. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s main war was against the dumping of textiles on the old India. The white loincloth he wore then was the only cloth India could produce. Some say Mahatma was killed for his activism in this area. But today, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, are the global giants of the textile industry. They produce, we buy. What are we buying with? The lifeblood of our unborn children, or even the likelihood that they many never exist, or if they do, they will do so as slaves and mere vassals to smart races. I have always feared that we were an endangered species. Some African nations are organising themselves though. Nigeria seems to be the laggard; the disappointment.
Six: Closing the Income Gap
Tinubu, in one of his colloquia, once asked that the government should broaden the tax net (and introduce luxury taxes), to rein in the millions of rich Nigerians who are not used to the concept of paying taxes. He mentioned that even if he is to pay more taxes, he should be approached. I am not sure there has been a bump in taxes recovered from the likes of Tinubu. It was as if he said nothing. Nigerian elites have protected themselves for too long and thereby held down the rest of us. This elite self-protection has permeated and dominated our government from time immemorial. There is an elite capture – the sort of which Emir Sanusi once spoke about at a TEDx event. Entrenched interests who insist we should stay down while they too are not rising the way elites have in other climes. Somehow, they cannot think beyond this small cake that Nigeria bakes, so that we can target something larger for everyone’s good. Nobody else among the horde that is contesting has said anything in this area. Maybe they will in days to come. But I commend Asiwaju for at least attempting to break the mould.
Recall the articles above (by Bloomberg on how microfinance has gutted many people, and by Professor Ogbimi on the deification of money). The incursion of financial hawks into microfinance is what damaged the idea as a veritable way of helping the poor. Now, these guys are plotting their huge returns on the misery of poor people, forcing many into suicide around the world. Ogbimi says our modern-day economists ignore every other variable that can change our trajectory and farcically focus on money alone. Then add the fact we are always talking of financial inclusion and opening more banks and ‘fintechs’ of all sorts, and there you have it – financialism, or the financialisation of the Nigerian economy as against its industrialisation. This is the fact that in our economy, we have a very large (not necessarily strong) financial sector quite literally sitting on top of and basically choking the life out of every other sector in the economy – notably the real sector. Our banks made more profits in 2020, when for half the time, most of the real sector was shut down or curbed by lockdowns. How does that work? There is a need for serious reforms in that industry that will try to refocus them on what really matters. There is no perfect model anywhere and so the extant model of our financial sector needs rejigging to make our financial institutions more relevant and less toxic. Banks are a powerful bloc and will want to hear none of that. They will wonder if the guy is good for business.
So, we are likely to continue on the usual path; a dream deferred, for obvious reasons.