Of course, we have economic problems., which nation doesn’t these days? But when you are confronted with a serious challenge, the one thing you must not do is panic. And although convening an economic summit at this time might seem like a reasonable idea, it could also send a signal that the government is at the end of its wits and doesn’t know what else to do to tackle the current economic crises that is giving many people sleepless nights. In other words, an economic summit at this time might spurt a backlash that will stretch an already dire economic situation.
There are several good reasons convening an economic summit at this time despite its obvious attractions, is a double-edged sword at best and an outright dumb idea at worst.
One, all around us in Africa, the economic indicators that should be heading North are plunging South and vice versa: Foreign Reserve, exchange rate, inflation, unemployment, growth rate and foreign direct investments are all moving in the wrong direction. But no country thus far, is considering economic summit, as a practical way out. Sometimes, it is best not to be different, but to learn from others and move with the tide. Our main continental rivals, South Africa, Egypt and Ghana among others, are all going through very rough economic patches, but instead of adopting panic measures, they are all putting up a brave face and tackling their respective economic challenges stoically, hoping that like good times, bad times won’t last for ever. It is safer, at least in the time being, for the ministries of finance, economic planning, agriculture, petroleum, and solid minerals to join forces with the Central Bank to fashion out a short-to-medium term policies that will see us manage the crises through to the next 12 months.
Second, there is also the likelihood that an economic summit might just throw up a plethora of economic models that will be in direct conflict with the reality on ground. Many analysts have pointed out, rightly too, that an economic summit, or any king of summit for that matter, usually lays too much emphasis on theory as opposed to practical reality. Calling together economic experts might end up producing the proverbial “too many cooks” that will end up spoiling the broth. Better to keep the group compact, manageable and members of the same “family”; in this case the ruling party which will be the biggest loser, or biggest winner, as the case may be.
A third and most important reason why the government would be making a very dangerous gamble by convening an economic summit at the moment is that from all indications, the government had pretty much made up its mind on all the major topics that will come up for discussion during an economic summit; so why convene a conference which resolutions will have little or no impact? The principal issue that will dominate any such conference as is being envisaged will be whether or not to devalue the national currency. It is common knowledge that the nation’s CEO had resolutely taken a stand against that. In the last few months President Buhari had repeatedly and emphatically made it clear that he would not authorise the devaluation of the naira and the matter is not negotiable. The only other person that is constitutionally supported to argue with the president on the matter and who stands any chance of succeeding in dissuading the president, is the governor of the CBN; but if anything, the CBN Goveronor, Mr. Emefiele, is just as passionate as the president that devaluation is a no deal. So, what can an economic summit possibly achieve?
Other issues that economic experts will discuss at a summit will be whether or not the government should raise taxes and or go a-borrowing in order to boost revenue and finance a frightening budget deficit that currently stands at 2.2 percent of GDP and a third of the total 2016 budget estimate of N6.08 trillion. On these issues as well, the government appears to have taken an irreversible decision. Raising taxes, such as VAT and income tax, will be very costly politically, as it will shoot up inflation, which is already approaching double digits (9.8%). On borrowing, the government is already negotiating with international creditors prominent among which are China, AfDB, Islamic Development Bank and has not ruled out the notorious IMF. So, a discussion on this at any summit is unlikely to change the direction the government has apparently resolved to follow. Nor, crucially, will anyone be able to tell the government to slow down on its pursuit of stolen funds, which is another recommended option for raising revenue in a corruption ravaged state such as ours.
So, on the face of it, and indeed even below the surface, it is hard to imagine what practical value an economic summit will serve. But the increasing public demand for the government to raise an economic team is a valid one, if not an urgent one. The strident call for an economic team is probably more out of habit than anything else. The Nigerian public has grown used to having a symbolic assemblage of persons that is used to determine the economic direction of the government. But having now gotten used to it, there is no harm keeping up the tradition of having an economic team. Apart from satisfying the public yearnings for it, it will give the regime a breathing space while the team struggles with the everyday challenges of answering questions on the economy. But the bottomline, actually, is that with or without an economic team, the president is ultimately the chief economist of his government, just as whether he has ever won a military uniform or not, he is the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.
As for Prefessor Wole Soyinka, who created the “emergency economic summit” momentum, it is doubtful if he really meant it in the way the public is interpreting it. Considering he made the suggestion when he paid a courtesy visit on the minister of information, and the overall context in which he made the suggestion (he blamed the last regime for our current economic problems), it is possible that Soyinka was just politely expressing concern for the state of the economy and subtly pointing out the need for a government he helped to bring to life, to do something radical and to reassure the nation that revamping the economy is top on its agenda. Significantly, neither Soyinka, nor the government appear to be taking the economic summit issue seriously. We should all take a cue from them.
If wishes were horses…
Tomorrow, March 4, 2016, voters in Abia North Senatorial District will go to the polls to elect their senator. Among the contestants is Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, who is contesting on the platform of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). While the voters in that senatorial district know more than anybody else who is best placed to represent them, I think it is a national obligation to point out to the them, and to the South East in general, that now more than ever before, the South East needs to send out to the national stage its sons and daughters that have proved they have the political connection and the ability to build bridges that will help the region regain its national spread and political affiliations across the country.
It is difficult to imagine any politician from the region that has the kind of national reach and appeal that Uzor Kalu has managed to establish over the years. There is hardly any palace in northern Nigeria, for instance, that Kalu cannot knock and walk in without protocol. He, in fact, holds chieftaincy titles in some the most influential traditional institutions in the North and South West, which include Sokoto, Katsina and Ibadan, among others. At a time when the South East is claiming, rightly or wrongly, of being marginalised, it is politically exposed persons from the region that will help the region to revitalise its cosmopolitan political practices for which it is famous. The potential role of Orji Uzor Kalu in Nigeria’s Senate will more than neutralise the substantial damage done by the self-serving antics of Nnamdi Kanu and his curios struggle for the state of Biafra, a tragic adventure the nation has worked so hard to overcome.