CERTAIN TIMES seem made for certain people to reveal where they stand on important issues. Like football, the present economic recession is one hot topic that almost every Nigerian behaves like a coach with formula to defeat the opponents. But strategy for turbulent times is not the same as in a soccer match. It requires deep knowledge of the issue at stake. That’s why assumption is the lowest level of knowledge.
There’s no doubt that Nigeria’s economy is in shambles. Every indicator validates that: Unemployment is in double-digit (13 percent), inflation is at its worst level (17.6 percent) in 25 years, high rates of interest that are stifling growth, an erratic monetary policy that has sent the prime interest over the rooftops . This has debauched the purchasing power of the naira. Confidence and national pride are now at an all-time low. Pessimism has supplanted hope, even when hope is the last thing that dies in life.
That is where the bipartisan inputs of members of the National Assembly become expedient. In times like these, lawmakers ought to seize these problems, analyse them and offer well thought out solutions. Offering solution is not a matter for the help desk, neither is it found by singling out certain government officials for attack. Solutions come through willingness to study, and study to equip oneself with facts and knowledge.
Hello Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Last week, the Deputy Senate President evinced a lamentable penchant for smoking gun when he advised President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the Minister of finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and the Budget and Planning Minister, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma. Ekweremadu, in his rapid-fire, Orwellian argument, alleged that the two ministers have underperformed in their posts as Ministers of finance, Budget and National Planning, respectively. In other words, the Deputy Senate President is implying that these two officials have not lived up to his own expectation in the recovery effort from the current economic recession.
Contributing to the debate on the economy, specifically on the recession, Ekweremadu said, “the President has to look at his cabinet. He has to put square peg in square hole. Udo Udoma is my friend. He’s an accomplished lawyer for that matter. But, in fairness to him, I believe he can do better in another ministry like Trade and Investment, certainly not Budget and Planning”. On the Finance Minister, Ekweremadu said about the same, if not more uncomplimentary things about Adeosun.
Why, if we may ask, should the Deputy Senate President hold the two ministers to higher standard than others? Well,the answer seems simple, at least from Ekweremadu’s Orwellian perspective ,and that is, that the two ministries are the centre of economic policy and action. He is also possessed of one simple idea: that the federal budget should run the economy and thereby shape social policy. He may not be wrong.
But he misses the argument when he mixes somebody with a law background as not suitable for the Budget and National planning ministry. Which was why he said the Buhari Administration “should not put square pegs in round holes”. How can anyone describe either Udoma or Adeosun as “square pegs in round holes”. That’s where Ekweremadu lost me.
This Orwellian argument does not make sense to me either in practical terms or in terms of strategic solution to the present economic recession. Does the academic degree one holds limit him or her from excelling in a particular post? Never. Let’s start with Ekweremadu himself: We all know he was trained as a lawyer. Before he came to the Senate, he served as Chief of staff, Government House of Enugu State as well as Secretary to the state Government. Was his performance or otherwise in these positions much to do because he is a lawyer? Secondly, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki is a medical doctor. But he was appointed as President Obasanjo’s Adviser on Budget matters during OBJ’s first term in office. Did Saraki’s removal a year later have anything to do with incompetence? I don’t think so. I want to believe that Ekweremadu still has the curiosity to read books. If he does, he ought to be conversant with what happens in other countries. Is the Deputy Senate President not aware that Adam Smith, the great British economist didn’t have a formal training in Economics, yet his theory still guides modern economists? What about ex-British Prime Minister and Exchequer, Gordon Brown who holds three degrees, including a doctorate in History, yet is regarded as one of the finest finance ministers the United Kingdom ever had. Maybe, Ekweremadu knows that Ms. Christine Lagarde, current president of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was trained as a lawyer, and had before her present position, France’s finance Minister.
Also, in the United States, Donald Regan, the 66th U.S Secretary of the Treasury (1981-1985) was a Harvard University trained lawyer. He also served as White House Chief of Staff (1985-1987). Earlier, he was Chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch (1971-1980). Henry Paulson, the 74th Secretary of the Treasury studied English from Dartmouth College before an MBA from Harvard University. Also, Timothy Geithner, the 75th U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under Obama’s first term holds a Bachelor’s degree in Government and Asian Studies before getting a masters degree in International Economics and Asian Studies.
I have gone this far if only to prove that Ekweremadu’s argument against Udoma and Adeosun, was faulty in its assumptions, defective in its evidence and wrong in its conclusions. These two Nigerians can hold their ground anywhere. Their resumes attest to that. Taken together, the flag the Deputy Senate President raised on Adeosun and Udoma was an orchestrated campaign to smear, snarl and sneer these two ministers, using the unfettered privilege he has in the Senate. It was all about speaking by impulse. And that cannot get us out of the present economic recession.
One is therefore discomfited that Ekweremadu would, knowing the pedigree of Udoma, in both public and private sectors and yet qualifies him “as square peg in a round hole”. It’s most unkind, to say the least. I agree with Ekweremadu only in his contribution that selling our national assets is not the way forward to beat the recession. This is against Udoma’s proposed solution. .
However, anyone who is truly concerned about the way out of the current recession should not concern himself with only one aspect of economic policy – fiscal policy. We must deal with the ‘other rein of the horse,’ that is, monetary policy? We cannot in all honesty be talking about spending in isolation from management of the process and the stupendous amount our lawmakers appropriate for themselves as salaries and allowances. In short, if Ekweremadu had removed himself from his partisan frame and made an impassioned argument and a call for a significant reduction in the jumbo salaries and other pecks being enjoyed by his colleagues as their contribution to economic recovery, he would have earned our respect. Unsurprisingly, he chose the easy road. Very sad, indeed.