By Henry Umahi
Public Affairs analyst and commentator, Chief Uche Njoku has advised President Muhammadu Buhari, to beware of economists that would propound theories that could hurt the economy. In this interview, he said that some bankers and economists were in the habit of propounding theories that would not be beneficial to the economy, and cautioned President Buhari against the advice of such people. Excerpts:
This administration has been criticized by those who feel it has not lived up to expectation. How would you assess it after over one year in office?
I would rate this administration a little above average. The single account policy has saved the nation a lot of money that would have gone down the drain. He blocked the loopholes through which the nation’s resources were frittered away. The administration’s war against corruption started strong but the momentum seems to have reduced. Regarding the economy, I see nothing in sight. We look like a people still waiting for another oil boom. I have not seen any clear direction that will bring us out of the woods. On the issue of security, he has done well battling terrorism.
What is your take on the state of the nation?
The federal government must ignore some of these bankers/economists who keep propounding economic theories that do not make sense but instead have ruined our economy. He should investigate some former and current governors who keep buying up our forex with our own money with which they enriched themselves. It is either some of these bankers/economists are saboteurs, or they have been so brainwashed by their western economic power masters that makes them reason incoherently. What they seem to forget is that their western masters can never teach them what will benefit our own country but theirs.
The view by some of these economic experts is that the West might refuse to buy our oil if we don’t use our foreign exchange. That argument is neither here nor there, because we have never stopped buying from the West. CBN is only encouraging us to buy or import responsibly. The oil prizes came down because it was induced by the same western powers through their manipulated free market forces. So, we must set our priorities right. We can’t afford to buy everything. If what our foreign exchange can afford us is our energy needs, why waste it on rice importation when we can produce rice here or eat yam and other local sourced food?
The CBN is saving our scarce foreign exchange for our collective national needs and not wants. That should be each country’s prerogative. No country should be dictated to regarding what their priorities should be. What the CBN has done is still within World Free Trade context. It is simply the basic economics of opportunity cost that is playing out itself. How many products are the Western economies importing from us? Are they importing everything we produce? Of course not; but we virtually import everything. At least, we should be self-sufficient in food production like most nations. We can use the foreign exchange that could have bought rice and invest it in agriculture, especially rice production. It will help our economy.
On the issue of devaluation, it will make more economic sense if the strong Western economies encourage our currency to have more value or strengthened; as this will enable us purchase their products. And it will make them retain their jobs and make their economies more buoyant. If they keep pushing us to devalue our currency, it will only lead to impoverishment of our people. Where are we going to get the purchasing power to buy their goods and services? If we don’t buy due to our poor purchasing power, it will lead to more job losses in their countries, thereby affecting their economies. Remember the saying, that as you are pushing a man to a pit, you are getting closer there yourself. Can they tell us how the devaluation sermon they have been preaching will improve our economy? I am yet to understand how I have to get poorer before I become rich. What I do know about devaluation that makes sense, is for strong economies producing a lot without selling out much to devalue their currency as to enable smaller economies buy from them. It is these Western strong economies that should devalue their currencies to enable us buy their products. I don’t need to be Harvard product to know this. I can equate their devaluation theory to somebody coming to your house, asking you to devalue yourself, wife, children and property. For me, that will be the greatest insult to my sensibility. I want Nigerians to remember when the call for devaluation got serious. It was immediately after the Buhari/Idiagbo regime’s confrontation with Britain. The British government withdrew their pound sterling as a backbone to the naira. When Babangida came into power, somehow our currency got manipulated as a way of punishing us for daring to stand alone as a complete independent country. Before we knew it, they started telling us political instability is the reason. Don’t they have their own share of that? After the 9/11 bombing, did they devalue the dollar? Next, they told us about debt. During President Bushs’ tenure, America was the highest debtor nation with huge deficit financing. I don’t think it devalued their dollar at the said time. Inflation is part of their argument. Inflation is naturally induced by devaluation and if so, why devalue when all the consequences are negative. Apart from the 41 items being shut out from our foreign currency gate, more should be added and marshal plan brought in to reinvent or invent those products or services here in our country. It will help stabilize the naira and improve our economy.
What is your view about the war against corruption? Is it being properly fought?
The tempo has dropped drastically. Those governors allegedly buying up forex with the bailout funds and excess crude loan are the major saboteurs of our economy and I urge President Buhari to launch an investigation to trace those funds. These are governors whose bank loans were paid for through bonds stretching, making it so soft and easy that it will take about five incoming governments paying little to pay off. The President did not stop at that, he gave them funds to offset bank loans/salaries. How many of them complied comprehensively? Only a few did. Governor Adams Oshiomhole advised them to do the needful and stop complaining. They want more money and when they get it, they turn around and fraudulently divert the funds to sabotage our economy by buying all the forex in sight. The EFCC should partner with labour unions, human rights bodies and religious bodies to investigate former governors. Our senate, Federal and State Houses should wake up now and make new laws that will checkmate the excesses of these governors. Some of them have corruptly cornered to themselves LGA funds, thereby retarding development in the councils and, by extension, the country. I pity most of these LGA chairmen, who sign away their rights to these governors who installed them. Of course, they will take the heat when the time comes. The State Houses of Assembly members who have turned themselves into houseboys should better assert themselves for the good of their states. If not, the constitutional process of recalling awaits them.
What do you think is the way for our economic recovery?
I encourage the President to save the scarce resources for awhile. Some people want us to be used to import things like rice which we already have; we can produce tooth picks and we can invest in the energy sector, speed train transport system, and agric. The availability of energy will make the barber and welder become more functional without the cost of diesel and generator. Many processing plants will come up; and agricultural products that will be eaten as food and processing plants and for export would get more value. These will translate into job and wealth creation, leading to a functional economy or economic boom, not oil boom economy. This will bring back the middle class who will be patronizing the dry cleaners, shoe shiners, restaurants, newspaper vendors, among others and they will make money circulate. Remember that any economy without the middle class is a dead economy.
My advice to the President is to seek professionals who are different in their approach to the economy, and not the Western stereotype economic experts. He has to get men who will run this country as business with profit in mind for the country. He will need those that will take our local contents, do the needful and market it in the international market place as to earn foreign exchange that will help us build and service our infrastructure.