Soludo and Sanusi

The statistics as regards the health of the Nigerian economy are grim.But there was absolutely nothing new or novel in the figures and facts reeled out by Professor Charles Soludo, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) at a lecture this week at the fourth Progressives Governors lecture series in Kaduna. According to the dismal but indisputable assertions of Professor Soludo, Nigeria’s economy is in deep trouble as a result of the substantial decline in per capital income and our dwindling Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The ex CBN governor’s lecture to the Progressive Governor’s Forum was titled ‘Building the Economies of States: Challenges of Developing Inclusive Sustainable Growth’. Soludo posited that the country’s GDP compressed to 50 per cent from $578 billion after the famous rebasing Program of 2014 to $290 due to huge deterioration in key economic indicators. Consequently capita income has also dropped to $1,500 from $3,100. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has also confirmed this despairing and frightening portrait of the national economy.

According to the NBS, the economy contracted by 2.06 per cent to record the lowest growth rate in three decades. The economy, the bureau also found, shrank by 0.36 percent in the first quarter of 2016 to hit its lowest point in the year, while unemployment grew from 12.1 percent per capita in the first quarter to a record of 13.3 per cent unemployed in the second quarter.

No less a personage than the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, admitted as much when she appeared before the National Assembly. Cautiously describing the economy as being in a state of ‘technical recession’, however, the Minister has continued to sound optimistic about the prospects for quick economic recovery. Of course, it is difficult to understand what a technical recession is against the background of the mass unemployment, pervasive hunger, deaths from easily curable diseases, teeming number of out of school youths, high maternal and infant mortality rates and the stratospheric rise of sundry crimes that can be traced to widespread and deep rooted poverty and  endemic economic dislocation.

Proffering his solutions for the country’s chronic economic ailments with the confident authority of a skilled economic physician, Soludo contended that agriculture, which is currently receiving massive attention from the federal and state governments, may not, after all, serve as a means of economic diversification, because many people will be forced out of the business when mechanical farming is fully in place. As he rightly notes, no state can develop sustainably if overall governance and the economy are in crisis.

I think the professor is right when he avers, if I read him correctly, that diversification of the economy through boosting agriculture as an alternative foreign exchange earner to oil will not necessarily address the structural distortions responsible for our protracted foreign exchange dependency. The same can be said of mineral resources if our aim is limited simply to develop them into alternative foreign exchange earners.

Such a limited goal will only deepen our technological, economic and cultural dependency making us nothing but pathetic mimics of those countries which, according to the late scholar, Eqbal Ahmed, “are addicted to armaments and dependence on suppliers. All are littered with machines but command no technology…They lack the will no less the Know-how to transform wealth into capital, importance into influence, resource into power”.

In Soludo’s words, “Nigeria is facing unprecedented and tremendous political and economic challenges with global and local dynamics. The key to achieving this is to have a development plan that is anchored on achieving inclusive growth”. It is on this basis that he strongly recommends “a restructuring of the economy from consumption-driven to production-based” and consistent micro economic policies. Not only is he silent, however, on the historical trajectory that produced this kind of debilitating, esteem eroding socio-cultural, economic and technological dependency, he offers us no clue for transforming the country into a genuinely productive and self-sustaining political entity.

The radical political scientist, Professor Okwudiba Nnoli, hit the nail on the head when he noted that “Colonial occupation put an end to the economy as most people had known it in pre-colonial times. Most importantly, the new economy replaced production with commerce. It was an import-export economy not based on the satisfaction of the basic needs, traditional consumption habits, or the use of local resources in manufacturing”.

Professor Soludo surely is an accomplished economist with wide local and international experience. But his brand of ‘Soludonomis’, which is nothing but a rehash for a country like Nigeria of worn and jaded World Bank/ International Monetary  Fund (IMF) Neo Liberal  ideas can hardly help Nigeria out of the woods. Of course, Soludo’s blueprint for the country’s economic redemption with its grandiose projections and objectives, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) was dead on arrival and has since been jettisoned. So incompetent and lax were his banking consolidation policy that his successor, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi was forced to bail out failing banks with over 400 billion Naira of public funds. This was despite Soludo’s policy of forcing incompatible banks to merge so as to meet up with his arbitrary N25 billion capital base.

Most astonishing is Soludo’s calling on the Buhari administration to stop what he calls the blame game against the Dr Goodluck Jonathan presidency and start on a clean slate. Here, he sounds like a former Head of State who declared at a public forum that to get to a desired destination, you must study where you are and begin moving forward towards your objective. The late Dr Bala Usman later retorted that if you don’t carefully study how you got to where you are, you will simply move about in circles and may soon find yourself in an worse predicament. Yes, the Buhari administration was not elected to lament endlessly about the past. But on the anti-corruption war, however, it is necessary to continuously remind Nigerians of the terrible venality of the immediate past so that we will know how we got here and hopefully not find ourselves in such a disastrous pass ever again.

Also speaking this week at a form in Kano, another former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, who is also now the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Lamido Muhammed Sanusi II also warned the Buhari administration against toeing the non-listening footsteps of former Dr Jonathan’ s administration. An accomplished economist and investment banker, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi surely knows his onions. According to the Emir, “We should not just keep blaming the the previous administration. We also made some mistakes in the present administration. They have to retrace those steps all the way. We should not fall into the same trap we fell the last time when the government was always right”. Most disturbingly, Alhaji Sanusi stated that “We have created another set of millionaires since 2015 from foreign exchange”.

The Buhari administration cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to a credible voice like the Emir. It is important not to forget that Sanusi blew the whistle on the missing $20 billion that was not remitted to the Federation Account by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); a public disclosure that led to his ouster from office by President Jonathan. Today, Emir Lamido Sanusi is being proved right. No wise leadership should trifle with such consistent and courageous voices.

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