‘Neither Jonathan nor Buhari will deliver’
by Charles Soludo
I need to preface this article with a few clarifications. I have taken a long sabbatical leave from partisan politics, and it is real fun watching the drama from the balcony. Having had my own share of public service (I do not need a job from government), I now devote my time and energy in pursuit of other passions, especially abroad. A few days ago, I read an article in Thisday entitled “Where is Charles Soludo?”, and my answer is that I am still there, only that I have been too busy with extensive international travels to participate in or comment on our national politics and economy.
But I occasionally follow events at home. Since the survival and prosperity of Nigeria are at stake, the least some of us (albeit, non-partisan) must do is to engage in public debate. As the elections approach, I owe a duty to share some of my concerns.
In September 2010, I wrote a piece entitled “2011 Elections: Let the Real Debate Begin” and published by Thisday. I understand the Federal Executive Council discussed it, and the Minister of Information rained personal attacks on me during the press briefing. I noted more than six newspaper editorials in support of the issues we raised. Beside other issues we raised, our main thesis was that the macro economy was dangerously adrift, with little self-insurance mechanisms (and a prediction that if oil prices fell below $40, many state governments would not be able to pay salaries).
I gave a subtle hint at easy money and exchange rate depreciations because I did not want to panic the market with a strong statement. Sadly, on the eve of the next elections, literally everything we hinted at has happened. Part of my motivation for this article is that five years after, the real debate is still not happening.
The presidential election next month will be won by either Buhari or Jonathan. For either, it is likely to be a pyrrhic victory. None of them will be able to deliver on the fantastic promises being made on the economy, and if oil prices remain below $60, I see very difficult months ahead, with possible heady collisions with labour, civil society, and indeed the citizenry. To be sure, the presidential election will not be decided by the quality of ‘issues’ or promises canvassed by the candidates.
The debates won’t also change much (except if there is a major gaffe by either candidate like Tofa did in the debate with Abiola). My take is that more than 95% of the likely voters have pretty much made up their minds based largely on other considerations. A few of us remain undecided. During my brief visit to Nigeria, I watched some of the campaign rallies on television.
The tragedy of the current electioneering campaigns is that both parties are missing the golden opportunity to sensitize the citizenry about the enormous challenges ahead and hence mobilize them for the inevitable sacrifices they would be called upon to make soon. Each is promising an El-Dorado.
Let me admit that the two main parties talk around the major development challenges—corruption, insecurity, economy (unemployment/poverty, power, infrastructure, etc) health, education, etc. However, it is my considered view that none of them has any credible agenda to deal with the issues, especially within the context of the evolving global economy and Nigeria’s broken public finance.
The UK Conservative Party’s manifesto for the last election proudly announced that all its programmes were fully costed and were therefore implementable. Neither APC nor PDP can make a similar claim. A plan without the dollar or Naira signs to it is nothing but a wish-list. They are not telling us how much each of their promises will cost and where they will get the money. None talks about the broken or near bankrupt public finance and the strategy to fix it.
In response to the question of where the money will come from, I heard one of the politicians say that the problem of Nigeria was not money but the management of resources. This is half-truth. The problem is both. No matter how efficient a father (with a monthly salary of N50,000) is at managing the family resources, I cannot see how he could deliver on a promise to buy a brand new Peugeot 406 for each of his three children in a year. Even with all the loopholes and waste closed, with increased efficiency per dollar spent, there is still a binding budget constraint. To deliver an efficient national transport infrastructure alone will still cost tens of billions of dollars per annum even by corruption-free, cost-effective means.
I hear that APC promises a welfare system that will pay between N5,000 and N10,000 per month to the poorest 25 million Nigerians? Just this programme alone will cost between N1.5 and N3 trillion per annum. Add to this the cost of free primary education plus free meal (to be funded by the federal budget or would it force non-APC state governments to implement the same?), plus some millions of public housing, etc.
I have tried to cost some of the promises by both the APC and the PDP, given alternative scenarios for public finance and the numbers don’t add up. Nigerians would be glad to know how both parties would fund their programmes.
Do they intend to accentuate the huge public debt, or raise taxes on the soon to-be-beleaguered private businesses, or massively devalue the naira to rake in baskets of naira from the dwindling oil revenue, or embark on huge fiscal retrenchment with the sack of labour and abandonment of projects, and which areas of waste do they intend to close and how much do they estimate to rake in from them, etc?
I remember that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was asked similar questions in 1978 and 1979 about his promises of free education and free medical services. Even as a teenager, I was impressed by how he reeled out figures about the amounts he would save from various ‘waste’ including the tea/coffee served in government offices. The point is that at least he did his homework and had his numbers and I give credit to his team.
Some 36 years later, the quality of political debate and discourse seems to border on the pedestrian. From the quality of its team, I did not expect much from the current government, but I must confess that I expected APC as a party aspiring to take over from PDP to come up with a knock-out punch. Evidently, from what we have read from the various versions of its manifesto as well as the depth of promises being made, it does not seem that it has a better offer.
Let me digress a bit to refresh our memory on where we are, and thus provide the context in which to evaluate the promises being made to us. Recall that the key word of the 2015 budget is ‘austerity’. Austerity? This is just within a few months of the fall in oil prices.
If it was intended as a joke, APC must please get serious. On the other hand, President Jonathan targets two million jobs per annum but his strategy for doing so is a Job Board--- another committee of sort. Sorry, Mr. President, a Job Board is not a strategy. The principal job Nigerians hired you to do for them is to create jobs for them too. You cannot outsource that job, Sir. Creating 3 million jobs per annum under the unfolding crisis would task our creativity and audacity to the limits.
I heard one politician argue that once we fix power, private sector would create jobs. Not necessarily! Well, this government claims to have added 1,700MW to the national grid and yet unemployment soars. Ask Greece, Spain, etc with power and infrastructure and yet with high unemployment. Structural dislocations play a key role. For example, currently in Nigeria, it is estimated that more than 60% of graduates of our educational system are unemployable.
You can understand why many of us are amused when the government celebrates that it has established twelve more glorified secondary schools as universities. I thought they would have told us how many Nigerian universities made it in the league of the best 200 universities in the world. That would have been an achievement. Surely, creating millions of jobs in this economy would, among other things, require ‘new money’ and extraordinary system of coordination among the three tiers of government plus the private sector. Unfortunately, from what I read, the CBN is largely likely to be asleep at this time the country needs the most revolutionary finance.
This is a topic for another day. Only the President can lead this effort. Moreover, we are waiting for the two parties/candidates to spell out HOW they will create jobs, whether it is the 20,000 jobs per state by APC or 2 million per annum by President Jonathan. Let us know how you arrived at the figures. Whichever of the two that is declared winner will have his job cut out for him, and I expect him to declare a national emergency on job creation.
Surprisingly, none of the parties/candidates has any grand vision about African economic integration, led by Nigeria. ...