Nigeria's Incompetent Economic Team (2)

by Odilim Enwegbara

Can the economy be flourishing while citizens live in absolute destitution?

Last week, this column discussed why the ”possession of strings of academic degrees” should not be confounded with the possession of commonsense since the possession of commonsense invariably is the possession of some ingenious gifts. Also, the column discussed how too much reliance on western economics as development solution could — like a drug overdose — cause some irreparable damage to the economy itself since it could be forced into a reverse gear.

The consensus arrived at here last week was that rather than religiously celebrating some textbook technocrats, looking up to some indigenously endowed commonsense compatriots should be our only pathway to economic salvation. But on the final note, it was agreed that there’s no justifications whatsoever for supposed faceless technocrats — hired to fix the economy — to join our politicians in seeking cheap public self-praises.

In this part two — which wouldn’t have been written had hundreds of callers not demanded for it — the goal here is to further interrogate whether it makes democratic sense to hand the people’s economy to some unelected technocrats, when the real reason for voting the politician is not just to win an election, but also to take the full responsibility of leading the economy in the very direction that benefits the people elected the politician.

So, it has come down to what Joseph Nye argued in his book, the Soft Power, where he made it clear that at the end of the day, the west could be handing to developing countries shadow democracy — a system where on the one hand local politicians control the political machinery, while on the other hand, some western smuggled faceless technocrats working for western powers, control the real thing — the economy. In other words, Mr. Nye was alerting us about the exportation of democratic economic totalitarianism, driven by protégée technocrats who serve not local interest but Washington’s. But done, because of the kind of political personalities, who Joseph Story in 1803 qualified as ”A new race of men springing up to govern nations…hunters after popularity [and] the profits of office… who follow not so much what is right as what leads to a temporary vulgar applause.”

But how new is Nye’s political thesis? How could it be when from the 1st President of the United States, George Washington to the 32nd President, Franklin Roosevelt, utmost caution was always exercised in selecting patriotic Americans who should have access to America’s corridors of power? How could it be when it’s always out of the fear of populating America’s corridors of power with some British protégés that also forced Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President, to angrily protest London’s interference, and for that reason he said, ”Single act of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions…pursued unalterably through every change of ministers plainly proves a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing us to slavery”? Wasn’t it in full agreement that President Franklin Roosevelt responded his critics, ”I don’t care about if he is the finest mind in the world; I only care if he is patriotic enough to use his finest mind for the good of the United States”?

But there is nowhere this fear of domestic economic espionage is more pronounced than in China, where to avoid nationals being used as economic hitmen, the Chinese government has since made illegal for any Chinese who has lived overseas up to five years, unless on official assignment, to be allowed access to China’s corridors of power to the extent of making joining China’s elite economic team more difficult than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

Therefore, not only are members of China’s economic elite party-grown. Years of careful scrutiny remains the unavoidable tedious process of selecting those to join the country’s exclusive economic leadership club. But above all, it is patriotism and commonsense rather than accumulated economics degrees that matter most. In other words, rather than, emphasis on some ”baseless academic qualification,” the Chinese government gives more recognition to graduating through party hierarchy to earn one the elite position of being among those deciding the economic destiny of China’s 1.3 billion people.

Looking at Nigeria’s case what do we see than some imported technocrats with some beautifully packaged western academic qualifications? But behind the glossy resumes are some hidden western interest-pushers. In other words, our ‘tokunbo’ Mr. or Ms. fix-it could also be foreign sponsored hitmen and women. Unfortunately, that our ”click and paste” technocrats are friend of the west is already an open secret. It is the level of closeness with the CIA, Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, Brookings Institution, the World Bank, WTO, or the Rockefeller Foundation that is unbelievable.

So as a matter of law, what we should be advocating from 2015 should be that all the political parties should be able to demonstrate beyond doubt that they have some party-grown men and women capable of managing the country’s economy should they win the elections. Otherwise, why seeking our votes when instead of the elected party members running the show, it is some imported technocrats with little or no emotional interest in the people’s expectations who’re to run such complex economies like ours? For this reason, during the 2015 electioneering campaigns all the parties should be mandated to present their economic team alongside their political office-seekers, so that Nigerian voters could judge for themselves which party has the best team to manage the nation’s economy to their best satisfactions!

In other words, each economic team’s shadow ministers, the Minister of Finance, for instance, should be able to tell Nigerians how he or she wants to reduce the country’s bloated recurrent spending, how he or she would unconventionally find the hundreds of billions of dollars needed for fixing the infrastructure. For the Trade and Investment counterpart, he or she should be able to show how to jumpstart the country’s industrialization as well as create jobs for millions of jobless youth.

The shadow Petroleum Minister also should be able outline some concrete measures not just to fix the refineries but also to make Nigeria an exporter of petroleum products, and above all, how to kick out and retrieve our oil industry from western oil giants. And for the shadow Works Minister, it’s time to show how to crisscross the country with 21st century roads, railroads, and waterways. For the Agric Minister, handy should it be a comprehensive commonsense roadmap of how to transform Nigeria from a food importer to a food exporter.

But before 2015, let’s send the present incompetent economic team home along with their obsolete textbook development theories. In their place should be a team of vibrant goal-getters, whose mission should be expected to be in complete harmony with our economic patriotism. I am proposing Mr. Mustafa Chike-Obi as the Finance Minister, Mr. Atedo Peterside as the Trade and Investment Minister, and Senator Abdullahi Adamu as Agric Minister.

Such a team should as a matter of urgency, come up with a realistic industrialization and economic diversification roadmap; not Mr. Aganga’s so-called National Enterprise Development Programme, which not only hardly shows when and how Nigeria should quit WTO, but also when to stop the current dumping ground Nigeria ours has since become for cheap and superior foreign goods, without which protecting our small businesses and entrepreneurs should continue to be mirage.

Mandated to create a minimum of 100,000 jobs monthly, the team should as a matter of urgency, pursue economic formalization that should make all businesses operating in the coun

try legally registered with both business and tax codes. Not only because doing so provides owners a secure employment. With that our moribund business service providers — particularly accountants, lawyers, and insurers — should witness high demand for their services. Besides providing jobs for an army of apprentices, hundreds of thousands of students seeking casual jobs will be get employed.

The team should aggressively pursue high import tariff regime with the goal of using it as the largest revenues generator to provide some cheap ‘cold’ money to support the development of our small business sector. Also, like it is the case in most modern economies, the new economic team should impose annual auto plates renewal tax, forcing fuel guzzling cars like SUVs and trucks to pay not less N100,000 annually as social cost tax, while N50,000 should be for medium-sized cars and N5,000 for small cars. The ill-conceived YOUWIN and SWF should be disbanded so that the new team could have more money channeled — for instance — into providing specialized industrial parks across the nation in partnership with the 36 states of the federation.

Retrieving the country’s construction economy from the likes of Julius Berger, Setraco, Arab Contractors, RCC, should require promoting indigenous construction companies, including mega national construction companies like the Nigerian Military Construction and Engineering Company, as a melting pot for our military and civilian engineers. Let the team do so by pushing for a law banning the award of construction contracts paid with taxpayers’ money to companies not owned 100 per cent by Nigerians.

Tackling the power problem head-on should require persuading the three tiers of government to set aside — as strategic collateral — three billion out of the country’s 42 billion barrels of oil reserves to be used for borrowing about $250 billion from countries like China (with over $3.7 trillion in foreign reserves) so that to generate 100,000 MW before May 2015. Ensuring corrupt politicians do not divert money it should be kept in some foreign accounts from where all completed projects are settled.

The new team should persuade our lawmakers to reallocate the N273.5 billion meant for SURE-P in the 2013 budget to building two new mega refineries in the country within 14 months so that fuel importation should become a thing of the past.

Foreign retailers should either be banned or forced to locally source minimum of 80 per cent of their goods within the country since otherwise their presence, promoting their homemade goods displaces our infant industry. Also NAFDAC should make 5 years mandatory requirement for downstream imported goods registered in Nigeria to be locally made or else the goods be banned.

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