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. Did 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 better offer.
Follow the link for continuation… ….
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