‘Little to cheer on economy but more to hope for’
The Registrar/CEO of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Prof. Chris Onalo, in this interview with TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA, says the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration’s scorecard on the economy gives little to cheer about but more to hope for.
The two years of this administration has been hinged on the tripod of security, anti-corruption and the economy, how would you assess their performance so far?
The issue of economy, security and the war against corruption are intertwined. You can’t separate one from the other. The Buhari administration came to tackle these three monsters.
On the economic front, it is fairly difficult to place a substantive economic policy achievement for this administration. By that I mean the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is still fairly stagnant. It has not substantially moved up because of other areas of the economy that has bogged it down.
The industrial sector hasn’t picked up, the oil price has come down, and we are beginning to see the downside of our over-reliance on oil. In that regard, policy initiative has not translated to positive result for Nigerians.
Also, the roadmap to rejuvenate the agriculture sector has been brilliantly drafted but its implementation is held down by other extraneous factors. The Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs), which is the heartbeat of any nation has not been brought into the mainstream of economic activities though we hear a lot recently about the ease of doing business, which is primarily targeted at the SMEs. That is still at the policy drafting stage.
The science and technology sector hasn’t really achieved a milestone because of lack of funding. Science and technology adventure is typically an investment-driven initiative that harnesses the ingenuity and creativity of the Nigerian masses to solve socio-economic problems.
If anyone should place a rating on the economic front, to be honest with you, if you place a negative rating, you damage the economic policy content, which is taking shape. And if you do not place any rating, you are seen to be objective and waiting for the players to kick-start the implementation and they don’t have all the time in the world.
But the players don’t seem to have any option than to go for what they consider the first variable in their gamut of policy framework, which is money and that is what will connect you to corruption.
How does fighting corruption help the government in its economic agenda?
All hope is not lost despite the current hardship being faced by the populace. This is because there is a relentless war against corruption. The beauty of Nigeria is that it is a vast and highly populated country. That is the only attraction to the foreign investing public, which is its active population.
But there is a restriction to that enthusiasm and that is corruption. I think the government of the day seems to be well determined in spite of the shrinking resources to drive their roadmap strategy with anti-corruption as the pivot.
Over the years, the economy hasn’t really been breathing healthily. If you look at the backdrop of unprecedented corruption in the last administration, you can safely say that the economy was a disaster waiting to happen. Even the international community was not able to precisely say the true health of the Nigerian economy. Hence, they were not able to identify the quantum of corruption that has eroded the health of the nation’s economy.
Incalculable damage had already been inflicted on the nation’s economy for too long and any current administration will have more than enough they can chew. They wouldn’t be able to make appreciable progress except they perform magic.
I recognise the feelings of Nigerians especially with this administration’s failure to match their performance with the people’s expectations to fix things very fast. However, I could score the government, tactically as it were, fairly good. They have done well in holding the economy to the stage where it is not evaporating today.
So many things hit the administration at its inception coupled with its dillydallying on setting up its cabinet and economic team, but they have been able to hold things together and not make a bad situation worse.
The need to ensure security in the land is overwhelming but that process has been weakened by our penchant for corruption. Something is fundamentally wrong with our passion for material things and if we don’t address that, our collective and individual attitude will be a threat to our security as a sovereign state.
What about the recession which doesn’t match with reality on the ground?
The reality is imaginary in my opinion. You are saying the reality on ground is that people are still suffering but what I see is that the suffering was orchestrated by the way we do our things over the years. Suffering has always been there. There is no time Nigerians have never experienced suffering. Really, there was never a time of such imaginary boom.
When people talk of recession, it is because Nigeria relies largely on one single product. The product suffered setback. It somersaulted, and sadly for us as a people, there was no cushion because of the reality of population growth. Nigeria hasn’t got a definitive plan for birth control.
So, at a time when there should be belt tightening because of the contrast in the global oil market, we consistently have more mouths to feed with an over-bloated population. This is what is causing the strain called recession. Consumption propensity has always been on the increase; it has never balanced with available resources.
And what bring about resources, it is production. Consuming what you produce. Unfortunately, we have abandoned agriculture, have failed to diversify the economy, and have failed to create multiple sources of revenue. Employment and industries have not been created, not by the Buhari administration alone, but by the past administrations cumulatively.
If you go to the north in the early 80s and 90s, the textile industries we had in the north alone were more than 200. Come to Lagos, the same. Textile industries were everywhere. Go and find out, what has become of those factories today? It i, warehouses overgrown with weeds and worship centres.
Yet, we have never stopped giving birth to children, we have never stopped wearing our traditional outfits, we have never gone naked like in the Stone Age. So, where are the textile materials coming from? Importation at the expense of local manufacturing. And we had governments all these while things were getting bad. That is the lifestyle that has fueled recession.
Yet, we can’t absolve the Buhari administration of blame?
If Nigerians are now focusing on what they call current realities, it is a miscalculation because these realities have been with us all these while. You are not precise, you are being reactive to momentary situations and that is not the way to solving problems. We have been able to endure the dysfunctional system all these while because Nigerians have an elastic propensity to adjust to any situation.
You can’t hold the present administration responsible for what has been the age-long problem in the country. I am not saying the Buhari administration is saint, which is far from it. But in terms of the outcomes within a specific period of time, two years to be specific, I think we cannot heap the whole blame on the present government.
How then can we get out of this quagmire?
The real Nigerian problem is the inability of political leaders to put Nigerians first, as opposed to self-enrichment. But going forward, government should pay greater attention to agriculture and deploy resources to the SMEs and remove the bottlenecks to thriving entrepreneurship in the country. There are known bottlenecks confronting the ease of doing business in the country.
The state governments in their desperation to raise internally generated revenue to support what is coming from the federation account are undermining business growth with double taxations, charges and policy summersaults.
In the face of dwindling government revenues, the cost of running government has continued to increase to record levels. This is something the federal government must tackle assiduously. They must be seen to walk the talk in this regard. The country holds the Buhari administration to his electioneering promises, which were anti-corruption, accountability in public service and reduction of cost of governance.
Lastly, the executive and the National Assembly must be on the same page for the president to fully deliver on its ‘dividends of democracy’ to Nigerians.