Former CBN Governor and failed Anambra Gubernatorial candidate, Professor Soludo's latest missive on issue based election versus personality oriented politics is apt, brilliantly written; but in the words of Tony Blair (as an aspersion on his now dumped deputy, Andy Brown), the piece lacked a "touch of humanity".
Quite surprisingly, given his pedigree, he did better at offering political solutions than economic ones. In one line, Soludo was refreshing while on the other one may be tried not to ask what he had been gouging on. Clearly, he had command of his numbers but clearly lacked any sense of political compass, any feel of the common touch and above all, the impact of his preferred policy prescriptions on the general population.
Here is a man, better fit for the academia but whose ideas are better experimented on raccoons rather than humans, to whom they will bring despair, conflicts and poverty. Chief of Soludo's economic gripe with the current administration are the decline in the foreign reserve, the rising tide of recurrent expenditure vis-├á-vis public sector workers and the wonderment of being stuck at a not-too-bad (it is even real, that is) 6-7% rate of growth on an annual basis; really?
Professor Soludo did not appear disturbed by the rising tide of poverty that have seen the number of impoverished nearly doubled under his party's watch since 1999, or the declining level of education and health that have written off the future growth prospects of our nation. No, Mr. Soludo was most worried about numbers. Those magic numbers make for masturbatory pleasure for the numbers guy in Soludo, but means jack wit for my seventy years old great aunt in the village.
While Soludo was more incensed by the declining foreign reserve that primarily finances imports of ostentatious goods for the thirty percent well-off Nigerians (while 70% is stuck below poverty level), my great aunt is worried about good paved roads to transport vegetables grown on her small garden to the nearby local mammy market at minimum cost. While Soludo is stuck anticipating the impact of public sector salaries, my great aunt is thanking God for the once in a decade minimum wage increase that her level 7 civil servant son was recently awarded that gave her that new transistor radio to connect her to the world out there. It is very clear that my great aunt and Soludo are at cross-roads here, and something must give!
Clearly, no one would say that private sector economy is wrong in theory, or that an exploding public sector recurrent expenditure is healthy. However, the professor's submission showed an uncanny and persistent lack of understanding of the real sector that suffered greatly under his stewardship at the nation's apex bank, while he made billionaires of pilferers, thieves and banker gangsters!
For example, Nigerians generally are not happy about the increasing wages of our political class (which accounts for about sixty billion naira of our nearly four trillion naira federal budget, and twice that on the national level); but how many Nigerians think civil servants and police men are even close to being paid a living wage? Would professor Soludo substitute wholly his "comparable to private sector" CBN pension, for that of being a professor in his previous life at University of Nigeria?
Properly analyzed, our longing for a slimmer and more efficient government where politicians earn their wages, and positions are not duplicated (what took Soludo so long anyway) is to ensure the government works for us and not necessarily to cut the wages of our disenchanted civil servants, or sack of our thinning teacher or police workers. Soludo is conflating.
Here are the facts: Nigeria as a country suffers from three chronic problems: political paralysis brought upon us by a corrupt political class led by his own party, poverty brought upon us by rabid under-utilization of our economic capacity and insecurity, a direct consequence of the first two. What does foreign reserve and phantom GDP growth figures from the discredited National Bureau of Statistics got to do with these?
Truth is with a budget of barely thirty billion dollars at the federal level, and double that on the lower tiers, Nigeria's annual spending is clocking below New York City (not even the state) with less than a tenth of her population, and a hundredth of her landscape. Clearly, over spending cannot be problem.
Even if Nigeria's entire budget were spent on capital outlays to build roads, bridges and power stations- it still won't adequately fund the nations' exploding need in the face of rising population, and cluttered cities. Cutting the public sector labor will as such amount to attempting to grow the economy on the back of the neediest amongst us (can someone say trickle down economics?), while increasing unemployment and poverty; logical?
The solution hence must be focused on not reducing the growing baby fingers that feed on the pie, but on growing the pie at the minimum to match such growth (past and new). Growing the economic pie of Nigeria will require visionary leadership that PDP cannot provide, and will be focused on increasing the utilization levels of our human resources (i.e. provide jobs) and resources (i.e. diversify the economy) while reducing the cost of doing business (by providing much needed infrastructure and security).
Jobs must be at the center of any program that will meld politics and economic vision, and that was what was lacking in Soludo's missive. Providing jobs will focus on three primary sectors that are most capable of generating such with minimal investments and least investment cycles: agriculture, manufacturing and construction. At the risk of sounding statist, there are many things a good economic team can put in place that will directly stimulate these sectors without waiting on the phantom "private sector growth" that have never materialized even under Professor Soludo's five years stewardship.
First, fix the power problem. More than taxes (which Professor Soludo comically posits is the handicap to job creation), the lack of power is central to creating new jobs, opening new industries, reducing the cost of doing business and is an equivalent of a 80% tax cut from current levels for most businesses (of whom nearly eighty percent don't even know what the tax man look like). What has taxes got to do with this?
Secondly, invest massively in roads, bridges, dams and public water and education. Rebuilding, and breaking new grounds. These will put our engineers, architects, builders, construction workers to work, and the multiplier effect on road side food sellers, the tens of mouths that depend on them for living is unimaginable.
Thirdly, modernize and devolve the police force while making security central to the function of all tiers of government. Tripling the size of the police force (now grossly understaffed will achieve this goal; with new employment coming from the devolved local and state police that live and dwell among us instead of quartered barracks.
The seven hundred thousand newly employed university graduates will be grateful, so will their families and the public with a more visible street-by-street community police presence that allows businesses to flourish safely in our neighborhoods and tourists to come visiting. Such economy will be less dependent on oil receipts; the budget will grow but on the surplus side and not on the backs of the poorest amongst us, and the overall economy will be healthier!
In the end, it won't matter if the GDP growth figure is stuck in the five percent levels or whatever the mathematics guys say. For in the multitude of jobs created, and midst of poverty vanquished from the lives of Nigerians (like my great aunt) who will never smell the privilege of foreign reserve ostentatious goods, a new Nigeria of contended, happy and secure people shall arise. In a new nation with adequate power and good infrastructure that can produce a bigger proportion of her needs, foreign reserve in a declining currency (i.e. dollars) means less.
The vision Nigeria needs now is that of pragmatic can-do; not one of statistics, Monday night quarterbacking and obfuscation. We especially need to be careful with propagators of bad ideas; for in the absence of ideas, the temptation is to fill the void with horrible ones which only digs us deeper into the trenches of permanent underdevelopment.