By Gbadebo Adeyeye
In 1960, when I was a young boy growing up in Ise Ekiti, one of the poorest districts in the country, I overheard my uncle one day talking to my late grandmother about his situation. I was surprised to hear a man usually so strong and tough, obviously frustrated, scared and worried about the future as he confessed to the old woman that he didn’t know how he would do it anymore; with no money, a wife and two children in school. My grandmother calmly answered him, “Listen, we’ve been through worse, and here we are today; it will all work out.”
These same words I continue to repeat to those critics who are carping the first 10 months of President Muhammadu Buhari in government. And because hope and resilience are part of our very makeup, I encourage them to look back at what we passed through during the 16 years of Peoples Democratic Party leadership in Nigeria and try to develop a rebirth of confidence in our democracy with patience. The good thing is that God can never ask us to do anything without giving us the grace to handle it. And since we have a God of second chances, a Lord who never tires of giving us a fresh start, we must thank Him for all we have passed through, and continue to trust Him for all the promises yet to come.
Honestly speaking, I had faith in Nigerian democracy before it was established, and I still have faith in it now. I believe it has a glorious future before it – not just as another Green Beret rule, but as an embodiment of great ideals of our civilisation.
Of course, there are a lot of Nigerian citizens who may not want to admit it, but unlike a lame duck president, Buhari has been a damn good president in his freshman year on the job. Infuriating at times, and very sleepy at others, but overall, the serious looking president is above average in performance; especially with the ongoing corruption war against the most dangerous enemies of our country. And unlike the days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, when nobody suggested that Nigeria was ungovernable or at a tipping point this close to anarchy, running Africa’s largest nation today is very difficult. But even as difficult as it is to run our country, there are still ways to appraise the president’s first 10 months in office, and here it goes.
In fighting corruption, Buhari deserves a B+. It is clear that the president understands that most Nigerian citizens want him to keep corruption in check. The only reason why Buhari doesn’t get a full A here is the slow start in bringing the culprits to justice. However, his indisputable war against corrupt officials in this country wins big points.
Like the corruption war, figuring out where to place millions of unemployed Nigerian youth in the economy is one of those existential questions that we simply have to solve. I think Buhari deserve credit for his daily focus on the urgent need to provide employment for our youth. Unlike the past administration, Buhari has good plans and he is talking convincingly; but he surely needs a lot of support from Nigerians. Nevertheless, until any of his important plans move forward and we start seeing less university graduates selling recharge cards in the street of our cities, the president gets a C- in job creation.
More than any other leader at any level of government, the president is the person who is called to be a voice for the people he represents. That is, if you cannot explain important national issues with good communication, you cannot lead. However, Buhari has lost a pass mark here over his poorly explained response to questions about the faith of those 200 innocent girls abducted by Boko Haram. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was very bad at this; and now Buhari seems to be poor at it too. Whereas, so long as these young girls continue to remain with terrorists and the cities of our country continue to be unsafe to live, many of us can never agree with the president that Boko Haram is no longer a threat to Nigerian citizens, as he claimed. Therefore, giving Buhari a better grade than D+ in the area of taking care of security matters in Nigeria reflects my bias for trying out new ideas to reduce crime in the society. After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
In some regards, running the affairs of a nation is like running a private company. If you are not constantly updating your product and the way the company runs, competitors will pass you by and investors will flee. In fairness, we must all remember that Jonathan’s administration left behind a poorly managed economy. Also in fairness, Buhari has been fighting to hold the line on how to improve the economy since he came to office in May 2015. But that said, Buhari has earned a C grade for doing too little to reckon with some of the black holes that threaten to swallow up our entire economy. For example, while it is currently not clear to anyone in Nigeria how the country will meet the 21st century challenges in the global market, especially now that many of the policies that impeded our economy since the military regime have not been replaced, some lawmakers in Abuja are arguing that the only catalyst for Nigerian economic recovery in the 21st century is to reduce importation. Whereas, the whole concept of economics is all about demand and supply; and every good student of economics understands that there is no substitute for free trade economy in the modern world. That is why the president and all our lawmakers in Abuja must not take the kindness of Nigerian voters for weakness and realize quickly that the toughest and most thankless thing in government is to ignore the poverty level among citizens and cut the nation’s economy off from the rest of the world.
More than 70 years ago, for instance, Marco Polo described China as far ahead of any European city in the excellence of its buildings and bridges; the number of its public hospitals, the effective maintenance of public order and the manner and refinement of its people. However, between 206 and 221 BC, the Chinese built the Great Wall and cut themselves off from the world. Following that, China’s development stopped, and the country fell hopelessly behind the rest of the world; the same way our country has been since the ban on importation by the Obasanjo’s military government in 1979. But unlike Nigerian borders where cash-and-carry customs agents look at foreign goods like abomination, China is presently gaining international respect as one of the world’s great powers due to their restoration of national pride after decades of socio-economic deprivation.
Similarly, one of the most inspiring stories of the past 50 years has been that of developing countries that were mired in absolute poverty after the Second World War but adopted the right economic policies that triggered astonishing prosperity in their nations. Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Chile have succeeded because they simply stressed basic economic principles, such as fewer government restrictions, open market, lower importation taxes, and competitive industries; and of course, placed a high premium on citizens’ education. All these principles have opened up their economy and integrated them with those of the developed world. Without any doubt, such progress is within the reach of any nation; and Nigeria can also extricate itself from poverty to join the ranks of the industrialised countries in the next 10 years. For example, by adopting growth-based policies and putting chains on those “Fine Bara” customs agents at our borders, the country can make an enormous positive contribution to the welfare of her citizens and the prosperity of all Africans.
Another success story is being written presently by the three towering giants of the developing world – India, Brazil and Indonesia – all of which have turned the corner towards potential economic prosperity. With a population of almost 900 million, India is slowly shedding its reputation as a socialist economy. It has increased trade with Western Europe and the United States; and strengthened their rupee in the international financial market. The literacy rate has improved by over 150 per cent since 1960. Per capita GNP has risen from $110 to over $600 in the past 20 years. Despite the fact that India suffers from religious conflict and civil strife, it is becoming a great power in the 21st century with the ride down the path of the free market economy.
And Brazil, with over half of the South American population, has made a remarkable economic turnaround in the 1990s. Racked by runaway inflation, high foreign debt, a crumbling public infrastructure and widespread political corruption, like Nigeria, the government of President Itamer Franco opened the door to economic reform. Brazil GDP grew more than four per cent in 1993, with almost 10 per cent increase in the industrial production. Export to the United States has increased to more than 83 per cent over the last 18 years. Yes, Brazil has formidable problems like Nigeria, but with the tremendous improvements in its commercial outlook, it has the potential to become an economic showcase for the rest of Latin America.
Indonesia is another striking example of how a developing nation moves from poverty to prosperity through the adoption of free market policies. Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world, after China, India and the United States. It is the largest Muslim nation with more people than all the Arab nations combined. For more than 30 years now, the proportion of Indonesians living in abject poverty has declined from 60 per cent less than 13 per cent. Annual per capita income has increased from $50 to $650. And just like Nigeria, Indonesia suffers from political corruption and nepotism, but progress will continue as economic freedom is expanded in the country.
Turkey has transformed itself from an economic basket case into an economic breadbasket. Beginning in the 1980s, the late Turkish Prime Minister, Turgut Ozal, aggressively lifted trade restrictions, liberalised government policies and integrated Turkey economically with Western Europe – a feat that has been difficult for Nigerian Cherokee leaders to accomplish since the military rule. These policies boosted Turkey’s per capita income from $1,400 to $2,000 in 1993, while the new government of Tansu Ciller pledged to keep Turkey on the same track of economic reform.
Mexico has been the economic wunderkind of the past two decades. Under the leadership of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexico increased its trade with the United States, liberalised state – run industries, restored world confidence in pesos and eliminated costly government expenses. And since Mexico began to reduce its trade batteries in 1986, US export climbed from $12.4 billion to almost $50 billion in 1992. As a result, Mexico has become Latin America’s most progressive economy and has set an example for other nations.
Back here in Nigeria, we surely cannot move from poverty to progress unless we project values that go beyond corruption, private jets and birthday parties in Dubai. And how we meet these serious challenges in the 21st century will determine not only our future but the future of our democracy, our economic prosperity and our position in Africa continent!
– Adeyeye is the proprietor, Crown Heights College, Ibadan.