By Olusegun Akande
Kindly allow me to paint this rather worrying picture for you.
Inaccessible road junctions; traffic at a standstill on most expressways; policemen and soldiers trying in vain to keep the peace at every petrol station; and citizens fighting each other as a result of being pushed to breaking point. Homes without light or water, businesses without staff, and an economy that is now officially going backwards.
This, your excellency is no ordinary picture. Rather it is the very grim reality of today’s Nigeria – your Nigeria.
Walking past a petrol station earlier today I witnessed a bunch of individuals sarcastically chanting “change, change, change” as each stood over his small generator whilst waiting to buy petrol. Yes Sir, that’s right – Nigeria’s citizens now have no other option but to take their small generators to petrol stations!
Whilst this may seem a small incident I want to encourage you not to take it lightly in any way. Such chants being voiced by the very people that voted for you strongly suggests the average Nigerian has lost all confidence in your ability to move this nation forward.
The reality is that most people believe Nigeria has gone backwards during the past twelve months. After countless years of gross mismanagement we all knew the journey ahead would be rough; but were prepared to persevere through the tough months ahead – together. What we weren’t prepared for was a government that is hell bent on sticking to its’ albeit noble principles at the detriment of its people and the nation as a whole.
I am told that one of reasons for the current fuel scarcity, which has not only paralysed the economy but also crippled the lives of millions of individuals, is an acute lack of foreign exchange. Unless this problem of inadequate supply of FX is resolved soon it is only a matter of time before we experience shortages of other essential commodities. It seems to me that the current strategy of manipulating the market by fixing the price is simply stifling supply. In order for the exchange rate to be stable foreign exchange must be earned; either via exports or foreign investments. But no foreign investor in his or her right mind would consider investing in a country in which he or she can’t be sure of the actual value of the return. Furthermore why invest hard earned dollars in a country in which one can’t even be sure of the availability of the said currency when one wants out??
Most investors recognise the stark reality that forcefully propping up the Naira is simply not sustainable. After-all our depleted reserves is the best know secret in Africa.
As things stand, Nigeria is more or less closed for business – nothing coming in, and very little going out.
At what point will you accept the reality that even the most dogged ideologies need some semblance of pragmatism?
Allowing the exchange rate to be market determined is not only a ‘must do’ but an inevitability. It’s just a matter of how long you want Nigeria’s citizens to suffer. For as long you continue with your current strategy we will experience more and more shortages of a growing number of commodities, and consequently inflation.
Two very simple things need to be put into place in order for Nigeria’s economy to move forward.
1. We need to produce more, and export more
But we’re nowhere near where we need to be in terms of production and exports. Therefore we shouldn’t imagine for one second that we can accommodate policies that rely solely on proceeds from exports. Let’s be practical sir. Let’s plan for and build momentum in phases.
2. Foreign Investments
No nation can ever be an island. We need foreign investments. I’m not saying we should rely on them (I’ve never been a fan of over-relying on foreign investments), but I am definitely saying that we need them to increase from today’s zero level.
Foreign investments will come when foreign investors are confident in the knowledge that they are investing their funds in an economy that is managed by a government that not only has a robust economic blueprint but is also Realistic, Practical, and doesn’t try to manipulate markets. The Economist recently referred to the policies of Venezuela and Zimbabwe as follows;
‘Yet the similarity between the two regimes is not their thuggishness but their economic ineptitude. Both believe that market forces can be bossed around like soldiers on parade. In both cases, the results are similar: shortages, inflation, and tumbling living standards.’
Let’s be honest sir, Nigeria has more or less taken a similar path to the above two nations. Do we really need to get to the stage wherein long queues for bread and water are the order of the day before you accept that we’re in deep trouble???
A friend of mine witnessed a terrible incident at a petrol station yesterday. In the midst of an obviously overheated argument whilst queuing for petrol, a man in his 50s/60s slammed a fellow citizen on the head with an 8 inch spanner. She told me that as she watched in horror as blood flowed furiously from the victim’s skull, the words that came to mind were ‘Frightening’ and ‘Chaos’.
Such scenes suggest that Nigeria is on a slow but very certain and steady descent into chaos and lawlessness. Chaos and lawlessness will always be the natural consequence of a nation wherein abject suffering is the norm.
I recently came across an interesting article in the New York Times regarding the fall of the Berlin Wall. The quote below is not only revealing but should serve as a warning to your administration.
‘ In short, the fall of the wall came about because of the complex interplay among Soviet reforms, East Berlin’s incompetence, and crucially, rising opposition from everyday Germans.’
Your Excellency, the longer this thoroughly painful suffering continues, the more Nigerians will believe that your government is incompetent; and the greater their resolve for another ‘Change’ will increase.
I passionately want you to succeed sir. I’m not against your principals and ideologies. But contrary to your belief that Nigeria must be thrown into the deep end in order for change to happen, I and millions of other Nigerians are of the opinion that change must be gradual, from the root, and implemented in phases – as one carries the people along. I remain your very humble and loyal supporter.
- Akande heads the Board of the SBA Group, founder, Arise Africa Foundation