*WHEN SAVING IS ILLEGAL*
I am no economist. Then again, neither are a whole lot of the people who
have written or spoken in recent times on the economic issues prevalent in
our nation today. We are, however, stakeholders; after all, it is our
country. We live here, earn a living here; our children attend schools here
and what have you. Even those of us who are not resident in the country
have family members who are, and probably some investment or the other
here. So, we are all stakeholders.
Since the first alarm was sounded on the falling prices of crude oil, many
of us have been following the news ardently, silently hoping for a reprieve
of some sort. It has been several weeks since the first news broke, and
though several actions and reactions have taken place since then, the
narrative of the general populace has not changed; we are still in the
˜finger pointing phase. Two points arise from this phase which require
that we take a look at the facts before us critically rather than allow
ourselves be swept away in the flood of what at first may appear as ˜public
opinion, but now plays as a well-crafted plan to distract and derail the
good people of this dear nation from the things which are true and right.
Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a technocrat, not a politician. She was not
appointed as finance minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy
because she was owed a political favour, but because the presidency deemed
her the right fit for the job. Based on her past service to the country, it
is not out of place for me to state that she is not one associated with
reckless spending. In fact, it was during her first stint as finance
minister that the Excess Crude Account was set up.
Secondly, while she endorsed saving; other parties, wielding political
might, undermined her efforts. In April 2013, she openly, and on more than
one occasion told us that the Federal Government was compelled to share
over $16.4billion revenue accumulated in the excess crude account to the
states because the governors argued that it was unconstitutional and even
illegal for the Nigerian republic to have savings stashed away for some
imaginary rainy day. She was also quoted saying that, It was a fight to
even get $1billion paid into the SWF (Sovereign Wealth Fund). We managed to
save $20billion the last time, but now the governors are saying it is
illegal. So, the country is not able to save, and what is left in the
Excess Crude Revenue Account today is only about $3.6billion.
The truth is, surviving the current decline in oil prices and its negative
impact on national and global economies would have certainly been made
easier had we enough funds shored up. Remember, it had been done before
during the 2008/09 crises. The government was able to augment its budget
deficit and continue with most of its development programmes with revenues
from a healthy Excess Crude Revenue Account.
Had Dr Okonjo-Iweala not, in the past, expressed her concerns, reservations
and angst about what another economic meltdown without sufficient funds in
the ECA would do to us, then she should naturally be our first target for
finger-pointing. But she did, several times over, she did. Yet we refuse to
blame the people who squandered our future and have faced the one woman who
became an enemy of state governors and legislature in her bid to secure the
economic future of this country.
The Minister has always been an advocate of the need for the country to
continue to create safety nets in the form of savings in order to cushion
any potential negative effects of the volatility in the international oil
market on the domestic economy should there be any further depression in
the global economy. Just as she has repeatedly stressed that increased
efforts to diversify the countrys economy remains the only viable option
open to pursue in the face of dwindling revenues from crude oil exports as
well as increasing volatility in the global oil market.
With elections fast approaching and our current situation becoming fertile
ground for politicking, what is needed now is a collaborative paradigm
shift. We need to look beyond the problem to the possible solutions; we
need to shift our focus from blaming the finance minister and her economic
team to focusing on the things that matter. In truth, as stakeholders,
everyone has a role to play. Let us not be carried away by the opinions of
naysayers as we look towards a better economy in the years ahead.
*Issachar Odion is a post graduate student in one of the federal
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