SITUATING SOLUDO'S SALVOS
Ahead of the February 14, 2015 Presidential Election, a former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Chukwuma Charles Soludo, recently fired several salvos at the ideas of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is led by President Goodluck Jonathan, and those of the All Progressive Congress (APC), whose presidential candidate is former military ruler, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retd). The crux of Soludo's argument was that Nigeria is facing a major economic downturn that may trigger government instability and that neither the incumbent PDP regime nor the APC opposition that seeks to take over the federal administration, has presented cogent ideas capable of steering the ship of state in a manner which will successfully address the looming crisis.
To put it mildly, despite its seeming coherence, Soludo's analysis is problematic. For starters, while it is indeed true that the fall in global oil prices has affected Nigeria's economy adversely — in the same manner it has affected virtually all other oil-producing countries — the Jonathan-led government had already implemented several policies aimed at diversifying the economy such that Nigeria will not only weather the storm, but will also actually continue to grow economically.
Perhaps the best evidence in this regard is that agriculture in Nigeria is becoming more commercially successful and has significantly reduced our food import bill. Of course, Soludo pooh-poohed the growth of agriculture under President Jonathan. In response to that, this writer will like to draw the reader's attention to the fact that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) formally presented Nigeria with an award for reducing extreme hunger by more than half and achieving the Millennium Development Goal on Hunger three years ahead of the 2015 target date set for the Millennium Development Goals. Moreover, Nigeria's food import bill declined from 1.1 trillion naira (6.9 billion dollars) in 2009 to 684.7 billion naira (4.35 billion dollars) by December 2013. Dear reader, the simple fact is that it is impossible for a country to reduce her food import bill and still reduce hunger if the agriculture sector is not growing.
In a similar vein, the verifiable fact that Nigeria has moved from a cement importing country to a cement exporting country has engendered almost incalculable positive multiplier effects on the economy, which Soludo will rather hide under pseudo-intellectualism and self-serving half-truths. The reader is here referred to the 10th Edition of the Global Cement Report released on 2nd September 2013, in Lima, Peru, by International Cement Review. In that report, it was indicated that Nigeria joined the list of top 25 cement producing countries for the first time in her history.
Furthermore, Soludo may attempt to bamboozle ordinary citizens with terms such as macroeconomics (which has to do with general economic indicators such as interest rates and national productivity), and microeconomics (which has to do with single factors and the effects of individual decisions), but the reality is that if the Jonathan-led administration had not provided the enabling environment, Nigeria would not have grown its cement production capacity from two million metric tonnes in 2002 to 35.9 million metric tonnes in 2014, thereby creating 1.6 million jobs and still counting. Such large-scale turnarounds in any sector of a country's economy simply cannot be achieved without the government of the day putting in place policies that are conducive to productivity.
Additionally, Soludo may want to wish away what the resuscitation of the railways — after three decades of being comatose — represents, but he cannot dismiss the travellers using the trains and the attendant trickle-down economic activities ignited by our railway coaches moving again. (Consider the people employed within the railway system and services like restaurants and provision of shops at train stations).
So, what are we to make of Soludo's clearly less-than-noble criticisms? We must situate the former CBN governor's salvos in the context of the trend of latter day saints who become clear-sighted and hyper-patriotic citizens only after they leave government. The leader of this group is Soludo's principal, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is perpetually on the warpath with everybody. Obasanjo at various times has launched his own salvos at President Jonathan, General Buhari, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, members of the National Assembly and just about anybody that catches his fancy.
Like Obasanjo, whose major motive has been identified as being triggered by what is referred to as the Messiah Complex, the ulterior motives of Soludo's public intervention can be seen in the subtle digs at former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi (with whom he feels he has a personal score to settle concerning his failed gubernatorial bid), Minister of Finance and coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and just about every other member of President Jonathan's economic team.
In conclusion, it is not that Soludo should not comment on Nigeria's affairs. He, like this writer and every other Nigerian, is guaranteed the right to hold and express his views under a Jonathan Presidency without fear of being locked up or exiled. It is just that Soludo should not dress up his personal bias — to which he is fully entitled — as some sort of sacrosanct economic analysis while raising the oft-repeated spectre of a Nigerian doomsday. One of those hilarious friends Soludo referred to in his article should have told him that that card has been overplayed and a majority of Nigerians will once again vote for Jonathan to continue transforming Nigeria.
Written by Johnson Momodu.