Economy: Buhari stop the blame game


By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let us start today's epistle with a real life story. Some years ago, a woman named Dr Kema Chikwe was appointed Minister of Aviation. Her mandate was to bring sanity to our insane airports across the country. It was as if we were a jinxed nation and nothing good could ever come out of our rudderless system. Dr Chikwe set out on her mission like Henry the Navigator. She mapped out her strategy meticulously and elaborately. Our airports were as hot as hell. All efforts to tranquilise the place and make it habitable for passengers proved abortive but Dr Chikwe was determined to succeed where others had failed miserably and woefully.

At the beginning of her voyage, Dr Chikwe was supposedly rattled by a negative story that was aired on a British television describing the Lagos airport as one of the worst in the world. The problem wasn't just about its aesthetic ugliness, the airport was totally invaded and ravaged by port rats who specialised in pilfering peoples bags thus depriving them of their valuables. The Nigeria High Commission in Great Britain felt sufficiently scandalised and terribly angered by the negative but factual story. A message was promptly despatched to Dr Chikwe in Abuja requesting her to respond and deny what was considered a vicious attack on Nigeria.

As cool as cucumber, Dr Chikwe thanked the then High Commissioner and said there was no reason to respond to the annoying story. “Did the television channel tell any lie about our airport? The answer is no. Our best response is to upgrade the airport and even our worst enemies would have nothing negative to talk about…”

The Buhari administration has some great lesson to learn from the above episode. The lizard cannot enter a wall that has no cracks. Your enemies must talk and run you down but your best response is to stay focused and successful. In pursuing the anti-corruption war in particular, President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to step on some fat and powerful toes. Such people would never wish the government well no matter its efforts. I would have been more surprised if everyone loves a tough and no-nonsense man like Buhari.

It seems to me that some operatives of the Buhari government are already getting paranoid and almost as neurotic as the Jonathan regime. Their reaction to every criticism suggests an unnecessary agitation. They are blaming real and imaginary enemies for the gale of attacks on the economic policies of the current government. I find this very reprehensible. If truth must be told our economic team is floundering at the moment. They appear rudderless and totally confused. Did they expect anyone to praise them when the Naira is spinning and nosediving at a dizzying pace like a rollercoaster gone beserk?

Nigerians sent President Goodluck Jonathan packing because they believed he was incompetent and the APC and its candidate assured they had the solutions to the problems and the magic wand to the economic and spiritual hopelessness of the time. No one should blame them if they are grumbling that this was not the change they voted for. The least we can do is to continue to pacify them while we continue to work harder at turning things around for good and for the better. No one is going to listen to the endless sermon that PDP or Jonathan caused these gigantic problems for us. That is stale news. Jonathan is gone with the winds and it is for the new government to demonstrate its expertise and that should not be too difficult. The confidence Nigerians have reposed in this government is so humongous that the expectations should be naturally high.

The biggest albatross of the Buhari government right now is the comatose economy. Buhari must borrow a leaf from medical science. A patient in coma is usually referred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Sometimes, near fatal ailments often require induced coma if the imminent fatality is not to become reality. Nigeria must pick an option before it is too late. This fact is corroborated by the alarm raised by Professor Wole Soyinka who said Nigeria's needs an urgent economic conference to arrest the present explosive drift. For me, another conference is not the solution. Nigerians are tired of the endless confabs with attendant communique that end up in the dustbin of history unimplemented. What is urgently required is a practical team that will proffer practical solutions that are practical to be executed

When I raised hell about the scandalous budget last week, I was impressed when President Buhari responded by admitting that something terrible had happened and acted swiftly to fire a scapegoat.  We need more than a scapegoat being fired though. We must also fix the mess which includes firing others who are found complicit in the scandal. It is the same way I can't feel any sense of urgency or desperation on the part of our economic experts in the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank. It seems obvious that there is a kind of lackadaisical attitude on their parts while the Naira is busy dancing kpalongo on the parallel market. May be the time has come for the President to wield the big stick in the finance circuit. What is going on is too disgraceful and unthinkable. If something is not done urgently, the consequences may be too grave for our country.

Instead of wasting so much time on trading blames, we can build on where Jonathan left off. Buhari needs to energise his team. They are looking weak and timid. I think most, if not all of them, are too scared to take risks and use their initiative. This is sad. No matter what you may say about Jonathan, his ministers were bubbly and vibrant. They enjoyed some modicum of freedom that fired their imagination and temperament. The President needs to encourage his men and women to loosen up or nothing tangible would be achieved soon. Everyone seems to be watching and studying the body language of the President and there are always conflicting signals. This lacklustre existence is always palpable whenever I see the pictures coming out of the Federal Executive Council meetings. The cabinet looks forlorn and haplessly dull. I'm not able to see a team at home with itself. Only the President can release his team from this self-manacled cage.

I wrote last week that the nation is tension-soaked. I wish to reiterate that an atmosphere of fear is not conducive for good business. There is too much hullabaloo at the moment about fighting corruption that may be counter-productive in the long run. The government should fight the war more in the law courts and less in the public theatre creating mere sensation without much legal substance. Issuing threats on daily basis on the next agency to be probed is promoting hysteria in the land. As I already noted, the priority should be how to repatriate most of the looted funds. Nigeria needs every penny it can retrieve right now. This can be done with less noise and better efficiency and alacrity.

The focus should now also be on rebuilding our roads. I travelled from Ibadan to Lagos yesterday after flying from Abuja and could not help but imagine that we belong in the prehistoric age. Even at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, power outages were abysmally constant. We are waiting for the trains to run beautifully and efficiently. We want quality education for the Nigerian kids. We want Nigerians to live much older through efficient Medicare. We want jobs and employment opportunities for our youths. We are tired of lamenting like Jeremiah. I have no doubt that it can be done but this government needs to free itself and begin to fly. Mistakes would be made and corrected along the way. Such is life. The fear of failure is far worse than failure itself.

It is time to fly more at home because time is man's worst enemy.

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