By Jide Akintunde
As long as it is about building Nigeria and not about bringing our country down, it is unlikely there would be a more inappropriate contribution to the debate on the forthcoming presidential election than the one made by Professor Charles Soludo, former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, in his article: “Buhari vs Jonathan: Beyond The Election.” In my final analysis, the inordinately lengthy article is one big indictment of the writer.
Here is a man who, up till six years ago, was governor of the central bank of his country. But in this op-ed, he declared that the country’s public finance was “broken.” He prognosticated that the private sector was “soon to-be-beleaguered”, and claimed that the world has not known of any country with Nigeria’s “rate of public debt accumulation at a time of unprecedented boom.” In his words, “the government had removed the speed bumps ‘we’ kept to slow the speed of capital flight.”
These screamers notwithstanding, the market just didn’t bother with Soludo. His opinion on the economy was not weighty enough to move the most irritable market indicator. The main index of the market – Nigerian Stock Exchange All-Share Index (NSE ASI) – adjusted very marginally to close at 0.1% lower on Monday, January 26th, the first day of trade after the article was first published by the online media: Sahara Reporters. When one considers the extant fragility in the financial markets which was the context of Soludo’s article, his opinion becomes the more inconsequential. I didn’t know that the opinion of a former central bank governor of a major frontier market like Nigeria, so forcefully given with repetition, could be so irrelevant to the market.
The question that arises from this is whether Soludo was aware of his marketplace-inconsequentiality at the time of writing his article. If yes, he must have decided to cause a commotion as a deliberate strategy to bring himself to some reckoning again. But if he thought his was an influential voice in the market and still proceeded to write that article, we see yet another Nigerian elite who doesn’t mind pulling down the country when his sense of entitlement is denied.
All is fair
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who Soludo tried to canonise in his article, happened to be the one who claimed, as president, that an election was a “do-or-die affair.” Contesting an election in Nigeria is therefore seen as fighting a war. And as they say of love and war, “all is fair,” including undermining the country in every way possible. It is this negative play of politics that was writ large in Soludo’s article. But he is a member of the ‘privileged Nigerians club’ who can only engage with the country on the basis of ‘what-is-in-it’ for them. To them, nothing works when they are not the ones in charge.
Quite unfortunate; the Nigerian 2015 general election has been about wrecking the country. Those who are actively engaged in the electoral process are so consumed with their personal and group interests to the detriment of the country and the interests of the vast majority of the people. This is true of the ruling party: People’s Democratic Party (PDP); the main opposition party: All Progressive Congress (APC); the electoral body: Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); and, of course, the press.
The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has made some token changes to the electoral system. Nevertheless, the failure of the past and present PDP governments to fundamentally reform the electoral process explains the depraved politicking we have continued to see since the party started ruling in 1999 till date. President Jonathan even refused to implement the recommendations of the Uwais Commission he and his predecessor, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, set up, which stipulated stiff punishments including banning of electoral offenders, to punish, but more importantly, deter the kind of brigandage that has gripped elections in the country. As a result, electoral offences, including political assassinations are committed with impunity and treated with levity.
Unscrupulous politicians under the watch of the various PDP governments have woven illegal arms flow into the country’s electoral cycle. Colonies of militancy have at different times emerged in different parts of the country as offshoots of militarised electioneering. Today, the definition of political risks for investors in the country is not how market policies are likely to change depending on the party that wins the next presidential election. Rather, the possibility of violent aftermath is what has informed investors’ flight to safety from Nigeria.
With no exception, the presidents which have come into office through the PDP show the party is conservative. However, under the conservative governments of the PDP, corruption has flourished. Politicians of the political right under the PDP governments have being contemptuous of state institutions. PDP governments have superintended the seamless transition of the erosion of values in the society from military dictatorships to civilian rule. And while deviating from the more salutary norms of conservative politics and governance, religious intolerance and ethnicity have found stronger expressions in public life under the PDP governments. As a result, the forthcoming presidential election has challenged citizen’s nationalism sentiments instead of promoting it.
Should the APC win the presidential election, it would dawn on its government that the party had prosecuted a most atrocious election at the cost of the country. Except that the price of crude oil is down, one of the easier-to-surmount challenges the APC government would face is coughing out hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars (if not billions of it) to commission foreign PR (public relations) consultancies to burnish the image of the country which the party had initially paid foreigners to sully during its campaigns. After running down the economy for so long ahead of the election, the hypothetical APC government will definitely start to sing new tunes. But how credible would that be? How much would it help if Soludo were to then write another article to as much as express expansive sentiments on the economy?
One gets the impression that the APC really knows it cannot win this presidential election. Otherwise, why would its senior members find it necessary to so rubbish the economy and by so doing worsen a problem the likely APC government would have to solve? Every achievement recorded by the PDP government under President Jonathan is a farce according to the APC and its apologists. Soludo claims rather incredulously that “Re-basing the GDP has nothing to do with government policy.” Why then is it a norm that is well defined into the cycle of economic planning and management in well-managed economies? Surely, it is because of the statistical, planning and investment decision values of GDP data updated through rebasing, and how all that enhance economic outcomes. The rebasing of the Nigerian GDP was overdue during the Obasanjo administration which Soludo served as Chief Economic Adviser and later as CBN governor.
But a former central bank governor who derides GDP rebasing was the same individual who wanted to redenominate the currency. However, redenomination of a currency is not by any stretch of the imagination a widely accepted route to achieving Soludo’s then-avowed macroeconomic stability and efficient payment system. Nigeria has since become a low inflation jurisdiction after the exit of Soludo from the CBN without the redenomination of the naira. Also, the payment system has witnessed tremendous modernisation through the Cashless Policy of his successor. Whereas highlighting the limitations of the achievements of the current administration would be in order, the APC seems not to know that running down the economy is not good for the country.
The APC is as guilty of naivety as much as it is of unpatriotism. Its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, was a Boko Haram apologist. Now it has to promise to wipe out the insurgents if elected into office. But Boko Haram has become more indiscriminate in its barbaric attacks and has increased in its capabilities. The hypothetical APC President might discover that his rein on Boko Haram would not work on insurgents that have continued to mutate. But the biggest challenge of an imagined APC national government is how it would rule the country its presidential candidate has said and done so much to divide along ethnic and religious lines. Indeed, it is my considered opinion that the candidacy of Buhari is the most unpatriotic element of the 2015 electioneering. Without Buhari in the fray, the temperature of the election would not be near as high as it is. This is not because of what he has said and done since becoming APC’s presidential candidate, but entirely because of his antecedents which he needed not afflict the country with this time around.
Twice in recent times, the INEC has been accused of enacting frameworks that looked favourable to the APC. In the first case, the new polling units (PUs) the electoral body created were lopsidedly distributed in favour of the north from where Buhari hails. But with the ensuing outcry of marginalisation from the southern parts of the country, INEC had no choice but to suspend the use of the new PUs for the next elections. More recently was the lopsided distribution and collection of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). Within a few days to the original February 14th date of the presidential election, the pattern of collection of the PVC was overwhelmingly skewed. Higher proportions of collection were recorded in the three states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe – the hotbeds of the Boko Haram insurgent attacks – than the average rate of collection of the cards in the South-west, South-east and South-south regions of the country. Collection rate was 68% in Lagos State, while it was as high as 81% in Kano State.
In spite of this lop-sidedness and the agitation of citizens who wanted to collect their PVCs and not be disenfranchised by not having them, a respected professor of political science who heads the INEC, Attahiru Jega, said the agency was ready to go ahead with the election. He based his view on the fact that not everybody who registered for an election votes. However, the situation INEC had was not that of citizens who would exercise their volition not to vote, but those who want to vote but would be prevented from voting and possibly denied their choice of president because of the failure of INEC to distribute the PVCs fairly and comprehensively.
One has got to ask why institutions of the Nigerian state always tend to fail to deliver in this manner. The more important the national responsibility, the higher the tendency not to deliver. It doesn’t matter if, like in the case of INEC, all necessary funding has been provided.
Did Jega compromise INEC or did INEC compromise him? Does it mean Jega is not above board as a lot of social critics who later occupied public positions have turned out to be? Jega’s INEC leaves the country again in search of an enduring institutional performance model.
Since social media is not under an effective regulatory radar and because publishing there is free-for-all, one is little-concerned about the “ethical no, no” we have seen in the sphere of social media during this campaign. However, social media seems to be influencing media content rather than providing a new platform for gathering news and “sharing” same instantaneously. Thanks to irresponsible journalism, ex-militants are being reported as opinion leaders on the election. Thus, we are unwittingly legitimising militancy. Over all, the reportage of this election gives the impression of the acquiescence of the media to the notion that we are a nation without any rallying point for national survival. The level of inanity emanating from the media simply turns ‘press freedom’ on its head.
This type of political reporting has so much undermined professional journalism in Nigeria. Although political reporting is perhaps the only known specialty in the profession, you will look long and hard to find that fine political analyst amongst practising journalists (contrasted from columnists on politics). Dishonourable affiliations with politicians have brought self-serving expediency to what is reported and, invariably, the quality of the reportage. During the last Presidential Media Chat, not one question on developments in the markets was asked by the highfalutin panel of journalists that interviewed President Jonathan. That was unbelievable at a time waves of volatility were sweeping across the Nigerian financial markets and the economy. Everyone (including the President) was transfixed on the election in which less than 30% of the population will vote, whereas the entire population is impacted by the economy.
It is imperative that we make national interest the object of politics. When we don’t, one election leaves the country worse than the previous one, which has been the case since 1999. Because of politics, we cannot even agree on the progress we have made as a nation; whereas we need to know where we are before we can realistically determine where we are going and how to get there .
Till today, I believe the banking industry consolidation agenda that was enunciated by Soludo’s CBN is one of the biggest success stories of market policymaking in Nigeria. However, why should his success be acknowledged when he can’t seem to acknowledge the achievements of other people who are not in the same camp with him?
The sense that success is only possible when an individual is in control is why former President Obasanjo is still looking for political control today after serving as president for eight years and after his third term debacle. It is the reason Soludo, also politically alienated, cannot seem to see anything good that has happened in this big country since he was asked to leave the CBN at the end of his first term in June 2009. His exit paved the way for Lamido Sanusi to help save the big banks Soludo had created and was unable to exercise prudential regulation over. Because of the intervention of the CBN in the banks under Sanusi, the legacy of Soludo at the CBN continues to endure. That is how a nation moves forward.