There can never be a perfect Leader. Most leaders do well in certain respects and fail in other respects. Also we may never all agree even on one area the leader has done well or has not done well. It all depends on the criteria for assessment. As example, for some people, a political leader has not done well except he has given them an appointment, a contract or put money in their individual pockets. He can kill himself, but as far as they have received no personal benefit he is no good. For some others, a political leader can only do well if he is from their ethnic enclave or he is from their Political Party. Therefore, he can commit ‘harakiri’, they will ignore and still commend him because of their narrow and myopic prism of assessment. Of course such assessment can be very biased and injurious. Nevertheless it is their own criterion for assessment. And yet for the enlightened others, they use specific and objective criteria to assess leadership performance. There may be some colorations and nuances, but that’s because they are human. And that’s why I am not really surprised by the recent comments on the economy raised by Prof Chukwuma Soludo and a couple of other distinguished Nigerians.
On this score, I endorse Oby Ezekwesili’s call for a debate. That to me is the civilized way to conduct a discourse or argument with the objective of presenting the facts, the figures and insights, demolishing falsehood or establishing the truth. I do not subscribe to name calling or demonizing of Professionals or fellow Nigerians just because our views do not agree. Not all Nigerians are gullible. Many have brains that work, processing all the information they receive, agreeing, disagreeing and throwing the rest into the garbage. In my many years of Economic advocacy as a leader in the Manufacturer’s Association of Nigeria (MAN), the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), I have been schooled by the Professors, the practitioners and economic agents on what shows good Economic Management and Bad Economic Management from the Private Sector Perspective. It is from this standpoint that I want to justify my conviction that when it comes to the Economy Jonathan has done well, better than many.
In the years that Jonathan has been President, our economy has grown between 6-7%per annum. This is one of the highest growth rates in the World, bettered by China and a few other Countries. This is the compounded growth rate that has driven us to become the Largest Economy in Africa and the 26th in the World. If this is not a consequence of good economic management, please tell me what is. Even if it happened by ‘luck’, we must still give the credit to Jonathan’s Government. Because if the reverse were the case and the economy was in decline or in stagnation as we had many years ago, we will still have blamed it on his poor economic management. If a man can take the flak for failure, why must we deny him the right to take the credit for success?
For ‘n’ years, where ‘n’ is not less than 30 years, we had complained that we had a mono economy where oil was everything. But we were “shocked” to see that we now have a fairly diversified economy, led by services at 52%, where oil’s Contribution to GDP has declined to 14% from over 33% in the hey days! and that even Agriculture had declined from its dominant 42% to 22% because of growth in Manufacturing which has climbed from less than 4% to about 7% and such services as Telecommunications and Entertainment taking up measurable positions on the GDP grid at 8.69% and 1.42% respectively. It is not yet déjavu as we still depended on Crude oil and Gas for about 70% of
National Income until the recent crash of oil prices which has now moved our non-oil revenue to about 47% of the 2015 Budget proposals, bringing oil revenue to a healthier 53%. If all this are not as a result of Sound economic policies, some of which were started by the Previous Governments, then tell me what is.
For the last four years, Jonathan’s government has sustained Economic policies that had created a stable macroeconomic environment. For the first time in ‘n’ years, our inflation rate dropped to Single digit. This was a feat previous Governments dreamt about but could never attain .Until very recently; the exchange rate remained very stable, operating within a narrow band. This made naira almost convertible and allowed Industrialists and importers plan inventory commitments with greater ease and less apprehension. Even the Interest rates had been trending down and for once in a long time, Farmers and some industrialists were able to obtain credit at single digit interest rate or very low double digits. This has happened, because Jonathan gave free hand to the Professionals in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and those in the Ministries of Finance, Trade and Industry, National Planning, etc to run with minimum interference. Additionally, he involved the Private Sector in the Economic Management Team where they used real market experience to balance academic economic theories. If this is not good economic management, please tell me what is. Some Presidents in some Countries have been voted out of office because they could not manage inflation!
AVAILABILITY OF FOOD AND OTHER NECESSITIES OF LIFE
It is easy to take things for granted when they are going well, but when they go wrong, we come to realize
that certain things are more important than others. People can find time to make an issue of the reduction in our foreign reserves, because we have plenty of food in the market. To be sincere, Nigeria has had an abundance of food. Thanks be to God and thanks be to a revamped Agricultural environment. I am personally surprised that after the recent devaluation of the currency, and some adjustment in the Monetary Policy Rate( MPR), the prices of food items in the market remain fairly stable, keeping overall inflation much lower than I had predicted which indicates a higher proportion of locally produced food items. Does anybody remember 1984-1986, when we had to queue for food items and other necessities, including soaps and detergents in Leventis Stores and other shops. The days of essential commodities ( Essenco) and import licensing when many companies including mine downsized or closed down because they could not bribe to get enough import license .
I am sure Nigerians have taken for granted the availability of Petrol and diesel. In the last couple of years, except for occasional hiccups caused by striking workers( NUPENG & PENGASAN), we have had almost hassle -free availability of Petrol and Diesel in virtually every nook and cranny of the Nation selling at controlled and deregulated prices, depending on your distance from Abuja or Lagos. What is more, the price of diesel began to come down, helping to reduce cost of production for industrialists. I have lived in this Country for long, and from the Military to now, we have never had a better supply situation. Many times in the past, we have spent valuable time running around looking for fuel and sometimes ending up with adulterated or foul fuel. I stand to be corrected. If all these have not happened because of good economic management, then tell me what is.
The growing unemployment in Nigeria hit the peak in 2010 following the Global economic crisis which caused a shrinking of the global economy. In 2011unemployment rate in the general population was nearly 24% with Youth Unemployment reaching nearly 50%. But as today overall unemployment has declined to less than 20%( Actually about 15% in the first half of 2014 according to National Bureau of Statistics) and Youth unemployment has gone down to less than 38%. Though these changes may not look as dramatic we would wish, but they have occurred by two pronged approach pursued by Jonathan- Supporting a revival of the Agricultural, industrial, Entertainment, and several other sectors of the economy to provide opportunities for absorbing the youth from the private sector angle and the various efforts being made to create jobs in the Public sector especially through the Various safety net projects of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program( SURE-P). From the Community, Social Women and Youth Employment ( CSWYE) Program, over 180,000 Youth & Women have been employed, over 10,000 Health workers( midwives, Nurses and Community Health workers) have been employed, over 5000 Youths have been trained through the Technical Vocational Educational Training in different Skills and vocations and deployed to several industries while 15000 Have been employed by FERMA in road repairs and Vegetation control, nearly 50,000 hitherto Unemployed graduates have been given jobs through the Graduate Internship Scheme( GIS) across the Nation.
The YOUWIN Programme has enabled several Young Nigerians (especially Women) to receive grant from the Federal Ministry of Finance to set up new businesses through which they have employed other youths. The determined implementation of the local content law in the oil and gas and elsewhere in the economy has created more jobs and more wealth for Nigerians. If these efforts to create jobs directly and indirectly that have led to measurable improvement in the unemployment rate over the last four years do not amount to good economic management, then tell me what is.
PRO- BUSINESS POLICIES/ PROGRAMS
Jonathan’s Government has introduced several policies and programs that are supportive of Businesses, especially local Production. The Pro-Agric policies and programs are well advertised, making it possible for a new generation of Agric Entrepreneurs (Nagropreneurs) to obtain loans at 9%, in addition to unprecedented support to agriculture with a focus on developing the Agriculture value chain. I already referred to the higher level of local food production which has helped to moderate inflation. There is a new Industrial Revolution policy which is focusing on supporting local industrial output. We have seen unprecedented expansion in the Cement Industry which is taking the Country to the level of self-sufficiency in Cement production with possibility of Exporting the excess in the near future. Have we soon forgotten the Cement armada spectacle where our ports were clogged with cement import from all over the World. Like it or not, the local Auto Industry is coming back to life with the new National Auto Policy which seeks to discourage unbridled importation of all kinds of automobiles from all over the World. Many of the World auto companies have started to invest in local production plants. This industrial revival and upgrade is happening in many Industries including mine-the Pharmaceutical where the federal Government has supported a number of local manufacturers to obtain the WHO GMP certification in the last one year, which hitherto had been practically impossible. Now these companies can compete with International and Multinational companies for global supplies.
The Privatisation and the Deregulation Policy which Jonathan has been ‘forcefully’ implementing has virtually transferred power for Electric power to the Private Sector. Though the level of expected improvement has not been attained, we have brought the 15-year story of unbundling NEPA to a closure with reasonable expectation that new investment will flow to truly sort out our Electric Power needs, especially if Government finally sells the Transmission infrastructure. I believe the deregulation of the downstream Petroleum sector will be completed soon and the multiplier effect on the economy will be unleashed. For me the fight against corruption will get strong fillip when we remove the power of discretion and patronage from these sectors through Privatization and deregulation. Since we deregulated Telecommunications, corruption in that sector has died and been buried. That is more effective than sending ten Managing Directors of NITEL to Kirikiri. Not that I am opposed to punishing the guilty. Corruption in Power is in ‘coma’ now and that in Oil and Gas will soon be gasping for breath when we fully deregulate the sector. When we bury the ‘big ‘corruption in these sectors by these policies that take the power of discretion from Public Servants, we can easily deal with ‘smaller’ corruption in government bureaucracy and the private sector.
The level of Policy inconsistency and flip-flops we used to see in the economy in the past has significantly declined, creating more confidence and attracting more investments into the Country with Nigeria receiving the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa in the last two years or so despite slowing down in oil and Gas and the Security scare not-withstanding. I could go on and on. I have said nothing about the massive investment in rehabilitating major Highways and Rail lines in our country. Last December, I traveled to Kwale from Lagos in five and half hours and traveled by rail from Port Harcourt to IMO River. The last time I did that was in 1992. The trains are running again and the long delayed major road projects like the East -West Road, the Abuja- Lokoja, Benin-Shagamu, Onitsha-Enugu-PH, Kano-Maiduguri and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway are all nearing completion with significant portions now open to traffic. Have I said anything about the miracle of remodeling 18 Nigerian Airports in one season, with most of them fully completed. The impact of good Roads and other modes of transportation to any economy are too obvious for any further elaboration. Some people who are reading this and who may have joined the bandwagon of those who say nothing is happening in the economy or that Jonathan is clueless, may be angry at me and may think that I am campaigning. But these are facts which are verifiable. Yes, these may not be the best possible but we must acknowledge what is the correct situation. Jonathan may have questions to answer concerning Security or on other issues but on the Economy, my verdict is that he has done well, though could do better. My bible says “Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter “.
May God have mercy.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR