The honeymoon is over

The objectives of the action-plan on the economy, which is in recession, include shoring up the value of the naira, creation of more jobs, boosting of foreign reserves, reviving the manufacturing sector and improving power.

-From the Nation newspaper, 22 August, 2016.

Like most of us reacting, I have not actually seen the Emergency Economic Stabilisation Bill 2016, so I can’t intelligently speak whether the actual contents make sense, or otherwise. However, I can react to the newspaper reports about it, and what the papers say it contains.

See, there’s no other way to cut it. The reaction to the reported move by the Presidency to send the Bill to the National Assembly tells us that President Buhari’s honeymoon is well and truly over.

For the record, a lot of the fears expressed, given the President’s own past, are valid. But let us first focus on the economy since this is what the Bill is purportedly about.

Nigeria is faced with a crisis, there is no hiding from that. Sadly, the government was slow in implementing policies that could have prevented capital flight. The government was inefficient in its “war on corruption” and gave the “vested interests” a chance to regroup. It also bears pointing out that having the first item in the story about the Bill telling us that the government intends to “shore up the value of the naira” is a signal that no investor wants to see. It tells them that whatever money they put in this sinkhole will be frittered away. It makes them close their wallets.

The net effect of all this to show, in lurid colours, that the goodwill that this government came in with has been well and truly squandered. This squandermania ranges from neutrals who supported this government last year because they were pissed off with the previous, to the international community, and investors, who do not believe that their money will be put to good use.

For the sake of argument, because the truth is that Nigeria’s economy is fast running out of options, let’s assume that the emergency request is reasonable. Given these circumstances, one may agree with the spirit of this Bill, but the harsh reality is that the actors behind it no longer inspire confidence. These are actors who waited six months to appoint ministers, then appointed Adamu Adamu and Solomon Dalung. These are actors who undermined the independence, and ability of our banking regulator to handle our currency, and keep undermining that ability with misplaced statements. These little things, small as they may seem to some, are actually quite weighty. In the eyes of those we hope will bring the money we desperately need, they send the wrong signal. In the eyes of Nigerians who were promised more devolution by the APC in the heady days of campaigning, they send a signal of more concentration of powers in the Presidency. That in itself, is a problem. Whether the Presidency is occupied by Muhammadu Buhari or by Segun Obasanjo, the powers are already too much. More powers to the President in a unitary structure that is not working, is not the way to set things right.

What the government should focus on first, is trying to win back some of the good will it came into office with. A fist step I’ll suggest, a Bill to Prune the Exclusive Legislative List 2016.