Tinubu and the Nigerian Economy: Prodding A Gathering of the ‘Deaf’?, By ‘Tope Fasua
I would want Bola Tinubu to do us all a big favour and move away from these taunting, tantalising and brain-wracking sweet statements to sitting on the governments he helped put in place to ensure the prevailing thinking changes and they do the needful.
Maybe this article should have been titled: “Why Does APC Never Listen to Bola Tinubu?” Well, there is surely something that the followers of Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) see in him, which some of us don’t. What we see more often is the bad news, the purported greed and alleged ownership of half of Lagos, and so on. But some years back, I was quite touched by the advice that BAT gave to the Jonathan government on the subject of a recessing economy, that I wrote an article on this page titled, “Revisiting Tinubu-nomics” (published on October 15, 2015), and made efforts to meet the man. Through his then chief of staff, Mr. Sunday Dare, I did meet Tinubu at Lagos House, Asokoro, Abuja, for a fleeting minute. Then politics started for me late in 2016 and we have waged our own counter gambit to what BAT and his camp have to offer. We failed to make a dent perhaps, but we tried. Nothing could have stopped us from trying.
Just as I was amazed by the kind of advice that Tinubu gave the Jonathan government and urged him in 2015 to ensure he got the Buhari government to adopt some of those ideas, again he made some profound new statements at his 2019 colloquium, which I believe need amplification. However, and unfortunately too, Tinubu has not succeeded in influencing the economic path of the current Buhari administration. It is also doubtful if he will be able to influence the coming one. And this is cause for concern. I will do a recap of the statements that capture my imagination from past Tinubu statements and also the recent one. I wonder if these are the statements that attract people to BAT. But I also see the contradictions. Is Bola Ahmed Tinubu who his statements say he is? Or deep at heart he is one person and outwardly another – some sort of bipolar personality? For his statements show that this man aligns with the right approaches that can truly help Nigeria. However what we hear is that he has pocketed Lagos and his companies probably vanish with half of all taxes collected by the Lagos State Government. Or does he see himself as some modern-day Robin Hood, taking massively from the State through pseudo-official capers and spending on the hoi-polloi close to him? Also could we say the ideologies that he espouses rubs off on those closest to him – chiefly those he has put in government at one level or the other?
Four years ago when I commented on his article, some friends asked if I thought he wrote the article himself. Truly, for someone with so many people milling around him, I doubt if he could find time to write. My recent foray into politics slowed down my writing. But in the recent colloquium, Bola Tinubu spoke extensively extempore, and didn’t miss a beat regarding his economic ideology. Now I believe these ideas are truly his. My appeal for now is for him to know that as someone very influential in our national politics and who has enthroned a number of governors, he cannot continue to light lamps and stick them under bushels. The lives of 200 million people and more, and our collective future, depend on people like him who have figured out how to capture power in this society. Especially since his views are so different, riveting and refreshing, a lot hangs on this man’s frail shoulders. Like they say on the streets, ‘if you know, you know’. Only truly discerning people will understand the power of Tinubu’s economic proposals.
Let’s go. In November 2014, Bola Tinubu wrote to Okonjo-Iweala and Jonathan:
“… Nigeria is mired in a long-term, secular depression. Forget the rosy GDP numbers. They signify a great economic and financial segregation between those who have and others who have not. If we continue with the policy preferences of the current administration, the haves shall become the “have–mores” and the “have-nots” shall become the “have even less…. The vast majority of the claimed GDP growth has fallen into the laps of those already enjoying obvious luxury. The rest of the people are left to gaze at the enormity of the income and wealth chasm separating them from the cabal orchestrating the discordant political economy. While a small group flourishes, the rest of the nation subsidises their economic bounty. A tight confederacy rides an economic skyrocket, while the bulk of the people languish in the swamp. For one group, the economy is effervescent. For the other, it is catatonic. Nigeria is one nation with two economies.”
It is more than evident that the Buhari government, which he has helped – twice – to install, has not heeded his advice, so one is forced to wonder why he is offering these opinions when even his own people (the APC) couldn’t care less. The Buhari government could claim to have benefited poor people through its Tradermoni and school feeding programme, which are marginally praiseworthy, but the government has also continued along the lines of targeting GDP growth, doing nothing about inequality (under this government Nigeria became the most unequal country in the world – according to OXFAM), and of course, much earlier in this administration, we saw increases in fuel price, devaluation of the naira by half and we have tanked on foreign and local debts. I could even bet that electricity bills have been increased surreptitiously by DisCos by at least 100 per cent! These policies are in direct opposition to the ideas of Bola Tinubu, yet he has not spoken against their emergence.
Very few commentators in our milieu speak on such hard facts as these. Tinubu is the only one I know who has dared to broach the issue of the sovereignty of the naira. Most of the ‘revered’ economic intellectuals in this space would never dare it. Their brains are probably Americanised to the dollar.
Hear BAT some more from 2014:
“…the nation’s economic engineers should focus primarily on allocating value and opportunity to our under-utilised labour force and our idle, yet potentially productive capital in a way that promotes wealth creation and expansion of aggregate demand. It is this sustainment of aggregate demand that empowers the nation to rescue itself from the whirlpool of economic contraction… In the face of recessionary headwinds, government should run countercyclical fiscal policy by using its naira sovereignty to fund fiscal deficits. The deficit is not simply for the sake of running a deficit; the funds cannot be spent on nonproductive matters. It must be used to fuel infrastructural and other projects that not only employ great numbers of people but enhance the overall productivity of the economy… Inflation is the major risk of running budget deficits to spur growth. We can contain inflation to acceptable levels by ensuring additional government expenditures are for items that can be supplied domestically, particularly labour. Naira paid to poor and working class people mostly circulates in the domestic economy, spurring additional local commerce and production… This is because their consumption patterns do not approach the level of import expenditures associated with their wealthier compatriots. Related to this, we must decrease our level of superfluous imports.”
Very few commentators in our milieu speak on such hard facts as these. Tinubu is the only one I know who has dared to broach the issue of the sovereignty of the naira. Most of the ‘revered’ economic intellectuals in this space would never dare it. Their brains are probably Americanised to the dollar. Let me explain. For some reason, our yearly national budgets are based on the price of crude oil and how much dollars we intend to get therefrom. The only revenue assumption on our yearly budget is crude oil. This means our thinking is externalised. Those who run our governments feel helpless and dependent on foreigners to solve our problems. But sovereign countries should never depend on the availability of other people’s currencies in order to plan their lives. It should NEVER be said that Nigeria cannot pay the salaries of government workers just because there is no dollar to convert to naira. The stability of our economy should not be so tightly linked with the price of crude oil. Nobody has engaged Tinubu on this statement. They just behave like he didn’t say it. I would want to hear opposing positions. The liberalists who hold our economy by the jugular have been trained never to think of any other possibility but that which is included in the texts that their masters dictate. We may not print the naira into perpetuity, but we cannot be locked into a single option of the ‘dollar-standard’, says Tinubu. And I agree with him.
The 2019 Colloquium
The reason why I am writing to Tinubu again is borne out of his recent statements at his yearly colloquium. Again Bola Tinubu came out blazing. I am not patronising the man. But in the desert of a pro-people ideology that is Nigeria, and in a sea of regurgitated, regressive, and inhumane policies that we elevate to the level of mantra here, where those we have trusted with governance have continually betrayed us, I do have no apologies amplifying someone who sounds different, even if he was the devil incarnate. I am also trying to tie this with the man’s influence among a number of highflying administrators that we cannot ignore. No matter how much anyone hates Tinubu, perhaps we can ask them to consider that even a dead clock is correct twice everyday. I think we should begin to understand that no man is completely bad, or good.
So Tinubu addressed the issue of the impending value added tax (VAT) increase and taxation in general. These are excerpts from his speech of March 28, 2019, titled, “Work for the People That the People May Work For Themselves”:
“Consumer spending is slipping and this is where I will stop and appeal to Professor Yemi Osinbajo and his team to put a huge question mark on any increase of VAT please. If we reduce the purchasing power of the people, we can further slow down the economy. Let’s widen the tax net… Those who are not paying now, even if it is inclusive of Bola Tinubu, let the net get bigger and take more taxes and that is what we must do in the country, instead of an additional layer of taxes… We must recognise these harsh economic tidings (a predicted one-coming global recession and financial crisis) as advance warnings to the wise. Hence we must think deeper and work harder for our people in Nigeria… This dominant train of thought has made the people servants to the dictates of abstract economic theories. In a more effective system, the economy would be fashioned to serve the concrete needs and legitimate aspirations of the people…”
Until they are brave enough to do something about income inequality, in a way that spurs productivity among the majority, we shall only be moving around in circles. Labour productivity is the key. Human resources is our undisputed most-important resource.
“Our economy must be redefined to be an efficient yet moral social construct with the primary goal of optimising the long-term welfare of the people through the sustained, productive and full employment of labour, land, capital and natural resources… To pull the nation from poverty, government must play a decisive role. It must at times direct and even develop markets and opportunities. This is nothing novel. I am only restating what the established economies did when they were young and assumed their trajectories toward growth… Our pursuit of the Next Level cannot be achieved by blindly following the (current) economic path (position) of other nations. That would be tantamount to racing to live in a building just as its long-term occupants were frantically rushing out, screaming that the edifice was mean and crumbling. If we are smart, we dare not enter”.
Whereas I now believe that Nigeria’s VAT rate is unnecessarily low and that indeed, given the inability of the present day government to move decisively and fundamentally rethink our finances, we have little choice but to increase the VAT, yet I commend Tinubu’s steadfastness in pushing pro-people ideas at the centre. In truth, an increase in VAT will certainly lead to price rise across the board in Nigeria. Nigeria suffers the risk of inflation from four quarters presently; from tax increases which will be passed on to final consumers, from marginal decreases in interest rates, from increases in tariffs in electricity and other utilities, from impending wage increases, and even from a likely currency devaluation as we are being pushed in that direction by the likes of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. With a weak balance sheet riddled with debts at almost 70 per cent of our revenue, we really have little say in the matter, and further naira devaluation could come much earlier than expected.
There are other critical nuggets in this simple statement above. Tinubu said government should widen the tax net to include people like him. He has simply confessed to not paying his due taxes. Can the people in government, including his man, Mr. Fowler, take a cue, do the needful and legitimately approach our many billionaires for our dues? What more are they waiting for? Until they are brave enough to do something about income inequality, in a way that spurs productivity among the majority, we shall only be moving around in circles. Labour productivity is the key. Human resources is our undisputed most-important resource. Osinbajo and Buhari unfortunately seem stuck with the infrastructure approach without being able to link the infrastructure (much needed) with the needed emergency in our human capital area. For example, the minister for power is building nine power plants for nine universities in Nigeria so that they may have uninterrupted power supply, but none of the students or their lecturers are involved in the projects. So nothing learnt.
I would want Bola Tinubu to do us all a big favour and move away from these taunting, tantalising and brain-wracking sweet statements to sitting on the governments he helped put in place to ensure the prevailing thinking changes and they do the needful. In the meantime, I can only say; RESPECT. And thanks Jagaban. We need more of these.