That experiment didn’t end quite well. Domestic prices just wouldn’t cooperate with the government of the day. Not even a barter system that sought to swap domestic crude production for imported “essential commodities” moved the economy’s growth needle. Neither did a change in the currency, which as usual was advertised as designed to wrongfoot hoarders…


One of the more riveting amusements on Twitter (its Nigerian corner, that is) is the never-ending exchanges between those who would have private sector responses play a larger role in our economy’s outcomes, and those who root for a benign all-knowing government keeping a firm hand on the tiller. If you could ignore the occasional tumble into the gutter, you could be pardoned the assumption – based on how intense these debates often are – that we are covering new grounds in our perennial pursuit of ideas to get this economy off the ground.

Blowing a raspberry at our “errconomists” and their failed advocacy of the market as solution to all ills, fans of the current federal government’s economic policies make out as if (in its choice of closed borders, and restrictions on the access of importers to the official foreign exchange markets) the Buhari government has made a sweeping break with economic orthodoxy. In a rather qualified sense, there is some truth to this. As any commentator would readily admit, who pays attention to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) periodic comments on the economy’s direction.

But that is as far as it goes. In a much broader sense, we have been down this route before. Three decades-and-a-half ago, we were at a not too dissimilar juncture in the country’s path. And the incumbent government, then, thought it wise to part ways with the IMF. The Fund had pushed for a devaluation of the national currency as a solution to the demand and supply imbalances that were at the heart of our balance of trade/payment crises. The then government chose, instead, to rein imports in, industrialise on the back of domestic inputs, and cap the prices of domestic goods and services.

…our “errconomists” need not worry. The internal contradictions of our current policy course not only mean that they cannot bring about their stated goals. But they also may contain within them the seeds of their own estrangement. These will be both too hurried, and too blasé conclusions to reach from our current vantage.


Indeed, both corruption and a lack of patriotism were thought of as execrable then, as they are today. Collectively responsible, in this view, for the many excesses of our people. Clamping down on unethical practices and exciting a passion for “all things Nigerian” were then, as today, the only incentives worth committing government’s increasingly scarce resources to.

That experiment didn’t end quite well. Domestic prices just wouldn’t cooperate with the government of the day. Not even a barter system that sought to swap domestic crude production for imported “essential commodities” moved the economy’s growth needle. Neither did a change in the currency, which as usual was advertised as designed to wrongfoot hoarders, currency speculators, and myriad saboteurs of the economy. Rising domestic prices continued to weigh heavily on the poor and vulnerable. That cycle was complete when we abandoned dirigisme for more market-led policies. And began to talk of the private sector as our preferred engine of domestic growth.

And so, it would seem, our “errconomists” need not worry. The internal contradictions of our current policy course not only mean that they cannot bring about their stated goals. But they also may contain within them the seeds of their own estrangement. These will be both too hurried, and too blasé conclusions to reach from our current vantage. For while ― notwithstanding the paeans penned by advocates of government’s current policies regarding the new dawn to which the latter supposedly lead ― our people continue to agonise about how appropriate the outcomes of our current policy trajectory are, our liberal social and economic elite have not covered their ideas or themselves in glory, either.

It is small comfort to point out that in absolute terms, a free market improves the lot of everybody, just as it is scant consolation for the indigent boatman to be told that a rising tide will lift his boat, only for his neighbour’s yacht to remain afloat when the tide wanes, and his boat is beached.


Nearly always, the consequence of the reforms that our policy elite seek result in an increasingly large share of domestic output accruing to a shrinking portion of the population. It is small comfort to point out that in absolute terms, a free market improves the lot of everybody, just as it is scant consolation for the indigent boatman to be told that a rising tide will lift his boat, only for his neighbour’s yacht to remain afloat when the tide wanes, and his boat is beached.

If, then, the populists adhering to the federal government’s current policy path may be charged with making too much of both the propriety and efficacy of their solutions for the country’s future, they may not also be upbraided for not selling these well. They have, instead, exploited the distance between our liberal social and economic elite and the people (in whose interest the economy should work most of the time), not just to demonise the former’s economics. They are also building a strong social and political counter-narrative around wealth and entrepreneurship, which, while not always true (there’s nothing wrong with being stupendously rich, for example – it simply must not be the gains from crime, or from stitching up domestic markets in the name of faux reforms) provides a compelling argument for organising the poor and vulnerable.

The threat, even here, to social and economic liberals is not just to their worldview. That they can always tweak to compensate for its current failings. The bigger risk is to their way of life. And the adjustments required, here, might just be harder – to understand that in the end, human society is a mesh of symbiotic relationships.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.