During the negotiation, you led to repay Nigeria’s debt to a consortium of western creditors; you said that after extricating from the debt overhang, the country would invest resources freed from servicing the debts in infrastructure and human development.Nearly a decade later, you also led a road show to China to secure low interest loan to finance infrastructure and recuperate the economy. It seems you have no difficulties in putting yourself in a position of extreme contradictions. Since the early 2000, when you arrived at the Nigeria’s public scene, you inspired much hope about economic recovery but up to date, none has materialized. In fact, since your involvement n the country’s economic management, more people are out of job, Nigerians have less to eat, most local industries have closed shop and anti-social activities has ballooned. The scourge of terrorism, completely unknown to Nigerians but which is now ravaging the country and destroying her fabric was in the aftermath of the earth-scorched economic reforms, which minted few billionaires, but left numerous Nigerians in destitution. The economic logic you pursue with religious zeal is almost the same that was widely instituted in South America in the 1980s and early 1990s, widely known as the Washington consensus, an economic mix cooked by the Breton woods institutions (IMF and World Bank) under the supervision of Washington and Brussels.
The consensus wreaked South America, leaving her with bitterly divided societies and given rise to widespread insurgency. As you may well know, Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt and in the mid 1990s four governments fell apart in quick succession within a period of a year. Mexico in the same period had its currency fell to its lowest ever, prompting Mexico’s parliament to resort to extreme austerity measure like switching off the air conditioning system. From Brazil to Argentina, Venezuela to Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru and Honduras, the Washington consensus and its economic shock therapy of neo-liberalism left these countries in economic bankruptcy and social chaos. The political order of right wing military dictatorship and pseudo-democratic regimes under the suzerainty of Washington resorted to repression and other extant abuses. Previously unelectable left wing parties advocating a repudiation of the economic order derived from the Washington consensus took the region by storm in the late 1990s and opened a new economic order marked significantly by social inclusion and poverty alleviation. The region’s largest economy and biggest nation, Brazil, had the formerly unelectable workers party (PT), under the former shoe shiner turned trade unionist, Mr Inacio Lula elected into the presidency. In ten years, he took out about 30 million Brazilians out of abject poverty. Succeeded by former Marxist guerrilla, Ms DilmaRouseff, Brazil seem on the march to bolster her economy and improve the quality of the living standard of her people. Apart from enhanced economy and expanding political space, the region has grown fabulously independent in its domestic economic and foreign policies.
Washington looks on, in ‘shock and awe’ at the audacity of her former acclaimed ‘backyard’ as it raises her own voice in the global arena, without the echoes of the White House. Even as the vibrancy of this formerly marooned region is on global display, with its impressive mileage in economic and social reconstruction, you, madam minister continue to lead the Africa‘s largest nation to an economic blind alley of the thoroughly discredited Washington consensus with a consequence and heavy price of social chaos and politically broken landscape. If you take a look at the contemporary new economic kid on the block, the South East Asia, you will notice a home-grown economic reform that takes advantages of the regions traditional thrift, creating the massive pool of domestic capital from which the region is leading its investment drive and absorbing its huge working population. Since the 1997 melt down, the region has taken strong policy measures, to inoculate herself against the vagaries of hot money.
These experiences are in the open for us to tap and build into our local condition to produce a home grown economic policy, yet you are tragically wedded to extant measures borne out of the supply side and neo-liberal economics of the Washington consensus.
You have been considerably around; long enough for the economic measures which you hedge your influential weight to bear fruit. Yet, all could be seen is deepening misery and expanding poverty with dire consequences of rising tide of anti-social behaviour, whose most extreme expression is terrorism that is ravaging the country.
Desperate for a success story, you caused for the rebasing of the economy of which you arrived at the fabulous story that Nigeria’s GDP is at a whopping over 500 billion U.S dollars and is the largest economy in Africa. Following the national uproar about the contradictions of a rebased GDP and debased economy, you countered that the rebased GDP is not suppose to put a meal on anyone’s table but advertise the investment potential of the economy. From this, it appears very clear that you are more keen to bolster the international perception of Nigeria, no matter how blurred by reality than in ameliorating the dire conditions of your compatriots. In the rebased GDP, you noted the contribution of the service sector especially the telecoms industry and Nollywood, that did not feature in the last rebase of GDP about two decades ago.
But these sectors as critical as they are, do not constitute a strategic core of the economy with multiplier effect to build value-sectoral chain. It is the value chains of the critically core sector of any economy to absorb the work force in productive activities that triggers economic expansion. Your economic reform effort have yet to accommodate the critical component of value bolster, which is well known to derive from traditional sectors like industries, agriculture and manufacturing.
If you genuinely believe in neo-liberal economic measures that you earnestly push, it is important that you take more than a casual look and interest in the South Americas of 1970, 80s and early 1990s to see the broken social landscape of the region and compare with the recoveries in the early period of this century and up to now and evaluate the economic model under which they are achieving social inclusion amidst economic growth.
This letter is not meant to question your intellectual integrity but to spur you into a wider intellectual horizon where nothing is too sacrosanct to be interrogated. As you may know, American renowned economist, Kenneth Gilbraith warned against treating economic policy as article of faith, and it is the repudiation of “book worship”, an extreme form of article of faith, that enabled the Chinese pre-eminent reformer, Deng Xiaoping to inspire the world’s most successful economic reform and modernization effort, ever known in human history.
Charles Onunaiju is a journalist based in Abuja.