By Eze Onyekpere
The news of the dissolution of the Economic Management Team chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo alongside the empanelling of the Economic Advisory Council by President Muhammadu Buhari was one of the key issues in the economy in the outgone week. There have been various opinions and issues made out of this development. Many see it as positive and even started the development of an agenda for the new team. Others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. But what are the key issues and challenges for the new team?
It is imperative to acknowledge that the economy has been wobbling and fumbling from one avoidable headwind to another since the advent of the Buhari administration in 2015. Indeed, it may even be said that the economy appears rudderless, or at best, not to have capable managers as it keeps drifting like flotsam and jetsam in the high waves of the ocean. The fiscal policies failed to complement monetary policies while indicators like high inflation, unemployment, low productivity, poor growth of gross domestic product, etc. have been the norm. Security measures and government’s handling of security negated the drive for economic growth as agriculture suffered greatly from the herdsmen-farmers’ crisis. Also, investor confidence has been at an all-time low.
The dissolved Economic Management Team seemed at a loss as to what to do to gain a proper handle on the economy. But it was composed of the hands-on managers of the economy in fiscal and monetary policies and other managers of the economy. They were ministers, advisers and others who had mandates backed by the constitution, statutes and by the fact that they were occupants of positions charged with the management of specific aspects of the economy.
Now, the new Economic Advisory Council is purely an advisory team which reports directly to the President and is composed of strangers to economic governance in the sense that beyond being members of the team, they hold no official positions as managers of either fiscal, monetary, trade, industrial, labour, etc. policy. Being an advisory team, the outcome of their sittings is not binding and is subject to being accepted or rejected by the President whom they advise. The truth is that it takes a good dose of knowledge for anyone including the President to be discerning to understand the advice that will lift the economy out of the woods. This knowledge and discernment will also depend on the capacity of the kitchen cabinet, the presidential inner caucus who will review the advice for the President before accepting or rejecting the same.
The challenge flowing from the above is not in the calibre of men who are members of the advisory team as they are eminently qualified Nigerians with diverse experiences; the issue is about the capacity of the person advised to absorb the advice. The follow-up challenge is in the transmission mechanism that will see the advice of the team through, from the President’s table to the leadership of implementing agencies. How will this happen, especially for agencies that are autonomous and have been so granted autonomy by law? For instance, how will the team’s advice influence monetary policy considering that the Central Bank of Nigeria is independent and autonomous by its enabling law and the autonomy of Central Banks is recognised worldwide as a fit and good practice?
One would have expected that if a team that includes the Vice President, the CBN governor, the Ministers of Trade, Finance, Budget and National Planning, etc. is not working or delivering the expected returns, the logical next step would not have been to dissolve the team. Dissolving the team is like a vote of no confidence in the membership of the team. But the flip side is that members of the team still retained their official and more powerful positions as ministers and key political appointees in charge of strategic economic sectors. The logical follow-up would have been to strengthen the team with alternative voices and visions which the membership of the new Economic Advisory Council would have brought on board. Thus, the Economic Management Team would have been composed of key office holders and reputable economists like the members of the new team. This would have enriched Nigeria with a scenario where for instance, the Godwin Emefiele-led CBN’s policies would have had the benefit of a second opinion at the EMT championed by other economists including a Chukwuma Soludo who is a former CBN governor. This second opinion would not have been coming from “total outsiders” deliberating at a forum that the CBN governor is not a member. But it would have come in a committee where he participates and gets the opportunity to make first hand submissions.
The foregoing raises the critical question; if the President found the Vice President and key ministers and appointees, whom he placed in charge of the economy, incapable of managing the economy or being members of an Economic Management Team, why did he appoint them into those positions in the first instance? Should he not remove them from office where he is so constitutionally empowered? Is the new team a parallel governmental economic management team? Assuming the occupants of key offices decide to frustrate the implementation of the advice of the new team even if transmitted by the President to them, would the President relieve the appointees of their positions? Occupants of high office may frustrate proposed changes while at the same time swearing to the President and convincing him to believe that they are implementing the same. Frustrating the recommendations from the committee may be a way to convince the President that the recommendations are not practicable and cannot work to produce the results envisaged by the new team.
It is the submission of this discourse that improving the Nigerian economy must involve the decisions and contributions of the occupants of the exalted offices of members of the former Economic Management Team. They ought to be part of any economic management or advisory team to ensure that sound policies and advice are fully implemented. The advice of the new team stands a chance of being sabotaged by members of the old team who occupy very important implementation positions.
Eze Onyekpere is an Abuja based Legal Practitioner.