by Ini Ekott
Former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Chukwuma Soludo, has delivered a ruthless evaluation of the Nigerian economy under President Goodluck Jonathan, ranking the administration “F” on economic management, and suggesting the Jonathan government is Nigeria’s worst as far as the management of the economy is concerned.
Mr. Soludo said while Mr. Jonathan lacks achievements to point to, or clear future plans as he seeks re-election, his main challenger, the All Progressives Congress, APC’s presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, also lacks specific plans on how to salvage Nigeria’s economy should he win elections next month.
“My advice to President Jonathan and his handlers is to stop wasting their time trying to campaign on his job record. Those who have decided to vote for him will not do so because he has taken Nigeria to the moon. His record on the economy is a clear ‘F’ grade,” Mr. Soludo said.
“Everywhere else in the world, government performance on the economy is measured by some outcome variables such as: income (GDP growth rate), stability of prices (inflation and exchange rate), unemployment rate, poverty rate, etc.
On all these scores, this government has performed worse than its immediate predecessor— Obasanjo regime. If we appropriately adjust for oil income and debt, then this government is the worst in our history on the economy.”
Mr. Soludo’s assessment, in a lengthy article published Sunday, took aim at the government’s economic policies that have resulted in unprecedented levels of poverty and unemployment.
He said the economy appears to be on “auto pilot” and lambasted the president’s economic team led by Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as a team “dominated by self-interested and self-conflicted group of traders and businessmen”.
He said Nigeria has been handed over to economic racketeers.
“The very people government exists to regulate have seized the levers of government as policymakers and most government institutions have largely been ‘privatized’ to them. Mention any major government department or agency and someone will tell you whom it has been ‘allocated’ to, and the person subsequently nominates his minion to occupy the seat,” he said.
Mr. Soludo said while Nigeria has for years enjoyed oil boom and increasing budget, poverty and unemployment reached unprecedented levels under President Jonathan.
“This is the only government in our history where rapidly increasing government expenditure was associated with increasing poverty. The director general of NBS (National Bureau of Statistics) stated in his written press conference address in 2011 that about 112 million Nigerians were living in poverty. Is this the record to defend?” he said.
The former CBN governor said on the other hand, while the APC promises change, the party and its candidate, Mr. Buhari, have shockingly offered no specifics on how its plans will be achieved.
Mr. Soludo said in his estimation, the current level of poverty and unemployment could only be reversed with a minimum of 3 million jobs annually. Mr. Jonathan has pledged 2million jobs yearly if re-elected, while Mr. Buhari has promised 20,000 new jobs in each state of the federation annually, raising its total to about 720,000.
Either way, Mr. Soludo said, no party has given specifics how they will create the jobs to roll back the level of poverty, which at 71per cent is the worst in the history in Nigeria.
“This sounds like a quota system and for a country where the new entrants into the labour market per annum exceed two million,” he said of the APC’s offer. “If it was intended as a joke, APC must please get serious. On the other hand, President Jonathan targets two million jobs per annum but his strategy for doing so is a Job Board— another committee of sort. Sorry, Mr. President, a Job Board is not a strategy. The principal job Nigerians hired you to do for them is to create jobs for them too. You cannot outsource that job, Sir. Creating 3 million jobs per annum under the unfolding crisis would task our creativity and audacity to the limits.”
Mr. Soludo said the government of Mr. Jonathan lacks excuse for its woeful performance since it inherited a relatively robust economy and also enjoyed years of oil boom.
He said instead of building on that outlay, the Jonathan government not only depleted foreign reverses, but increased Nigeria’s debt yet again, without adding a “penny” to the reserves.
Mr. Soludo, a former chief economic adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said in his estimation, if the economy had been well managed during the years if oil boom, Nigeria should have raked in a minimum of $102bn as foreign reserves, and would have cut unemployment and maintained exchange rate at N112 per dollar.
“For comparisons, President Obasanjo met about $5 billion in foreign reserves, and the average monthly oil price for the 72 months he was in office was $38, and yet he left $43 billion in foreign reserves after paying $12 billion to write-off Nigeria’s external debt. In the last five years, the average monthly oil price has been over $100, and the quantity also higher but our foreign reserves have been declining and exchange rate depreciating.
“My calculation is that if the economy was better managed, our foreign reserves should have been between $102 –$118 billion and exchange rate around N112 before the fall in oil prices. As of now, the reserves should be around $90 billion and exchange rate no higher than N125 per dollar,” he said.
Mr. Soludo said solving Nigeria’s electricity problems is not enough to create jobs as many believe. He said there are other factors, including the quality of manpower.
“For example, currently in Nigeria, it is estimated that more than 60 per cent of graduates of our educational system are unemployable. You can understand why many of us are amused when the government celebrates that it has established twelve more glorified secondary schools as universities. I thought they would have told us how many Nigerian universities made it in the league of the best 200 universities in the world. That would have been an achievement,” he said.
He said whoever between Messrs Jonathan and Buhari is declared winner after February 14 election, he expects a national emergency to de declared on job creation.
Mr. Soludo praised President Jonathan for refusing to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, calling the decision the president’s most important initiative of his government to secure the future of the economy, and wondered why that achievement is not being celebrated.
Mr. Soludo said if Mr. Buhari rides on the crest of his party’s touted “change” and wins, the “honeymoon” will be brief and the pressure will be immense to magically deliver a new Nigeria with no corruption, no boko haram or insecurity, jobs for everyone, no poverty, infrastructure and power in abundance, etc.
“As a first point, Buhari and his team must realize that they do not yet have a coherent, credible agenda that is consistent with the fundamentals of the economy currently. The APC manifesto contains some good principles and wish-lists, but as a blue print for Nigeria’s security and prosperity, it is largely hollow. The numbers do not add up. Thus, his first job is to present a credible development agenda to Nigerians,” he said.
Of Mr. Jonathan, should he be re-elected, Mr. Soludo said his greatest challenge will be how to save himself from the stranglehold of his largely provincial palace jesters who tell him he has done better than God, and seek out ‘enemies’ and friends who can help him write his name in history.
“Propaganda won’t do it,” he said.