Giant Nigeria Held Hostage By Naira Exchange Rate. A critique of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s policy perspective on “What Africa Must Do…”

The recent statement by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, appears to announce that he has come out from a post- election “fattening room”. His silence on government policies and  national trends must have served him as a welcome companion. And why not?  Any normal citizen who survived the locally fabricated tornado of our 2019 elections in Nigeria, would have done no less.

By the way, our elections are not for normal citizens.  Since 1999 have they have been infected from design by a mischievous “establishment virus”. It is inclined to turn each election into a social tornado that fits a simple pattern: we tend to spend more money on elections ( perhaps more than any other country in the world). We tend to sponsor the most expensive gadgets backed by laughable supervision gaffes, even before the elections.

Our elections tend to lead to threats of more injuries or deaths during each cycle. Then, largely more election litigations follow each cycle, as data from 1999-2019 show.In the end what do we get? A predictable outcome: the nation is saddled with a mediocre performance that gives us less value- for- money spent. In effect, we spend all that money to devalue our democracy by taking it at least one step down the ladder of public service efficiency.

But we all know that facts from past exercises point to both those who hold political positions and their leading opponents. They do not want free and fair elections. Simple! Not at LG, State or Federal level. They only want to win by other means! Most INEC people know that fact. All the political parties know that. The security agencies know it . And the courts are no less part of this conspiracy of mediocrity.

Yet isn’t it ridiculous that they all seem to pitch in with feverish grand-standing? No it is not ridiculous. It is because each election allows some people in relevant establishments to go for the kill. Seems each establishment does the best it could to get its fair share at what has become a painful and expensive national circus.This virus affects Nigeria’s institutions and establishments, not only those connected with elections. Increasingly their performance tends to show that competence and the will to be seen as positively competitive, no longer matter to Nigeria as a country.

 Everything else we are going through, seems to be a fall-out of this social reality. That is why only a few among Nigeria’s top political elite, bother to show by their behaviour that they are still “normal” like the rest of us. They sit back to care about competence or performance, worth the title.  Others of their tribe, are sadly not like us anymore. So Alhaji Atiku’s statement pointing the way for government performance to achieve efficiency, is positively pregnant. It talks about how government must  make the Nigerian economy and Africa’s market potential, a priority to be rescued from Covid -19. Or the pandemic would snatch the opportunities from our citizens, while other countries will be set to launch their citizens to higher progress.

But I suspect you know how this will end. Alhaji Atiku will likely find himself accused as a “sore loser” or worse. Some zealous Federal Government  agencies or President Buhari’s party officials will be blinking with rage to charge at Alhaji Atiku. Please don’t blame them. It is one area where pretension of efficiency by those involved, leads to steady bank alert for fighting perceived critics of government.

No action of value to our nation, is likely to come from such a timely wake- up call. It is because it is part of a trend that shows what kind of system our country is running since 1999. A feudal political system does not want performance efficiency to make it competitive, because that requires competence -based allocation of opportunities. Nigeria left the lane of competence based decision making in the public sector  20 years ago. It tends to get worse with each passing adminstration.

Problem is that there is no Private Sector in the real sense to cover up the establishment policy failure and widening performance gaps. As I shall show, Alhaji Atiku’s call only scratched the surface of a deeper national problem. To be sure in a system where a country wants to be seen by it’s citizens as caring for their interest, the response would be different.

According to Ms Blank the woman who is a co-leader of what is becoming known as “Verbatim theatre” culture, which is a new form of drama to express crucial underlying national issues,  we should all join hands to make Nigeria react differently. Our nation’s growing disregard for a culture that promotes performance value, should be at the “heart of what we should be grappling with as a country”, as Ms Blank was quoted on a different issue by *The Economist* of March 7-13 2020 (page 73) . 

But many of our politicians no longer connect with the dream that keeps majority of our people awake every night at the LG, state and federal levels.  It is not a fantasy. No! Once upon a time our nation was the centre of Africa’s ambition and the point on any map of Africa, which Black professionals such as Dr Patrick Wilmot, Lindsay Esoghene Barret and many others wanted to belong to or identify with.

For instance in the 1970s just a few years after the Civil War, ordinary Nigerians were respected and our nation too became respected. Up to the mid 1980s, we were in the centre of most markets: from West Africa to many parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas. Even in far away South East Asia Nigerians moved on the street with a swagger like descendants of local Princes. One indicator was the power of the Naira.  At every airport around the globe, the Naira was treated like a King and those who carried it, felt regal confidence in their wallets and steps.

Between 1970-1979 the US dollar ($) exchanged for less than one Naira ( N)!

By 1998 it took about N23 to get $1. But by 1999 -2007, the exchange rate had brought Naira to a sustained downward slide: thus from N89 to $1 in 1999, it moved to N142 to $1 in 2007. Between 2010-2015 it made a peak of  N170 to $1. In March 2020 the Google report on the Naira is N386 to $1! It explained why from 1999, only people in power as government and their cronies, can claim any dignity as Nigerians.

 A study of the exchange rate slide from 1983-2019 shows that things have gotten worse with each passing year. The problem is that the exchange rate is not mere numbers. It talks about the purchasing power of a people and the quality of life they have. What the exchange rate of the Naira says is that for 20 years ordinary Nigerians need their governments at state and federal levels to look at how much Naira a dollar commands, and resolve to push up productivity of our economy. As Ms Blank said in a related insight, it is the only way to empathize with  stories of ordinary citizens and to show that government feels the pain behind their nostalgia for past years. 

But sadly enough Alhaji Atiku’s statement didn’t address the exchange rate. And that is curious. From 1983 the Naira has been held hostage as a national currency with diminishing exchange rate, when compared to the US dollar or any other foreign currency. That is about 37 years of downward slide of our national currency. In a sense it also shows how our national economy has fared. Something significant is that it has taken the Chinese  about 30 years to move their national economy in the opposite direction.

In 2020 the world economy is waiting for China to trigger a recovery in it’s capacity as the second largest economy in the global market.  Donald Trump is pulling his hair out of the way to trumpet a Marshall Plan for the US economy to regain leadership of the global markets. The government is putting about $350 billion at the disposal of Small Business enterprises to get them back into production of goods and services. In the age of globalization which Trump has redefined to seek optimum advantage for the US, sympathy is not on the table in market relations between nations .

To be continued…

Brown, a veteran journaluist is emeritus national president of NIPR and Managing consultant/CEO of GRAIN Consulting, PH.

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