Why Atiku’s Economic Plan Should Give Nigerians Hope

By Ikenga Chronicles November 19, 2018

Why Atiku’s Economic Plan Should Give Nigerians Hope

–ThankGod Ukachukwu,

I was not flabbergasted by the headline when I saw that this article was a hit among President Buhari supporters who latched onto what they feel is one of the potent counters to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s brilliant and stupendous interview with The Africa Report.They shared it with glee. I bookmarked it and continued my daily routine after which I returned to it a few hours and perused the content. Anyone who read Atiku’s recent interview with The Africa Report, admits that aside the new crop of presidential candidates like Oby Ezekwesili and Kingsley Moghalu, we have not had a presidential candidate who understands and outlined economic policy and management as succinctly as Atiku.

I might be harsh, but permit me to state that President Buhari in all his campaign prior to 2015 was not able to give such a fluid perspective on what Nigerians and foreign investors expect from him in terms of the economy, he was all about corruption and security. Economy took backstage. After his victory and presidency for over 3.6 years, we still haven’t heard from him on exactly what his economic policy entails. We are not sure of hearing from him because he hardly speaks to the press and his last major interaction with the press in Nigeria was in Dec 2015.

Recall that one of the conundrums, which besieged Nigeria in 2015, was a lack of clear economic policy and direction of the Buhari administration. In fact, there was palpable tension and investors took to their heels. There was literally a run on the Nigerian economy because one thing that scares investors is uncertainty. As we speak, President Buhari doesn’t have an economic adviser attached to his office instead we have one who is attached to the VP’s office, just one economic adviser for a country which is nearing fiscal crisis. Our economy is heading for the rocks, one would have expected that the president should hire more economic advisers who would approach issues of the economy like an emergency and proffer solutions but if we have learned anything in the past over 3.6 years of Buhari administration, it is to lower our expectations to the barest threshold.

This brings me to where Jude Egbas described President Buhari’s approach to managing the economy as ‘Command and Control’ or Keynesian economic model’. He is being modest with the president. To be clear, Buhari favours what is known as ‘state-led capitalism’ popularized by China and communist countries against free-market capitalism which Atiku favours, reminiscent in Atiku’s plan of selling 90% government stake in NNPC. State-led market economy thrives in tightly controlled regimes where democracy is limited or non-existent. That is why Buhari’s approach is inappropriate for Nigeria. Atiku favours a monetarist economy, which attracts Western investors. The past four years has given us an idea that we cannot depend on China, its government avails African countries loans only for infrastructural development whereas the Chinese government on setting up businesses overseas limits Chinese investors.

Do we leave the fate of Nigeria to a president who HSBC warned, “second term for Mr. Buhari raises the risk of limited economic progress and further fiscal deterioration”? And other international financial and research organisations have warned that Nigeria’s economy is endangered if the status quo persist? What is Buhari’s plan to attract investors? In the spirit of issue-based campaign, what journalists like Jude Egbas should do is reach out to President Buhari on these issues which are critical to Nigeria’s progress as per the campaign season and seek his views. Does he have better economic plans, not the campaign promises rhetoric, nuanced plans. Do we just condemn Atiku’s economic plans because we are sceptical of the vagaries? Should we continue to defend the naira when it is stifling investments from abroad and detering economic growth? Does it mean Nigerians cannot gather economists who will proffer solutions, which could combine floating with a maximum ceiling where we apply some restraints? Can Nigeria swallow the bitter pill for once so we can be cured of stunted economic growth syndrome? Recall that Nigeria’s recent Eurobonds of November 2018 was pegged at 9% while that of Greece with a trouble economy was pegged at 4%. This shows that investors are wary of our economy.

A year ago, a Reuters article addressed the issue of free-floating currencies, which Atiku advocates, adopted recently by Russia and Argentina and in that article two emerging market analysts stated thus. “The critical issue for Nigeria is a move to proper currency flexibility, not devaluation per se. The June 2016 devaluation demonstrates that,” said Hasnain Malik, head of frontier markets strategy at Exotix in Dubai. She added: “The majority of foreign institutional investors…cannot allocate new money to Nigeria if it is going to be trapped by capital controls.” “A devaluation will happen in Nigeria, but a float is quite unlikely, and a float is the ideal scenario,” said George Birch Reynardson, fund manager at Somerset Capital. Should Nigeria continue its straitjacket policy on floating of the Naira or give Atiku to change course? Buhari’s averseness to the policy shows lack of understanding of modern economic management. The systems we cling onto for decades have not helped the economy. Isn’t it time to try another approach? This quote attributed to Albert Einstein comes in handy: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.”

In summary, the writer Jude Egba advances that “you’ve got to admit that Atiku and the PDP are yet to think this economy thing through.” Given what we know about Nigeria’s economy since the current administration, Jude Egbas’ proposition is erroneous. I doubt the writer has an open mind towards Alhaji Atiku Abubakar because that conclusion and head of his opinion piece reeks of prejudice. There is no other presidential candidate who has a clearer perspective of pragmatic economic policy in the short term and long term for the Nigerian economy other than Atiku Abubakar. Having headed the National Economic Council and overseen the privatization of Nigeria’s economy under President Obasanjo, I doubt no other presidential candidate has a better hand-on knowledge about management of the economy. And believe me, experience is imperative for managing our complex economy. Such a blanket conclusion is a conjecture and I challenge the writer to beckon on President Buhari to grant his own interview and give Nigerians his own ideas on what we should expect on the economy, which is one of the major reasons Nigeria should decide on whether to cast their votes for him or Atiku in 2019.

Therefore there is not much to fear, our economic direction, as a country has never been this clearer and investors know where to hedge their bets. There is no uncertainty and billions of dollars will flow from investors that are eagerly waiting to access the biggest consumer market in Africa. There will be no hiatus, as Atiku will start the implementation of his economic policy immediately after inauguration if he wins!