Between a Governor, a minister and 36 governors

Nigeria’s 37th governor heads the Central Bank. When the 36 other governors wined and dined and snored away last night in the opulence of their government houses, Godwin Emefiele couldn’t be seen sleeping. He cannot sleep even today. He is not the only one who shouldn’t sleep. Finance minister, Kemi Adeosun, is that other person whose eyes must have been missing sleep. Both should not sleep because they are physicians looking after a high net-worth patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in distress. The economy is in deep trouble but instead of the country talking economics, as usual, we are playing politics. The CBN and the finance ministry are doing a tug of war. The situation is critical, even horrifying for the people. Last Thursday, the 36 state governors, many of them stark economic illiterates, joined the fray, playing politics with people’s lives, taking sides.

The country is in real trouble and everyone knows it. What we do not know is how this sick nation would survive its trauma. And it does not matter whether you are in government or outside government. Everyone is blank (that is what I see). The clues on display are of the pains we feel. There are no pathways to the redeemer of this killing era. The nation is at war but war commanders are giving counter orders. Tuesday last week, sleek, breezy speaking Adeosun said the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) headed by the CBN governor would meet that day and would reduce interest rate. That, to her, was the gbogbonse (elixir) needed to cure a major ailment of an economy that has wrecked many lives. The MPC met. It did exactly the opposite of the minister’s suggestion. It retained all the rates after noting the “elevated risks on both price and output” and the structural problems that had raised “cost, risk and uncertainty” in the economy. What did you get as a suffering, expectant Nigerian from that incoherence of the power elite? I got an alarm.

There is famine in this season of rains. Jobs are dropping into septic tanks. Salaries are getting halved or hung on poles of hopelessness for those still going to work. Nursing mothers battle with famished breasts. From the hard toil of farmers comes a harvest of malnourished, rancid fruits. What is the propitiation we need to get the field green again? That is the problem question. But where are the high priests of harvest? The ones we see are speaking with wrestling tongues. The land cannot be rebuilt with the incoherence of disparate knowledge and strategies. There must be synergy, cohesion and singlemindedness in the management of this economy. Both sides cannot be wrong. In fact, in all this pigeonhole of ideas could be found the elusive medicine for the headache that troubles the nation.

The ordinary man must be very confused now in his hunger. Adeosun and her side said low interest rate would serve the economy better. Manufacturers would borrow cheaply and, ultimately, produce cheaper products. They go on and on and you shout: sound argument! But the Emefiele party is also talking: Manufacturers need forex to import raw materials. The CBN does not have forex to give anyone. Those who have the needed hard currency are outside the country, liquid aliens lurking somewhere in the sky. They need to be lured into Naija to come buy treasury bills. These monied people are not unthinking lovers of Nigeria. They are in business to make money. Only good yield can make them fly their dollars into Nigeria to buy these bills. High interest rate is the bait to catch this big forex. And when these investors bring their dollars, manufacturers can heave sighs of relief, get forex and get their machines roaring again. When industries work again, jobs will come back, traders will sell again. Life will come back to a dying nation. Idle hands will escape from the devil’s employment. They will have godly pay. Landlords will stop jogging into the hands of community kidnappers. Nursing mothers will stop padding their breasts; there will be milk for the malnourished. You hear these and shout: great, sound sense! So, what is the issue? What is the problem between these elephants in the government of Muhammadu Buhari? Is there no way of marrying these two positions to hit the common target?

The CBN governor’s position excites me. His MPC called “for urgent complementary fiscal policies to resuscitate production and engineer aggregate consumption. In particular, members underscored the imperatives of diversification of the economy away from oil into agriculture, manufacturing and services as well as more efforts towards payment of salaries and arrears of public sector employees particularly in states and local governments to stimulate aggregate consumption, as part of the overall fiscal policy menu kit. On the supply side, efforts must be intensified at increased capital expenditure to redress infrastructural deficits, improve the business environment and spur growth.”

We have also listened to Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. He is backing Emefiele. Other experts say exactly the same thing. Could there be something the minister and her group know that these experts are not looking at? Someone said the minister is an accountant while Emefiele is an economist. The logic is that in solving the difficult equation of the economy, all of us, including the accountants, must listen to the experts. The 36 state governors want the accountants. These governors have always been lovers of voodoo solutions to all problems. But people of knowledge would put the ball in Emefiele’s court and listen to him because monetary matters are Central Bank matters. I would want the CBN governor left to play that ball. Emefiele and his experts have asked us to trust them with this salvage job. In other climes, when troubles come as they have here, people who have the sense and the knowledge are asked to provide solutions. Economic problems are not the same as political problems. The 36 political governors peering into what they know nothing about should save us their breath. Nobody trusts them with the accounts. I would rather listen to the CBN and the experts. The 37th governor is the one we hired. He is the one paid to pilot the economy. All eyes must be on him because the nation is in pains.

And the pains are truly killing. Some say we are in a recession. Some others call it stagflation. Yet there are others who are scaring us with the apocalypse of a soon to arrive depression. They say we have not seen anything yet. They say there are interests pushing the naira to trade at 600 to the dollar by Christmas. They say we have not seen anything yet unless the sector that produces goods is lactated to come alive again. They say recession is when your neighbours get sack letters while depression is when you yourself receive yours. Whatever it is, what is clear is that things are already bad, very bad. Schools resumed for the session last week. Days after resumption, many pupils still stuck at home. Proprietors of fee-paying schools have been sweating and praying for students to turn up and pay. They are counting the kids daily and scratching their heads. They are cajoling and pampering parents to borrow and pay and bring their boys and girls again. The flustered kids too are not asking questions. The hard times have forced sudden growth on them. Their teary eyes tell what they know. They are home because Daddy is broke and Mummy is jobless. There is no money to pay. The economy is gravely ill. These kids must not know that the sick is actually dying because of clashing prescriptions from doctors of change.