• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Let’s be fair, Jonathan has done well on the economy (1)

businessday-icon
There can never be a perfect leader. Most leaders do well in certain respects and fail in other respects. Also, we may never all agree even on one area the leader has done well or has not done well. It all depends on the criteria for assessment. As example, for some people, a political leader has not done well except he has given them an appointment, a contract or put money in their individual pockets. He can kill himself, but as far as they have received no personal benefit, he is no good. For some others, a political leader can only do well if he is from their ethnic enclave or he is from their political party. Therefore, he can commit ‘harakiri’, they will ignore it and still commend him because of their narrow and myopic prism of assessment.
Of course, such assessment can be very biased and injurious. Nevertheless, it is their own criterion for assessment. And yet for the enlightened others, they use specific and objective criteria to assess leadership performance. There may be some colorations and nuances, but that’s because they are human. And that’s why I am not really surprised by the recent comments on the economy raised by Prof Chukwuma Soludo and a couple of other distinguished Nigerians. On this score, I endorse Oby Ezekwesili’s call for a debate. That to me is the civilized way to conduct a discourse or argument with the objective of presenting the facts, the figures and insights, demolishing falsehood or establishing the truth. I do not subscribe to name-calling or demonizing of professionals or fellow Nigerians just because our views do not agree. Not all Nigerians are gullible. Many have brains that work, processing all the information they receive, agreeing, disagreeing and throwing the rest into the garbage.
In my many years of economic advocacy as a leader in the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN), the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), I have been schooled by the professors, the practitioners and economic agents on what shows good economic management and bad economic management from the private sector perspective. It is from this standpoint that I want to justify my conviction that when it comes to the economy, Jonathan has done well, better than many.
Economic growth
In the years that Jonathan has been president, our economy has grown between 6-7 percent per annum. This is one of the highest growth rates in the world, bettered only by China and a few other countries. This is the compounded growth rate that has driven us to become the largest economy in Africa and the 26th in the world. If this is not a consequence of good economic management, please tell me what is. Even if it happened by ‘luck’, we must still give the credit to Jonathan’s government. Because if the reverse were the case and the economy was in decline or in stagnation as we had many years ago, we would still have blamed it on his poor economic management. If a man can take the flack for failure, why must we deny him the right to take the credit for success?
Economic diversification 
For ‘n’ years, where ‘n’ is not less than 30 years, we had complained that we had a mono economy where oil was everything. But we were “shocked” to see that we now have a fairly diversified economy, led by services at 52 percent, where oil’s contribution to GDP has declined to 14 percent from over 33 percent in the heydays! And that even agriculture had declined from its dominant 42 percent to 22 percent because of growth in manufacturing which has climbed from less than 4 percent to about 7 percent, and such services as telecommunications and entertainment taking up measurable positions on the GDP grid at 8.69 percent and 1.42 percent, respectively. It is not yet déjavu as we still depended on crude oil and gas for about 70 percent of national income until the recent crash of oil prices which has now moved our non-oil revenue to about 47 percent of the 2015 budget proposals, bringing oil revenue to a healthier 53 percent. If all these are not as a result of sound economic policies, some of which were started by the previous governments, then tell me what is.
Macro-economic stability 
For the last four years, Jonathan’s government has sustained economic policies that had created a stable macroeconomic environment. For the first time in ‘n’ years, our inflation rate dropped to single digit. This was a feat previous governments dreamt about but could never attain. Until very recently, the exchange rate remained very stable, operating within a narrow band. This made naira almost convertible and allowed industrialists and importers plan inventory commitments with greater ease and less apprehension. Even the interest rates had been trending down and for once in a long time, farmers and some industrialists were able to obtain credit at single-digit interest rate or very low double digits.
This has happened because Jonathan gave free hand to the professionals in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and those in the Ministries of Finance, Trade and Industry, National Planning, etc to run with minimum interference. Additionally, he involved the private sector in the Economic Management Team where they used real market experience to balance academic economic theories. If this is not good economic management, please tell me what is. Some presidents in some countries have been voted out of office because they could not manage inflation!
Availability of food and other necessities of life
It is easy to take things for granted when they are going well, but when they go wrong, we come to realize that certain things are more important than others. People can find time to make an issue of the reduction in our foreign reserves, because we have plenty of food in the market. To be sincere, Nigeria has had an abundance of food. Thanks be to God and thanks be to a revamped agricultural environment. I am personally surprised that after the recent devaluation of the currency and some adjustment in the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), the prices of food items in the market remain fairly stable, keeping overall inflation much lower than I had predicted, which indicates a higher proportion of locally-produced food items. Does anybody remember 1984-1986, when we had to queue for food items and other necessities, including soaps and detergents in Leventis stores and other shops? Those were the days of essential commodities (Essenco) and import licensing when many companies, including mine, downsized or closed down because they could not bribe to get enough import licence.
I am sure Nigerians have taken for granted the availability of petrol and diesel. In the last couple of years, except for occasional hiccups caused by striking workers (NUPENG & PENGASAN), we have had almost hassle-free availability of petrol and diesel in virtually every nook and cranny of the nation selling at controlled and deregulated prices, depending on your distance from Abuja or Lagos. What is more, the price of diesel began to come down, helping to reduce cost of production for industrialists. I have lived in this country for long, and from the military to now, we have never had a better supply situation. Many times in the past, we have spent valuable time running around looking for fuel and sometimes ending up with adulterated or foul fuel. I stand to be corrected. If all these have not happened because of good economic management, then tell me what is.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa