• Friday, April 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria and ‘Reality’ are in divorce court

Supreme Court: Why we upheld Buhari’s victory

Typically, when a married couple is about to embark on the lengthy legal process of divorce, it is not a spur-of-the-moment decision. Over the preceding months and years, it would have become increasingly obvious that there is some sort of fundamental incompatibility or an irreconcilable difference that makes continued coexistence impossible. Eventually, one or both partners have an epiphany one day – this thing isn’t working. At that point, separation is on the cards, followed by the fraught process of legal decoupling.

Following my own decoupling experience, I have developed something of a sixth sense for knowing exactly when this Rubicon is crossed. It is the point where both partners stop struggling to stay in an unhappy situation and simply stop caring. At this point, there are no longer any protracted fights, raised voices, arguments, and rage. There is just detachment and contempt.

Nigeria reached that point last week. After four years of fighting with different types of economic and historical reality using its plethora of media extensions, Nigeria’s government decided “Look ‘Reality’, we just don’t go together. This isn’t working. Let’s get a divorce.”

The facts are annoying, let’s make up some new ones

In the period leading up to the first appearance in divorce court, at least one partner typically meets another person who makes them feel desired and valued again. It then becomes a recurring question in their minds – “Why am I struggling so hard to remain in an unhappy relationship with this person whom I practically hate, while there are people out there who still value me? Why do I even bother anyway?”

This was the energy that jumped out at me when I saw Mr President’s statement effectively mandating Nigeria to create its facts, figures, and statistics, because he does not like those put out by the IMF and World Bank. Like in a real divorce, there was no use pointing out to the administration that these facts in fact, largely come from the administration itself – via the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), headed by the excellent Yemi Kale.

When the need to get away from an unhappy marriage has reached that extent, there is no way to logically walk back the disgruntled partners. They want out, and there is no amount of intellectual gymnastics that they will not employ to make it happen. As the divorce proceedings continue, I fully expect the NBS to be effectively gutted and stripped of its powers. Maybe a new statistics office will be created directly under the purview of the Presidency, physically located in Aso Rock and personally overseen by one of Mr President’s small army of media advisers and assistants. Because, why not?

Perhaps a book that outlines the revolutionary new economic theory of growing a destitute economy by ending all international trade will be released by the Presidency and become mandatory reading for school children, a la North Korea. Possibly any mention of the words “Adam Smith” may become punishable by summary imprisonment in a re-education camp where inmates are only fed plain Kano rice and water. Mr President’s equivalent of Muammar Ghadaffi’s Green Book (Green and White Book?) may then become a mandatory wedding present for all newlyweds, and people may be required to carry around a copy in their cars on the pain of, well, pain.

Certainly, Nigeria’s government will keep on invading markets to seize “foreign rice” and holding up hotels in Abuja to seize “cars without customs papers.” It will also keep on piling on more debt at a prodigious rate, using it to pay for allegedly non-existent subsidies and service old debts. Reality dictates that in addition to being incredibly unintelligent, obtuse and counterproductive, these things are not policies at all. At best, they are sideshows – distractions thrown up by a government that is never short of a word or three despite having exactly nothing of any substance to say. At worst, they are the government level equivalent of terminal cancer of Ebola.

No matter though, because he wants his divorce and he will get it.

But…The divorce settlement

On my show, Red Tape Africa earlier this week, I spoke to SBM Intelligence Head of Research, Cheta Nwanze who held the opinion that the current situation will inevitably culminate in the ESSENCO price boards scenario of the mid-1980s under a certain General Muhammadu Buhari. In his view, since the government has chosen autarky as the policy hill it is willing to die on, it only follows that when inflation starts biting, our Okrika Soviet Communists will try to use state power to artificially force prices down.

I have written previously in this column about a personal family story from 1984 and why the Nkrumah/Soviet vision for African economics has only met nothing but repeated failure for decades. Unfortunately, now that the government has decided to get a divorce from these inconvenient realities, the realities will want a divorce settlement – and it will be expensive. The most obvious cost is consumer inflation. Food is already getting more expensive at an 11 percent month-on-month rate. To put that in perspective, it means that if a plate of jollof rice costs N2,000 this month, it will cost more than N2,200 next month, N2,400 the month after that, and nearly N2,700 the month after that.

If that doesn’t alarm you, then you’re not paying attention. According to Euromonitor data (which Mr President conveniently no longer has to listen to when the court of public opinion grants his divorce from inconvenient facts), Nigerians spent 58 percent of their income on food in 2018. Significant food price inflation means that there is almost nothing left for other basic necessities like rent, school fees, and clothing.

This means at best, further impoverishment of Nigeria’s struggling middle classes – and at worst, severe widespread social unrest and civil disorder. Of course, those who will pay this ruinous divorce settlement will be ordinary Nigerians and not Mr President. He will be free to contract marriage to his very own “alternative facts” after the old and unloved wife is pushed out amid much kicking and screaming.

Regardless of how many articles we write, or how many respected economists are in Nigeria’s supposed presidential economic team, the fact is that nothing is going to stop this divorce, so we all must brace up and prepare for 1984. This administration is fed up engaging with any reality it doesn’t like, and has set its heart on a legal divorce from all reason, common-sense and historical evidence. Now is the time to do whatever we can to insulate ourselves from the coming carnage. You cannot stop a divorce in motion – you can only try to avoid becoming its roadkill.

And honestly, I would know.

 

DAVID HUNDEYIN