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Dasuki, Sowore’s release is liberty for us all

We welcome the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari, on December 24, 2019, to grant bail to Sambo Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore. Not only has the president acted rightly by complying with court orders (which, sadly, his government has repeatedly disobeyed), it shows a willingness to harken to the voice of ordinary Nigerians on whose vote he rode to power.

Their release, granted on Christmas eve, is symbolic. Political power, a component and necessity of civil life, is held in trust and exercised with respect for and in the defence of the dignity and common good of the governed.

Yet, the decision is not about one or two individuals senselessly incarcerated; it is not about silencing critics but about a government not being allowed any comfort when it rises above the people and the law. Thus, we call for the release of all others unjustly held and hope this marks a complete departure from impunity and mindless arrest.

While we welcome this show of contrition by government, the other real worry is the widening poverty pit into which Nigerians are falling daily. Since Buhari made his remarkable pledge about pulling millions out of the poverty trap, his government has failed to outline a coherent strategy capable of turning mere wishes of the president into reality.

Poverty in its different forms – economic, social, cultural, legal, political – limits human freedom and dignity. The country and its citizens need and deserve socioeconomic changes that will serve their good. No nation of our size and with the magnitude of our economic crisis can make such slow progress and hope to become great. With 91 million people living in extreme poverty, the Nigerian economy is failing its citizens faster than India’s, a country with five-times more people.

This government’s incredible knack for borrowing instead of catalysing inflow of badly needed private capital means Nigeria is sowing seeds of another catastrophe ahead for its unborn generations. Mortgaging the future of Nigerians at a time when the world is awash with capital desperately in search of investment opportunities is also an injustice. The unwillingness to attract some of the global surplus capital through sale of government shares in state-owned companies or telecommunications spectrum licences or through asset-based securities (e.g., diaspora bonds) or rental income from a plethora of government property is inexplicable.

What must be done? All it will take are steps that build confidence, encourage new investments that will grow the economy and generate jobs.

Hence the case for the potentials and benefits of a private sector-led economic recovery. Money realised from the commercialisation, liberalisation, privatisation and securitisation of state-owned assets will attract enough foreign exchange to strengthen the naira and deepen the financial market too. The central bank can do away with multiple exchange rates (thanks to its rigid management of foreign exchange, just over 60 percent of what Nigerians abroad send home annually is sent through the local banking system – unofficial records estimate the true amount is $40 billion).

Opening the space for private capital will result in enough cash in government’s coffers which can then be used to fund the soft and hard infrastructure (security, education, energy and transport) and stem the descent of millions into poverty.

The pace at which the economy is travelling suggests Nigeria will arrive late and unprepared to a future where a large and highly skilled population is an advantage. It would be big mistake if the president thinks only debt can steer Nigeria back on track. The government cannot borrow its way out of these grave problems, even with a debt profile that has ballooned to trillions of naira.

The president must dismantle every barrier that keeps Nigerians and their foreign partners from investing in the country and open the space via rapid, thoughtful economic reforms that this country deserves.

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