BY LEKAN SOTE
Everyone knows that candidates for sundry political offices have expressed their intentions and provided their manifestos to the people of Nigeria. And the hour is fast approaching for you, the citizens of Nigeria, to choose those who will administer your affairs in the next four years. If the choice was between the reelection of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who led a woeful failure of a government, and a new contender, the choice of who to vote for would have been easy. But all the current presidential candidates are fresh applicants for the job.
So it may be a bit tricky to decide who to vote for among them. No one can really tell when a President like Buhari, whose aides routinely come up with policies and programmes that are close to wickedness, will come up. Consider the chaos caused by the Central Bank of Nigeria that merely changed the colour of some denominations of the Naira which led to chaos and extreme anguish. Yet, President Buhari and his CBN do not seem interested in reviewing a policy whose implementation has gone awry so that poor Nigerians, who can neither access the old currency nor the new, now wonder if they are at war.
In his usually profound manner, former American President, Barack Obama, suggested, just three days after he was sworn in as President, that elections have consequences, and that those who lost out (meaning the opposition Republican Party) should get used to the reality.
So, Nigerian political buyers must beware. Before you cast your vote during the Presidential (and National Assembly) elections on Saturday, February 25, 2023, please bear the following economic imperatives (that can liberate you from the poverty inflicted by the Nigerian political elite) in mind.
“A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WHO HAS NO CLEAR IDEA OF THE PRIORITY INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS OF THE NIGERIAN ECONOMY HAS NO BUSINESS AS PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA. HE WILL ONLY FURTHER COMPOUND THE ECONOMIC PROBLEMS OF THE NIGERIAN CITIZENS, 133 MILLION OF WHOM ARE AMONG THE POOREST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD”
The first thing to look out for in the presidential candidate that you are going to be voting for is evidence of a deep appreciation of the economic problems of Nigeria, accompanied by clear articulation of the economic concepts or solutions that can take Nigerians out of the economic woods.
Because the idea of the market-driven economy is driving the wheel of governance globally these days, the new President must have the ability to work with the private sector that has the financial and technical capacity to drive Nigeria’s economic renaissance. The candidate must demonstrate the capacity to access both home-based and Diasporan Nigerians with the talents and skills-set necessary to successfully transform and run the economy.
These collaborators will hold the hand of the President (like Aaron did for Moses), in the task of recreating Nigeria into a wealthy, working, economy. One may need to add that those who will be working with the incoming President must be tested and proven professionals. They must not come in as hungry individuals, looking for a cure to rescue them from their journey to the poorhouse.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, two-time Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, and Dr Oby Ezekwesili, who progressed from running the Office of Due Process to the office of Minister of Education, are just two examples of the breed of ministers and aides that the next President must have.
People like Okonjo-Iweala and Ezekwesili come with big talents and capabilities that adequately match the big dreams of whoever may emerge as the next driver of the nation’s economy and, indeed, its destiny. Because Nigeria’s President is all-powerful, and because the past 62 years after the 1960 Independence have been wasted, it is of utmost importance for you to cast your vote for the presidential candidate that best understands the economic issues that confront Nigerians.
You need to pay particular attention to the economic credentials of your choice of presidential candidate because of the dire existential realities, of the scarcity of food, clothing, housing, transportation and security, which confront all Nigerians. Some wise people have argued that “stomach infrastructure,” defined by former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, to mean addressing the people’s existential needs, is key to human existence in any society. Yankees call it, “The American Dream.”
A presidential candidate who has no clear idea of the priority infrastructure needs of the Nigerian economy has no business as President of Nigeria. He will only further compound the economic problems of Nigerian citizens, 133 million of whom are among the poorest people in the world. Electricity, transportation (especially roads, maritime and extensive intra-state and inter-state railway systems), water for domestic and industrial uses, extensive internet coverage, and educational and medical services, are among the most essential infrastructure and social services that must be guaranteed.
The presidential candidate that will get your vote must be high on local food production and food security, economic crops that will provide raw materials for an ambitious plan to jump-start an integrated nationwide agro-allied industry. He must also have an articulate plan to urgently turn Nigeria’s extensive iron ore deposits, in Ajaokuta, Itakpe, Osogbo and elsewhere, into a steady supply of manufacturing machinery, equipment, spare parts as well as building materials. An import-substitution economic and manufacturing policy that relies on imported raw materials and industrial machinery, equipment and spare parts will end in absolute failure.
But the key to ensuring local production of these strategic assets is two-fold. In the immediate term, it is wise to take advantage of research and prototypes ly ing fallow in the research centres, like the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Nigeria Institute for (Palm) Oil Research, Benin, National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, Victoria Island, Lagos and Projects Development Institute, Enugu. In the medium- to long-term, your preferred presidential candidate must have a clear plan to invest extensively in research and learn in Nigeria’s citadels of learning.
There must be a clear and articulate strategy to prevent the perennial strike actions of academic unions, like the Academic Staff Union of (Nigerian) Universities, so that lecturers can concentrate on research and teaching. The next President must find a way to achieve a perfect fit between jobs that are available in the New Economy and Nigeria’s labour force. He must be able to lead in the development of the strategy that will provide the appropriate labour that will run the New Economy.
He must also understand digital technology and how it powers the digital economy, aspects of which include Artificial Intelligence, robotics, the use of the internet, and engagement of micro-blogging sites, some of which are designated as social media.
Your presidential candidate must have the plan to contain the N73 trillion national debt monsters whose servicing is gulping more than 90 per cent of the annual revenue of the government, thereby causing grievous cash flow problems for the government. Indeed, your presidential candidate must find a strategy for reducing Big Government.
And then, of course, the bogey of fuel subsidy must be stared down, by substantial pairing in the immediate term and total elimination in the long term. Indeed he must find a way to ensure that 100 per cent of the petroleum products needs of the country are produced locally. That should substantially reduce Nigeria’s importation bill and reduce the pressure on the Naira which is currently experiencing multiple exchange rates to hard currencies in addition to severe buffeting in the hands of an evidently incompetent CBN that is unable to admit when it is wrong. Your personal responsibility now is to vote wisely on Saturday.