Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka last week called for a conference of experts on the economy: “The President should call an emergency economic conference with experts to be invited – consumers, producers, labour unions, university experts, professors, etc. I think we really need an emergency economic conference, a rescue operation, bringing as many heads as possible together to plan the way forward.”
It appears this duff advice has been accepted. According to reports, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved hosting such a conference next month.
The first thing this planned conference does is certify the cluelessness of the Buhari administration in dealing with the nation’s economic woes. Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) campaigned telling Nigerians how the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had destroyed Nigeria. Buhari and his party claimed Nigerians should entrust them to fix the mess and that they had a plan to “change” the direction that the country was going.
So the suggestion that, despite having ministers for finance, budget and national planning, a Central Bank governor and an army of bureaucrats in support of the president and these senior officials, there are clearly no concrete ideas on how to improve the economy, must be seriously disheartening for all those that placed their hopes in Buhari and his administration.
But this should not have come as a surprise to anyone that was more discerning. Buhari appeared in a TV debate when he ran for president in 2011 and was asked how he would deal with a myriad of Nigerian problems. It was clear then that there was no plan. In answer to one question, he even said his plan was to get in and then sit down with people and come up with a plan!
Buhari had run for the highest office in the land in 2003, 2007, 2011 and then successfully in 2015, and in all that time he never had any coherent ideas how to address the country’s dire economic problems. A few days ago, in Saudi Arabia, all he had to offer was a return to agriculture and mining.
Now, like a drowning man, drowning in his own ineptitude, it appears like the daft idea of an economic conference has thrown him a lifeline. Conferences or committees are standard government tricks to avoid dealing with an issue. Once you don’t want to solve a problem or know how to solve it, you either set up a committee or a conference. And you can use it to deflect any further questions on the issue – refer the questioner to the committee/conference. And, as usual in Nigeria, the report of the committee/conference is kicked into the long grass.
Even if the government wanted to take any report from the committee seriously, we need to examine who would take part. Any panel appointed by any Nigerian government is likely to include the same “experts” that have been in circulation in Nigeria for the past few years. They are likely to peddle the same stuff they have been peddling to previous governments. The same tried and failed policies.
The APC has a manifesto that was meant to address the Nigerian economy. It was most likely cobbled together by the type of “experts” that would take part in this planned conference. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to Buhari, when the latter was still President-elect in May last year, what he claimed was a “blueprint for success”. The so-called blueprint was put together by a “think-tank” that Obasanjo set up and it worked for four months to produce a report that focused on education, power, economy, security and infrastructure. The “experts” involved include Christopher Kolade and former finance minister Kalu Idika Kalu.
Those “experts” and others like them are likely to be involved in this planned conference. If their advice were so good, and they’ve been involved in government, in some shape or form, over the past few decades, you wonder why the economy is in such a mess and still solely dependent on oil.
This conference is nothing but another confidence trick on Nigerians, who should wise up to the fact that if you need a conference to deal with the economy, you have no business in government.