Nigeria’s Minister for Budget and National Planning Udo Udoma, was in bullish mood this morning on a Lagos-based TV station’s breakfast programme. Speaking about the recession, he claimed: “We are on top of the job, we know what to do, we are on top of the problem”, while asking Nigerians to be patient as he and colleagues got on with the job of turning the economy around.
His confidence didn’t seem to match the actions of his government. Yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari hosted a “National Economic Council Retreat” with ministers and “experts” to explore ways of digging the economy out of recession. This was the third time such a meeting with “experts” had been held as the administration floundered, trying to find ways to deal with the economic malaise.
What was the point of these “retreats” and “summits” if “we know what to do”? Why did the president say yesterday: “Indeed, the challenges we face in the current recession require out-of-the-box thinking, to deploy strategies that involve engaging meaningfully with the private sector, to raise the level of private sector investments in the economy as a whole.” Why the need for “out-of-the-box thinking” if Udoma is claiming that they are “on top of the job”?
The president added: “It is in this context that this retreat has been designed to discuss issues around the state of the economy and build consensus amongst cabinet members and top government officials.” Maybe the president didn’t get the memo from Udoma that no further discussion of issues was required since they already knew what they were doing. Bismarck Rewane, one of the “experts” at the “brainstorming” session with the president, said there was no quick fix. This again challenges Udoma’s assertion that they know what to do.
These mixed messages demonstrate that this is a government out of its depth and winging it with no idea or strategies on dragging the economy forward. It is an administration that first claimed it was taking its time to appoint ministers because it was looking for the right people with the right expertise. It then reacted to the outcry from some sections of the chattering classes by hosting economic “summits” and “retreats”. As the economy continued to tank with no tangible outcomes from all these expensive talk-shops, Udoma is now telling Nigerians to keep calm and carry on as he and colleagues have everything under control.
Most sensible Nigerians would have discerned by now that the problems this administration faces are compounded by the fact that the administration is simply following in the footsteps of previous regimes. They are continuing the same policies, implementing the tried and failed “solutions”, and expecting different results. Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The least the administration could do is either admit they don’t know what they are doing and need help, or accept they are on top of the problem and stop wasting scarce resources on these jamborees. Right now, they are trying to have it both ways, saying one thing and doing the next. I don’t think Nigerians are insane enough to buy this.