Doomsday Deferred

Space scientists and economists have some things in common. Both spread fears. They predict events without realistic evidence. Last week, I had to cope with fears stoked by astronomers and economists. The former speculated that the world could come to an end. The latter forecasted that the Nigerian economy could enter a recession by January 2016.

The information that the world could come to an end anytime between September 24 and 28 has been spread for some weeks. An asteroid or a huge rock was expected to hit planet Earth, creating a deep hole into which Earth and its inhabitants would be swallowed. NASA’s assurance that “asteroid apocalypse” would not happen came later: It said that though the asteroid would zoom past Earth on Thursday, it won’t collide with it as had been predicted.

Perhaps many Nigerians did not take notice of that doomsday prophecy. Well, it has not been proved wrong yet – not until after tomorrow. But I was expectant on Thursday night. When the news of the stampede at the hajj in Saudi Arabia came, I almost believed it was the expected asteroid tragedy: 717 human beings were trampled to death and more than 900 others wounded.

The other doomsday prophecy came at the end of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting last week. CBN governor Godwin Emefiele said that with two consecutive quarters of slow growth, the Nigerian economy could slip into a recession in 2016. The economists at the MPC [this sounds like the name of another political party] did not forget to leave an escape route, however: “…if proactive steps are not taken to revive growth in key sectors of the economy”. A “synergy between monetary and fiscal policies remains the most potent option to sustainable growth”, the MPC stated.

It’s perhaps better to ignore the doomsday prophecies rather than fear them. It pays to do so. At least, the asteroid has yet to hit our planet. As to the Nigerian economy, I wonder what “proactive steps” could be taken now to “revive key sectors” and head off a recession in three months.

I don’t know economists as truth tellers. They are also bad communicators – they hide behind jargons and convoluted statements to confuse others. Accordingly, on one hand, the economy will be revived, “all things being equal”; on the other hand, this may happen in the “long term” rather than in the “short run”. Doomsday deferred!

The MPC’s statement should be the biggest lie told this year in Nigeria. Is it possible for Nigeria to sink deeper than where it has been all these years? The Nigerian economy has been in recession since the era of “austerity measures” in 1981. There is nothing worse to expect in 2016. He that is down need fear no fall.

Perhaps the economists were referring to a total collapse of the economy — a time when everyone would be jobless and penniless. Such a day will never come. Farmers, who comprise the majority of Nigerian workers, won’t be jobless; they may be poor but they can always get by. Small businesses will always be there. It’s the informal sector of the economy that has sustained Nigeria all this while. Besides, crude oil and the corruption that feeds on it have created a few billionaires who have more than enough for their children and grandchildren.

Greece has been in the news, yet its economy is far better than Nigeria’s. No European nation can cope with the conditions under which Nigerians have lived for the past 34 years: unemployment/underemployment at 75-85 per cent, poverty at 90-95 per cent, endemic corruption, insecurity and hopelessness. Indeed, Nigerians are the most resilient – and the happiest – people on earth. Having survived over 30 years of economic depression, they have no cause to feel threatened anymore.

Let economists keep quoting JP Morgan, Fitch, IMF and World Bank, Standard and Poor’s, and other authorities endlessly. But management of a country’s monetary and fiscal policies can never be rocket science. So long as Nigeria remains an import-dependent economy, so long will the naira’s value plummet. The laughter of the men and women in banks and other financial institutions that sabotage the economy by manipulating figures and leading policymakers astray can only be temporary.

So, I’m not among those who worry over President Buhari’s failure to constitute an economic team or a cabinet. The economy has since crashed. Only cycles of oil boom have sustained it. And that’s why feeble attempts by “seasoned economists”, “financial gurus” and “world-class professors” all these years have achieved nothing.

Buhari should stay away from the “experts”. He should seek good people (who may not be textbook economists) to help him fulfil his party’s campaign promise of making the naira equal to the dollar. It is achievable by letting the naira fall to N1, 000 to $1, and then striking out three zeros from our currency. The kobo would return. Our taste for foreign goods would be reduced.

Follow me on Twitter: @Eyewayng


Ageing Children of Independence

In the eyes of kids, a 40-year-old is an old man. Adolescents and young adults may reserve the title for one that is up to 50. Those of us blessed with grey hair and balding head became “old people” from the late 30s. But nobody should get offended if anyone called them an old person at 55.

It follows that Nigerians born in the year of the country’s independence from Britain are now old people by any standard. Many of them that I know will be retiring from the civil service in December, having left secondary school by 1979 or 1980 and started work by January 1981. Indeed time flies.

I have observed the loneliness and hardship endured by our parents. As a result of rural-urban migration, they don’t live with their children or their grandchildren. Most don’t earn an income, and their children, most of whom are facing austere times, have little to spare. Others have stayed back in the cities long after their retirement; their pensions are either insufficient or not coming at all.

As someone who has always been close to old people, I am currently discussing a project dedicated to the elderly with friends: My friendship with Mr Ike Willie-Nwobu of the International Federation on Ageing Nigeria (IFAN) dates to the mid-1990s when, as a Lagos journalist, I was constantly highlighting the plight of the elderly. Five years ago, I met Dr Uhumuabi, a specialist in geriatric medicine who returned from the United States after 33 years. We are preparing something delicious for our generation, the children of independence, who are or soon will be counted among the elderly.

Happy independence Nigeria!



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