People & Money

Between belling the cat and unconditional pardon.

At one level, the popular experience up until now suggests that patience will not be one of the attributes with which the streets would interact with the incoming government.

…the holes that have to be plugged over the next one year are as much economic, as they are criminal. Unfortunately, the challenge that the incoming government faces will not be akin to that faced by the mischief of rats who felt a need to put a warning bell on the mouser. Rather it was always going to resemble the predicament posed by The Christ’s invitation to the scribes and Pharisees who dragged an adulteress before Him: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her”.

In a manner of speaking, the cash confiscation policy is the apotheosis of the Buhari administration’s husbandry of the economy over its two terms at the country’s helm. It is not just that the outcomes of the policy have been at variance with the goals that it was professedly set out to achieve. Domestic prices (especially food, supposedly the most important component of the shopping trolley of the man on the streets) continue to rise inexorably. There is no conclusive evidence that cash considerations did not play a role in the last general election. And the infrastructure for online financial transactions (without which the cashless policy is dead on arrival) simply failed the test. On the other hand, we have seen the informal sector of the economy almost wiped out by the difficulties that consumers and businesses have had in obtaining cash with which to complete their transactions.

Also Read: Nigeria Could Hit 2.2 million BPD Oil Production in 2023

If, indeed, the informal sector accounts for four-fifths of domestic employment, then one can only imagine what the impact of its disembowelment by the incumbent government has been on domestic living conditions across affected sectors of the economy. True, the sporadic rioting that at a point threatened to define popular response to the cash shortage served as a pointer to how badly people may have been affected by the policy. And despite the best intentions of the Supreme Court, in ruling that the policy was not consistent with the laws of the land, we have seen a reluctance on the part of the economy to pick up from where it ended 2022. The miracle, then, is that popular response to hardship this severe and gratuitous did not overflow into additional pressures at the seams of our already badly frayed social fabric.

One explanation for this is that ahead of a general election, the streets were content to wait out the end of an administration whose policies throughout the last eight years have left them always holding the short end of the stick. On this reading, the refusal of the streets to erupt in protest at the Buhari government’s poor governance is a vote for democracy. But because it also means that the weight of popular expectations for restoration of the economy’s vim now shifts to the shoulders of the incoming government, it is also a circumstance that is likely to prove as a major source of problems to the incoming administration. As with all poisoned chalices, the portmanteau of disadvantages this circumstance confronts our democracy with is unique.

…the larger part of what this economy must do in the next six months ― if it is not to succumb to the difficulty with paying its debts, rising unemployment rates, a cost of living crisis that is making life hell on earth, and productivity levels that are scraping the bottom of the economic barrel ― will be all about deprivations that will fall largely on the shoulders of the average ‘Tunde, Okoro, and Mohammed.

At one level, the popular experience up until now suggests that patience will not be one of the attributes with which the streets would interact with the incoming government. Part of this problem is because for a variety of reasons, not many of the leading political parties were able to describe the cash confiscation policy in terms that made sense to the large number of people who were hurt (in a few cases, fatally) by it. Even worse, none of our leading political parties could describe a path out of the current crisis that makes sense.

That said, the larger part of what this economy must do in the next six months ― if it is not to succumb to the difficulty with paying its debts, rising unemployment rates, a cost of living crisis that is making life hell on earth, and productivity levels that are scraping the bottom of the economic barrel ― will be all about deprivations that will fall largely on the shoulders of the average ‘Tunde, Okoro, and Mohammed. Whether it is higher prices as the pump-station price for petrol goes up, or higher prices as import costs rise to compensate for a market-driven exchange rate, the next government will have to explain to the people why they must bear these pains in terms that are as clear as they are simple ― and easily repeated. If we must bear new and more burdensome pains over the next two to three years, as part of a genuine effort to re-float the economy’s boat, then it would help if we understood what the source of the current crisis is.

Also Read: Nigeria and IMF’s roseate outlook, By Uddin Ifeanyi

More importantly, a proper accounting for this crisis would help. In which case, the holes that have to be plugged over the next one year are as much economic, as they are criminal. Unfortunately, the challenge that the incoming government faces will not be akin to that faced by the mischief of rats who felt a need to put a warning bell on the mouser. Rather it was always going to resemble the predicament posed by The Christ’s invitation to the scribes and Pharisees who dragged an adulteress before Him: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her”. As our consciences convict us over the next four years, it would help to remember that we cannot continue to simply ask of those who persist in bringing us to the edge of different precipices that they “go, and sin no more”.

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