People & Money

Why I won’t contest for President next year

It is official. Unlike a good number of my compatriots, I will not be contesting the office of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the general elections scheduled for next year. This is not because I am not qualified to contest. Beyond the constitutional requirements for throwing one’s hat in that mix, there is really no consensus on what our ideal president should look, feel, or sound like. On this side of the conversation, I am probably in breach of softer, non-regulatory criteria. For example, did God reveal himself to me on this matter? No. I fear the burden of blasphemy too much to claim otherwise. Did my people call me? Unlikely. Even if they (whomsoever they are) recognise me as belonging to them, I doubt that they are acquainted with my address.

…the story of our failure as a country is this infatuation with ideas that we have tested time and again, but which continue to fail us. Unfortunately, we are witnesses to the same ideas tested and successfully dropped (China after 1979 is the poster child for this transition). The prevalence of this ideological narcolepsy is the main reason why I will not be contesting any election in this country.

Nor is my decision not to run a consequence of my not being smart enough. Grey matter never was a requirement for being president of Nigeria. This has nothing to do with the quality of persons who have recently occupied that office. Indeed, I recall even now with nausea the response, several years ago, of a candidate for that office to a question on how he would manage the economy. The would-be president clearly hadn’t a clue about what the main issues with the economy were. And he squared the circle by promising, once in office, to employ the best economists to advise him on the matter.

His plaudits (it was a live telecast, and they were many) evidently were not familiar with the long running joke about the profession of economics. They were not aware, in other words, that “If you were to ask two economists for an opinion, you’d get three responses”. And since just about every aspect of the Nigerian economy is not working, any one who makes it to that office next year would have a lot of questions to respond to. What sectors of the economy to reform (and by how much) in order to attract foreign direct investment? How much such inflows are required to boost domestic productivity? By how much would we need to grow productivity if we are to dent unemployment? Etc. My disgust, then, was because I felt that a candidate for office of president with no sense of where the economy ought to be, the direction in which it should be headed, and the pace at which it should be going, would waste advice, no matter how rich his team on the economy is.

Along with reforming revenue sources, we must also fix government spending. Would that involve moving monies away from subsidies on the naira’s exchange rate, the pump-gate price of fuel, cost of money, etc. and towards improved spending on health and education? Without any doubt. Can we afford to continue to play fast and loose with property rights, while still expecting inward foreign investment? I don’t think so.

Largely, though, I will not be contesting for the office of president next year, because I do not believe in a lot of the tosh that large sections of our echo chambers (and hence the Nigerian electorate) currently revel in. I still think there is much to be said in favour of the Washington Consensus. Increasingly, I am told that the local vote might be in favour of the Buenos Aires Consensus. Whatever the latter entails, I am so still in favour of governments at all levels maintaining fiscal discipline. No matter how well-intended our politicians are, we must deal with the question of improving government revenue. And we won’t get traction on this without fixing our tax arrangements.

Also Read: BIG READ: Abba Kyari (1953-2020): A Very Good Nigerian

Along with reforming revenue sources, we must also fix government spending. Would that involve moving monies away from subsidies on the naira’s exchange rate, the pump-gate price of fuel, cost of money, etc. and towards improved spending on health and education? Without any doubt. Can we afford to continue to play fast and loose with property rights, while still expecting inward foreign investment? I don’t think so. Without removing impediments to the entry and exit of suppliers (local or otherwise) in the respective sectors of our domestic markets, we can only continue to pretend to privatise state-owned companies. Nor can we continue to erect monopolies around private businesses and still think that we can take advantage of liberalised trade agreements.

In fact, in our current environment, it would be hard to glean much advantage from pursuing a competitive exchange rate regime. And where did we learn that the solution to a large, uneducated, young population is to return to rain-fed subsistence farming? The whole point of redirecting public expenditure toward improved health and education outcomes, while structuring the domestic economy in support of private supply responses is to hasten the transition from an agrarian to an industrial base in record time. Nor do I believe that out there are some interests in the developed economies hell bent on holding Nigeria down. And that the most appropriate response to this conspiracy against us is to trial home-grown responses to our economic challenges.

…one could argue that the main problem with politics and economics in Nigeria ― of course, this ignores prebendal motives and the instincts in favour of primitive accumulation ― is that despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and China’s late 1970s pivot from Maoism, large swathes of the country remain on the “left”.

In this sense, one could argue that the main problem with politics and economics in Nigeria ― of course, this ignores prebendal motives and the instincts in favour of primitive accumulation ― is that despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and China’s late 1970s pivot from Maoism, large swathes of the country remain on the “left”. Still, this would be but a partial description of our main constraint. Of far more import is the hoary incoherence of the body of opinions that have consistently masqueraded as anti-capitalist in this country.

Because of these, we’ve been down these paths innumerable times. And the story of our failure as a country is this infatuation with ideas that we have tested time and again, but which continue to fail us. Unfortunately, we are witnesses to the same ideas tested and successfully dropped (China after 1979 is the poster child for this transition). The prevalence of this ideological narcolepsy is the main reason why I will not be contesting any election in this country.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.

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