An interesting narrative from Greek mythology says that before the heavens, skies, and earth were made, chaos, a confused shapeless mass of dead weight prevailed. The air was not transparent, the earth was not solid, and the sea was not fluid. Yet, in the belly of the chaos were the seeds of all things that were to be.
When God and Nature intervened to put an end to all the discord, the fire part, being the lightest, formed the sky, the air, not as light as fire, rose just below the sky, the earth, being the heaviest, sank, and water that always finds its level was buried below the earth.
An unidentified lesser god arranged and disposed the earth: He appointed the bays, raised hills and mountains, scooped out valleys, and distributed the fertile grounds, the woods, and the stony places. After chaos had been shoved aside, stars appeared in the sky, birds took possession of the air, beasts took over the land, and fishes occupied the rivers.
Finally, Man, the noblest of all creation, was kneaded into being with earth and water. Other creatures were on all fours and looked downward to the earth. But Man stood upright, raised his face to the heavens, and gazed at the stars. That probably explains Man’s ability for imagination and farsightedness.
Unfortunately lesser god Epimetheus who allots abilities and talents exhausted all the courage, strength, swiftness, sagacity, wings and claws for birds, paws for cats, shells for the tortoise, and other gifts to the lower animals, but left none for Man.
So, Minerva, god of wisdom, came from heaven with the gift of fire to quicken the intellect of Man. Thus, Man could subdue other creatures, and make his dwelling place comparatively independent of the climates. He also invented the art to coin money for his trade and commerce.
When the folly of Phaeton, the son of Apollo, caused intense heat to scorch the earth that supplied fertility, herbage for cattle, fruits for men, and the olive oil for holy occasions, the earth cried in despair, and with fear that all may return to the forsaken chaos.
The shambles that has become of the Nigerian economy is like the chaos before creation. The National Bureau of Statistics that announced that more than 4.58 million Nigerians lost their jobs in the last one year, also declared Nigeria’s economy, after a negative growth or deceleration for two consecutive quarters, is in recession.
There is a need for an exit plan for Nigeria from these dire straits. In the words of Niran Malaolu, a former Ogun State Commissioner for Information & Strategy, “The earlier we start (re)building this nation, the better for us.” President Muhammadu Buhari’s comfort pitch, “I can assure you that Nigeria will be great again,” is like a dry humour. The respective fiscal and monetarist policies of Finance Minister Kemi Adesoun and Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Godwin Emefiele don’t quite cut the economic ice.
One is even at a loss as to how the insensitive Ministry of Communications and Technology seeks to impose a nine per cent tax on phone calls, text messages, internet access, and (albeit luxury) pay TV, when consumers on Main Street are losing their purchasing power to a depreciating naira, increase in lending rate, and debilitating inflation.
The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, who wonders, “Who is advising the government?” also declares that “You can’t be in recession because a sector that is 15 per cent of the GDP has declined. What happened to agriculture, trade, service, and health?”
This is another way of saying that President Buhari urgently needs a Committee of Economic Advisers to provide him with objective economic analysis and advice. They will interrogate the macro and micro aspects of the economy, and think up plans to rejig the comatose real sector that is understandably in default of supplying essential commodities, providing jobs, and paying tax.
Mr. President’s circle of personal acquaintances may not provide all the competencies that Nigeria needs at this time. He should search for men with the ability to cast a detached and holistic outlook at the economy, tell if the emperor is wearing no clothes, and construct an appropriate economic conceptual framework.
To be sure, Section 18 of the Third Schedule of the Constitution provides for a National Economic Council of Governors of the CBN and each of the 36 states, with the Vice President as Chairman. The NEC has “power to advise the President concerning the economic affairs, and in particular on measures necessary for the coordination of the economic planning efforts or economic programmes of the various Governments of the Federation.”
This unwieldy organ composed of widely dispersed chief executives who are extremely busy with their daily grinds cannot meet and plan on a daily basis. And apart from the CBN Governor, the other members are politicians, whose nature it is to squabble over turf and interest. At best, NEC will issue only bland communiqués, and serve as a clearing house for the coordination of national economic policies.
Those who argue that despite its lack or dearth of requisite personnel, NEC retains the responsibility to “advise the President concerning the economic affairs” just successfully admitted the obvious flaw of this constitutional contraption.
They may be correct to argue that attempt to expand membership of NEC to include experts and professionals may lead to a constitutional logjam. However, the President should not invite any constitutional ire if he administratively sets up an independent team of economic advisers, even if the Vice President is the Chairman.
The half-way house economic committee of Ministers Udoma Udo-Udoma, Kemi Adeosun, Okechukwu Enelemah, Audu Ogbeh, Lai Mohammed and the CBN Governor that has the Vice President as Chairman, misses the point. These highly intelligent individuals, as line managers, are too busy running their agencies and can hardly afford the time needed to reflect as members of an Economic Team that normally function as staff managers.
By the way, government cannot take the fullest advantage of the capacities of Bismack Rewane, Bode Agusto, Dr. Ayo Teriba, and Profs Akpan Ekpo and Badayi Sani in just four hours of a snap review of the effects of the new foreign exchange regime on the economy, and preview of the Medium Term Economic Framework for 2017-2019. If they didn’t tell the Vice President that much, they were just being polite.
This Council of Economic Advisers should include economists, investment experts, scientists and technologists, sociologists, historians, philosophers, sundry other professionals, and industry players, who are conversant with best practices in their fields.
Those who are scared stiff should rest assured that whereas the economic “think tank” may be domiciled within the Presidency, its members will not usurp the job of the Federal Executive Council or any other agency with constitutional responsibility to manage the economy. But their up-to-date data, insight, and counsel should be an essential input to government decision making.
What seems to be wrong with the idea of getting an economic think tank for Nigeria is in the claim by someone that “We have to understand that the attitude of the Presidency (read the cabal around the President) is to consider the management of the economy as a government responsibility. “ As the French would say, Je m’excuse!