Emir Muhammad Sanusi II’s well-publicized December 2, 2016 public lecture on the Nigerian economy has divided Nigerians into two broad camps. In one camp you have the unreasoning, knee-jerk Buhari apologists who can’t brook the slightest criticism of their idol. This camp lashed out—and are still lashing out— at the emir for saying what all sensible people who are unencumbered by political and primordial loyalties already know: that Nigeria is collapsing under Buhari’s watch.
In the other camp you have a motley crowd of Sanusi groupies who are mesmerized by his brilliance and Buhari critics who either didn’t like Buhari from the get-go or who used to like him but have become inconsolably disillusioned by his uninspiring performance so far. This group vigorously defended the emir.
But this is a false, unhelpful binary that ignores the danger the emir poses to all of us. While the emir’s diagnosis of Nigeria’s economic malaise was unquestionably sound, some of his prescriptions were sadly familiar neoliberal, IMF/World Bank deathly pills. You only need to read the PowerPoint slides of his lecture to know this.
For instance, the emir suggested that the government “firmly and unequivocally eliminate fuel subsidies.” But hasn’t the president already done that? How much more must Nigerians pay for fuel before the government can be deemed to have “firmly and unequivocally eliminated fuel subsidies”? Perhaps 500 naira per liter?
In other words, the emir’s grouse with Buhari is that the president isn’t going far enough with his anti-poor, IMF/World Bank-inspired neoliberal policies that have impoverished and continue to impoverish vast swathes of Nigerians. If you take the time to wade through the maze of pseudo-scientific economic gobbledygook in his presentation, you will actually discover that the emir isn’t the hero he is being made out to be by his cheerleaders. His economic template isn’t different from Buhari’s; it’s only more treacherous.
Those of us who are familiar with the emir’s immediate past antecedents aren’t the least bit surprised. He is a thoroughgoing neoliberal theologist who was one the most vociferous enablers and defenders of Goodluck Jonathan’s fuel price increase in 2012. In defending the increase, he protested that it was diesel, not petrol, that powered generators and that Nigerians should stop whining about how the increase in the pump price of petrol would deprive them of electricity.
When his attention was drawn to the fact that only “subsidized” and privileged “big men” like him use diesel-powered generators, he backed down and apologized. As I wrote in 2012, I found it remarkably telling that until 2012, Sanusi had not the vaguest idea that the majority of Nigerians use petrol-powered generators to get electricity for themselves. “Yet it is people like this who make policies that affect the lives of the vast majority of our people who are desperately poor. Why won’t there be a vast disconnect between policies and people when the people who make the policies live in a vastly different world from the rest of us?” I wrote.
In a September 1, 2012 article titled, “Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s Unwanted 5000 Naira Notes” I described him as “one of the most insensitive, out-of-touch bureaucrats to ever walk Nigeria’s corridors of power.”
If you are a poor or economically insecure middle-class person who is writhing in pain amid this economic downtown, don’t be deceived into thinking that Emir Sanusi is on your side. He is not. His disagreements with Buhari have nothing to do with you or your plight. If he has his way, you would be dead by now because the IMF/World Bank neoliberal theology he evangelizes has no care for poor, vulnerable people. So disband those “camps.”
What we should tell the emir and whoever in the world is Buhari’s economic adviser is that no country on earth has ever made economic progress on the basis of World Bank/IMF prescriptions. None whatsoever. As David Held and Anthony McGrew pointed in their book, Globalization/Anti-Globalization: Beyond the Great Divide, “Developing countries that have benefited most from globalization are those that have not played by the rules of the standard [neo]liberal market approach, including China, India and Vietnam” (p. 226).
Yet the emir wants government to basically return to IBB’s SAP era, which entailed rolling back the state (without, of course, rolling back the lavish, unearned privileges of the buccaneers of the state), privatization of public enterprises, retrenchment of workers, devaluation of the national currency, increase in taxes for the poor and middle classes, withdrawal of subsidies, and other obnoxious, suffocating economic policies.
But when the United States went into a recession between 2007 and 2009, it didn’t follow any of these neoliberal prescriptions. The dollar wasn’t devalued. Subsidies weren’t removed. The state wasn’t rolled back. Government didn’t retrench workers. Taxes weren’t raised. On the contrary, government increased expenditure. The financial burden on the populace was eased with lower taxes. Government, in fact, sent lots of money, called tax rebate checks, to lower- and middle-income families so they could have money to spend, since recession is essentially the consequence of people not having enough money to spend. I was a beneficiary of the tax rebate, so I know what I am talking about. Financially distraught private companies (particularly car manufacturers and banks) were bailed out by the government.
These policies fly in the face of the neoliberal canard spouted by the emir and his ilk: that government should step back and leave market forces to regulate society unaided.
Buhari, please just do nothing!
I used to say that it was impossible for any Nigerian president to be worse than Jonathan. That was how much I despised him. So in May 2015, I started out investing enormous hopes in Buhari to transform Nigeria and to build enduring institutions. After waiting 6 months to appoint a predictable, lackluster cabinet, it became clear to me that my hopes were misplaced, that Buhari wasn’t prepared to be president, so I scaled backed my expectations and hoped that Buhari would at least be minimally better than Jonathan.
But when Buhari hiked fuel prices, reversed the few miserly subsidies that sustained the poor, and became prisoner of the “Washington Consensus,” I scaled back my expectations again and hoped that Buhari would be just as bad as Jonathan was.
When his government’s incredibly inept husbandry of the economy continued to deepen the recession it instigated in the first place with its wrongheaded policies, I hoped that Buhari would just be slightly worse than Jonathan for the sake of Nigeria’s survival.
Now with the unceasing rash of counter-intuitive, mutually contradictory, insanely irrational, and thoughtless policy prescriptions from this government every day, the very foundation of the country is tanking before our very eyes, and I just hope Buhari never does anything again till 2019 when his tenure will expire—and with it the torment he is inflicting on Nigeria. A stagnant, do-nothing Buhari is now better for the country than this madness we’re witnessing! Nigeria is fast sinking to the nadir of despair and ruination.
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