Re: On the Social Contents of Okonjo-Iweala’s NEEDS

27.08.2003

NEEDS PerceptionI am not an economist. During the first week of August, our highly acclaimed Finance Minister, Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced that the Nigerian economy is expected to be buoyant in 10 years.

This expectation was predicated on the faithful application of the latest in our series of economic magic potions, the National Economic Empowerment & Development Strategy, appropriately tagged NEEDS.

Unknown to the famed Development Economist and former Vice President of the World Bank, ours is no longer a country of expectations but one of here and now, and so, our Madam in one fell swoop lost her innocence and is presently at the receiving end of the other side of the commentary.

The myriad of critiques in the media on her pronouncement has centered on one major plank. She is accused of joining the acronym bandwagon i.e. the infamous company of the SAPs, SFEMs, OFNs, and the rest of them, who as they charge have not only been consigned to the dustbin of history but also have confined Nigerians to the waste bin of misery and poverty. That is the reason, as they predict, this NEEDS will also follow suit, and in the long run, we are all dead. So as they imply, her 10-year thesis should therefore prepare a safe corridor for President Olusegun Obasanjo’s passage in 2007, just 4 years from now, through an anticipated failed second term, from the point of view of the economy. This is serious.

I watched on television, listened to the radio and eventually read from the newspapers the briefing of Dr. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, but somehow my interpretations are different. Definitely, by now we are inclined to be tired of all these economic packages that come in beautiful ellipsis such as SAP, SFEM, OFN etc. I share this view too. However, the mere fact that we have tried them before and failed does not directly imply that we should stop trying, even new ones. If anything, it should embolden us to know where we went wrong in the past with a view to correcting the ills for the ideas of today. That is why one of the greatest presidents in US history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR, believed that government should engage in “bold, persistent experimentation . . . Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something”.

It was with that mindset that FDR rolled out the New Deal package, the first in the acronym packs of the United States. The New Deal set the course of the American economy by reversing the Great Depression, creating jobs, boosting agricultural production, restoring the failed banking sector and investor confidence, embarking on massive infrastructural development, establishing fair competition among other landmark results.

 

Twenty years after FDR, another American president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, LBJ, launched his own socio-economic package and christened it The Great Society (another one?). Each task force that the drew up components of the framework for the Great Society programme were assigned particular subjects: cooperation among government agencies in dealing with financial questions, making the federal government more efficient and less costly, developing policies to prevent economic recessions, determining how best to help individuals maintain their income, among others. Undoubtedly, the Great Society initiative was a huge success as it also reformed the educational sector as well as the health sector by creating MEDICARE and MEDICAID

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan, introduced his Supply-Side Policy, which became popularly called Reaganomics. The objectives of Reaganomics were the reduction of the growth of government spending, marginal tax rates on income from both labour and capital, regulation and inflation (by controlling the growth of money supply). This economic programme revitalized American economy in untold proportions. However, I must point out that President Nixon also had his New Federalism economic programme that was not a success while President Ford introduced Whip Inflation Now, (WIN) that equally failed. But these did not discourage President Regan’s eventual and immensely successful Reaganomics.

I have drawn my examples from the United States of America because we usually refer to them in defining and describing the maladies of Nigeria.

However, beyond the 10-year prognosis of the Finance Minister’s briefing, unseen by critics and embedded in her presentation is the fact that NEEDS anticipates an annual GDP growth rate of 5 per cent. Definitely, a 5% GDP growth rate is good and if annual, implies that by the end of next year, just next year, we will experience it. So, we do not have to wait for 10 years to attain this objective. Therefore what Dr. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said is that a realistic and practical implementation of NEEDS will yield a buoyant economy in 10 years time, but the economy will be experiencing growth from now until then. By 2013, in the long run that is, we will still be here putting more aesthetics to the structure of our economy for even better results. The fears of the sceptics are definitely not unfounded but now more than ever before we must continue to keep the faith.

So, when Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Professor Charles Soludo, Mallam Nasir El- Rufai, Mr. Bode Agusto, Dr. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili and other members of the president’s economic team say that their main thrust include the attainment of macro-economic stability such as stable inflation, interest and exchange rates; annual national economic growth (GDP) rate of between 5 and 7 per cent; intensification of the fight against HIV/AIDS; completion of all abandoned projects; strict budget discipline; public sector reforms; increasing industrial capacity utilization from 40 to 80 per cent; giving top priority to education, health and agriculture; among others, in simple English, they are just tackling our NEEDS.

This article was published on the backpage of Thisday, August 27, 2003 as a Right of Reply to Kayode Komolfe published on August 20, 2003 titled, On the Social Content of Okonjo-Iweala’s NEEDS.

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