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Neo-liberal experiment brings precarious times

What is going on in the economy and society today is super scary. Well, for some reasons our government has led with some neoliberal...

What is going on in the economy and society today is super scary. Well, for some reasons our government has led with some neoliberal experiments – chiefly the deregulation of fuel prices and also a devaluation of the naira (otherwise called unification).

As this is my government there was a limit to my protest but what I had predicted seems to be happening. The official rate of the naira is chasing the black-market rate, and this is feeding a spiralling inflation. Also, the ‘chasing’ of black-market dollar rate (which has risen to N860 as I type), is also feeding higher fuel prices and inflation. And together, higher fuel prices, higher dollar/naira rate and their interaction, are powering up inflation on the streets.  

My neoliberal friends who talk about the supremacy of market forces and encouraged Nigeria to float the naira without any backstops, and to remove every subsidy in the land where we have the highest numbers of poor people, seem to have disappeared into thin air. What a shame. But this is our (my) government and one has no choice but to step up and keep proffering solutions. 

Last week, we looked at how we can use an employment focus to grow the economy. I must say that for the government, the time has come to brainstorm around how to make the lives of the people better, immediately; how to grow the economy, how to checkmate inflation, and stabilise the polity.

Nigeria has unfortunately been pushed to the cliff edge by these neoliberals and must be immediately rescued. Below is the balance of last week’s writeup on employment focus for growth:

With the high inflation expectation, it seems a fait accompli that income levels will have to rise considerably across all sectors of the country. The question is: how high? And how do we avoid getting into a spiral such that inflation continues to spike and erode whatever increases in income that workers get? How well can the private sector cope? And the informal sector?

We must have a policy for our artisans to form guilds, formalise some more and be able to earn better. Procurements with the government, in naira, will have to be marked up to take care of inflation and for fairness. But the concern here is whether Nigeria should increase wages very significantly for those who are presently employed, or if we should seize this opportunity to spread the wealth to include those who are out of work. I favour the latter strategy because it’s safer.

Some of the planned wage increase should be set aside to employ more into relevant areas of the public sector where we have lacunae, as stated earlier. However, the government should consider partnering with the private sector on these new initiatives, because of the problems of inefficiency, ghost workers, nepotism, and to walk away from a public sector that was bloated.

The private sector is infinitely more efficient and can deploy technology to ensure that people really work. We may see Nigeria transforming very rapidly. A lot of the needed jobs in the environment, social services, education (teaching), service enforcement and standardization, should be outsourced while the interest of workers should be carefully protected. This way, the government should be able to create millions of jobs and let Nigerians know that only the lazy will remain unemployed and poor in Nigeria.

If planned this way, Nigeria will have money to pay these new salaries. And this is a major part of the ‘enabling environment’, as millions of new workers will have money to spend with local entrepreneurs. Combined with inflation-induced higher wages, and a new buzz in the country which attracts diasporan investments and foreign capital, the economy can achieve the double-digit growth that has been promised.

There are more. I should close by restating that there are tremendous numbers of jobs in our public sector, which if created will have contributed immensely to the ‘enabling environment’ that we are talking about. These public sector jobs are essential and have nothing to do with pushing files around in federal and state secretariats or frustrating the lives of contractors. 60%-70% of young Nigerians who are japa-ing from the country today are going into social and care work. They are taking care of old people, sick people or people with different kinds of challenges. This is a huge economy that we have not lifted a finger to solve in Nigeria.

It is a great enabling environment when foreigners don’t see too many vagrants and mentally disadvantaged people on our roads. The government should think of partnering with the private sector on social work. We need companies established who will supply such workers. We even could house many of such in many of Nigeria’s abandoned buildings to be turned into hospices. That’s one. 

The public sector can create a million teaching jobs immediately across the country if we want to get serious about the problem. Ditto, in the security sector, the environmental sector, and in mass mobilisation and reorientation as existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dr Joe Abah, who knows a lot about this subject even suggested the other day that Nigeria could have a crack team nationwide, whose job is to ensure that government services are going well as promised and that whoever compromises is caught and sent packing.

I recently used Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport and the state of the place was so depressingly appalling, I flipped and had to be arrested. With the state of that airport, no serious investor will take Nigeria seriously or want to come back here. These are the enabling environments which must be immediately fixed. We must not dissipate our efforts. 

I was having a discussion with an elder statesman recently where he expressed much fear that the new government may be overwhelmed – with the laziness of Nigerians, the disorientation of our youths, and of course our almost insurmountable religious and tribal overhang. I assured him that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. It will not be easy. But if any government can begin to torpedo these problems, it is the Tinubu administration. We have already seen the snippets of what it can do.

For the rest of us – especially supporters of the administration – our role is to continually call attention to campaign promises and ensure the government is on track. Of what use will it be for us if the government fails? We all know what the issues are. The government has shown capacity and taken on some major decisions. We now have to fan out honestly and take on the youth disorientation problem, energy crisis, our sullen reputation globally, social problems left to fester, the dislocation of our rural areas, the underachievement and disorganisation of our urban areas, acts of indiscipline and unruliness all over the land, insecurity (which is getting better), education and literacy issues, patriotism issues, and we shall surely get there.


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