A week, a former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson is often quoted as saying, ‘is a long time in politics”. The battle hardened intriguer from his long experience in politics certainly knew what he was talking about. The shifting quicksand of politics can throw everything upside down in the twinkle of an eye, not to mention six weeks! Wilson’s aphorism looms large within the context of today’s chess game involving the elections in Nigeria.
The postponement of the election has thrown all the hitherto careful permutations upside down. The contrived ‘postponement’ was conjured to do just that in the first place. This is because apart from the party in government at the center, everyone else is cash-strapped. How to fight an unanticipated war of attrition over the next six weeks will certainly tax the ingenuity of those in charge of the exchequer of the main opposition party. It’s going to be hard! Unfortunately, for a battered economy, it’s going to be, even much harder. For a start in what is now a state-of-siege, no sane investor is going to make any far reaching decision. It would be crazy to do so. And you don’t need a political risk analyst to tell you why, any more than you need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind is blowing. The ‘unintended’ circumstances arising out of the postponement are beginning now to reveal itself, much like the proverbial chicken coming home to roast.
For example the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) during the week intervened in defense of the Naira by selling foreign exchanges (FX) outside of its official band for the second time, a sign that the apex bank could weaken the currency to save its fast shrinking foreign reserves. Already the Naira has crashed through the psychologically important level of 200 to the dollar. The worst of course is yet to come. How to prevent a free -fall of the currency during the contrived six weeks haitus is going to task the ingenuity of the hard-pressed CBN and its Monetary Policy Committee. It’s also going to be very punishing for the man in the street who has been immortally referred to by the television commentator Frank Olize as ’ the common man’. This makes us to go back to yet another one of Harold Wilson’s aphorism.
Pressed as to the worth of the British pound sterling after the devaluation of 1966, the wily-old fox retorted that well, ‘the pound in your pocket is still worth a pound’. This was arrant nonsense of course and Prime Minister Wilson who had been an Oxford Don at a very early age knew so. After the devaluation the pound had shrank and living standards had predictably gone down. This brings us to ask what exactly is the worth of the Naira in your pocket now. Well, it hasn’t been worth that much since, the ill advised devaluation of 1986 which heralded the structural adjustment programme. It’s been a downward spiral ever since for an import dependent economy. Living standards have plunged to such an extent that the N18,000 a month “minimum wage” means just that, “minimum” this is as in the bare-bottom minimum needed not to exist but to subsist. Take out rent, school fees, foods transportation and all manner of added on and it’s more like economic genocide on the part of those who brought us to this sorry state placed within the context of a major oil producing country.
Those who have led us to this stage in reality ought to face an international economic war crimes tribunal. It’s that serious. As the incomparable reggae star, Bob Marley intoned, “in the midst of water, the fool goes thirsty”. In this light, paradoxically, the propaganda machine of the federal government expect us to believe that after the disputable ‘rebasing’ of the economy, we are really better-off, than presumably we where, let us say four years ago. This of course is the height of intellectual dishonesty. Perhaps, this is why the federal government’s operators were so furious at the endorsement of General Buhari by the highly rated Economist magazine of London. They where, as it were hoist on a petard.
Having spent so much time and effort cultivating the international credit agencies and organs such as the Economist, they have suddenly found out that you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time. In the meantime it is getting worse for the government as other highly rated organs such as the equally authoritative New York Times have also become highly critical and disapproving. The government’s economic platform propaganda has now been found out to be a classic text-book case of ‘growth without development’. Rebase as many times as you like, for the person on the street, economically he or she is worse off today than they were four years ago. This is why the election propaganda on the governments’ side is based on Religion and ethnicity. This is all very convenient. For it is intended to detract from the real issue, which is ‘are you better off today, than you where four years ago?’ Outside of the corridors of power of course, no one is better off. For example with a depreciating currency driving up the price of building materials, the prospect of owning one’s own home for the mass of the people is looking ever more like a mirage. The side effect of course is that the landlord is going to increase his/her rent. The multiplier effect of the ruinous economic policies based on management ineptitude, corruption and sloth is already being painfully felt by the man in the street.
Denied of a living wage, assuming of course that there is any wage in the first place, people have become resistant to the ‘Buhari is an Islamist’ battle-cry of the government’s spin- doctors. The hard-pressed and the dispossessed who are thinking of the next meal, the next rent and the next set of school-fees are not likely to be persuaded by cheap sloganeering and propaganda. In the next six weeks it’s going to get nastier. Originally it was felt that a six weeks postponement would buy time to spew out more propaganda. This strategy with the amount of money available to the ruling party looked good on paper.
However, the other side of the coin is that a depreciating currency has made people to look at their wallet, the ‘Naira in their pocket’. Unfortunately, for those who contrived the postponement, the Naira in their pocket in terms of what it can buy is going to be worth even less by March 28. The only trick left is to cut petrol prices again. But can they? And to what immediate effect? It is worth noting that the price cut has resulted in a price war amongst retailers in neighbouring Ghana which has benefited the common man. Predictably in cronyism fired Nigeria directed by ‘ paddy- paddy’ government this has not happened. Postponing the election for six weeks in order to gain lost ground has back- fired on those who contrived it. For the ‘opposition’ or should we say the government in-waiting it’s actually an opportunity to continue to pound upon a central theme. This is, ‘are you better off today than you where four years ago?’ No prizes for guessing how the mass of the people across religion, tribe and social status are going to reply. They will certainly say ‘we won’t get fooled again’.