The immediate past Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has explained ways President Muhammadu Buhari can repair the country’s battered economy. She said on Monday that having a handle on Nigeria’s spiralling inflation, foreign exchange problem, fiscal deficit and debts control were key to resolving the country’s current economic crisis. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, who spoke on Aljazeera TV programme, The Stream, said focusing on the basic issues of macroeconomic stability was crucial to fixing the country’s economic challenges. “If you don’t pay attention to the fundamentals of having a stable and good exchange rate policy, inflation under control, manageable fiscal deficit and debts, there will continue to be trouble in the economy,” she said. Nigeria is facing its worst economic crisis in decades. The economy slipped into recession after contracting in the first two quarters of 2016. Inflation jumped from 16.2 per cent in July to 17.1 per cent in August 2016, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Since the introduction of the floating foreign exchange policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which freed the Naira from a band of N197-N199 to the dollar, the currency has been in a free fall against other international currencies. From about N281 to the dollar at the beginning of the policy in June, Naira crashed to about N420 to the dollar shortly before the Sallah holidays last Friday. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank Managing Director, told Al Jazeera that she remained optimistic that solutions to the country’s economic decline could still be found. Asked what would be her top three priorities to resolve the country’s current economic crisis if she had remained the finance minister, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said she would prefer the current managers of the economy talk about it. “I have contributed the best I could to the country. It is still the most interesting country in the world. It is better to leave those who are managing now to say what they would do. “All I can say is that there are solutions. Nigeria is a vibrant country. I love it so much. I know it is going to come out of this one way or another,” she said. On if President Muhammadu Buhari were to ask her to come and help in resolving the country’s economic crisis, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said: “One of the things you learn as you get wiser is to talk less as you grow older. “I have spent my time contributing to the country. It will be better to leave those managing the economy to do what they know how to do.

The news goes from bad to worse about our economic prospects in Nigeria. But the ordinary man in the street has no idea what is happening; how to go about his life. Suffering swoops on him like flood and he finds himself drowning. The people he may get help from can no longer help themselves and have something to give him. What stares him in the face is sure death through sickness, hunger and heart-attack. When any of them strikes, his greatest wish is to die and get the hell out of this “wicked world”. He doesn’t know why he deserves such cruelty. Is that the meaning of economic recession, or is there more to it? Is there going to be famine, drought, darkness or total collapse of banking, transportation, services and all else? Will people drop dead here and there, and none is to bury the other? Are you scared? I am. As I write this, news comes from the VOA that Nigeria has entered into real economic recession, which means that we’re in a time when there is hardship and suffering because more people are unemployed; there is no cash flow owing to less trade and industrial activity. People cannot buy what they need and businesses are not patronized, due to lack of money in the country. Government will be almost broke and cannot pay for its services.
Call him Joshua, a motor mechanic (not real name). He is a typical struggling man. His struggle is always for survival as is the case with many, and not for prosperity or abundance. He has a wife and three children. He works very hard because many cars are spoiling and needing his attention. He makes reasonable money to take reasonable care of his family. Suddenly the downturn begins. His house rents are increased at home and the workshop. His electricity bill goes up both places. Cost of transportation catches him unawares. His wife who sells fruits along the road and his three children in a private school cannot have money again for transport. One of these days his wife goes to her shed along the road and finds nothing standing all along the road. Government caterpillars went through the place last night and carried away her table in her shed with all the valuable things she left there. She cried and returned to the house. Her husband came home with a similar story. His workshop and his tools and people’s cars he was working on have all been taken away. He doesn’t know where to go. There is no hope of recovering anything. The children came home to say that their school was partly demolished the night before. The entire school spent the day weeping. The principal told them to go home and wait for three weeks to see if money can be found to do the repairs. He feared the students could be injured in the wreckages.
Joshua has no bank account. He has no savings. Neither does his wife. It is only what they make in the day that they use to feed. In three weeks when the children return to school it will be time to pay school fees again which have also been increased. It doesn’t rain. It pours. The few cups of garri in the house cannot go round even if hey have to drink it. They are practically stranded. Suppose someone gets sick. How do they get to the hospital, talk less pay for card, not to talk of paying the bill? Let’s drop them there. Whatever whirl-wind that comes can carry them away. Who cares? At their church, the pastor is asking for donation and there would be a thanksgiving in which Joshua and his household are expected to participate. He doesn’t know how to handle that. The pastor is unaware, maybe unmindful, of what has happened to Joshua and his family. If he asked and was a bit circumspect he would know, because a lot of people have the same fate with Joshua. This is our society as of today. Joshua is on his own and will carry his cross all alone. Nobody will rescue him.
Joshua is one of the indispensable people in the society who make it possible for vehicles to run on the roads. Without them all the vehicles bought at enormous costs cannot be driven around. All faults, big and small, will go to him. He fixes them. He doesn’t fail. If he doesn’t, nobody will. The car will be parked.  This man has been put out of action. He is in no position to use his skills in the service he renders to hundreds of people. In this he derives his joy and his income. He is very proud of his work and what he can do to help people. He gives confidence to his customers. They know that whatever happens, Josh will take care of their cars. His family has been destroyed. Joshua is not alone in this fate. All the people in the mechanic village maintaining cars are being treated as if they are not needed – vulcanizers, panel-beaters, auto-electricians, painters, seat-folders and their numerous apprentices. There are so many other hidden services in this sector, you won’t know of until you go there to fix your car. The place is also a residential area for thousands and a big nursery for their children who play on top of sharp nails and things that will only wound them. They are being relocated not to save them from the dangerous environment, but to dislocate them, be put out of business, and deny them of life. They have to begin all over again, from the scratch if they can. Well, most can’t. They will die. It’s so painful and distressing to say so. But it will happen.
I was asking someone few days ago if we really appreciate the value of mechanics in the economy and in our lives. Do we know that without them the final end has come for the economy? Should they not be pampered by being paid well? The only way they can get us to see their value is to go on strike for just one week – refuse to accept and work on any vehicle. If mechanics and drivers were wise, they would form a strong trade union and hold the society to ransom for few days and see if people won’t go on our knees to beg them. Then they would name their price and get it promptly, without question.
I have gone from the fate of the common man in the economic depression in the country to the government’s cruelty that worsens that fate, and then to the importance of that neglected sector of the economy, asking the question: How do you resuscitate the economy by demolishing and neglecting important segments of it, in effect putting people out of job? What we are doing is to use pepper to cure an eye problem. Those eyes will go blind. If the eyes do not go blind the owner of the eyes will “see pepper”.
The rest of the country outside the mechanic village has run into even greater economic turbulence. The government says nothing, but puts all its hopes on foreign investors (FDI) who don’t presumably see what is going on and stay far, far away. Are they fools to go and put their money into an economy that is in the doldrums? That image and impression that they will come here and invest regardless has been trashed. Lay-offs are going on. Unemployment is mounting. The naira is valueless. It will stop at nothing to exchange at 1000 for a dollar, people jokingly say. This is a caricature which tells us little. Nobody seems to be dealing with the issues. The minister of finance and her team appear to be amateurs in their task. They don’t sound convincing that they are equal to the task. They look like toddlers handling daunting, overwhelming tasks beyond them. That’s how awful the prospects are.
There is still plenty to worry about beyond the economic downturn. Nigeria’s politics has also bleak prospects. There is no political party worth belonging to or casting ones vote for. PDP is known for abuse of power. APC has no character and appears not to have any clues or direction. Other parties are too small to make any impact.  Only a political revolution can impress the voter, for whatever it is worth. Any party worth considering for taking over power must say convincingly how it intends to turn the country around and make things much easier for the people.
There is pessimism about the future prospects. But it may be overdone at the moment. At the same time too much optimism would be bad, especially on the part of the government because there is so much to worry about and therefore so much to be done. Things will get worse before they get better. I think the way out will come from radical political reforms which will change the present fumbling ruling class (who don’t seem to know what they are doing) and install a purposeful new people from the younger middle class who will play less politics and make governance a serious business without emotions and sentiments. Nigeria’s management of its affairs has gone spectacularly wrong. The challenge is in the future. Who will steer it? And how will it be done?

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