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Nigeria: Of Ministers, Clowns, Hazards, and Lazard

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 9.19PM / By Temitope Oshikoya**

After a four-month hiatus, the ministerial orchestral band of thirty seven noisemakers finally arrives on the stage. The Ministerial list is a mix of professionals and politicians; party loyalists and non-party members. There are eleven lawyers, 5 former governors, three medical doctors, and three academicians. In the context of the President’s campaign platform of security, economy, and corruption (SEC), the issue of the economy appears to be the least favoured on the ministerial band.

What lessons can the fresh noisemakers on the musical stage learn from the previous noise makers of the immediate erstwhile administration? First, the new noisemakers should avoid serenading us with their ministerial megaphone melodramatic melody. The clowns or leading lights of the previous administration, especially the handlers of the economy certainly enjoyed running a circus.  They serenaded us with outlandish claims about the economy and inputs, never mind that under their watch the domestic debt quadrupled to 11 trillion naira. But their outputs clearly showed tangible deliverables in growing the misery, poverty and unemployment indices for the vast majority of Nigerians.

Second, the new noisemakers must avoid waxing us with the lyrics of blissful ignorance. With their mastery of colourful graphic and gimmick presentations, the previous clowns were very adept at hiding the icebergs that the economic titanic was heading towards. This much was exposed in January of this Year in an article titled: How not to manage the economy. Standards & Poor’s ratings, JP Morgan Index, and international media, which they initially carefully cultivated, later revealed their folly and economic ignoramus.

Third and more importantly, the new noisemakers must play their melody with a somber tune. The previous clowns were not only blissfully ignorant, they were absurdly arrogant. As Tony Marinho wrote in The Nation, they displayed the disease of “Ministerial Arrogance and Delusions of Grandiosity.” They certainly like to go about blowing their trumpets as the self-acclaimed “leading lights” of the previous administration.

Nigeria has several heroes at home and in the Diaspora in various professional fields in international public institutions and in the private sector. In particular, there have been Nigerians who have served as Head of the Commonwealth, Under Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Head of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Head of IFAD, Executive Director of UNFPA, and Secretary General of OPEC. There are others in the private sector, including a Nigerian serving on the board of Goldman Sachs. 

Unlike these silent heroes, the clowns like to go the extra miles to convince us that they are the greatest things ever since sliced bread.  They want us to believe that the former Director General (DG) of Budget has been appointed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) because of his performance in that prior role. Hogwash, we all know how far Nigeria’s budget, especially 2015 budget, has been widely off the mark and how fiscal leakages are now being plugged. This appears to be simply part of the attempts by the former Minister of Finance, who nominated the DG to serve as Nigeria’s executive director, ambassador or representative to the AfDB, to provide a soft landing to cronies just before a new administration was set to take over.

They also want us to believe that the current AfDB’s President got the position solely on the strengths of his expertise, experience, and exposure as a Minister of Agriculture in the previous administration. As this writer has noted in an article in the Guardian in April, 2015 on The Race for the AfDB Presidency,”more importantly, and beyond professional expertise, experience, and vision statement, the election of the AfDB’s President is a high-powered political affair reflecting an extension of countries’ foreign policy and commercial interest and sub-regional rotation.”

For instance, there was no way Nigeria’s candidate who was head of OPEC in 1995 would have been allowed to take up the headship of the AfDB under former Head of State, General Sanni Abacha. By the same token, if the March 2015 democratic elections had gone awry or the current Nigerian President did not come out to support Nigeria’s candidate, the Presidency of the AfDB would have eluded us!

Fourth, the new orchestra band noisemakers must avoid the revolving doors of the vaudeville theater hall. Some have raised concerns about former government officials being connected with their new employers. Some have been asking what role Lazard and its subsidiary played during Nigeria’s debt negotiations with the Paris Club.  In the USA, a prominent Senator has being championing the case against revolving doors by Wall Street bankers into government and vice versa. Specifically, earlier this year, the appointment of a former Lazard’s banker into a high profile US Treasury position was blocked as part of efforts to control the use of revolving doors.

All of which brings us to issues of moral hazards, which in economics imply people making the decision about taking risks knowing that others will bear the costs and burden of those risks. In this context, is it the case that the clowns and merchants of misery are bailing out after leaving majority of Nigerians with rotten apples of misery deriving from their economic mismanagement?

Finally, the new noisemakers must avoid the antics of the clowns and their town criers who think their clowns are meant to serve only their clans. With these musical musings, we wish the new noisemakers well in their new roles as Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

**Dr. Temitope Oshikoya, an economist, writes from Lagos.

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