In a week that our country got positive mileage courtesy of a visit by one of the richest folks in the world, two of our ministers managed to drag us backward. The finance minister, Kemi Adeosun, and her communications counterpart, Adebayo Shittu, showed us why we might not exit the ongoing recession we are battling. From attempts at lying brazenly with acute lack of sensitivity towards citizens’ as exemplified by the agony across the land, to reminding us that our burdens are not going to get lighter soon, one is not sure the economy is getting the required attention it deserves in this critical period.
Why on earth would Adeosun deny her own words in these days of digital trail? What does she lose from saying mea culpa and apologizing? By now we must all be aware of her feeble efforts at disowning a twitter account with which she tweeted the now infamous or famous words – Recession is just a word – an account she had used to announce official activities and policy statements previously with even visiting dignitaries tweeting at it. She even got the Aso Villa online team to help her tweet the denial, another low mark for the much-vaunted integrity of this government. Trust Nigerians, they dug out the video where she uttered the words and our minister has not said a word since then. She could have argued, justifiably, that she was trying to encourage Nigerians that this recession will pass away like other dark periods in our history, but she lost a golden moment to endear herself to citizens.
Fortunately she did not put the blame on journalists who are often made to bear the brunt of such gaffes in this part of the world. One of the fallouts of the last presidential election was the forensic manner with which the APC conducted her campaign, which at a level was very good, but the party will surely be paid back in her own coin as she governs and this is what has happened in Adeosun’s case. This becomes more serious when we remember that the finance minister bears full responsibility for our economy at a level with the president at another level. How do you convince citizens that your word is your bond? What message do we communicate to foreigners when our minister finds it difficult to take responsibility for her actions? This government cannot be blamed too much for the recession even as the World Bank projects the global economic growth for this year at 2.6%, but we must lay the blame at its door for not doing enough to lead us out of the economic quagmire.
Since Adeosun speaks with a Cockney, she might do well to read up again on how the Labour government under Harold Wilson handled the recession in Britain especially between 1974 and 1976. With inflation in double digits, above 20%, Mr. Wilson’s government put the cabinet in an emergency mode until they found solutions to the problem. Over here in Nigeria, most of our ministers pretend as if nothing serious is happening now and go about their normal lives. The Wilson government introduced new social security benefits and by March 1974 provided an additional £2 billion for benefits, food and housing subsidies including a record 25% increase in pension. National insurance benefits also increased by 13% and not too long after, the British economy exited recession. She could also look across the Atlantic to a more contemporary time under Presdient Barrack Obama who in 2009 with the American economy in dire straits too introduced a Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) otherwise called cash for clunkers. This was a $3 billion federal scrappage programme meant to provide economic incentives to US residents to purchase new and more fuel-efficient vehicles when trading in a less efficient one. This provided stimulus to the economy by boosting vehicle sales while putting safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the roads. The programe started officially on July 1, 2009 and ended on August 24. Madam minister, we must spend our way out of recession.
It is ironical that Mr. Adebayo Shittu’s interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the Communications Tax Bill was in Osogbo, Osun State. Speaking in a state capital where most of the citizens are groaning under the yoke of either unpaid or half-salaries, he decided to add more to their woes by reminding them of the proposed 9% tax on phone calls, messages, and data, ostensibly to pay for decrepit telecoms infrastructure. With nearly 152 million active lines, one can guess how much will go into the government coffers and it beggars belief that such a bill is with our indolent and sybaritic national assembly. Good enough that Nigerians are saying no to this insensitive bill and with things as difficult as they are now, the best our government could come up with is this tax without thinking of its repercussions. Hopefully, the national assembly will, for once, show that they care for Nigerians by throwing out this bill.