Who will tell Buhari the truth about the economy?

By Dele Sobowale

President Buhari, while reminding the Ministers and CBN Governor that reviving the economy was one of the major planks on which the campaign of his party was based, expressed gladness that things were looking up after two years of serious work — Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity.

No President or Prime Minister can know everything — even if he holds ten doctorates. One lesson most Presidents soon learn, some too late, is that their top officials can and often mislead them with their briefings. Ministers tell the President what he would love to hear not what he should know. Late President John Kennedy of the US learnt this hard fact after the Bay of Pigs disaster which his top military advisers had assured him would never fail. It did and since then, most Presidents of the US have devised a method of checking what the officials tell them.

Everyday, they set aside at least one hour during which they request for the leading newspapers and read directly for themselves instead of from the clippings sent to them. Kennedy was shocked on the first day he did that to discover that some patriotic Americans had been warning government about the disaster while his officials did not bring the dissenting views to his attention.

Bill Clinton went one step further. He devoted two hours a day and that was before receiving his officials. Frequently, he confronted them with the articles, editorials and news reports which they would have hidden from him in the belief that telling the truth if it is bad is not in their interest.

Buhari must understand that, once appointed to high office, people immediately develop an interest to protect – even if it means lying to the President. This is more easily done when it is known that the President does not take the trouble to collect information directly himself. So, Buhari’s meeting with the Governor of the Central Bank, the Minister of Finance and the Minister for Budget and National Planning without any prior attempt to gather information independently was bound to produce the result it did. He was assured that “things were looking up”.

But, was that the truth? Certainly, if the President had called Professor Soludo, Bismarck Rewane and Pat Utomi, he would not have sent out Adesina to make the announcement he did. That is precisely the problem. Buhari we have been told does not read newspapers. He receives digests and thus becomes a captive of those undertaking the digest. None of them wants to be the bearer of bad news.

However, there are reports floating around that Buhari’s views are shaped by some individuals he trusts. All Presidents are alike in that respect. It is fine by me if Daura, Bello, Kyari and Samaila Funtua are his close confidants. That means we have people who can carry messages to him which his ministers would not want him to receive. So, if any of them is reading this column, or their staff, they should be kind enough to tell the President that he has been deceived about the state of the economy. Things are not looking up – except, of course, the pockets of his officials.

Since Daura, Bello, Kyari, Funtua and Dr Turkur had been identified as the “Bedroom Cabinet”, which is even more powerful than the “Kitchen cabinet”, perhaps they will start by taking a few items with them when next they speak with Buhari to help open his eyes. Those are not all, but, we can start with those and develop a pattern of alternative briefing from others in addition to the official briefings. Call it what you want, but my major concern now is Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, which is one of the measurements of an economy in which “things are looking up”.

So, permit me to start with that to demonstrate that “things are certainly not looking up”. The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, tucked under the National Planning Minister, recently released its second quarter (Q2) report for 2017. The report stated that the foreign investment flow into Nigeria for 2017 amounted to $294.47bn  from January to July. But, the report did more than that. We were also informed that first half year result for 2016 was  $221.2bn  while second half year result was $398.9bn. For quick reference the report is summarized below.

If we received  $398.9bn  in the last half of 2016, July to December, and only  $291.4bn in the first half of 2017, can anybody even with primary school education call that “looking up”? Furthermore, while the FDI inflows into the country were aimed at long-term investments, the bulk of the 2017 half year inflow went into the capital market to create a bubble which might collapse any time and capital flight will follow leaving us in a quandary.



    Buhari’s close confidantes need not believe me, but they should talk to oil marketers owed about $2bn unpaid subsidy. They are threatening to sack employees owed as much as eight months salary – meaning Nigerians who have not received a kobo from their employers in eight months. Surely, for them, things are not “looking up”. Instead the victims look up to heaven for deliverance from government officials rendering fake reports to Buhari.

    It was not only the NBS which was publishing reports giving the lie to those issuing fake reports. The International Monetary Fund, IMF, early in August had noted that preliminary data for the first half of the year 2017 indicates substantial revenue shortfalls with interest payments to revenue ratio remaining at 40 per cent as at the end of the half year. A look at the 2017 Budget would reveal ratio of only about 28 per cent. So, how can 40 per cent be called “looking up”?

    Fashola had blown the whistle on revenue shortfall which others sought to conceal from Buhari. Read next week what he said.

    To be continued.

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