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INTERVIEW: Hardship: Nigerians getting what they voted for – Adebayo



Amid bitting hardship in Nigeria following President Bola Tinubu’s economic policies, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, presidential candidate in the 2023 elections, Prince Adewole Adebayo says he would have performed better than President Tinubu if Nigerians had given him the opportunity to be president. In this interview with DAILY POST, Prince Adebayo, who noted that Nigerians were getting what they bargained for, said the policies that had brought untold hardship to Nigerians were what president Tinubu promised when he was campaigning to be president. Excerpts!

You were quoted to have said you could do better than what the President Tinubu administration is currently doing. What is your view about the present state of affairs?

I am not surprised at the state of things, but I am disappointed. I am not surprised because we predicted that this will be the outcome. It doesn’t matter who you put out there, this will be the outcome if you adopt these policies. We were asking Nigerians to pay attention as we were debating these issues.

There were three policies that we needed to deal with. What do we do with the issue of cost of governance? What do we do with the issue of subsidy on not only petroleum but also subsidy in many other sectors? What do we do with the issue of foreign exchange?

On these three issues, I have fundamental disagreement with President Bola Tinubu, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former governor Peter Obi, and many other people who were on that side; I knew that these policies would not work. It has never worked in any country before. In Nigeria in the past, including when we implemented the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), it didn’t work for us. It is not that one person is good and another is bad. If you drag me to the villa or Eagle Square and you force me to announce these policies, you will get the same result. Anyone who adopts these same policies will get the same result.

Economists will ask you if there are countries who adopted these policies; are there countries within our hemisphere, countries within our state of development, countries that have our primary production sector like we have who announced these policies and it has worked, I don’t think so.

I am surprised that some personalities were talking about the Argentina model. I am very familiar with the Argentina model. If you ask an average Argentine to choose between president Javier Milei and president Bola Tinubu, they will tell you to bring Tinubu and give you Milei.

In other words, you are saying Atiku Abubakar was wrong in the Argentina model recommended to Tinubu.

I can say Vice President Atiku Abubakar may be well intentioned but he is misinformed. It is an error. If you look at the situation in Argentina, we may get to that position. I hope we don’t, but we are travelling in that direction, just that they are ahead of us in terms of misery. They have one month of 512 percent inflation. I don’t know if economists can understand the temperature of 512 percent. They have lost virtually all their wealth. The person there now is from the Austrian school of thought. The Argentines are complaining everyday as they have had the worst economic performance since 1980. I am not saying we should not criticise a non performing government of President Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), but you do not say that somebody complaining of too much sun should be put in the oven, that’s not the way to solve the problem.

These policies are not working, unfortunately Nigerians have voted for these policies. We voted for these policies either because we didn’t pay attention or we didn’t understand the implications of these policies. When you decide to say you vote for a government that said it would remove subsidy from day one, which was what president Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi said, and we didn’t listen to them, but people thought they have experience, and maybe, they are more realistic than us. So, they voted that way.

So, any of them that formed the government and adopted any of these policies, will have at the minimum of what we are experiencing now, or even worse. These policies are not good, not because of the parties announcing them, but because structurally they are not suitable for us.

Of course, they come with some benefits, and you can see the benefits. More income to the government, for example, because they are not subsidising any more. More income from the foreign exchange differential because they are not defending the Naira in the old way anymore. You also have the benefits of goods becoming cheaper, that’s why people are saying they are exporting goods from Nigeria to Niger and neighbouring countries because with lower currency, our goods and any other thing we produce become cheaper, those are the advertised benefits, but we are not structurally prepared for them.

You said the policies are bad. But, some informed people said the country was already in bad shape and some of the present policies are what is needed before it can recover; don’t you agree?

I don’t agree with any of your postulations. This is because there are arguments but not every argument addresses the core issue. Every decision you make in economics, at least, you will have two choices, sometimes like 10 choices. In our case, we have like 55,000 choices. We decided to make a world that does not require better governance, that does not require people in the higher echelon losing income because you punish the person with the least contribution to a political campaign. We are subsidising so many things in this country, the only one is that the people have some kind of participation because it is the only product we commonly use and this is where the subsidy removal started from.

Secondly, there was no attempt to do auditing. You will recall that I was shouting during the election that 80 percent of our crude was being stolen, and I campaigned for months on that, but unfortunately, voters didn’t realise that whoever was able to tackle the crude oil theft should be the one to lead the country. Our problems are not difficult to solve. The problems are not insurmountable, it is just that the method to solving them will not be the continuation of what they were doing before.

Do you think we have the right economic team surrounding President Tinubu?

He has the right kind of team for what he wants to do. But, what he wants to do isn’t correct. If I say we should repair a leaking house, and my senior brother says no, let us sell the house. If he has the mandate, he will bring auctioneers, valuers and estate agents to sell it when I would have brought plumbers, carpenters for repairs. I cannot now say he doesn’t have the right team. He wants to sell the house. So, he has the right team to sell the house, but if I want to fix the house, I will bring a different team to fix the house.

If you were President Tinubu today, what would you be doing differently to stop the bleeding?

If I became president on the day he became president, I will not announce any of those policies. In fact, I will immediately go to the national assembly to amend the appropriation act and the petroleum industry act to remove these statutory mandates to yank off the subsidy.

But, if I am becoming president today, the first thing to do is to convince the people of Nigeria and the government that these policies are not right. If you say I should advise a president who believes that the benefits of these policies are down the line, he is not going to listen to me because he is committed to the benefits of the policies down the line. So, the first thing to do is to convince him that the benefits never came to England. England industrialised itself. These benefits didn’t come to Brazil until (president) Lula came and changed them towards social investments. I don’t know where they are getting the policies from. I suspect its from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the bankers, who are contributing to their campaign, insisting on these policies, but if they are ideologically committed to these policies, then the solution they can find will be a solution by palliative which is to suspend the full effect of it over time.

But, what they will soon discover is such that the social misery will be so much, the inflation and hyperinflation will be so much that the money they saved may not be up to the money they spend on palliative. So, they need a change of direction even though I cannot guarantee that a well experienced accountant who is a cost cutter like Tinubu who has Wale Edun around him and has chosen Cardoso as his preferred Central Bank Governor, I don’t think they are willing to change for now. I think they should just be a little more efficient in the macro-economic policies they have taken and there are five measures they should have if they must take it.

One of such is that they must have a way to increase their revenue, because right now, they are just collecting less than 20 percent of the collectibles. There are so many sacred cows they don’t want to collect money from.

Secondly, they need to bring efficiency to their accounts. Running a free market economy as they are, going forward, they need more feedback, more sensitivity, and quicker reaction time, which means they need to put sharper and smarter people in their governance. Thirdly, they need to restructure the government spending in such a way that they separate the fiscal spending, which they are controlling and let the CBN governor run his monetary policy, and be the banker to the country, not the banker to the government alone.

Also, they need to find ways to generate employment. They don’t want to spend money on social programmes as stated in chapter two of the constitution. That means they will be going to Qatar and other places because of the sovereign investment money they need to spend to generate employment, they don’t want to spend it because they are following the IMF. Now, they will be begging foreign investors to come and put money in our country, money we have even within our country, but they will be going out; if they are not efficient in that regard, then, they can’t succeed.

Lastly, they need to do something about inflation, by controlling their spending, increasing their revenue, and ensuring they get Nigerians to be productive.

What would you do politically to douse the tension in the land if you were Tinubu?

He needs to be like the head of state, like the father of the nation. He needs to be less arrogant in the assessment of how righteous their policies are. They need to engage people more. However, people need to understand at the same time that you voted for these policies. It is like people of Israel asking Moses to lead them out of Egypt, and on getting to the wilderness, they realised it is not an easy place to be and they started complaining. That is a normal thing. The people of Nigeria voted for these policies, even though they are not good policies. The government should use humility to reach out to the people, and at the same time, show social justice to the people by making sure that the burden of this hardship is not borne only by the less privileged.

Do you think the president has what it takes to fix this country?

I have the feeling that anybody who is determined to fix Nigeria, and who wants to listen to Nigerians and carry everybody along and look for the best talents and not just political parties alone, will do well. I would have preferred that Nigerians voted for me, which was why I didn’t support him. I think I would have done better than him.

But, anybody who is put there, and who is determined to use all the resources in Nigeria can succeed. Of course, the president is a Nigerian, well educated person, quite intelligent, but has wrong policies. He needs to open his mind and get ideas from other people. But, there is no escaping the consequences of the policies people voted for.

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