Chukwuma Soludo: Serving a Diet of Half Truths, Outright Lies and Self Serving Propaganda

Dealing with the Professor’s Selective Amnesia

By: Temi Jack

Without doubt, Professor Charles Soludo is a brilliant macro-economists and public intellectual. It appears however, that the Professor suffers from an incurable tendency to emasculate reason; intellect and good judgement when his ambition and rabid desire to stay relevant is involved. His recent article which deliberately ignored and distorted facts for clearly pecuniary reasons is reminiscent of the shock Nigerians experienced when Sanusi blew open the rot that he deliberately ignored and covered while serving as the CBN Governor. Of what profit then, is the Professor’s brilliance, if it is not anchored on sound principles and integrity?

Facts we know do not lie and facts, if they are to be presented must be verifiable, current and a reflection of the reality. Why would Soludo, a professor of economics use 2010 and 2011 to judge macro- economic performance in 2014? Does it mean that he could not access recent data to work with? It is clear that he deliberately and conveniently ignored the most recent statistical information from CBN, NBS, World Bank and other reputable international organizations because they don’t tally with his objective which clearly is to discredit the President Goodluck Jonathan administration and his economic management team lead by Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala. Whose errand is Soludo running? Must one resort to cheap lies to be relevant?

Let’s hear Prof Soludo verbatim: “…poverty incidence and unemployment are also simultaneously at all-time high levels. According to the NBS, poverty incidence grew to 69% in 2010 and projected to be 71% in 2011, with unemployment at 24%. This is the worst record in Nigeria’s history, and the paradox is that this happened during the unprecedented oil boom …”

Is this the truth? Hell no! According to recent figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, current poverty figures stands at 33.1% and not 71% like Soludo bogusly claimed. Unlike what the professor said in his much-publicised essay, under the Jonathan administration, Nigeria is experiencing her lowest incidence of poverty in history.

Let’s hear Soludo again: “…His record on the economy is a clear ‘F’ grade. As one reviews the laundry list of micro interventions the government calls its achievements, one wonders whether such list is all that the government could deliver with an unprecedented oil boom and an unprecedented public debt accumulation. …” This is clearly not an objective assessment or a reflection of the reality on ground today. For someone of Soludo’s academic and professional stature, I cannot attribute this to ignorance or lack of facts. This leaves me with the sad and pitiful conclusion that the Professor is being deliberately mischievous and his entire distorted monologue is meant only to disparage the government and the economic team. His blanket dismissal of economic performance and condescending ascription of “F” grade just makes this the more obvious.

Contrary to his maligned view, Nigeria according to analysts at Wall Street Journal, “has emerged as the frontier-market economy that is attracting the most attention from American and European multinationals.” The report went on to state that “Nigeria is joined by Argentina and Vietnam as the frontier markets that multinational corporations are most interested in, according to a new index of corporate sentiment.”

This is coming from the Frontier Markets Sentiment Index, created exclusively for the Wall Street Journal by Washington DC-based advisory firm Frontier Strategy Group. This tracks the level of interest shown by major European and American multinational companies in countries across the frontier markets world. Is Soludo saying that investors from America and European multinationals would willy-nilly troop to an F-grade economy? Can Soludo be this petty? This is only possible if in pursuit of an ulterior motive, which he makes so obvious.

Is it also not curious that Soludo’s “F-grade” economy has witnessed an unprecedented growth rate of 7% in the last couple of years according to CNN Money? Nigeria’s economy in the years under review is witnessing the third highest growth in the world behind China, 7.3% and Qatar 7.1%. What is Soludo really saying? If he is nursing a grouse with the economic management team lead by Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, he should be bold enough to raise it straight and not dress it with this non-sense veiled as economic analysis.

Beyond quoting data from various agencies, it is on record that under the Jonathan’s administration and his economic management team, the power sector reform has reached an irreversible level, the power infrastructure has been effectively privatized, PHCN is no longer a government behemoth.

Soludo has clearly joined the chorus of the opposition who in spite of overwhelming evidence of unrivalled transformation of Nigeria; choose to sing that “Jonathan has done nothing”. He is free to do so, but should be bold enough to approach them for membership. However, he cannot succeed to distract discerning, honest and patriotic Nigerians from the many achievements of the

President even as they read his lengthy essay:

a) Power generation has reached an unprecedented 4, 500 megawatts. This feat was made possible under the Jonathan administration as a result of careful, deliberate and concerted planning, dogged execution and effective policy monitoring. Of course there are still teething issues with evacuation and distribution as a result of the destructive activities of gas pipelines vandals, which the government is set to confront head on.

b) Unlike Soludo’s lies about depleting foreign reserves, available data from CBN shows that Nigeria’s foreign reserve as at December 2014 stood at a historical high of $41.67 billion. This data can be verified from the CBN website and puts a lie to the claim by Soludo say that “no penny” has been added into the nation’s foreign reserve.

c) Any discerning and honest Nigeria will not deny that federal roads across the length and breadth of Nigeria are better today than they have ever been in our recent history. The Benin-Ore road, Benin- Auchi, Enugu- Port Harcourt Road, Kano-Maidugiri Road, Auchi-Okene-Lokoja-Abaji Road, Lokoja-Abaji-Abuja, Abakaliki-Mbok Road, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Owerri-Aba Road and so many other federal highways have been reconstructed/rehabilitated under the Jonathan administration. These are things that matter to every-day Nigerians. They don’t need an economics professor to teach them non-sense- apologies to Fela Anikulapo Kuti .

d) Under this administration, the rail lines are back, people now have an alternative means of transport and the pressure on our road is drastically reduced. Commuters in Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna and Abuja now are experiencing the pleasure of a train ride- many for the first time in their lives. This is certainly not what you get in an “F” grade economy.

e) Soludo stated that he had been engaged in extensive international travels in the last couple of months and has only followed political events in the country by watching the presidential candidates on TV. Soludo must be commended for exporting his knowledge to diverse ends of the earth but one wonders if he skipped the airports the last time he came to Nigeria. Can he deny the facelifts and system upgrades that have been effected at these airports? Were they possible with by magic? Is it not fair to at least acknowledge that even while we are not where we need to be, we cannot be said to be where we were- the last time the Professor was around in public circles.

f) Soludo made the very laughable claim of saying that the performance of the agricultural sector under Obasanjo was better than what we have presently. How low can he sink so low in shame to make such an obviously untrue statement? It is well known that in the last couple of years, Nigeria spent a whopping $11 billion importing wheat, rice, sugar and fish alone. Today, Nigeria’s import bill for agricultural produce is less than one billion dollars. It is all due to the dedication and commitment of the economic management team that Soludo has set out to denigrate in his essay. Nigerian farmers know better. More than ever before, Fertilizers, farm supplements and even funds are getting to them a lot faster and easily than before via the “e-wallet” initiative of the President.

g) Soludo said that our exchange rate is bad because of wastage. He favours defending the Naira with our Foreign Reserve. That’s short-term thinking. Russia defended her currency and saw that it was unsustainable. So they devalued. Why should the eggheads managing our economy be crucified for doing the sensible thing? Short-term thinking, like Soludo favours won’t take us far. Prof., long term means keeping some of the earnings away for the rainy day. That is the idea of GEJ’s Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).

h) On the debt issue, Prof. Soludo tried very hard to create a mischievous impression about the government and it will serve our interest to set the records straight. In 2004, our national debt stock stood at $46.2B or 64.3% GDP. It took an Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (whom Soludo now criticizes) to secure a relief from the Paris Club. By 2007, our national debt stock stood at a total of US$17.3 billion or 11.8% of GDP. This was after Ngozi Okonjo Iweala left in 2006. In 2011 when President Jonathan was elected president, our national debt was at US$47.9 billion or 21% of GDP. I don’t want to go into all the details of the global economic meltdown during Umaru Musa Yar’Adua era that led to that rise in debt. The 21% debt to GDP ratio cannot be described as bad economic management.

i) It is imperative to note that the only noticeable change is the growth of our domestic debt. The reason: the federal government wanted to deepen the domestic debt markets and generate a new yield curve for Nigeria which ultimately could help our corporate bodies. The strategy is for corporate bodies to access capital markets and borrow funds at more affordable rates. The Debt Management Office, DMO, has been successful on this. Also, the FG raised domestic debts in order to finance budget increases like the 53% increase in Salaries of Federal Civil servants in 2011. The hike in domestic debt was expedient to fund the increase in workers’ salaries.

I would end by admonishing Professor Chukwuma Soludo to face the realities of the time. Nigeria is on a journey, a journey of transformation, of national rebirth and renewal. We sure have challenges (and which country does not?), there are more hills and valleys to cross but only a fool or a hate-driven cynic would deny the many strides recorded by the present economic management team assembled by President Jonathan. Political disagreements must not entail bitterness and envy. Soludo is advised to truly “devote his time and energy in pursuit of other passions, especially abroad.” and not distract the patriots who are working to secure the future of Nigeria. Yes, Soludo is right, Nigeria must survive and prosper beyond Buhari and Jonathan but Nigerians cannot be fooled into jumping out of the transformation train in pursuit of some esoteric agenda of a few disgruntled hardliners and ego-driven public intellectuals.

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