Friday, November 28, 2008

Mr. President, give a human face to deregulation, privatization and subsidies removal

Mr. President, give a human face to deregulation, privatization and subsidies removal


Paul Adujie

New York, United States

Some Nigerians have in the past, criticized my writings, as they insist that I am partial or slanted in my writings in favor of the current leadership; Just as they have described me as ardently, staunchly and fervently supportive of President Obasanjo and his administration, I have been labeled sycophantic and worse. My reaction have been and still is, that, my writings are a reflection of my honest opinion and perception of what I strongly believe are Nigeria's best interests and the fact that some exigent circumstances of history bestowed President Obasanjo on Nigeria and he is a good fit in the circumstance; his patriotic credentials and all.

Almost twenty years ago, President Obasanjo upbraided the then President Babangida in connection with the latter's pursuit of economic policies of the Structural Ajustment Program variety, policies that were stifling to the average Nigerian, the former then urged the latter to show some humanity in the ruthless pursuit of SAP and the attendant effects on the average Nigerian, effects of SAP that are still pronouncedly visible today. President Obasanjo, specifically, demanded that President Babangida "Give SAP a human face" and unfortunately, President Obasanjo was not fairly received, in-fact Mike Akhigbe then Admiral and second-in-command to Mr. Babangida, took issues with Mr. Obasanjo's honest advice, Mr. Akhigbe talked about disrespectfully and disparagingly of Mr. Obasanjo at the time, even though Mr. Obasanjo is biological and militarily senior to Mr. Akhigbe, and even though Mr. Obasanjo's criticism was based on the facts and was fair.

This is the background from which I approach the current deregulation and privatization and subsidies removal issues facing Nigeria, reminding our president and his administration to give these economic policies a human face, with due cognizance of our particular domestic circumstances in Nigeria. It is common knowledge that Nigeria has in the past tried centrally controlled economy or command economy, it is also public knowledge that that model has failed Nigeria; Socialist or Mixed economic modes has not proven to suitable for many developing countries, including Nigeria. We are therefore faced with privatization, subsidy removals and deregulation etc. Nigeria like other countries have awoken to the realization that, government are not the most efficient operators of business enterprises, not matter good, genuine intentions! What then are we to do? Perhaps deregulate, privatize and remove subsidies?

The question then arises, what is the purpose of government? What is the purpose and meaning of democracy in Nigeria? These are issues, because, the vigorous or perhaps ruthless pursuit of deregulation is having a harrowing effects on the average Nigerian, who were already ravaged by a battered and utterly depressed Nigerian economy, an economy that has been extremely decayed for more than 20 years. Recently, I read an article in the Guardian Newspapers of Nigeria written by Dr.Ogbemudia, the two-time erstwhile dynamic governor of Midwest/Bendel now Edo state, Dr. Ogbemudia's article was balanced and thorough, and a particular statement or paragraph resonated with me so much and I will here paraphrase it, in essence, he informed us, that democracy should start from the stomach and that democracy is probably meaningless, when the average Nigerian goes to bed hungry, too frequently.

Again, I also read, not long ago, how some students Youth Corps members scrambled for loaves of bread a Nigerian newspaper actually described the scramble for such pittance as largesse! What largesse? Is it not really a sad day that any Nigerian, especially university students and graduates serving as Youth Corpers, have become so poor and desperate, to the extent of fighting of mere bread? (Mrs. Atiku was launching a program and a company donated some bread and the students Corpers present dove for the bread in desperation!) I have written in the past that issues of privatization, subsidies removal and deregulation or the so-called free market practice, should be evaluated carefully for local consumption, taking into account, every aspect of our circumstances in Nigeria, I have also suggested that, many of the European countries with America, that are quick to recommend these scotching economic policies, do not themselves practice what they preach to us, but they stridently insist that we swallow these bitter economic pills, to the detriment of our welfare and happiness.

Free Trade as defined by the World Trade Organization is not practiced by the Americans or the Europeans, anyone familiar with the failure of a series of Free Trade Agreements, would attest to my assertion here. What with the recent failure of the Cancun, Mexico WTO Conference, and before that, Dohar or Singapore? The interests of the developed countries in Europe and America and the interests of the developing countries are literally mutually exclusive, hence the Europeans and Americans completely ignored the logical demands of the developing countries in Cancun and everywhere else, before the Cancun round. The WTO has just ruled against the USA for its unfair practices of protectionism regarding the USA domestic steel industries, the USA is also engaged in heavy subsidies for American farmers, as it does in other areas; The USA has been sanctioned frequently by WTO and other international bodies regarding noncompliance with Free Trade rules.

It is the case that America and Europe pursue policies in their national interests, to cushion the harsh effects of Free Market, Free Trade on workers and consumers, even when such policies directly contradiction or fly in the face of Free Market/Free Trade or WTO rules. The question then arise, in whose interests must developing countries pursue policies of privatization, subsidies removal and deregulation? If the purpose of government, the purpose of democracy etc is to make the life of the average person better, particularly, in the developing world, where there are no social programs or social safety nets, why must we pursue deregulation, privatization or subsidies removal zealously? Must we pursue these economic policies with blinders on or in robotic manner? Disregarding the vicious snowball effects on prices of goods and services, on the average Nigerian?

There are benefits to be derived from higher productivity and higher efficiency, as our economy is privatized, deregulated etc, benefits that are mostly down the road, and only in long term contexts. But how about now? How do we keep the average Nigerians alive? How do we ensure that we all survive to reap the benefits or reward of higher productivity and higher efficiency?

As desirable as some of these economic policies might be, especially on the long run or long term, our leaders must be careful, not to appear to be killing the patient, that it genuinely intends save in the first place! This is the essence and purpose of government and the wonderful concept of democracy, in the pursuit of any and all policies of government, the best interests of the people must be served.

Paul I. Adujie is a Nigerian Lawyer and an Information Technology Professional.

Nov 2003

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