Former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, has declared the two major presidential candidates in next month's election as incapable of fixing the country's problems. In an article published in the Vanguard edition of 25 January, Soludo was frontally dismissive of President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Soludo, architect of the now discredited banking consolidation policy of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, also questioned the quality of debates around the election, feasibility of the candidates' campaign promises and was strongly dismissive of APC's capability to effect the change it is feverishly selling to the electorate.
"The tragedy of the current electioneering campaigns is that both parties are missing the golden opportunity to sensitize the citizenry about the enormous challenges ahead and hence mobilize them for the inevitable sacrifices they would be called upon to make soon. Each is promising an El-Dorado," he wrote.
While admitting that the two major parties have been unrelenting in making promises about tackling the major development challenges of corruption, insecurity, economy, health and education, he declared that neither has credibly demonstrated it has an agenda to banish the challenges.
" The UK Conservative Party’s manifesto for the last election proudly announced that all its programmes were fully costed and were therefore implementable. Neither APC nor PDP can make a similar claim. A plan without the dollar or Naira signs to it is nothing but a wish-list. They are not telling us how much each of their promises will cost and where they will get the money. None talks about the broken or near bankrupt public finance and the strategy to fix it," wrote the former CBN governor.
Soludo argued that an efficient national transport infrastructure alone will gulp tens of billions of dollars per annum, even if it is in a corruption-free atmosphere and by cost-effective means. He slated APC's promise of a welfare system that will pay between N5,000 and N10,000 per month to the poorest Nigerians as poorly thought-out and articulated. "Just this programme alone will cost between N1.5 and N3 trillion per annum. Add to this the cost of free primary education plus free meal (to be funded by the federal budget or would it force non-APC state governments to implement the same?), plus some millions of public housing, etc," he wrote.
On the management of the economy by the Jonathan administration, Soludo delivered an unflattering verdict. He argued that the government has been using the artificial construct of debt to GDP ratio to present the country as having limitless capability to borrow when this is not the case. "That is nonsense, especially for an economy with a mono but highly volatile source of revenue and forex earnings. The chicken will soon come home to roost. Today, the combined domestic and external debt of the Federal Government is in excess of $40 billion. Add to this the fact that abandoned capital projects littered all over the country amount to over $50 billion. No word yet on other huge contingent liabilities. If oil prices continue to fall, I bet that Nigeria will soon have a heavy debt burden even with low debt to GDP ratio. Furthermore, given the current and capital account regime, it is evident that Nigeria does not have enough foreign reserves to adequately cover for imports plus short term liabilities. In essence, we are approaching the classic of what the Shagari government faced, and no wonder the hasty introduction of ‘austerity measures’ again," he argued.
Quoting figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, which put poverty incidence and unemployment at all-time high, Soludo said this is the worst in the country's history. "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," he submitted.
He also punctured claims of stellar performance by the Jonathan administration, which he said attempts to present ‘inputs’, or ‘processes’ as output. In similar vein, the vaunted re-basing of the economy was dismissed as having nothing to do with government policy as the president's supporters have ceaselessly claimed. "Re-basing the GDP is no achievement: it is a routine statistical exercise, and depending on the base year that you choose, you get a different GDP figure. Re-basing the GDP has nothing to do with government policy. Besides, as naira-dollar exchange rate continues to depreciate, the GDP in current dollars will also shrink considerably soon."