2023 elections: As the economy takes back stage…

With the frenzy presently going on in Nigeria as the country edges towards the 2023 general elections, it has become obvious its struggling economy seems to have been pushed to a corner; BENJAMIN UMUTEME notes.

It is a given that politics and the economy are intertwined. One cannot do without the other because it is the politicians that make the economic decisions for there to be any socio-economic development of any country.

And as Nigeria moves towards the 2023 general elections, there are fears that many public officers may just be more concerned about securing their political future rather than working to ensure the country’s socio-economic wheels run properly.

In an election year, as it has always been since the return of civilian rule, the government activities almost come to a halt as the various gladiators engage in campaigns and other activities as they seek to woo the electorates in their favour.

The implications are the uncertainty that pervades the polity with both the politicians and civil servants unsure of what to do.

Declining economy

It was, therefore, not surprising that the International Monetary Fund projected that Nigeria’s economy would decline to 3.1 per cent in 2023 after recording a 3.4 per cent growth this year (2022).

All this is due partly to uptick in political activities and the Russia-Ukraine war that is yet to abate. And US President Joe Biden did affirm that the war was taking its toll on the global economy, especially in most African countries that continue to experience food shortages and galloping inflation.

In its Covid-19 Action Recovery and Economic Stimulus Programme for Nigeria, the Fund noted in a report that the $750 million project which aims to expand access to livelihood, food, and provide grants to poor and vulnerable households and firms may experience delay.

According to the global lender, “The other risks include the emerging fiscal situation in the Country and the upcoming general election will portend a substantial risk to the pace of implementation and achievement of targets and project development objectives.”

‘Economy runs on auto-pilot’

For political economist, Adefolarin Olamilekan, to say the economy has been abandoned is an understatement.

The development researcher in a chat with Blueprint Weekend said the year before any general election is characterised with political jamborees, fanfare, campaigns and criss-crossing carnivals by elected or appointed political office holders.

What has now become a chance to abandon important state functions and responsibility in the name of strategising politically so as to win the next election?

In this case the actual governance and development projects are left undone with civil and public servants having little or nothing to do at this point.

“And this foretells serious drawbacks to national development in general and specifically, bestows on us a trend that throws up individuals and groups who lack spirited patriotism on what national development is all about.

“In addition it portends a situation where management of the country’s economy is now on auto pilot. Another is that unscrupulous elements would engage in sharp practices that could lead to embezzlement of public funds, short changing government policy decisions, sabotaging government policy implementation, poor execution of public projects among others. That in the long run could reverse the little gains so far achieved.”

Economy at a standstill

Experts fear that the 2022 budget of N17.12 trillion would suffer serious setbacks especially with the early signals of the way political actors have been caring.

Some have argued that the high budget this year is part of plans by the governments to fund their campaigns; the same as the borrowings that have gone on at both the federal and states.

Experts are of the view that even the FX challenges being experienced in Nigeria presently by manufacturers are due to the activities of politicians who have mopped up the dollar in the market. Unconfirmed reports had it that for the primaries the leading aspirants of two major parties gave as much as $25,000 to each delegate to get their support.

In his view, the president, Association of Bureaux De Change Operators of Nigeria (ABCON), Alhaji Aminu Gwadabe, the current FX volatility is expected considering the antecedents of the country’s political actors.

He said: “Do not forget that election years are associated with foreign exchange volatility, coupled with supply squeeze. This is also a political year, so you should expect this kind of situation.”

A public affairs commentator, Victor Emejuiwe, said the country’s economy is suffering because of the present level of spending by politicians.

“The economy cannot grow at a sustainable level when resources that should be applied to productive sectors with the capacity to generate profits are distributed amongst a few segments of society.

“Also, the probability that money largely deployed outside the productive sector is responsible for the current increase in inflation cannot be wished away.”

For the CEO of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprises, Dr. Muda Yusuf, the fallout from such spending is the inflationary pressures, liquidity surge, and the increased distractions of the political office holders from governance and economic management.

He said major economic reform initiatives have practically stalled because of the perceived political cost of such decisions as the government had rather opted for populist policies at a heavy cost to the economy.

“With a weak fiscal space there would be an increase in the fiscal deficit, which would further plunge the country deeper into a debt crisis.”

Addressing the trend

Olamilekan told this reporter that the role of legislation cannot be ruled out if the country wantd to eliminate the frivolous management of our national economy during an election year.

According to him, it is sad that electioneering campaigns and jamborees have set economic governance on a reverse gear going by the activities of our economic managers jostling and criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country to the detriment of the nation’s economy.

He said, “Although, we must not be tempted not to evaluate how far legislation could help us because, the issues of political office holders abandoning their duty post in search of securing their position is all about ‘interest.’

“So, it is very important we fashion out legislation that may reduce these excesses on the part of our economic managers.

“Critically, we need a set of rules and guidelines that would serve as standard, to prevent a breakdown in governance and state machineries becoming redundant because of elections as the economy suffers a big blow. We believe our politicians need to grasp the essence of what the economy is all about and the imperative of the government’s commitment at all times.

“Another one is to decongest our election calendar in a way that it would reduce the tense atmosphere we are experiencing because the general election is coming and state actors would abandon fundamental state responsibility for personal ambition. What this means is that the general election period could be made flexible.

“Lastly, is to task government officials to be more proactive in the implementation of government policies and programmes and at the same time ensure promptness in the monitoring and evaluation of public projects.

“In addition is the quick passage of budget and timely releases of allocations. We may have to caution contractors to do the needful by executing contracts in line with the mandates given because all these affect the economy if they are not tidied up.”

Related content you may like