In many democracies, the state of the national economy determines where the votes go. It is not for nothing but for the survival of the electorate. Even in Nigeria where religious and ethnic factors seem to play pivotal roles, the concern for the economy cannot be ruled out totally. While politicians are concerned with political survival through the manipulation of the minds of the electorate, the latter is desirably more concerned about their economic survival.

Since the assumption of office of the present government, the country has been embroiled in one economic issue or another. The criticality of the situation has resulted in the expansion of the traditional economic team to transformation and lately transfiguration. Last week, President Bola Tinubu had to set up two economic coordination teams. reported it as  ‘50-member emergency economic teams’ to rescue the economy from its present doldrums in six months. The teams comprise two bodies, a 31-man Presidential Economic Coordination Council headed by the President himself and a 19-member Economic Management Team Emergency Task Force that will be expected to report to the Presidential team. The composition of the teams is different but somewhat overlapping.

According to the Presidential Spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, the formulation of the committees was a strategic move to ensure robust and coordinated economic planning and implementation to tackle the problems emerging from the dual economic policies of subsidy removal and merging of the exchange rate. The formation is coming rather too late but the teams can pick up the pieces and sew them together to prevent further damage. Are the committees working on some research reports of the events or outcomes of the implementation of the policies so far and the projection of what to expect as the country moves forward? Is there a standing committee of experts analysing and making recommendations on internal and external shocks as events unfold from further implementation? These experts are necessary and are available in the Central Bank of Nigeria and Ministry of Economic Planning. But does the government really need many people on these committees?

The kind of emergency that the President recognised to warrant the setting up of these emergency committees is symptomatic of a country without a national plan from where short and medium plans are drawn, derive their strength and prevent constant shock therapy.

As the focus of the committees may be on the issues of stabilising the exchange rate and determining the right prices for petrol and petroleum products in the short run, the underlying causes of the instability must also be identified to prevent medium to long-term instability. A major element of the problems can be identified as low domestic production and productivity. A country with huge natural resources but low savings and highly mobile skilled manpower would need foreign investments and technology transfer, in addition to functional institutions to develop.

If you are a regular air traveller, it is easy to know as the plane descends, that you are in the Nigerian sky or air space when you are flying from anywhere in the world. You would notice a huge darkness with some spots or pockets of dim lights from generators. I always ask the question, when will this scenario change? I remember in my youth when electricity in Lagos Island was taken for granted. Not that the electricity was 24/7 but there was always an announcement on when lights would be switched off and on. And, that was because the switch-off was never an everyday affair. Today, such announcements cannot be made because electricity, where available, is off many times in one day.

Imagine you are a foreign investor coming with enthusiasm to establish a factory in Nigeria, the country with the largest population in Africa and the supposed giant of Africa. As the plane is descending, airport lights go off and on. You are welcome to a country where electricity is a luxury. Eventually, you can get out of the airport. As your vehicle moves toward your hotel in the city, you are struck with the fact that the houses that have lights on the way are dependent on generators. You are already aware that the country has a huge population with low income which can affect your output and sales. Now is the additional cost of production from lack of electricity. The businessman will be eager to take the next flight out.

I do pity beneficiaries of economic empowerment who are given hair-dressing equipment, sewing machines, computers, and other gadgets that depend on electricity. The first task is to get generators to power the equipment and thereafter the running costs with petrol or diesel, the maintenance of the equipment and the generator. I have seen many such beneficiaries who sold off the equipment to avoid the unplanned cost of power generation.

At 63, virtually all parts of the country, including the seat of power, are still engulfed in darkness despite non-human resources that can be used to generate electricity and human resources that can make it happen! When recently, the Abia State government invested in electricity and can now boast of a 24/7 power supply, I was thrilled. More so when the project was done by a Nigerian. I know it is the beginning of production and productivity for the state.

I expected to hear that other states were following the footsteps of Abia State but no such news yet. Is it that they underestimate the power of electricity in the transformation or development of their states? Or is it that they do not want to be seen as copying the project?

State governments often think it is abhorrent to copy initiatives from one another in the arts of development. Japan and China copied or stole technology from more advanced economies and are better for it today. It is better to copy excellent development initiatives than the art and science of embezzlement. Ogun State will remain the boys’ quarter of Lagos State if the state managers refuse to borrow ideas on development initiatives from Lagos.

The newly inaugurated economic committees must consider as a priority recommendation, economic infrastructure like electricity in their project to encourage domestic production, promote foreign investments, and stabilise the value of the naira. The Federal Government must prioritise efficient electricity generation and distribution to rescue investors from the high cost of production. We do not need to concentrate on water and gas to generate electricity when we have coal, solar and wind, and can identify other sources. The United States, China, Japan, India and South Africa are among the top countries in the world generating electricity from coal. If we need assistance, let us contact our African brothers like South Africa which currently generates about 58,000 megawatts from all sources with coal as the major source. No wonder South Africa is part of the G20 in the world reckoning. Whenever we hit 5,000 megawatts of electricity with a population of over 200 million, there would be jubilation in the seat of power!

The world saw the conditions of the schools where bandits kidnapped students in various parts of the North. Outsiders wonder how students in those schools could have quality education. The environment of many schools is worse than where out-of-school children find themselves every day. Even in tertiary institutions, the laboratories are empty; the libraries are stocked with Mongo Park books and students are found to study on shared seats or the classroom floor! The committees need to consider improved quality education that promotes quality learning and delivery of teaching or lecturing. It is a necessary and possibly sufficient condition for domestic production and productivity needed for economic stability and progress.

The issue of aligning salaries and wages to reduce outliers and thus prevent using salaries for speculative motives is important. When some segments of the working population are earning too much money that is out of context with the cost and standard of living, they deploy the excess into speculative motive in the foreign exchange market. The institution in charge of remuneration alignment should be strengthened to perform effectively. The question of nipping corruption in the bud before being committed is equally important. In essence, the two economic committees must go beyond looking at policies and events but also at underlying factors, institutions and infrastructure, that make the economy behave the way it does.