Chief Agu Ojukwu, a strategic management expert was the former chief economic adviser to former Abia State Governor, Senator T A Orji. In this interview with The NewsCritic editor, Ojukwu insists that corruption is not the main cause of Nigeria’s economic challenges, adding that to fix the economy we have to go back to the starting line. According to him, the Nigerian economy needs a quantum leap not the one percent or two percent growth that is being talked about, which he describes as rubbish. Excerpts:
Q: The Nigeria economy is still struggling and it appears there is no solution yet to it. The naira equivalent to a dollar jumped from N185 in 2015 to N370 since middle of last year. How can we make the economy rebound?
A: First of all, I want everybody to know that in fixing our economy, we don’t just look at one item, because in an economic system everything must work together in circular relation. Any component of the economy that you want to fix, the entire economy will never work. Now using exchange rate to determine how the economy is doing is also not right; because even if exchange goes up and people’s purchasing power goes up it will counter that. Economy is a system of production and in that system every component must work together in a regular relation including the policies, the factories, elements of the economy to produce a common output which is prosperity.
Now, our people are confusing infrastructure development with the economy. Building of roads and electricity are not the economy, they’re infrastructure. Economy is about production, it is ideas, about wealth creation which comes from having ideas to commercialize things and make them work. These other ones are support services to help those fundamental ideas and so on to take root. So, when people leave the crux of the matter and start telling you that they’re building electricity because every Nigerian believes that electricity is the problem. But unfortunately for us electricity is not the main problem.
There are many factories that can work without electricity. So if electricity is the problem how come some factories can work without electricity? Industries like oil palm, for instance can work without electricity from the national grid and nature did it such that you can use your waste materials from the oil palm industries to generate electricity. Incidentally, if you go to Malaysia or to any major oil palm factory in the world you’ll see that they have turbines that generate their own electricity for them. And most of them have capacities to generate excess electricity to what they need which means as they are working they have excess electricity for the community in which they operate.
So if government can help people whose businesses do not need electricity from the national grid they would free that portion they would have demanded from the national grid and that means automatically that electricity becomes more available. Time has come when we should ask ourselves what is the starting point of fixing an economy. Because everything has a starting point and unless you go to the starting point, you cannot fix it. If you keep questioning small components and issues and want to use them to fix the whole, it cannot work. And if you try to solve the economic problem with what you have on ground it will not work.
Q: What is the way forward in fixing the Nigerian economy?
A: The way forward is for government to realize that number one; it is the job of the political class, president, people in position of authority to coordinate the use of the best knowledge available in the country to fix the economy. And the way to fix the economy as quickly as possible is not by allowing every market woman, Tom, Dick and Harry, soldier, civil servant to debate on the matter. The way to fix an economy as quickly as possible is for the president to call on those who think they have an idea of what an economy is to quickly bring a proposal on how long they think it can be done, the process it can be followed to get the result and so on. If the president accesses those things, you’ll see those who are sharp and those who are not sharp and he’ll then know who to use and whom not to use.
So, when they bring the proposals, you look at the proposals and you look at it then you select those who indicate why their knowledge is suitable for doing that job. It is when you do this that you’ll see that the majority of the people talking about the economy or advising the president or governors are actually misleading them. Then you can now narrow it down to what should be down.
Q: Can you proffer solution to the resuscitation of the economy which is making downward trend before it finally collapses?
A: How it can be done is for us to fix the economy fundamentally. First of all, people must realize that President Muhammadu Buhari did not cause the problem. Another point for the President is that in his first term, the man was fighting for his life. He was very sick and he fought for his life and of course when somebody is fighting for his life, everybody should pray for him. Now, he has survived it and now hale and hearty and happy that the President about three weeks ago called on the intellectual class to come forward with new ideas to help him. He also published that he’ll remove the barriers that prevent people from bringing good ideas to him so that the ideas can come to him direct. So with that, some of us now have confidence to speak up; knowing that he’s ready to have good ideas directly to himself.
like I said, if you want to fix your economy, you must realize that there’s no problem that’s insurmountable; no problem at all. No matter how bad a problem is; there’s always something to do about it. But what fixes an economy is the approach. And in that approach if it is not science based one, you’ll be misled. A lot of people have been making suggestions based on common sense and common sense is the easiest thing that can mislead everybody or group because common sense can tell you this is okay whereas science tells you that’s not the way.
In science, the process to go is this: number one to fix our economy you should have an approach. In that approach, the most workable way in that approach is the approach that is made up of attitude and method. Now when you come to attitude, it must be a science based attitude. Now. the method is the strategic management method. The method that allows you to actually start by diagnosing your economy and not assuming what you think the problems are. Because when you assume that one particular problem is your problem it may not be the problem.
So the process of this diagnosis actually brings in productivity. If you’ve read the Time Magazine and New York Times, they’ll tell you that the Nigerian economy has no direction. That is because after you’ve diagnosed the real problem of the economy when you now come to the solution, you must have a direction and we can’t create the direction, until we’ve diagnosed the economy to see what is actually spinning the difficulties we have in the economy. And people say it’s corruption that is spinning it and some of us say it is not corruption.
Corruption is a sign that you have deep rooted problems in our economy because they’re things that if they’re not in place they breed corruption. Corruption is the consequence of the dangers in the economy; they’re not the things causing the dangers in the economy. The system will make the people corrupt; the system will actually mislead the people to do evil things even when they don’t want to do it. But if your system is right it will prevent the people from even doing corrupt things and they will be happy not to do it. So that’s why we’re saying that the Nigerian economy must be fixed fundamentally and fixing it fundamentally government must aim for quantum leap, not increment growth.
The kind of growth we need is 15 percent growth, or 20 percent because we’ve not touched the fundamentals. So when you tackle the fundamentals you start having basic growth. The economies that have small growths, like additional one percent or two percent are the economies that have already done all the things they should have done, they’ve grown, they’ve stabilized, they’ve done all and there’s nothing more to add like the American economy. So, they’re now struggling to make addition one or two percent because everything is already too good. But for an economy that has not even done anything; all the industries are at baby stage, no structure, nothing whatsoever, when you talk about one percent growth or two, its rubbish. At this level, we should do things that make us have 10 percent or 15 percent growth.
Q: Are you not faulting the argument that if infrastructure is fixed, the economy is fixed?
A: Every economy has two parts, and the reason some of us have been pushing is for people to understand. Remember Nigeria has had so many economists, so many experts and nothing has changed. That’s why we’re calling for a change of agenda. The President needs to call for the change of agenda. If you use the same people, do the same thing all the time, you’ll get the same result. The condition of the Nigerian economy is beyond simple economics; it’s beyond people who read just economics. The condition of the Nigerian economy requires people who are vast in strategic management; people who are vast in restructuring a system and organize it to run well.
So, I’m making a call to the federal government to please, for once, stop talking about people who read simple economics because simple economics is all about adjusting exchange rates, interest rates, foreign exchange and things like that. But when it comes to structuring the economy as a system, getting the economy to have capacity you must bring in strategists; you must bring in people who make growth to happen; and those people are experts in strategic management. They’re the only people that can fix the Nigerian economy; and incidentally that’s what I practice and that’s why we’ve been calling on government to please listen to us for a change because it’s automatic.