BY BOLAJI AKANNI
Amongst the many flaws that one may heap on Nigeria’s superannuated politicians and their aides, casuistry, the art of making clever but false argument, is certainly not one of such inadequacies. The average Nigerian political office holder and their aides, seem to possess an infinite capacity to confect spurious and specious reasoning and explanations to justify or defend clearly ignoble positions or bosses.
Take the case of Reno Omokri, a former political aide of former President Goodluck Jonathan, now his spokesperson. Reno’s zestful, unflagging and prompt defence of his boss against unending allegations and accusations from the opposition APC, the media or the unforgiving Nigerian public, would be deserving of accolades but for the fact that time is up for those whose stock-in-trade is to play on the famed short memory of the Nigerian public.
Reno was again at his game of trying to beguile Nigerians on the narrative of the Jonathan years recently when he latched on to a frank comment by Power, Works and Housing Minister, Mr Babatunde Fashola on how the power supply situation impacted the growth of the Nigerian economy before and after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office. It was classic casuistry – specious half-truth designed to embarrass the honourable minister whilst dressing his former boss in borrowed robes.
Fashola had, at a civil society engagement workshop on the Federal Government’s Power Sector Recovery Programme in Abuja recently, endeavoured to enlighten critics and armchair experts that the poor state of the Nigerian economy cannot be blamed solely – and only – on irregular power supply. According to him “we hear all our so-called experts who say (non-availability of) power is why the economy of Nigeria is not growing. That is not factual and it is not correct. At the time when we had less power in 2013 and 2014, the economy of this country was growing at seven per cent per annum. We had less power then than we have now, but the economy was growing.”
To Reno, the minister’s “admission” of a growing economy during the latter years of the Jonathan administration – and his inadvertent omission to add that the huge proceeds from the economic growth ended up in the pockets of thieving PDP politicians and cronies of Dr Jonathan as revealed by the endless EFCC probes of the gargantuan looting by these unconscionable individuals – was a ‘Freudian slip.” For him, it was a godsend weapon to vindicate his boss and change the narrative by affirming that even a minister in the administration that sent the unbearably corrupt and inept regime of his boss packing – to the eternal relief of the vast majority of Nigerians – has credited that disreputable regime with outstanding performance in the economic sphere.
According to Reno “Mr. Fashola, in a Freudian slip, was made by God, to expose the truth that his boss, his party and his colleagues have been trying to suppress for the past three years, namely that former President Jonathan developed and grew Nigeria’s economy at an unprecedented and consistent growth rate of over 6% per annum and handed over a thriving economy that was projected by CNNMoney to be the third fastest growing economy in the world when Dr. Jonathan handed over power to President Buhari.”
Not so fast Mr Reno. Fashola had, in no way, vindicated the famously inept administration of Dr Jonathan with the aforesaid comment. All that the minister had tried to explain to the implacable critics of his progressively successful power sector reform programme which has undoubtedly yielded its promised Incremental Electricity deliverable, is that while regular power supply is desirable, it cannot on its own account for a growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or other economic indices. In Nigeria’s case, the major determinant of GDP growth or decline has, for decades, been the price of crude oil, thanks to the pitiably feeble efforts at economic diversification by successive regimes including Jonathan’s.
It is a well-known and documented fact that the Jonathan Era witnessed high oil prices, with the Brent crude peaking at $115 per barrel in June 2014. According to the OPEC Revenue Fact Sheets, Nigeria earned $94 billion, $84 billion and $77 billion in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. In 2005, the country had garnered only $57 billion from crude oil sales. Naira terms, Nigeria earned a total of about N51 trillion from petroleum resources during the five-year tenure of Dr Jonathan. The massive revenues accounted for the growth that Reno is touting.
The fallacy in Reno’s casuistic comments, however, is that President Buhari and the APC have never denied that there was economic growth (in terms of accrued revenue from oil) during the Jonathan years but that the former president’s administration “handed (over) an economy ravaged by years of mismanagement and corruption.” Indeed as s stated by The Economist in 2016, Dr. Jonathan had, in a disservice to the nation allowed “politicians and cronies to fill their pockets with impunity” from the proceeds of the economic growth that Reno is so proud of.
Dr. Jonathan and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were kicked out of power by the electorate, not really because voters were unaware that there was economic growth driven by rising crude prices during the tenure of the administration. They got the boot because and the heinous looting of the nation’s treasury which left the vast majority of the populace impoverished and disillusioned.
Changing the narrative of the Jonathan years will take more than a cheap and disingenuous distortion of an explanatory comment by a minister attending to an urgent national issue like power supply.
…Akanni, a Public Affairs Analyst, lives in Abuja
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