He is sleek, debonair, smart, articulate, cerebral – a natural choice for the next president of Nigeria, if not that his duo, with Mr Muhammadu Buhari, has totally ruined the economy and indeed the society. But asides that, he has committed seven cardinal sins that only God can forgive him for. I cannot, for I am not God. Any right-thinking Nigerian equally should not. Pastor Professor and Vice President Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo, being one of the lucky few amongst us humans who hears directly from God Himself, should therefore seek forgiveness and show contrition.
I will list and briefly analyse those sins below:
- Push for Further Devaluation of the Naira: Most Nigerians are bitterly complaining today about the high cost of everything, in the face of their stagnant salaries (for those lucky enough to have some type of job or the other), or declining sales (for those in business), because of the reality of inflation. Inflation, on most staple items in Nigeria, has been up between 300 per cent and 500 per cent since 2015. Salaries have hardly been up since then, but some of our importer-entrepreneurs have been able to increase their prices. Those who do handwork have not been as lucky. The inflation we face is multifaceted. Some comes from interventions as a result of COVID-19. Government has been spending money to help a lot of people, thus demand-pushed inflation has happened. But most of the inflation is from the supply side. Sellers of goods have had to incorporate the higher costs of producing their goods, or importing them, for the final consumers to bear – plus a premium. Since most of what we use in Nigeria are imported, from the clothes on our back to the materials for the houses we live in, to even some of the food on our plates, most Nigerians have been badly hit. Only a few have been able to escape it. That is why poverty is higher, and more people are out of work (33 per cent of those who should be working).
I am looking at the news around February 2017 and Osinbajo, having taken over briefly from Muhammadu Buhari who had fallen ill, was being hailed all over the world – especially in liberal economics circles – for devaluing the naira from N199 to N306/N366. I am sure he enjoyed the praises and felt like a superstar. Whereas Buhari had prevaricated, fumbled, hesitated, and babbled around the decision about our naira, Osinbajo was oversold to his usually young, inexperienced, externally-focused, dollar-rich, ‘ajebutter’ advisers, alongside smart IMF/World Bank types who cooed in his ears about the right decision to take. They usually never tell people like Osinbajo what the consequences could be and they never care about those consequences anyway. We may have left it too late in 2016/17 to have avoided a devaluation, but Osinbajo kept turning the knife in the heart of the country – after having seen (or perhaps he became so insular) the sheer economic damage his first intervention had caused in the lives of Nigerians. The first devaluation not only ruined millions of Nigerians, throwing them out of work and business and impoverishing them, it torpedoed Nigeria’s attempt to deregulate the downstream petroleum market. The increase in petrol prices from N87 to N145 (which was meant to be a full and final deregulation of that market – and which Nigerians had accepted), was rendered useless by the deregulation move. All of a sudden, Nigerians needed much more naira to buy a litre of petrol and we are still being told today that the sector has not been fully deregulated.
To make matters worse and to solidify his sin against God and Nigerians, in October 2021, Mr Osinbajo made the following statement at the last inter-ministerial retreat:
“As for the exchange rate, I think we need to move our rates to [be] as reflective of the market as possible. This, in my own respective view, is the only way to improve supply… We can’t get new dollars into the system, where the exchange rate is artificially low. And everyone knows how much our reserves can grow. I’m convinced that the demand management strategy currently being adopted by the CBN needs a rethink, and that is just my view.”
This was rightly interpreted as a call for further devaluation, the naira having fallen from the N360 official value to N410 (and on the streets N570) by then. People were aghast as to why Yemi Osinbajo believed that Nigerians should suffer more. It must be the insularity, as the VP is well cocooned in the Villa where all his bills are picked by taxpayers. What was more? When a ‘whole’ vice president of a country, who is also in charge of the economy, makes statements like this, traders take a position to ‘short’ the currency. In fact, this was acted out in a Hollywood series named Billions (Episode 5). The plot was that a Nigerian central bank governor had hinted of naira devaluation. The boys positioned and ripped Nigeria off for $5 billion. The VP’s statement was a death knell for the beleaguered naira. But Osinbajo seemed to also have been fully-programmed and so could not imagine the further effects of more devaluation on our poorest people, who still have to depend on some imported basics. Evidence of this stems from his May 2016 statement, as reported by Reuters, the international financial news agency, as below:
“We believe there must be some substantial revaluation for the foreign exchange policy. This would help boost foreign exchange supply and encourage capital inflows and a free flow of remittances. There has been a sharp decline in foreign exchange earnings. The executive is not responsible for monetary policy but we have made the point clearly that demand management will not take us out of the woods.”
In short, our amiable, articulate, urbane, and intelligent VP wanted us to plug our economy into what is even worse than ‘baba Ijebu’, because it is mainly a gamble with no underlying intrinsic value. In asking the CBN to ‘regulate’ cryptos, he was basically asking us to fold our traditional banking system in favour of the ‘decentralised’. He did not consider that once central banking disappears, so does commercial banking from which government gets all its taxes.
The above statement set the stage for the devaluation that came later that year, under the purview of the VP as acting president. The belief in the constant or perhaps everlasting devaluation of the naira and the consequent suffering it unleashes on Nigerians, is not a one-off event but a long-help or programmed belief of the vice president. For at no time did the VP cause any serious, out-of-the-box ideas to be implemented that will force productivity among Nigerians by getting us to sustainably produce what we need. On paper, he is in charge of the economy. And since his boss has not been particularly compos mentis, the onus has fallen on him in terms of the direction of the economy. Contrary to what his supporters say, most of the responsibility for the collapse of the economy, the failure to balance policy and consequences, and thus the unprecedented suffering of Nigerians, falls on Yemi Osinbajo. But it is left for God to forgive him.
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- Combative Push To Integrate Nigeria’s Economy With Cryptocurrency: VP Osinbajo made a shocking statement in February 2021 around the subject of cryptocurrency. As usual, he got plaudits from the unknowing, uncaring crowd of fast-money chasers who have little or no belief in their country or in the dignity of labour. I hope he doesn’t actually believe in those ‘hailings’. The Central Bank of Nigeria had – like all other central banks – re-instructed local banks not to entertain cryptocurrency transactions in view of their tendency to aid the masking of corruption, criminal, and generally black money, and the fact that, well, that category of pseudo assets is expected to cause the next global financial crisis. Through the pandemic, Nigeria was reported to be the second highest trading country in the world, in terms of the cryptocurrency – a news that was shocking itself, given our very low per capita income. The CBN has gone on to create its own eNaira (which could be further developed and integrated to achieve flexibility), but Osinbajo, at that time, stated that:
“Rather than adopt a policy that prohibits cryptocurrency operations in the Nigerian banking sector, we must act with knowledge and not fear and develop a robust regulatory regime that is thoughtful and knowledge-based… There is no question that blockchain technology generally and cryptocurrencies, in particular, will in the coming years challenge traditional banking, including reserve (Central) banking, in ways that we cannot yet imagine…So, we need to be prepared for that seismic shift. And it may come sooner than later… I am sure you are all aware of the challenge that the traditional SWIFT system is facing from new systems like Ripple, which is based on the blockchain distributed ledger technology with its own crypto tokens.. There is a role for regulation here, and it is in the place of both our monetary authorities and SEC to provide a robust regulatory regime that addresses these serious concerns without killing the goose that might lay the golden eggs.”
I really do not know what golden eggs Mr Osinbajo was referring to here, given that the usual volatility that CBN and other central banks feared about cryptocurrencies has turned out to be the reality. From the time that he spoke and almost forced CBN’s hand to integrate our economy with cryptocurrencies by ‘regulating’ what has set out to kill central banking and the financial system as we know it (they call it decentralised banking for a reason), the price of Bitcoin, the chief cryptocurrency, has dropped from $61,000 to $39,000. The Ripple XRPM, which the VP spoke glowingly about, has plummeted from $1.8 per unit to $0.70 (a 61 per cent drop). In short, our amiable, articulate, urbane, and intelligent VP wanted us to plug our economy into what is even worse than ‘baba Ijebu’, because it is mainly a gamble with no underlying intrinsic value. In asking the CBN to ‘regulate’ cryptos, he was basically asking us to fold our traditional banking system in favour of the ‘decentralised’. He did not consider that once central banking disappears, so does commercial banking from which government gets all its taxes. A collapsed tax system is the end of government. So, in that statement, he merely echoed what his son, Fiyin, boldly wrote in Premium Times about cryptocurrency which he appears to be trading in the U.K.
I ask whether this is the very best our VP and de facto head of our National Economic Council can do for us? Is it about lack of knowledge, ignorance, shallowness or what? Or is he easily carried away by the flash and kleiglights? Because if we married crypto with our ailing economy in February 2021, by now three-quarters of our banks will have gone belly up. In fact, we may as well be refugees in neighbouring countries by now. Just last week, a report came out from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which concludes that cryptocurrencies are more used in corrupt countries. One would have thought that Nigeria will try and shed the clinging stench of corruption, rather than solidify her place as a putrid nation. Any help, professor?
In the Kaduna bombing and kidnapping, the boys who stormed the trains killed eight people point blank, indiscriminately and in cold blood…The VP visited the scene the day after, but in his declaration speech, it was as if nothing happened. How he declared just a few days after such incidence baffled me, given that Rotimi Amaechi accused the VP of stepping down the memo for the purchase of surveillance techniques, which could have saved…victims
- Neglect of Nigeria’s Youths and Failure To Rescue Them From the Allure of Fast Money: I personally cannot forgive Osinbajo for neglecting our youths to their devices, despite being a pastor. Instead of trying to slow them down in this new, mad quest to make money by all means and fast, by preaching dignity of labour, he appeared to have preferred adding petrol to their quests. He has been on a pursuit of unicorns – many of which, with the Flutterwave story, are turning out to be mere cowboys, or as David Hundeyin recently reported, “corporate yahoo-boys”. Now, I have no problem with people making money, but the desperation in our land needs to be tapered and we have a pastor in office who should be doing that job. The idea behind reporting who made a billion dollars and stuff, is meant to drive other youths to get-rich-or-die-trying. As they go into overdrive trying to make money, no one is left to do the real work of nation-building. Where will we find smart teachers from? Or smart medics, smart engineers, architects, accountants, even lawyers like Osinbajo was several decades ago, if the emphasis of our youths, as driven by their vice president, is on who can make the most money? Is the VP not worried that we don’t make or manufacture anything tangible in this country? Should our focus be on how much money we can make as individuals or how we can help our society at this point? I scoured the internet a bit on this and found several statements, speeches (including one to you-know-who, the World Economic Forum, in January, boasting about how six Nigerian startups have attained unicorn (billion dollar) status. Again, as an economist, I would rather have 50 million youths in middle class status and another 10 million doing low-paying but essential work that are very central to the wellbeing of the economy, until they get something better, than have six unicorns, a few stupendously rich yahoo boys and a 33 per cent unemployment rate, which could translate to 30 million youths roaming the streets. Where is Osinbajo’s conscience? Or perhaps his claim to being clergy?
- Continuous Pursuit of a Wasted Ease-of-Doing-Business Index: I don’t know if VP Osinbajo, like his boss Buhari, does not bother about getting feedback about his policies from the public. For, a few of us had written about this. The World Bank developed something called the Ease of Doing Business Report. In a previous article, I questioned who that index was meant to help, because at least five out of the 10 factors that it measured were totally irrelevant (some will say egregious) for a local businessperson, especially the youths. Those five factors, which I think are nonsense, include; ease of acquiring property (very few businesses need to bother about this before starting up), protection of minority interest (this is farflung in my view), ease of paying taxes (I don’t see how this stops someone from doing business), ease of cross-boarded trade (in this information age, I don’t see how this is central to the growth of local businesses in the main), and resolving insolvency (imagine that someone will be thinking of insolvency when you are starting out in business). I even questioned another of the factors it measured – the ease of obtaining construction permits, because very few businesses have to construct from the scratch these days of adaptable production. I suggested that Nigeria should think of tweaking the ease of doing business to incorporate what really matters to our local businesses. Of course, nothing happened. The VP has maintained that office till date, without innovation, despite the fact that the World Bank has moved on, abandoning the Ease of Doing Business Report altogether. Anyway, are we slaves to World Bank? Why can we not think of helping our people in ways that matter with such an index?
- Unaccounted for Tradermoni Project: Regarding this one, I would like to cut the VP some slack. I believe he was merely doing the job he was sent to do. I’m hoping his office did not come up with the concept. Because even though I am a bit left of the centre in economic leaning and I understand that our people need to be sometimes rescued or incentivised, I have always preached that we should try not to give something for nothing. I would have preferred a social transfer programme that encourages our people to say, pick up trash in the environment for money. Or that they should plant trees. But the Tradermoni and Marketmoni schemes, I understand, were unaccounted for. We have not heard of any repayment and I understand that the government did not get anyone’s data, that it ended up as mere gimmick to win the last elections. As a senior lawyer, pastor and professor, the VP should have never been associated with such a scheme that will have people asking questions. Never! He will have to answer for these in future. Many reports are out there alleging different levels of fraud in the scheme. Others allege that tens of billions of naira have been lost therefrom.
- Failure To Think About Balancing His Team Along Religious Lines: Farooq Kperogi, the enfant terrible professor of Nigerian origin based in the U.S.A managed to nail the V.P. on this. I initially ignored the allegations as one of Farooq’s sometimes emotional outbursts. But I then read the article and the allegations were stark. The VP’s office released a pathetic video where all the Muslim staff associated with him – past and present – spoke. I thought that was an overkill. If there was no grievous error, Farooq, in my view, should have been ignored. In fact, it was the video that made me read Farooq. I found out that the VP left it too late. He apparently never thought of the balance of staff in his team. He probably forgot that his is a public office and that people talk a lot and will ask him to account someday. I find it hard to process his lining up all his pastor pals for appointment. In fact, it is not about RCCGification (a new grammar coined by Kperogi through his literary license), it is his ‘parishification’ really. I have personal friends, some of whom are pastors in the Redeemed Church, who believe that Osinbajo was rather too parochial and partial to only his family and personal friends. I think he may have mirrored his oga, whose only appointments are from among his old friends and their children. However, how can VP Osinbajo seek to govern Nigeria with such a limited scope? We cannot have another Buhari in this respect. The next government should be a unity government, to save the soul of this nation.
- Non-Solidarity With the Kaduna Kidnapped: The last cardinal sin which Osinbajo has to go down on his knees and beg God for is a live issue. As we speak, there are 167 Nigerians – all of them innocent – with kidnappers. They have made appeals by video, and just yesterday a lady whose relative is among them gave a very angry statement in which she alleged that they have been left on their own to deal with the kidnappers. The incidence of the train bombing, in my view, is worse than what happened in Chibok, on the back of which the Buhari government rode in in 2015, all the while excoriating Goodluck Jonathan. In the Kaduna bombing and kidnapping, the boys who stormed the trains killed eight people point blank, indiscriminately and in cold blood. They killed Christians and Muslims alike, men and women. They took children into captivity. As at the time of this writing, they have been about 20 days in captivity. The longer they stay there, the less their chances of returning because those doped out boys will start using them for target practice. In all these, I have not heard a word from President Buhari apart from the usual tosh manufactured by his spokesmen. The VP visited the scene the day after, but in his declaration speech, it was as if nothing happened. How he declared just a few days after such incidence baffled me, given that Rotimi Amaechi accused the VP of stepping down the memo for the purchase of surveillance techniques, which could have saved the eight wounded, 26 injured and 167 kidnapped victims. Rotimi himself declared even quicker than Osinbajo, and no mention of the incidence was made. No remorse was expressed. Not even a minute’s silence for the dead were observed at both Amaechi and Osinbajo declarations. On the other hand, I was attending the Bola Tinubu Colloquium the morning after the night terrorism act, and when Bola showed up, he simply asked us to observe the one-minute silence, prayed, and canceled the event. Now, that is leadership. That, is emotional intelligence. That, is sacrifice, for someone to casually cancel his own well-planned, super-attended 70th birthday lectures and celebration.
‘Tope Fasua, an economist, author, blogger, entrepreneur, and recent presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), can be reached through [email protected].