I believe that one interesting feature of our administration is worth stressing. Although, we were a military administration and felt convinced of the reform imperative, we did not shy away from submitting the packages to the people of this country for a democratic national debate. At the end of the debate, it was the Nigerian people that opted for the “home-grown” structural adjustment program. This contrasts sharply with the approval of our latter-days apostles of reform.
Of all the issues connected with the reform program, the most surprising and yet the simplest was, perhaps, that of the duration. Evidently, the SAP document bearing the initial time period July 1986 to July 1988 led the unwary to the misinformation that the reform was to last only two years. This, of course, is wholly incorrect. Reform is a continuous process; even after the attainment of the desired state, the imperatives and momentum of the new order must be maintained – there is no question of a relapse, a return to the old inadmissible state.
The reformer does not play God. He reaches out to people, building consensus, co-educating himself with the people, trying always to enlarge the reform constituency.
The reformer builds and sustains public confidence also by maintaining zero tolerance of corruption and lack of transparency in the management of public resources. This uncompromising integrity is firmly and fairly maintained across agents with no sacred “cows” or process.
There is a pertinent question, which we must ask: Where were the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the so-called boom years? What recommendations, if any, did they make for the management of the economy, especially, as it relates to policies for promoting stronger desirable linkages between the two partitions of the national economy, the oil enclave and the domestic economy? Did they have to wait for the crisis of 1981 – 85 to occur before coming in with their prescriptions and loan after (standby arrangement), which the (IBB) administration subjected to a national debate? The questions are pertinent because as early as 1980 – 1985 agents in the agricultural sector, particularly those in commodity export, mounted pressure on the (Shagari) civilian administration to devalue the naira. The call for devaluation was forcefully made and adjudged to be in the best interest of the economy. But for political reasons, the government remained adamant. With the introduction of the SFEM, the first bidding session produced an exchange rate of N4,6174 = US$1,000, representing a depreciation of 66.0 percent and indicating the extent of correction that had to be taken (through the SFEM) in the interest of the economy.
It must be noted that, purely for political and populist considerations, when devaluation of the naira was first suggested in 1981, its advocates were regarded as unpatriotic or even submissive. Although the imperatives of appropriate economic policy demanded by the ailing economy were obvious, they were sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. The so-called elite – economic rent-seekers and political jobbers – held sway, oblivious of the pains of the economy until 1986 when, by what would fitly be considered a patriotic rescue mission the structural adjustment program was introduced with the SFEM as a key feature.
Democracy is not just about voting or conducting elections (most of which are rigged using the instrumentality of force by compliant “law – enforcement” agencies). All the democratic institutions must be enabled to function and to play their roles without being manipulated and corrupted for selfish ends. The people’s right to elect candidates of their own choice without force is an important aspect of democracy. Democracy has to be “appropriate to the domain in which it is practiced; for it to thrive the people have to enjoy economic prosperity, mass education, public enlightenment and be conscious of their rights. Democracy cannot thrive in a situation of poverty, mass illiteracy, election rigging and ignorance.
Was reform necessary? We reiterate that, in our view, reform was a patriotic imperative to bring the country back from the brink of collapse and the abyss of despair, to avert possible disintegration, to reposition the Nigerian economy decisively on the path of true self-development; this long-term strategy would better permit the optimal harnessing of the abundant energies, enterprise and intellect of all Nigerians, assure for our posterity rapidly improved welfare; and permit Nigeria to realize the great promise of her abundant resources.
Is reform necessary? If reforms were necessary during the lean years, the “IBB Years”, then the current dire socio-economic predicament, in the context of generally sustained record oil revenues, makes them even more compelling. The bleak and worsening conditions of the masses in spite of the sustained improved resources profile make reform imperative; Nigeria’s resource potentials command it; expectations by Nigerians, by other Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora dictate reform; Nigeria’s genuine external friends expect it, considerations of the legacy to our children and our children’s children demand reform now. Experience teaches us that if mandatory reform is not undertaken today, then a more stringent therapy will be administered tomorrow – if the parent body survives the ailment.