It sneaked into the national media like a thief in the dark. But while its spread across newsrooms gained momentum, skeptical Editors began to confirm, reconfirm and ask questions. The answers garnered really did not add up.
Monday afternoon, rumours and later, speculations that President Muhammadu Buhari intend to send a Bill to the Senate seeking emergency powers to tackle the hydra-headed economic problems of the country made the rounds. Trust social media account holders in the country. Before long, the alleged newsbreak was shared and comments of varying perspectives were thrown up. Some were political; others apolitical and many more, neither here nor there.
According to reports, the decision to seek emergency powers for the president was based on a proposal from the economic team headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The team reviewed the various policies so far introduced and how they have affected the economy. An executive bill titled ‘Emergency Economic Stabilisation Bill 2016’ is to be presented to the National Assembly when the Senate and the House of
Representatives resume from vacation on September 12.
Spokesman of the Vice President, Laolu Akande told a news medium that several policy options were being considered by the economic team of the country headed by Osinbajo to urgently fix and reinvent the economy.
Although Akande was not specific, he quipped that some of the measures could require legislative amendments and some undefined presidential orders to enable the executive branch of government move fast with its reforms.
To state the least, Akande’s reaction did little to put the rumour to rest. If we must call a spade a spade, what the spokesman of the vice president succeeded in doing is to confirm that there is a move in the direction of the president seeking such emergency powers that would empower him to fix Nigeria’s economy. Anyways, that President Buhari has yet to be handed details of the bid by his economic team, even though it does not remove fact from the rumour, indicate that Akande was only trying to play safe. But did he really? And was there really any need for such?
Economic emergency powers?
I am very sure that no Nigerian of my age and exposure is new to the history of presidents or federal governments assuming emergency powers to address nagging economic issues in order to move their countries out of miasma and threatening anomie.
No doubt, one could argue that the harsh economic situation we currently face puts unimaginable pressure on leaders at the national, state, local government, community and even household levels. But with the federal government at the commanding height of our peculiar system of governance, it behooves on President Buhari to evolve measures to fix the looming economic disaster.
As one writer noted recently, during the civil war the military government of General Yakubu Gowon introduced a national state of emergency. The then Minister of Finance, Chief Obafemi Awolowo implemented series of economic reforms in the prosecution of that war. Also, former President Shehu Shagari attempted an economic emergency during his short-lived second term.
But from 1999 till date, declaring economic emergency under a civilian administration is a new phenomenon which will, no doubt, generate arguments and varied discussions nationwide.
Those who should know have argued too that such a policy, if correctly interpreted, would imply setting aside certain laws to allow for enforcement of urgent economic programmes. It could also carry with it the unfortunate suspension of some constitutionally approved legislative powers to give the President freedom to push through needed fiscal policies.
Thus, for me, I do not really see any need to panic should the rumoured plan become a reality except for the fact that in this part, the president’s intention could be misapplied by his lieutenants, including party men, to the extent that the polity would begin to read partisanship, ethnic cleansing and politics into the whole gamut of the well-intended reform.
I hold, and boldly too, that any emergency power designed to fast-track the reflation of the economy, make Nigeria great again and improve the lot of the populace, among others, is worth it.
After all, in this country, we have had to be subjected to many belt-tightening measures aimed at redressing the nation’s drift to economic doom. There was ‘Operation Feed the Nation,’ ‘Green Revolution’ and ‘Structural Adjustment Programme’ among others.
However, whether such policies achieved desired goals is subject for another day. But it suffices to state that there was somewhat improved consciousness of the people as to the reality of the times when those measures were introduced.
But the fear this time has to do with speculations that any emergency power that gives Buhari sweeping powers to side-track the National Assembly and its constitutional enablement in any and every manner would reduce our tottering democracy to some form of dictatorship and its attendant fallouts. On this, I fear too.
And the fears are not misplaced given alleged politicisation of the on-going anti-graft war, preferences in dealing with issues relating to party crises as the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, currently experiences with conflicting court rulings and suspected interference by the ruling party or its agents, and some other emerging scenarios.
When he assumed office as President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama secured similar powers. The resultant International Emergency Economic Powers Act, IEEPA, granted him broad authority under Section 1702 of the IEEPA
Statute to include the following: Investigate, regulate or prohibit any transactions in foreign exchange; transfers of credit or payment by, between, through, or to any banking institutions, to the extent that such transfers or payments involve any interest of any foreign country or foreign national; the importing or exporting of currency or securities.
The same goes for the Venezuela government that just adopted sweeping emergency economic policies. Equally, French President Francois Hollande last month declared what he called “a state of economic and social emergency,” unveiling a two billion euro plan to revive hiring and catch up with a fast-moving world economy. There are speculations right now that Germany may soon follow the footstep of France.
If we want Nigeria to brace up and walk in tandem with developments globally, the truth must be said and done in this wise with the president taking cognisance of the legitimate fears of the people as stated earlier.
After all, it is not out of place to state that Nigerians are already into some form of economic emergency. When from three square meals, people now pray to have one meal per day; when most families, especially in the middle and lower rung of the economic ladder, failed to pay the school fees of their wards and dependants last academic year; when hitherto dependants are now becoming lean bread winners for their parents, no thanks to illicit jobs like prostitution, money rituals, scavenging, kidnapping, cultism, roguery and thievery of varied proportions, can there be any better definition for economic emergency at that level? Therefore, it amounts to double-speak or should I say, ignorance to argue otherwise.
Whatever will make Nigeria great again should be the challenge of well-meaning fellow countrymen and women. I hold that Buhari truly needs economic emergency powers to pull this country through. But it must be rightly interpreted, implemented and the people well sensitised and carried along devoid of the sycophancy and politics that have combined to ruin every other well thought-out programmes in the past.