Plateau 2023: ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid’

By Ben Osawe

“The economy, stupid” is a phrase that was coined by James Carville in 1992. It is often quoted from a televised quip by Carville as “It’s the economy, stupid.” Carville was a strategist in Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against incumbent George H. W. Bush. His phrase was directed at the campaign’s workers and intended as one of three messages for them to focus on. The others were “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget health care.”

Clinton’s campaign advantageously used the then-prevailing recession in the United States as one of the campaign’s means to successfully unseat George H. W. Bush. In March 1991, days after the ground war in Kuwait, 90% of polled Americans approved of President Bush’s job performance. Later, the next year, Americans’ opinions had turned sharply; 64% of polled Americans disapproved of Bush’s job performance in August 1992.

As 2023 shows up on the horizon, this year (2022) preceding a national election will as usual be focused more on politicking and campaigns as governance issues take the back seat. Therefore, it’s no surprise that at the last count in Plateau State, several posters adorned street light poles, fences, roundabouts, junctions, etc, as prospective aspirants for the governorship position jostled for spaces to put up their posters.

Given the sheer number of posters already and candidates who want to take over Governor Lalong’s job, it is beginning to look like all it takes to be a prospective aspirant for the post of governor of Plateau State is to make an agbada or fine suit and then get a good photographer to do a photo shoot and, pronto! an aspirant emerges.

Alternatively, it looks to us that a group of friends might just be discussing in any of the many joints in town and then someone who has been served a fresh round of pepper soup and choice wine as a mark of gratitude might say to the one who ordered the fresh round of servings: “You will be a good governor in the state.” And after hearing this, the persons constitute themselves into a committee and the next thing that happens are posters on the streets.

The approach to emergence of prospective aspirants for governorship positions in Plateau State is becoming a theatre of the absurd. It’s strange that people whose names have never been heard nor seem to have shared in the pains and daily struggles of the people are all out. Strangely also is the fact that persons who do not seem to have felt the pulse of the mass of poor people in the state nor associated with any serious community development activity in the state are also showing up.  Finally, there are categories of persons whose names have not been heard as having grown any business in the state or been associated with any other constructive issue are all out with their posters on various streets of Jos testing the waters.

What is clear to some of us is that the reason there are all manner of characters showing up on posters in Jos is because they might not have sat down with a clear headed team to do a diagnostics of the economy of the state and reflect on the data. The prospective aspirants do not seem to realize that the issue with the Plateau State elections of 2023 is, as James Carville said, the ‘Economy Stupid!’

Let’s look at the data drawing extensively from the ‘State of States Report (2021) (BudgIT). Plateau state is 18th out of 36 states in terms of fiscal performance in 2021. What does this mean in real terms? In terms of revenue, the state depends 73.98% on Federal Allocations with Internally Generated Revenue at an abysmal 26.02%. The implication is that without Federal Allocations, at this rate the state is not sustainable.

The operating expenses in 2021 were 71.48% while the capital expenditure was 28. 52%. Though the state worked at reducing the operating expenses in 2021, the reduction was minimal and not sufficient to invest in the development of infrastructure which supports economic development. Plateau State’s debt profile is worrisome with domestic debt at N137.78billion while foreign debt is $37.9million. Total debt analysis shows a debt growth of 27.70%(2016-2020) with   a debt size of 13th out of 36 states.

The implication of the above debt profile is that the state is the 14th most indebted in terms of total debt and 13th most indebted in terms of foreign debt among the states in Nigeria. Poverty rate in Plateau State is 50.05%, unemployment and underdevelopment is at 52.74% and the recommended job creation figure is 85,388 jobs.

What are the implications of these figures? It is simply that there is no more free lunch. Rather, what is required is competency in economic statecraft to steer Plateau State from its current path to sustainability.  This does not come by wishful thinking. It requires hard, solid, innovative thinking, coherent plans and strategies and a competent team not drawn from the ranks of hangers on who are ‘compensated because they are said to have worked’ and ‘so monkey must not work for baboon to chop!’

A quick culture, structure and systems analysis shows us that certain foundations need to be laid to enable Plateau State turn the corner. We are not talking here about the various development sectors yet but the first key principles that are required to drive the economy of the state.

It’s clear to those who have lived in this city for long that the ‘spirit of the city’ of Jos is dead and needs to be revived. Jos the capital needs a renewal, a refreshing that will enable it to recapture the culture that made it a destination in times gone by.

As an administrative city, Jos is 106 years old (1915-2021). It was made an administrative city, just like Enugu, in 1915. In 2015, the city of Jos missed a historical milestone to mark its centenary which provided a platform for renewal of the city and indeed the state. Unfortunately, a lack of understanding created a situation where this opportunity was missed. A centenary is a double jubilee. The jubilee is like a double-edged sword. Those with understanding leverage on it, leading to a rebirth while others who do not have understanding ignore it and continue to sink deeper into underdevelopment as the city, community or nation dies literally. Jos requires a rebranding that creates conditions for people to come and spend money in the city and state.

Plateau State needs to work on its structures and systems of governance. Some persons have argued that this is difficult because of the crisis in the state. This excuse of crisis as an impediment to growth is pedestrian. Take Kaduna State, for instance. It is a state more unsafe and conflict prone than Jos and Plateau State but in rejigging its structures, systems and policies in 2015, between that year and 2020, Kaduna attracted a foreign investment of $800m and expects $2.1bn pledges before 2023.

What this tells us is that there are certain things Kaduna State is doing to its structures, systems and policies that Plateau State needs to learn. It’s time for prospective aspirants in Plateau State to sit, roll up their sleeves and think in ‘war rooms’ with competent teams working on a clear headed plan. This is no time for blind ambition.

The next time you see someone on the street putting up a poster as an aspirant/candidate, tell him that “IT IS ABOUT THE ECONOMY, STUPID!”

Osawe writes from ECWA Plateau Church, Jos

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