Saturday, 3 December 2016

Here’s what Buhari can take away from Trump’s appointments

The Nigerian media is excited: President-elect, Donald Trump, has appointed Nigeria’s Adebayo Ogunlesi into his administration’s strategic policy and policy forum. Trump intends to meet with this ‘economic team’ from time to time.

Buhari’s government might soon congratulate Ogunlesi. That’s if it hasn’t done so. But Buhari would never
have ‘willing’ appointed Mr. Ogunlesi nor someone like him into his ‘inner economic team’.

Buhari has vehemently resisted members of the private sector in his economic team. He thinks they could have ulterior motives. (This is true, but as President he should be able to manage them.)

‘‘We will listen to everybody, but we are averse to economic teams whose private sector members frequently steer government policy to suit their own narrow interests rather than the over-all national interest’’, the President said in July.

No matter how much you hate them, the private sector still creates the most number of jobs in any economy and even controls the real economy. (Sometimes, no matter how much you try, they still know how to place their people in any government. In fact, they are the ‘unseen government’.)

These guys in the private sector are very smart – probably smarter than the President’s team. They have privileged information on what is happening to our ailing naira. (Little wonder, Aliko Dangote insists that the speculations on the naira is its biggest problem. Billionaire businessman, Ifeanyi Ubah, also stated this when

He boasted that he could stabilize the naira, if given the chance.)
And if you needed to go borrowing, just as Buhari needs to, you could need these people on your negotiation team. They are used to loans, and are very good negotiators.

Let’s be clear. As a former student of Karl Marx, I don’t consider myself a fan of these capitalists, but you cannot do without them if you are running a market economy, as Nigeria claims it is running.
Without doubt, Buhari needs to get these people on board, just as Mr. Trump is doing.

Despite not having been sworn in, Mr. Trump has already picked core members of his cabinet – something Buhari delayed in doing. He has reached out to America’s business elite. Mr. Trump has even reached out to Mitt Romney, who called him a con man during the campaigns.

And the reason for these gestures are simple: Trump believes they have got what it takes, despite the insults they had hauled on him. Buhari needs to do the same.

The President has to start by contacting Mr. Ogunlesi. And this time, Nigerians only have to hope that this appointment doesn’t end like the last one Obama gave to a prominent American of Nigerian origin.

In 2010, Obama appointed Nigeria’s Kase Lawal into a distinguished advisory panel on international trade. Unfortunately, Lawal didn’t have the time to market Nigeria in this advisory team. In 2012, his company, CAMAC, was ordered by a Texas jury to pay a huge sum in damages resulting from a botched plan to illegally buy gold from a Congolese warlord.

Make no mistake about it: Ogunlesi wasn’t appointed because of Nigeria or Africa. Probably, he was appointed into Trump’s economic forum in order to use his position as a leader of a global infrastructure firm, based in New York, to help build America’s ailing infrastructure.

And this is not surprising. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump had promised to fix America’s infrastructure. But many wondered where the funds would come from. (America is also neck deep in debt.)

Intelligently, Mr. Trump has gotten on board a man whose company has substantial shares in Gatwick airport, Edinburg airport and other pipelines and seaports around the world. Ogunlesi can help raise capital to finance many infrastructure projects in Trump’s administration. He is not alone – this forum has other business elites.

Buhari should do same by getting credible Nigerian businessmen on board. He needs to consult regularly with these businessmen, and not leave it for his so-called economic team to do. They might just save him the pains of going to borrow massively. These businessmen could decide to bring back their monies which they have taken away from the economy.

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