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Nigeria: the politics behind Buhari’s new economic team

By Eromo Egbejule, in Lagos
Posted on Wednesday, 18 September 2019 11:02, updated on Thursday, 19 September 2019 13:12

Professor Osinbajo may now be wondering if the president himself can be trusted. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

President Muhammadu Buhari has constituted a new star-studded team of economic advisors comprising some of Nigeria's most independent-minded economists.

The new eight-man team is chaired by Doyin Salami, a respected professor of economics at the Lagos Business School, who sits on the Central Bank of Nigeria’s monetary policy team. He was also a crucial part of the transition committee from the Goodluck Jonathan administration back in 2015, as its vice-chair.

Also on board

  • Former central bank governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo
  • Lagos-based economist Bismarck Rewane
  • Ode Ojowu, a former presidential chief economic adviser
  • Iyabo Masha, a former IMF country representative for Sierra Leone

The new body replaces the former economic management team (EMT), which was chaired by vice-president Yemi Osinbajo

In a statement released on Monday, presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said: “This advisory council will replace the current economic management team and will be reporting directly to the President.

“The Economic Advisory Council (EAC) will advise the President on economic policy matters, including fiscal analysis, economic growth and a range of internal and global economic issues, working with the relevant cabinet members and heads of monetary and fiscal agencies.”

Clash of ideologies

The new committee is an assortment of staunch vocal critics of the government’s fiscal policy direction. Salami, like Rewane, is a known proponent of currency devaluation and allowing the naira to float, while Soludo has also been very critical of the Buhari administration’s fiscal policies.

Since his 2015 inauguration, the president has had an interventionist tilt, reminiscent of his time as a military head of state (1983-1985): implementing populist welfare programmes and handing out direct instructions to the central bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, to keep the naira stable.

With such a superstar team being assembled, there are fears that an ideological clash between the president and his economic team may not be too far off.

“The bulk of Buhari’s economic advisory council are free-market capitalists”, says Cheta Nwanze, head of research at sociopolitical risk advisory firm, SBM Intelligence. “But will he listen to their advice, which is definitely going to go against his instincts?”

In 2017 Salami described the central bank as being akin to a piggy bank, with its irrational funding of government activities.

Successful economics or succession politics?

Less than 24 hours after, the announcement is already mired in controversy as tongues are already wagging that the move may also have political undertones ahead of 2023.

  • The new team was constituted just hours after Osinbajo chaired a weekly session of the EMT, with many of Buhari’s cabinet in attendance.
  • Neither Osinbajo nor the ministers of finance, budget and national planning, trade and industry were included in the new team.
  • Since the return of democracy to Africa’s largest economy in 1999, the EMT, which is constitutionally backed, has traditionally been chaired by the country’s number two citizen.
  • Even when former World Bank vice-president Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was named coordinating minister of the economy by Jonathan under his tenure, the economic management team she was part of was still headed by the vice-president, Namadi Sambo.

With the vice-president stripped of this responsibility, the risk is that he becomes a figurehead lacking the firepower needed to marshal goodwill resources should he want to mount a campaign to succeed Buhari.

Already, Osinbajo has been regularly bypassed in many presidential decisions, with the president’s influential chief of staff, Abba Kyari, acting as a de facto deputy.

Why this is important: Question marks hang over Buhari’s reasons for creating the new council. Given the president’s precedents, just how much power will Salami’s team have? Or is it instead a team assembled to give the Buhari administration more credibility while simultaneously whittling down Osinbajo’s already lean powers?


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