BY ANIE UDOH
Anie Udoh, an economist from Akwa Ibom State, contributed this piece via email and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
“The ultimate purpose of economics …is to understand, and promote the enhancement of well-being.”
• Ben Bernanke
Governor Umo Bassey Eno of Akwa Ibom State, an ordained pastor who was inaugurated into office on 29 May 2023 to take charge at the Hilltop Mansion in Uyo, gave an early signal of his keen interest in Akwa Ibom’s economy. The appointment of an economic adviser among his first batch of appointees, mostly media and administrative aides, seems to indicate the importance he places on the economy. His key campaign manifesto, tagged the ‘ARISE AGENDA’, lays emphasis on “Growing our Economy, Developing our People.”
The thirty-two-page document is being promoted as the ‘Blueprint for Economic Consolidation & Expansion.’ It highlights five key aspirations focused on agriculture, rural development, infrastructure, security, and economic advancement. The ‘ARISE’ acronym is derived from these five major collectives. There are other secondary economic sectors mentioned in the development blueprint. Beyond the release of a policy document and the accompanying sound bites, will Governor Eno deliver on his Enonomics, a new coinage referring to his hyped economic development agenda for Akwa Ibom State? Only time will tell. His time started ticking at 12 noon on 29 May 2023 and he has four years, in the first instance, to show proof of his stewardship and the efficacy of his Akwa Ibom economic rising aspirations.
Economics, as is well known, is an inexact science. Meaning that economic ideas cannot be tested in a controlled environment and proven as potent before application. The laboratory for economic thoughts and ideas is the real world. So, Governor Eno will have to launch his Enonomics live in the real marketplace with the attendant fallouts on the people and the state. He ought therefore to seek competent subject experts to help him implement his economic proposals and ideas considering the enormous and profound implications on the wellbeing of the people and indeed the state. As a proud economist, I applaud the appointment of a fellow economist, Uduakobong Inam, as the key point person of the governor on economic affairs. Her impressive resume indicates she holds a doctorate degree in economics, an active academician who is adept in and comfortable with quantitative. She’s said to also possess professional qualifications in accounting and taxation. She has the important advantage of striding the ‘gown’ and ‘town’ worlds of theory and practice respectively, as conveyed in her career history. It’s a given that she will really be taxed in her new role as economic adviser. She will equally be burdened by many noneconomic issues particularly of a political nature often distracting and scathing. So called veteran politicians will start preaching on the need for rewarding party faithful, campaign contributors, and hangers-on. The odious attack aims to discount the relevance of professionals and attempt to crowd-out such appointees who they perceive to be usurping their positions in government. The contrived rivalry between economics and politics has a long history. Thomas Sowell, an American economist, captured the apparent conflict in a cautionary note asserting that “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” And John Maynard Keynes, the legendary British economist and statesman, whose ideas fundamentally influenced the economic policies of governments in the 20th century, had a response to naysayers of economic thoughts, which remains instructive and valid. He assured that “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” Dr Inam and her principal must learn to not only develop and try new productive ideas but also resist and jettison the old unproductive and wasteful ways and approaches to governance. Engaging skilled men and professionals in the governance process will pay good dividends. Particularly in our clime, it will illuminate the dark alleys of haggard, rudderless, and burdensome bureaucracy that has long frustrated and crippled genuine economic development. It will effectively enable the activation and transformation of the enormous potential of the state to truly, “growing our economy” and “developing our people”, as ambitiously envisioned by the governor.
Leaders in authority should be reminded that the ultimate objective of governance is to improve the living conditions of the people on whose behalf the leadership is entrusted with authority to exercise for the good of all. The political and governance enterprise, as obtained in Akwa Ibom, is predictably intense, competitive, and volatile. It demands the dexterity of perceptive leadership to moderate and stabilise the complexity of apparent divisive politics, ethnic rivalry, and grandiose expectations of entrenched and wanton interest groups. The leadership ought to appreciate and imbibe the wisdom in possessing and exercising such skill sets of gracious statesmanship for broad mindedness, level headedness, and lead all with disciplined foresight. Governor Eno must demonstrate the agility to soar above the storms and transform his grand ‘ARISE AGENDA’ to reality. Opportunity, they say, favours the prepared minds, and I should add primed hands too. Governor Eno comes to office with a robust career history including being a serial and accomplished entrepreneur. He also had useful stints in the public sector working as a commissioner and member of the executive council in the immediate past administration in the state before he emerged to occupy the exalted office of the executive governor. It will be safe to assume that he is familiar with the essential determinants of governance. These will include developing vision and strategy; formulating, implementing, and evaluating policies for the delivery of services to citizens. Indeed, Akwa Ibom State currently is in dire need of leaders with the right ‘mental magnitude’ to arrest and begin to redress the sliding state of under-development evident from the recent depressing economic indices from the National Bureau for Statistics.
The economic fundamentals for the state have been largely weak if not abysmal. Unless for those who choose to live in denial, it is obvious that the economic indicators for the state have been disappointing and appalling to say the least. The elite acquiescence and mass silence in a docile atmosphere of ‘maintaining the peace’ despite the worsening state of economic affairs has been shocking and dumbfounding. In truth, it has created and deepened unemployment, mass suffering, hunger, instability, hostility, ignorance, illiteracy, hopelessness, and all the familiar and perennial woes afflicting the generality of the people. The panacea to these afflictions is a healthy economy. The economy remains the bedrock upon which societies blossom and thrive or are doomed. Governor Eno’s enlightened focus on the economy as the key driver of development is imperative and in the right order. Good economic policies and practice can help the people move to the places of the future with enhanced living standards. The call to action is not just for academic economists. As the saying goes, ‘Economics is too important to be left to economists.’ The ultimate call is that of the executive governor on whose shoulder the burden rests, on account of the mandate given to him to lead. It remains his duty, and his responsibility, to rouse the drab economy of Akwa Ibom State to its true potential. His ARISE Agenda, if diligently implemented, may well transform the slogan of the “Land of Promise” to the reality of the Promised Land of a truly Happy People with genuine opportunities for improved livelihoods and the good life.