That the Buhari administration has a sense of humour is no longer in doubt. However, when one considers how dreary the outlook on the country must look from its vantage, the ability to laugh is the least of the virtues one in such position could wish for. The downside to all this, though, is that however pathetic the administration’s current position, its appetite for the ludicrous and mirthful is of a dark vintage.
This latter aspect of its predicament was vividly illustrated recently when one of its special advisers breezily put the amount of personal home remittances that came into Nigeria in the 11 months to end-November 2016 at US$35bn. Against the fact that this amount has remained around US$20bn in the preceding two years, the special adviser’s number was remarkable. But the biggest problem with the number was that it simply did not add up with the trajectory of the domestic economy. Still, within the context of the skepticism with which certain parts of the citizenry now approach the government’s policies, it is easy to understand why the government would want to bruit all its brownie points about town.
But how could Nigeria have received in the first nine months of 2016 alone, more personal home remittances than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa did in the previous year? Was it the case that our diaspora was sufficiently spooked by global uncertainties to have rebalanced their portfolios in favour of domestic assets? Could it be that the yield on domestic assets now compensate retail fund holders in the diaspora for the new volatility in the Western world’s asset portfolios? And how does a weakening naira play in determining the volume and direction of remittances?
The truth is that, as with that now infamous currency swap with the Chinese that was to have led to an infusion of the yuan into the economy (according to the Buhari government’s boosters), and seeing as China had become such an important trading partner, helped ease demand pressure on the naira, the special adviser’s numbers on inbound personal home remittances was woven out of the ether. The World Bank, which totes these numbers annually the world over, estimates personal home remittances into sub-Saharan Africa, this year, at around US$35.2bn, with Nigeria expected to account for 58.7% of this.
Incidentally, this has been the pattern over the last three years. In 2013, total personal home remittances into sub-Saharan Africa stood at US$34.7bn with Nigeria accounting for US$20.8bn of this. In 2014, the respective figures were US$34.8bn and US$20.8bn. While in 2015 they were US$35.2bn and US$20.7bn respectively. For added measure, South Asia, on the other hand, saw inflow of US$115.2bn in 2014, and is estimated to receive US$123.3bn this year.
So, was the special adviser mislead? She could have quite credibly mistaken the number for sub-Saharan Africa’s personal home remittances for Nigeria’s. Or did she simply tell a fib — one that was designed to make her government look good?
Increasingly, the answers to these questions matter if we are not to readily compromise the sanity of our space. “Post-truth” is in the running for the “word of the year 2016”, in part because of how a cavalier attitude to facts came to dominate politicking (almost globally) last year. But despite the extreme partisanship that the portmanteau word has incited, attitude to the facts matter, because it is impossible to properly organise human society around anything less.
This is why recent reports on the government’s next move in support of the naira are of some concern. Apparently, it has been decided, at a meeting between the central bank and bureaux de change operators, that the latter will commence posting their effective exchange rates on their websites effective this year. This development was advertised as necessary to combat the (higher) exchange rates for the naira quoted in the unofficial market.
In a sense, the monetary authorities might be on to a good thing. Markets function better the more information is available in them. So, if an existing asymmetry of information favoured parallel market operators, then this new source of information on the naira’s price is a welcome move. All of this, though, is until you remember that the price at which any good or service is available is but a “symptom” of how much of it is available, and how much is demanded by those with money to buy.
And in the case of the naira, the extant demand-supply imbalance is a fact that neither (dark) humour nor post-truth messaging (massaging) can wish away.