Truss’ ephemeral rule; Lessons for Nigeria
By Emmanuel Onwubiko
The prime minister of one of the World’s most powerful democracies and Nigeria’s erstwhile colonial administrators prior to independence in 1960, Liz Truss of Great Britain spoke outside Downing Street to announce her resignation.
Having spent just 45 days in office, Liz Truss announced she is stepping down with a Conservative Party leadership election to take place within the next week.
Here is her speech in full:
“I came into office at a time of great economic and international instability.
” Families and businesses were worried about how to pay their bills.
“Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine threatens the security of our whole continent and our country has been held back for too long by low economic growth.
“I was elected by the Conservative Party with a mandate to change this.
“We delivered on energy bills and on cutting National Insurance.
“And we set out a vision for a low tax high growth economy that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit.
“I recognise, though, given the situation I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party.
“I have therefore spoken to His Majesty The King to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party.
“This morning, I met the chairman of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady.
“We’ve agreed there will be a leadership election to be completed within the next week.
“This will ensure that we remain on a path to deliver our fiscal plans and maintain our country’s economic stability and national security.
“I will remain as prime minister until a successor has been chosen.
From the above speech of the immediate past Premier of Great Britain, we can decode a number of key points but two factors are pungent. They are-: the supremacy of the wishes of the citizenry and the supremacy of the political party. These two salient points have very strong lessons for us in Nigeria particularly as we keep struggling to stabilise constitutional democracy and battles tooth and nail to built institutions of checks and balances which are crucial to the long-term growth, development and sustainability of political governance that is good and anchored on delivered the Mandates that specifically addresses public good. In Nigeria unlike in Britain, Political parties are weak and are controlled by money bags and persons who rode onthese platforms to railroad into public offices of governors and the President. Political parties are not transparent and accountable but they are operated according to the whims and caprices of some rich persons who fund activities of the boys nominated to administer the bureaucracy of these parties and maintain their visibility in the nation’s political firmament as a stakeholder. There is not any possibility under the current status of political parties in Nigeria for either the President or governor elected on the platform of the parties to step aside because the party members feel strongly that the person can no longer justify the faith reposed on him or her in political offices. Political office holders in Nigeria are deities that can’t be asked to resign. But let’s see more on why Liz Truss stepped aside before we align those reasons to our contemporary political issues in Nigeria and tk draw a corollary.
Another shining lesson from the sudden stepping aside of Liz Truss is the fact that one who is occupying an office of politics on trust, must as an obligation, listen to the heart’s beat of the people and critically analyze those feed backs with the mandate that he or she has and determine the practicality or otherwise of remaining a day longer in office. In Britain as explained by both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, people get unto offices in politics to serve the people and not to be served. In Nigeria, politicians deceive the electorate to get into offices and then self transmute into political deities and emperors and begin to exact pounds of flesh from the oppressed and suffering masses. What are said in the Constitution of Nigeria are not so much important to them because there is no culture of demanding accountability in Nigeria.
But what were the issues that made the shortest lasting British Prime Minister Liz Truss to give up her illustrious but untenable position as the leader of her political party-Conservatives?
The issues are basically that of the deteriorating economy of Great Britain, high costs of living and the devastating impacts that this economic instability has unleashed massively on British populace and the fact that she is unable to deliver the right kind of solutions to these issues which escalated with the inglorious exit of her chancellor of exchequer who is the first ever black Briton to have held that highest cabinet level appointment in the history of British Politics.
As Liz Truss stepped away from the lectern outside No.10 Downing Street after resigning as leader of her party, it probably occurred to her that her time as prime minister will have been only as long as the leadership campaign that got her there, so writes a political reporter.
When Boris Johnson walked away from No.10 there was a sense in the United Kingdom that the time had come for stability, competence and the benefits of a boring politician who could steady the ship of state, says the same politics reporter.
The writer says that Truss’s sea legs have proved remarkably shaky. She has pulled off arguably the biggest coup in British political history by making Johnson’s tenure look boring by comparison.
Hear the reporter: “Truss began as prime minister in September, proposing a radical agenda that she claimed was designed to kick start economic growth. But she had to row back on those plans almost immediately after the polar opposite happened. Her proposals triggered an immediate economic meltdown from which she never recovered.”
The reporter observed that the shortness of her tenure does at least make it relatively easy to sum up where it all went wrong.
The reporter then suggests that there were five key elements at play in her rise and fall namely-: Poor politics and by this the reporter claimed that Ms.Truss practised poor politics from the very beginning of her tenure. She refused to appoint anyone into government that had not supported her campaign, leaving her with a limited pool of talent. Her stance that you were either a friend or an enemy (and enemies were out) gave her a reputation for revenge. Not a good start. There was an obvious lack of talent in her cabinet and after less than two months in office, Truss had to fire her chancellor and home secretary – the two most senior positions in government below the PM.
Another factor leading to her fa from grace says this reporter is Poor party process and by this the reporter affirmed further: “But the cracks were emerging even before Truss took office as a direct result of the way the Conservative party elects its leaders. Truss ended up in the final round of the contest as much by default as anything else and did not enjoy the enthusiastic support of her parliamentary party. In order to win the leadership election, she sold herself to the rank and file of party members by offering them tax policies that were tailored entirely to their needs rather than reflecting the needs or priorities of the wider country.
She adopted an awkward Thatcherite persona in presentational terms and a “red meat” strategy in policy terms. The overall effect was a new prime minister who was badly misaligned with both the public and her parliamentary party.
Then comes qhat the reporter termed as Poor policy and expounded that concept to mean that the level of misalignment was clear from the minute Truss’s self-mutilating mini-budget was announced. Removing barriers on bankers bonuses and reducing business taxes was never going to land well in the middle of a cost of living crisis. The optics were all wrong, as any first-year politics student would know.
Besides, the reporter analytically asserted that another factor that orecipitated Truss’s fall was what the reporter calls Poor presentation.
Hear the reporter: “Politics is, at the end of the day, a people business. You need to be able to communicate, resonate, connect and empathise. The most important form of intelligence for a prime minister is not therefore intellectual (we have experts) or financial (they have advisers) but emotional. The simple fact is that Truss never seemed to be able to relate or relax. The interview responses were always too mechanical, the body language too cardboard. Then the last is Poor positioning. The reporter then argued that if the troubles of Truss reveal one thing it is most probably the dangers of the British constitution. It remains a power-hoarding constitution where an incredibly small number of people can make massive decisions with very little, if any, scrutiny. Her sidelining of the Office for Budgetary Responsibility being a case in point.
“Poor, poor, poor” might well provide a fitting epitaph for Truss’s time in office but I cannot help but wonder if her experience is symptomatic of a far bigger issue. Is it too easy to blame Truss? If anything the last month has exposed a vacuum at the centre of British politics about ambition, imagination and vision. There really isn’t any, the reporter added.
And then turns in this verdict that in a post-Brexit context, filling this vacuum has to be the core concern of whomever next decides to accept the keys to No.10.
However, prior to the big fall of Liz Truss, her African born Chancellor of exchequer fell by been sacked from that high profile post.
The big question is Who is Kwasi Kwarteng? Britain’s Finance Minister Fired by Truss Over Market Blowout.
A business writer stated that Kwarteng’s devout belief in liberal economics made him the obvious choice to carry out Truss’s plans, despite the warnings that he did not have the experience to run the finance ministry
British finance then minister Kwasi Kwarteng became the second shortest-serving head of Chancellor of the Exchequer after he was sacked by Prime Minister Liz Truss after his mini-budget roiled bond markets, spooked investors and sparked a major backlash from governing Conservative Party lawmakers.
Truss was forced to sack her finance minister and closest political ally, Kwasi Kwarteng, and abandon almost all her economic programme after their plans for vast unfunded tax cuts crashed the pound and British bonds. Approval ratings for her and the Conservative Party collapsed. Truss announced on Thursday that she would resign as British prime minister, becoming the shortest-serving prime minister in British history after serving just six weeks in office.
In a resignation letter, Kwarteng made it clear that Truss had requested his departure, and was unapologetic for their shared vision for Britain’s economy. “We have been colleagues and friends for many years. In that time, I have seen your dedication and determination. I believe your vision is the right one,” Kwarteng wrote to Truss.
The Cambridge and Harvard-educated former Chancellor of the Exchequer tenure of just 38 into the job was just longer than Iain Macleod, who died just a month after being appointed in June 1970, as the shortest stint in the role.
A close friend and ally to Truss, Kwarteng shared her vision of running the country on a low-tax agenda which vowed to challenge “Treasury orthodoxy”. The pair were also at the forefront of urgent moves to help millions of Britons suffering under the strain of rocketing energy prices that have pushed UK inflation to a 40-year high.
In fact, four years before the 2016 Brexit vote, Kwarteng joined Truss and other Tory right-wingers to write a free-market manifesto called “Britannia Unchained”, which described British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world”. He enthusiastically endorsed Truss’s plans for a “lean state” and to put “money back into people’s pockets”.
Kwarteng’s devout belief in liberal economics made him the obvious choice to carry out Truss’s plans, despite the warnings that he did not have the experience to run the huge finance ministry.
Charged with delivering that vision, Kwarteng fired the finance ministry’s most senior official Tom Scholar and unveiled a raft of unfunded tax cuts to turn “the vicious cycle of stagnation into a virtuous cycle of growth”.
The business analyst however stated that sadly, the plan turned out to be disastrous for the British economy as it unleashed a vicious cycle of falling market confidence, flight from British assets and such damage to the British bond markets that the Bank of England was forced to intervene and start buying gilts.
Those spending plans, allied with the tax cuts, sent sterling plunging to its lowest-ever value against the dollar last month, as critics decried the government’s “KamiKwasi” economics.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said Kwarteng had to make 62 billion pounds ($69.7 billion) of spending cuts or tax rises to stop public debt growing as an ever larger share of the economy. Truss’s own Conservative lawmakers were also unhappy with how she and Kwarteng were handling things.
In a reply to Kwarteng, Truss said she was deeply sorry to lose a long-standing friend from government. “I deeply respect the decision you have taken today. You have put the national interest first,” she wrote. But the man is not a neophyte in politics. He has had a Stint as Energy Minister.
A reporter reckoned that in his former role as energy minister, Kwarteng drew the ire of green groups after he said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant the UK needed further investment in North Sea oil and gas drilling, to diversify its energy mix.
Britain’s first black chancellor of the exchequer, Kwarteng is the London-born son of an economist and lawyer who emigrated from Ghana.
Kwarteng attended Eton, one of Britain’s most prestigious private schools, which has been the alma mater of numerous politicians. He later attended both the University of Cambridge and Harvard University. (With inputs from Reuters, AFP).
Nigeria however is not like Britain whereby politicians are responsive and responsible. British politics is organised in such a way that democracy is actually a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Here in Nigeria, our democracy is imperiled by self-destructive criminal acts of corruption and kleptocracy. Political office holders see themselves are irreplaceable and can’t be removed even if as it is now that floods have destroyed many parts of Nigeria and the economy is on the brink of collapse. Yet President Muhammadu Buhari won’t resign even if alm of Nigeria collapses. He didn’t resign when terrorists were kidnapping students and keeping them for months. He didn’t resign when it is clear that he has no idea how to grow our economy but often go about cap in hands begging for foreign loans. So the lesson for us from Liz Truss is that we need to make politics to truly become for public good. Things are indeed very bad in Nigeria at the moment but rather than think of resigning, President Muhammadu Buhari has just budgeted over #11 billion for his meals and travels in 2023 even when he ought to quit office by May 29th 2023. Our situation is very precarious and this verdict is from those who should know.
The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, on Sunday in Lagos, raised the alarm that the nation’s economy is on the brink of collapse, warning that spiralling inflation, rising energy cost, scarcity of FOREX, the dwindling value of the Naira among others, are bleeding the economy.
The Director-General of NECA, Mr. Wale Oyerinde, lamented that the economy was under the weight of an almost comatose aviation sector, stuttering education system, rising debt, depleting foreign reserve and rising fuel subsidy expenses, among others.
The newly-appointed D-G of NECA advised the Federal Government to employ a holistic and multi-pronged approach towards resolving the challenges faced by the nation.
According to him, “The nation is currently faced with multiple challenges.
“(It’s) a dire combination of spiralling inflation, rising energy costs (aviation fuel, diesel, etc.), scarcity of FOREX, dwindling value of the Naira and an almost comatose aviation sector.
“Also, with a stuttering education system, rising debt, depleting Foreign Reserve and rising fuel subsidy expenses among others, that threatens to lay bare the country’s economy, there is no better time for the Government to reappraise current economic policies and deepen its engagement with the organized private sector.
“While Government’s effort to salvage the economy is commendable, there is, however, a need for a more holistic approach to resuscitate the stuttering economy.
“Being dependent on crude oil for about 90 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings and 80 per cent of its budgetary revenues, Nigeria has always lived dangerously on the precipice, with a major chunk of its revenue dependent on the complexities of global crude demand and supply.
“A dangerous blend of self-destructive tendencies, insecurity and fiscal and monetary policy inconsistencies have also conspired to make the situation worse.
“While revenue continues to shrink, the nation continues to dig its feet deeper into debt.
“At different times over the past few years, various international bodies including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have warned about the excessive nature of the country’s borrowing.
“While some stakeholders have canvassed that the revenue to GDP ratio of the country is healthy, a recent announcement by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning that the revenue to debt service ratio is in the negative, calls for urgent concern.
“In April, the World Bank warned that the rising cost of fuel subsidy could significantly impact public finance and pose debt sustainability concerns.
“Alas, this projection is almost happening. The Fiscal Performance Report released recently by the Federal Government confirmed the accuracy of these projections.
“The combination of a struggling aviation sector and roads taken over by bandits have also conspired to fuel the situation, leading to rising inflation at 18.6% (according to the NBS).
“These have continued to worsen the promotion of Commerce and the increase the rate of de-industrialization of some regions of the country.”
The DG of the umbrella body for employers in the country, while recommending how to deal with the multi-face challenges, called for “a deliberate and economic priority influenced approach and wide consultation with Stakeholders should commence, with the view of harvesting alternative policy options to re-energize all sectors of the economy.
“While the challenges of revenue shortage are acknowledged, burdening businesses with new taxes or levies will be counter-productive and self-destructive action.
“Over-burdening already burdened businesses will only lead to business closure and an escalation of job losses with consequential effects on our social and economic stability.
“Government should, in the short-term widen the tax net, reduce wastages in governance, and focus on economic projects that will stimulate the Nigerian economy and guarantee an enabling environment for businesses to operate.
“An enabling environment for local businesses will create the platform for new foreign direct investment, which could increase FOREX inflow into the country.
“In the medium term, the Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, fix the four national refineries and encourage the development of Modular ones as a precursor to total removal of fuel subsidy.
“With over N5 trillion budgeted for subsidy payment in 2022, an amount larger than the budget for education and agriculture, this is unrealistic and unsustainable.
“Economic interventions aimed at improving living standards (to stimulate consumption) and Enterprise sustainability (to promote job creation) should be implemented.
“While FOREX scarcity persists, allocation of the available FOREX to manufacturing and other productive sectors of the economy should be given priority.”
These points aforementioned show that Nigeria is almost a failed state but as I said, in Nigeria, politicians have a sense of entitlements and won’t resign even if the nation collapses. So we need to embrace the lessons from contemporary British politics if we wish to remain relevant.
* Mr. Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), and former commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.