Fashola, who spoke Tuesday at the Wilson Centre, Washington D.C. at a lecture titled: “Leadership and the Politics of Reform in Africa: Lessons from Nigeria”, was however optimistic about the capacity of the present government to turn things around for the good of the country.
He said although “we manage the time, we do not control the time. We need people to work hard. We are changing the unproductive practices of yesterday”.
Elaborating further, the minister said practices “where the government chose to distribute cash, rice and imported kerosene in order to win votes, rather than invest it in the payment of contractors, got them to build roads, power projects, housing and real infrastructure,” were some of the factors responsible for today’s economic recession.
According to him, “Yes, the global economy is not in the best place across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The impacts are local and diverse, and those who invested well yesterday are better able to cope with a harsh winter while they expect a glorious spring.
“In Nigeria, the choices of yesterday make this winter a very harsh one for our people, because we did not invest in the right things.
“Our government of yesterday expressed its preference for providing ‘infrastructure of the stomach’, giving handouts instead of real infrastructure.
“This is how the seeds of today’s recession were sown. For those who say that today’s government should stop talking about yesterday, with due respect, I disagree.
“Yesterday will remain relevant in understanding today in order to make choices that make tomorrow different and better.
“I once used the allegory of the patient, and I think it deserves repetition. If a patient complains about stomach pain, the first question that the physician is likely to ask is: ‘What did you eat yesterday?’
“The answer helps the physician make a diagnosis and choose a prescription first to solve the problem, and to recommend further dietary habits about what to eat and what not to eat. This is what the current leadership is addressing.”
The former Lagos State governor stressed that what Nigerians ate yesterday was “that we wasted our money”.
“We did not invest in roads, highways, bridges, schools and hospitals. Money was taken out of the larger society and invested in private accounts. The economy began to shrink, construction companies laid off workers, who in turn lost income, which resulted in shrinking demand for goods and services, and in turn led to national under-productivity.
“That was what we ate yesterday. The stomach pain is comparable to symptoms of bad dietary choices that manifest in the recession we now deal with.
“The solution is to spend on infrastructure, which has started. The recovery time is a function of what we can spend and how quickly it will go round… If an arid area of land has not witnessed rainfall in two to three years, you know what happens when the first rain falls. It literally disappears into the ground.
“In order to reach a point where any moisture is visible in the soil that may support the germination of a seed to be planted, more rain water needs to be injected. This is the best analogy I can offer for where our national economy is.
“But I will conclude by saying I am optimistic that we will turn things around,” he said.