New York Times criticism of Nigeria economy not out of place – By Uche Akunebu

By Uche Akunebu

“Whenever a political regime or religious establishment refuses to tolerate criticism, it advertises itself as repressive, backward ,and insecure” – Mark Knopfler (author of Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms).

As reported in the book of (Matthew 14:4) of the Christian holy Bible, Herodias was a woman who had an amorous relationship with the tetrarch Herod Antipas ,while the husband, Philip was away to Rome. Philip was a brother to Herod, and that did not amount to anything to both Herodias and Herold ,who were bent on committing adultery . To make matters worst ,Herodias left the husband  Philip, and went and settle as wife to Herod.

When John the baptist, the one who was preoccupied with preaching repentance of sins at the wilderness saw the evil that the two consenting adults have committed ,went straight to condemn the act of adultery. For having the impudence to criticise and to disturb their honeymoon, Herodias impressed it upon her daughter, who had danced to the delight of the King, to ask for the head of John the baptist on a platter of gold . John the baptist, was beheaded for his criticism.

Following the New York Times ,feature story of June 11,2024 titled ” Nigeria confronts its worst Economic crises in a Generation” ,written by the duo ,Ruth Maclean and Ismail Auwal ,it does appear that government is behaving like Herodias who detested criticism. This stems from the response of Bayo Onanuga, special adviser on information and strategy, who spoke on behalf of the federal government. According to the presidency, the feature story ,titled “Nigeria confronts its worst Economic crises in a Generation” and published on June 11 ,reflected the typical predetermined  reductionist, derogatory, and denigrating way foreign media establishments have reported on Africa countries ” .

This writer ,as a teacher of international communication, have on several occasions raised such issues raised by Onanuga with my international communication class about the foreign media and reportage of Africa ,but on this particular case ,one considers it wrong to throw the baby with the bath water ,as most of the issues raised by the paper were not fiction but facts .

In the opening of the feature story ,the paper wrote “Nigeria is facing its worst economic crises in decades ,with skyrocketing inflation ,a national currency in free -fall and millions of people struggling to buy food”

What is wrong in admitting the fact that “Nigeria is facing its worst economic crises in decades”? Which decade can this present one beat in terms of economic prosperity? Is a bag of rice not more than 80 thousand naira? How much is a basket of tomatoes? Is not on the roof top? Can anyone doubt the fact that prices of food stuffs have not been than high in recent history? Are Nigerians not struggling to buy food with skyrocketed inflation? What is difficult to accept here ? If those in government, are not feeling the pinch of the economy, Nigerians are feeling it.

On naira having a free -fall, is that a fiction ? Is the foreign exchange market not speaking to that fact?

In the paper report “more than 87 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, live below the poverty line -the world’s second largest poor population after India ,a country seven times its size ” . The only reservation of this writer on the feature story ,from perspective of an academic, is none citing of sources on issues of Statistics.

If one must ask ,what is different from what other papers have written about this parlous economy and what the New York Times wrote ? How about what political and economic commentators say about the economy in the media ,that causes a heart break? Is there actually anything different? Is the economy booming in the eyes of government?

It is necessary one excavates some of the scathing comments about the Nigerian economy under the watch of this present administration. On the bbc .com ,news platform of 27,February,2024 ,there is a caption that runs thus : “Why Nigerias economy is in such a mess ”  could it be said that it is the derogatory and denigrating way foreign media report Africa that is playing out ?

There was another story that struck the eye on the Business ,captioned “Nigerias shrinking economy sparks a struggle for solutions” written by Olumide Ologunabe, published on September 11,2023. The story on Business day ,what would be the reaction of those that detest criticisms in government?

How about the story carried on Thisdaylive of 18,January 2024 that read “Tinubu’s Reforms causing untold Hardship to millions of Nigerians..says former MPC member” ? In that story the paper reported the position of a former member of the monetary policy Committee (MPC) a respected intellectual and professor of Economics and Public policy ,Professor Akpan Ekpo ,who expressed concern that the implementation of president Ahmed Bola Tinubus bold reforms in the spirit of

“Renewed Hope Agenda” was resulting in untold hardship to millions of Nigeria.  Was those in government not aware when the erudite economist pressed the alarm button on our economy?

On the Punch of 6th March ,2024,ones heart misses a skip ,with the caption ” Economic hardship may last five years -Moghalu ” . The paper was reporting the concern of former deputy governor of Central Bank, professor Kingsley Moghalu on the Nigerian economy. According to him in the paper ,”Nigeria’s economy today is a chronicle of a death foretold ” . What could have been the reaction of those calling for the crucifixion of the New York Times for its story on the Nigerian economy on what the eminent professor said about our economy?

We are told that the government inherited a dead economy,which we are told in the government defence ,was the opinion of a respected economist, that was not mentioned . If it is dead economy, as was in the defence of government, is it not confirming what the New York Times said ?

Nigerian government has a right of reply ,but how many people or organisations that they would end up replying to,on the issue of an economy that has gone South? This Government should learn to take criticism on its stride ,so as not to advertise itself as repressive, as warned by Mark Knopfler. This idea of embarking on war of words ,at every slightest criticism must be jettisoned.

This writer refers those at every prompting in government picking the gaulent for a showdown with critics to digest the words of Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Britain’s, at an interview on Jan 7, 1939 ,when he opined : “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body;it calls attention for the development of an unhealthy state of things ,if it is headed in time ,danger may be averted, if it is suppressed ,a fatal distemper may develop “.


Dr Uche Akunebu, is the Head of Poets of the World (POETS DEL MUNDO) Nigerian chapter, and Editor of African book series of the international human rights arts Festival based in New York.

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