Understanding Jonathan’s economic team: The Obama example

Even before Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States, he named his five-man economic team.

The team was made of Timothy F. Geithner (Economist): Federal Reserve New York,  Lawrence H. Summers (Economist): Director of the National Economic Council , Lawrence Summers and Professor at Harvard University, Christina D. Romer (Economist): Director of the Council of Economic Advisors and Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, Melody C. Barnes (Lawyer): Director of the Domestic Policy Council and co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the Obama-Biden Transition Team and Heather A. Higginbottom (Economist or Social Scientist), Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council. They were renowned economics, long involved in the country’s economic and budgetary activities. They were also grounded in economics and in the social sciences.

Obama’s reason for the team was of “fresh thinking”, “sound judgement”, “bold, new ideas”, “who share [my] fundamental belief…” Jonathan had only said that none of them would receive dollar salaries. Some of Jonathan’s team are recycled politicians or officials who were members of Obasanjo’s and Yaradua’s economic teams.

Obama had also said, “I’ve sought leaders who could offer both sound judgement and fresh thinking, both a depth of experience and a wealth of bold, new ideas, and most of all who share my fundamental belief that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street without a thriving Main Street”.

The noticeable differences between the Obama’s example and Jonathan’s is that Obama’s economic team was made of just five officials, while Nigeria’s had 24 members at inception, some of who are politicians and influential people, without training nor the aptitude to understand the pathway to the solutions to the critical economic challenges that face Nigeria

Again, Obama’s economic team was put together to advise the President on economic recovery. But the Nigerian team does not just advise the President. The President and the Vice President are members of the team. The idea of economic team is usually formed in the context of well-articulated economic crisis that requires new and unconventional thinking, and the work of the team is focused on resolving the crisis within a time frame usually less than the term of office of the President. Usually, members of the team are non-politicians who mostly come from economic policy analysis community. For instance, Lawrence Summer came from Harvard University to share Obama’s economic team.

He was also the Director of the National Economic Council, a policy think tank. He was not a cabinet member at the time he was appointed to the team. Such economic team is supposed to comprise of mostly people outside the cabinet, who are meant to formulate ideas for economic policy of the government without the institutional constraints of politicians and bureaucrats.

They are to make recommendations without party biases to the President. In crisis time, it is necessary for the President to assess the economy from the eyes of people who are free from partisan politics. In the case of Nigeria, only few members of the economic team are not cabinet ministers. Indeed, the leading politicians of the country (President and Vice President) are members. They do not wait to receive the advice of the team. Rather, they chair the team.

In the American example, the mission of the team was described in the following words:  “Mission No. 1: Over the next few weeks for Obama’s economic team will be hammering out the details of what the president-elect described this weekend as a two-year economic recovery plan intended to create 2.5 million jobs.”

But what is Jonathan’s economic team addressing? What is its time frame? What should be the benchmark for determining its success or failure? And now that Jonathan is the chairman thereof, what “fresh, bold, new ideas” are we to expect from this team? How did Jonathan get his economic team members? The President and the Vice President are the Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively of the team, while Okonjo-Iweala who is the coordinator is actually number three in the hierarchy. The first thing that strikes one is that the President of the country should also be the chairman of a subdivision of his own executive council.