Chima Christian and Oseloka H. Obaze
Nigeria’s economy is stressed, even if seemingly vigorous. Several performance indicators and ratings point to its parlous inclination. But no performance indicator is as stark as everyday realities that confront the general populace. Beyond the gross erosion of the disposable income, many Nigerians are presently unable to afford three square meals and medical care.
Food inflation continues to worsen. The average national Jollof Rice Index, which rose from “N4,087 in July 2016 to N5,388 in February 2017” had spiraled by 8.3% from N6040 in March 2018 to N6,545 in June 2018. This cost of preparing a pot of Jollof rice for an average Nigerian family of six, is projected to rise further to over N7000 by June 2019. Relatedly, with the N30,000 minimum wage just signed into law by President Buhari, the average low end worker in a single-income family can only afford four pots of Jollof rice a month or one port a week, with little or nothing left in finances for other necessities of life.
Deprivation and increasing hunger, more than any other social indicators underline the plight of Nigeria’s stance within the community of world’s extreme poor. The rising number of out of school children –now well over 13 million- is equally, telling. Spawning hopelessness pervades the system, remarkable for the dearth of constructive policies to tackle the prevailing challenges, including brain drain directly. Reportedly, an average of about 12 doctors emigrates from Nigeria every week. Such numbers represent a troubling diminution of the Nigeria’s middleclass, already classified by some analysts as endangered species.
Nigerians who do not possess the skill set and resources required to legally migrate to recipient countries of which Canada tops the list, are literarily voting with their feet. Despite well-publicized horrors migrant crisis in Libya and the Mediterranean, a sizeable number of Nigeria’s youth still make that perilous journey. Such choice is not out of liberty, but acts of desperation. Any consideration that such excursion into the unknown offers more hope than Nigeria’s current realities, should trouble Nigerian authorities deeply. Sadly, authorities seem ambivalent, with an attitude that manifestly suggests that Nigeria’s fledgling economy and its deleterious consequences is the least of their worries.
Nigerian authorities continue making discernable efforts premised on the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). Yet, the overall focus and coordination of this hybrid platform leave much to be desired by way of synergy and collectivized intervention. Many months after its implementation, the EPRG is yet to yield tangible results. The end result is that the economy is not functioning optimally due to structural and operational challenges. Indeed, experts contend that “the prevailing high cost of governance in Nigeria is attributable to both structural and operational factors.” Rather than tackle the challenges robustly, the administration has defaulted to a public relations overdrive and blame game. Such blames are expediently assigned to the “recklessness” of the past administration, the tanking price of crude oil globally, and the blasé attitude, taste and lifestyle of Nigerians.
Ordinarily, in dire circumstances, the “live within your means” mantra should suffice in prodding Nigerians into belt-tightening in response to prevailing economic realities. Lamentably, such exhortations have been distorted with a glaring malign predisposition to the beatification of poverty. Such defeatist narrative is hardly flattering. Such disposition also upends Buhari administration’s predilection aimed at making government look good, regardless of whether or not it delivers on its economic promises.
There exist a correlation between economic performance and governance. Often, the seeming lack of faith in the country’s ability to conduct credible elections and related uncertainties dampen investor confidence. Naturally, supersession or capital flight follows, resulting in the economy being distorted. Also extreme partisan politicking continues to impact adversely on the economy, just as personal and institutional disposition of policymakers, as evidenced by the admonition to the former Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who was told at the onset of her job as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, that three years is for work, “the last year will be politics.”
Similarly, prolonged or inconclusive aspects of a general election tend to prove exceedingly distractive. With the prevailing uncertainty after the 2019 elections, potential domestic and foreign investors are tiptoeing around, waiting for the final determination of election petitions. This has direct consequences on the economy. The extended wait by Nigerians in and out of government translates to the economy tanking. Nigeria’s economic woes derive mostly from governance structures of the Nigerian state. Existent rent-seeking structures and transactional mindset does little to task creativity. The monthly gathering in Abuja to share the “national cake” has created a mind-set of redundancy and laziness of the political elite, more so at the sub-national level. This redundancy has rubbed off on the civil-service, accounting for little or no incentive to formulate and implement purposeful policies capable of growing and diversify the economy.
Nigeria’s strong personality form of politics and governance undermines emergence of strong institutions. This perhaps offers the more reason the country should insist that round pegs are put in round holes. President Buhari’s reappointment of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, seems a reassurance of continuity-in-government. Such consideration should however not underpin the required strategic decision relative to an overhaul of the cabinet. Anything short of empanelling a robust cabinet, and a sound economic management and advisory team may well sound a death kneel to the already troubled economy.
Understandably, there is a demand for the operational and governance structure of the country to be tweaked so that it stops being a clog to economic development. President Buhari is not particularly reputed for appointing competent independent-minded people. However, June 2019, not six months after, offers him a shot at redemption. He may have to subsume his strongly held beliefs, aside when it is confronted by superior and fact-based economic reasoning.
Economic progress often gets hindered in an atmosphere of insecurity. That Nigeria has such a huge number of internally displaced persons in peacetime is indicative of a deep-seated problem. For Rebooting Nigeria’s economy will entail very serious and discernible efforts to curtail the myriads of existing security challenges. Moreover, Nigeria cannot fully take off economically with its crumbling and decrepit infrastructure. Access to capital, especially as it relates to Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises should be prioritized. Financial inclusion for several unbanked Nigerians, especially men and women in the remotest parts of the country should stop being a matter of pity interventions but a sensible economic agenda to drive a shared economic growth.
Nigeria should strive to update its obsolete land tenure system that constrains access to land. It is time to retool our youths with entrepreneurship skills and vocational education trainings. Focus on agriculture for feeding and export only will continue to yield limited results. Striving for agricultural productivity that emphasizes processed and semi-processed products for export will boost the economy seamlessly. All said Nigeria’s economy will rebound if and only if Nigerian authorities, and indeed all the players, show serious commitment to its sustainable revamp.
Chima is a Research Associate at Selonnes Consult, Awka. Obaze is the MD/CEO, Selonnes Consult in Awka.
Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.