Nigeria’s economy is stressed. 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 per cent from N6,040 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 N7,000 by June 2019. Relatedly, with the N30,000 minimum wage just signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, the average low end worker in a single-income family can only afford four pots of Jollof rice a month, with little or nothing left in finances for other necessities of life.
Deprivation and increasing hunger, more than any other social indicators, underline Nigeria’s stance within the community of world’s extreme poor. The rising number of out-of-school children, now over 13 million, is telling. Spawning hopelessness, including massive brain drain, pervades the system. Reportedly, an average of about 12 doctors emigrate from Nigeria every week. Such numbers represent a troubling diminution of Nigeria’s middle class.
Nigerians who do not possess the skill set and resources required to legally migrate to recipient countries are literarily voting with their feet. Despite the well-publicised horrors of the migrant crisis in Libya and the Mediterranean, a sizeable number of Nigeria’s youth still make that perilous journey. This 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 are 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 collectivised intervention. Many months after its implementation, the ERGP is yet to yield tangible results. The end result is that the economy is not functioning optimally. 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 resorted to a public relations overdrive and blame games 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, the “live within your means” mantra should suffice in prodding Nigerians into belt-tightening measures, 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. It upends the Buhari administration’s predilection aimed at making government look good, regardless of whether or not it delivers on its economic promises.
A correlation exists 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 a distorted economy. Also, partisan politicking continues to impact adversely on the economy, just as personal and institutional disposition of policymakers. Hence the line between work and politics has blurred. 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 mindset 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 diversifying the economy.
Likewise, Nigeria’s strong personality style of politics and governance undermines the emergence of strong institutions. This perhaps offers compelling reasons why Nigerians 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, however, should 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. 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. Rebooting Nigeria’s economy will entail very serious and discernible efforts to curtail the myriads of 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 prioritised. 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 shared economic growth.
•Chima writes from Awka, Anambra State