Are we really better off now than we were in 2011?
A CHILD will be born in a rural village in Nigeria today. The mother of that child will hold, feed, comfort and care for her new baby – just as any mother would do anywhere in the world even if the long-awaited presidential election in Nigeria is finally around the corner. So, as Nigerians prepare to head to the polls, it is safe to begin closing arguments. President Goodluck Jonathan has been in office since May 5, 2010, first to complete the tenure of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and then he commenced his own term on May 29, 2011. In his quest for re-election, the President must face the ultimate test of an incumbent – an anatomy of his five-year presidency. In carrying out this, three questions come to mind: What did he meet as President? What did he do as President? What kind of progress have we made during his presidency?
Without a doubt, the emotions that swept President Jonathan into office in 2011 raised expectations that spanned from wall to wall. But if we were to tame these expectations, a fit and proper approach would be to wrap them around the economy, governance and security. But this election season offers Nigerians an opportunity to shift our paradigm so that we can discuss our nation as a whole because countries develop by building and strengthening institutions in order to advance progress. According to America’s President Barrack Obama, nations need strong institutions not strong individuals. So my anatomy of the Jonathan presidency’s testimonial on the economy, governance and security will be viewed in large part from the prism of the primacy of institutions because they unlock binding constraints to progress. In the words of former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, “it is only institutions, and not individuals, that can reliably sustain democracy over the long haul.” I also acknowledge that reasonable people tend to switch off when they hear exaggerated claims, either about failure or success.
I want to begin with the economy, which is the bread-and-butter of any society because it concerns the affairs of the belly. No administration should remain a day longer in office if it is not addressing the well-being of the citizenry. Over the years, economists have devised a number of indices to measure the economic performance of countries and governments. Even though most of them are favourable to the Jonathan administration (according to data from the World Bank, United Nations and their subsidiary institutions), these statistics can be contentious especially in developing countries such as ours. So, since I am not an economist, I would rather use pedestrian means to assess the Jonathan presidency on the economy.
In a normal country, the easiest test of the economy is to measure production and consumption. Production, especially as it relates to the real sector – agriculture and manufacturing. We know that as at 2010, Nigeria was spending about N1.3 trillion yearly on importation of rice, wheat, sugar and fish alone. Indeed the Nomura Index ranked Nigeria as the fourth most vulnerable country in the world to food price increases.
But as at June 2013, local production of rice paddy was 1.76 million metric tonnes and there are now 14 new large-scale integrated rice mills established by private investors. During the 19th Nigerian Economic Summit, I met a number of young agribusiness entrepreneurs – nagropreneurs – that are spinning prosperity through agriculture. One of them, Mafindi Isa Tafida, is partnering with his father in their Famag-Jal Farms to produce Halal-certified beef that is good enough to go international. Overall, an additional 15 million metric tonnes of food have been added to our domestic food supply in just two years.
How do all these affect the average Nigerian? Apart from the hundreds of thousands of jobs created, it is noteworthy that the prices of staple food such as rice, yam, garri, vegetables, fruits, poultry, fish, beef, etc. remained stable and maintained previous year’s prices during the last festive season. This is a very rare occurrence in our clime especially given the turbulent exchange rate volatility in December, a clear indication that local production has increased. Also, you are more likely to buy Made-in-Nigeria products in stores now than in 2011. Don’t take my word for it, visit one out there and see for yourself.
Now this takes me to consumption, let us look at consumer spending because it will reveal something. Since we are not able to measure it in Naira terms, a few indicators can suffice. Between 2011 and 2014, large retail outlets for the middle class such as Shoprite have increased in number extending away from the traditional Lagos and Abuja to such places as Enugu, Ilorin, Ibadan and Kano while building new stores in Owerri, Benin, Effurun, Onitsha and Umuahia. Online shopping platforms like Jumia and Konga, which opened in 2012, are making record sales and creating thousands of jobs in just two years.
PayPal has just reported that in two years, Nigeria has become its second largest market in Africa. Also many more middle-income earners are buying their own homes through mortgages now than in 2011 just as many more middle-income earners are buying brand new cars with increased access to auto-loans due to stronger financial system stability, and thanks to the new Automotive Policy, they are more likely to buy a brand new Nissan car rolled out in Nigeria than one rolled in from Japan. These are economic activities powered by the middle class. They are the outcomes of deliberate policies put in place to deliver the right results.
To underpin positive developments in the economy, a country needs infrastructure, especially power, transportation and ICT. Apart from its domestic use, electric power permits the use of modern technologies and processes, especially in the services and real sector. The Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act which unbundled the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) into 18 separate entities: six generation companies, 11 distribution companies and one Transmission Company was passed into law in 2005. For five years, the tenets of the Act were not implemented and that sector remained under the stranglehold of inefficient state control.
In August 2010, President Jonathan launched the Roadmap for Electric Power Sector Reform and just three years later in October 2013, the unbundled companies were fully privatized despite great resistance from vested interests and the process received accolades from the international community. Just one year ago, in February 2014, they were handed over to their new owners. Today, even though the megawatts are not yet in their desired tens of thousands, we know that quality investments by the private sector and the implementation of the gas masterplan (thank goodness it is now in place) will deliver those megawatts in the kind of exponential increase we saw with phone lines. In a short while, Nigerians will not only begin to see improved power supply in their homes, they will see its effect in the real sector that will deliver cheaper goods and services to us. This will surely happen because the binding constraints have been removed.
On transportation, we know that by efficiently moving people, goods and services, the railways add value and spur further growth. The Western Narrow Gauge Line has been fully rehabilitated and the trains now run from Lagos to Kano more frequently and efficiently passing through Ibadan, Osogbo, Ilorin, Minna, Kaduna and Zaria while the standard gauge line is under construction. The Eastern Narrow Gauge Line now runs more frequently and efficiently from Port Harcourt to Gombe through Aba, Enugu, Makurdi, Lafia and Bauchi. The first phase of the Central Standard Gauge Line, the first in West Africa, has been completed to run from Kaduna to Abuja. It will ultimately go all the way through Itakpe and Ajaokuta to Warri. In the roads sector, Nigeria has about 35,000 kilometres of federal highways.
As at 2011, only 5,000 kilometres were in good condition. Today, an additional 20,000 kilometres are now in good condition. A drive across the country easily reveals that our cars are now more likely to be on a smooth road than on potholed and dilapidated ones across our interstate federal highways. Road transport users have reported a sharp drop in vehicle maintenance just as the Federal Road Safety Commission reports an equally sharp decline in road accidents.
All these have helped in improving the quality of life of the average Nigerian. To strengthen these developments in rail and road transportation, the President has sent very important Bills that had been gathering dust in executive shelves before his presidency to the National Assembly. They will ensure that the gains made will be institutionalised, especially in the areas of maintenance and new developments. Also by creating a Ministry for ICT, the government has paced up our linkage to the wired world and there is now wider and deeper Internet penetration for the good of the economy.
•Ude is the Deputy Director (Civil Society) in the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation.