Three perspectives on Nigeria’s progress
Nigeria today presents an intriguing portrait. Public policy analysts but also the leaders and the citizens are sharply divided about the state of nation. The extent of divergence of opinion is reflected in three distinctive perspectives that have emerged. These may be categorised as the Exuberant Optimists; Cautious Pessimists; and the Sceptical Realists. Any credible assessment of the progress by the country or lack thereof must take as its starting point the performance of the current federal government in fulfilling the promises that it made at its inception thirty months ago. These centred on improving the economy–with a special focus on reducing unemployment; tackling insecurity; and combating corruption.
The exuberant optimists begin their case by noting that the current administration was dealt a bad hand at its inception inasmuch as its coming to power coincided with a sharp fall in the price of oil, the main source of Nigeria’s foreign exchange and government revenue. Oil price plunged from an average of $100 per barrel during 2011-2014 to as low as $26 in January 2016 and currently stands at about $60. This notwithstanding, the current administration has launched an Economic Recovery and Growth Plan(ERGP), embarked on a number of infrastructure projects across the country, highlighted, for example, in the decision to connect rail line to all state capitals and inaugurated the N-Power programme to help youth acquire skills for apprenticeship and self-employment with the aim of reducing high youth unemployment.
The exuberant optimists also argue that when the current federal government came to power in May 2015, Boko Haram still held about fourteen local government areas in the Northeast. Today, not only have the military recovered all territories from Boko Haram but also significantly degraded its capacity and destroyed its logistical infrastructure. The government has also negotiated the release of 82 Chibok girls who were abducted by Boko Haram in 2014. The government has launched several military operations across the country to tackle various threats to national stability. The fight against corruption has been marked by increased tempo, leading to tampering the erstwhile propensity for public graft, recovery of stolen assets, and stemming illicit financial flows from the country. The government has also undertaken measures to ease the conditions for doing business in Nigeria, resulting in significant improvement of Nigeria’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report.
By contrast, the cautious pessimists take the view that the current administration was mainly to blame for the recession that hit the economy in 2016. They attribute the recession partly to inconsistent foreign exchange policy and partly to the decline in oil revenue stemming not only from the fall in oil price but also because of decline in oil production in the Niger Delta in the first half of 2016, as a result of government’s poor handling of the situation in that region. They further note that the current government has increased Nigeria’s debt from N12trillion in March 2015 to N19.6 trillion as of June 2017, and that although debt to GDP is relatively low, at about 18 percent; debt servicing level has risen to over 60 percent of government revenue. The federal government currently holds about 76 percent of both the foreign and domestic debt which respectively stands at N4.6trillion and N15trillion.
As regards tackling insecurity, while the pessimists acknowledge the progress in degrading the capacity of Boko Haram, they argue that other threats to national stability have been poorly managed. They highlight the lack of firmness and consistency in tackling the security challenge posed by the herdsmen, the failure to interrogate the Northern Youth Coalition who gave a quit notice to the Igbos, and question why the judicial process was abandoned in favour of military action in addressing the challenge of IPOB. They contrast the speed and process by which IPOB was proscribed and declared terrorist organisation with the slow pace in designating of Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US government, a delay that was aided both by the energetic lobbying by a group of Nigerian political elite against the designation of Boko Haram and by the May 2012 petition signed by 25 US scholars addressed to Mrs. Clinton, then US Secretary of State.
The populist appeal of anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria reflects the long held belief that a corrupt-free country is all that is needed to make Nigeria work well. Cautious pessimists argue that while the termination of the appointments of the secretary to the government of the federation and the director of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency, for reasons of corruption, has enabled the current administration to pass an important litmus test of commitment to combating corruption; the saga relating to the botched reinstatement of the former head of Presidential Task Force on pensions reforms shows incoherence of policy actions at best and non-chalance at worst.
While the exuberant optimists and cautious pessimists hold diametrically opposing views about the current situation, the attitude of the sceptical realists is one of deep skepticism about everything. They are sceptical that the ERGP will succeed where all other recent plans have failed; unconvinced that the shift to refinancing existing domestic debt with external borrowing, at a time of significantly reduced earnings from oil, is the right strategy; and unimpressed by N-Power programme as a viable long term strategy to combat unemployment. Sceptical realists are concerned that conflating IPOB secessionist intentions with being a terrorist organisation has blurred the distinction between two very different threats. They point to the fact that the designation of IPOB as a terrorist organisation has not won the endorsement and support of USA and UK, Nigeria’s traditional partners, who are the forefront of the global anti-terrorism campaign.
Sceptical realists argue that the fight against corruption has not yielded the much vaunted results that the public had been led to expect. They cite as evidence the absence of a published list of names of persons and amount recovered so far, the lack of full disclosure of the exact use to which recovered resources have been applied, and the inability to successfully prosecute many highly-placed persons.
Nigeria is at an important crossroads. As I have written in my recently published book, “A Nigeria that wants to be a pace-setter in democracy, in sound economic management, and in technological prowess, must first and foremost be at peace with itself”. This requires statesmanship on the part of all political leaders in Nigeria in addressing the myriad political problems currently confronting the country.
Otobo is author of Africa in Transition: A New Way of Looking at Progress in the Region.
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