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Nigeria is a ‘shackled lion’

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Ever since my book titled Africa in Transition: A New Way of Looking Progress in the Region was released in 2017, one frequently asked the question, is where does Nigeria fit in the analytical categories outlined in the book? This question arises because, whereas I detailed the attributes of the three categories of African countries in the book, I left it to the reader to determine what category any particular African country belonged.

In other words, while the attributes for country categorization are fixed, the category that a country belongs at any point in time depends on the progress that an individual country makes in those attributes.

Three categories of African countries are: “Roaring Lions”, “Shackled Lions” and “Wounded Lions”. To understand why Nigeria belongs to the “Shackled Lion” category, it helps to explain both the underlying factors affecting progress in each country and the main attributes of each category.

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The book argues that the progress or lack thereof of individual African countries will critically depend on both the nature of transitions that individual African countries are undergoing and the magnitude of the structural deficits that they evince. It explains that African countries are in midst of multiple transitions, but notes that three of those transitions will have the most significant impact: the transition from one-party or military regimes to multi-party democracy (democratic transition); from state-dominated economies to market-oriented economies (economic transition); and from civil wars to post-conflict peace building (post-conflict transition). The book further expounds that the future prospects of individual African countries will turn critically on their ability to overcome the three main structural deficits –stability deficit, organizational deficit, and scientific and technological deficit – that have cast a long dark shadow over their development performance. Thus, the triple transitions and the three triple-deficits frameworks represent a new way of assessing progress on the continent.

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By combining the assessment of the experience of individual countries in these two frameworks, it is possible to gain considerable insights into the factors that will shape the future of individual African countries and, more importantly, present a composite rather than a fractal picture of progress in each country. To appreciate how those futures will evolve is to understand the points of intersection among political stability, organisational competence, and scientific and technological capacity. The “Roaring Lions” countries are those that are able to combine political stability, organisational competence, and scientific and technological prowess, enabling them to emerge as politically cohesive and economically competitive. In so far as these countries possess competitive manufacturing cost structures, they will nurture local firms and host foreign firms that are part of the global supply chains, thereby transcending dependence on exports of primary commodities. This combination of attributes will enable the “Roaring Lions” to extend their influence beyond their sub-regional and the continent contexts. African countries in this category are few indeed, with most falling into the other two categories.

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The second category of African countries are the “Shackled Lions” These countries have a modicum of political stability, organisational competence, and scientific and technological know-how. Economic policy-making is, however, marked by inconsistencies and politics by tensions, impeding long term investment decisions. These trends hinder the growth of domestic private firms and discourage entry of new foreign firms. Meanwhile, the labour force in these countries do not offer better technical skills relative to the wages (cost of labour) found elsewhere on the continent or around the world, thus giving them limited economic competitiveness edge. All this means the governments of these countries would wield some influence in sub-regional and, to some extent, in the continental contexts. The third category of African countries is the “Wounded Lions”. These countries are plagued by continuing political instability or the ever-present danger of lapsing or relapsing into conflict in the context of weak institutions and very limited managerial capacity. These countries have a high political risk with limited upside potential with regard to investment opportunities, given their poor and inadequate infrastructure and negligible scientific and technological know-how.

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The descriptions of each of these categories are necessarily abridged. However, it is worth examining in greater details why Nigeria is a “Shackled Lion” —a category which reflects the fact that Nigeria is plagued by many challenges resulting in huge unrealized potentials. First is political stability. The World Bank’s World Development Report 2011 on Conflict, Security, and Development defines countries affected by conflict, fragility, and violence as those where more than 1,000 deaths occur annually due to conflict or violence. The three main indicators of fragility are the inability of the state to exercise a monopoly in the legitimate use of force (in other words, whether there are groups – militias, terrorists, or rebels – fighting the state); inability of the state to exercise full control of its territory; and inability of the state to provide basic social services. Not only have deaths arising from violence exceeded 1,000 annually in Nigeria, but the country exhibits major weaknesses in all three attributes of state effectiveness. Moreover, Nigeria’s very dismal rankings global indices of fragility, peace, and terrorism, as well as a regional index on governance, show that Nigeria is marked by a high incidence of stability deficit.

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Second, organisational competence – -broadly defined as encompassing managerial and technical capacity to efficiently allocate productive resources — is critical to a well-performing economy. Each successive administration since the return to civil rule has proclaimed its desire to improve the economy. These promises have been articulated in various plans of action. Nigeria has had a National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy; Vision 20 in 2020; the Nigeria Transformation Agenda; and now, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), 2017-2020. The Vision 20:2020 plan envisaged a target of 13 percent annual average economic growth. The Nigeria Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020 set a target of 4.62 percent economic growth. In the past twenty years, 2002 was the only year that Nigeria exceeded the economic growth rate target in Vision 20 in 2020, when it grew at 15 percent. Since the ERGP was launched, Nigeria’s growth rate was a dismal 0.8 per cent in 2017; 1.9 percent in 2018; 2.3percent in 2019andis projected to grow at 2.5 percent in 2020 and 2021, according to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update of January 2020.

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The third is science and technology. Nigeria can take pride in the growth of technology hubs in the country. However, the real test of Nigeria’s scientific and technological prowess is the extent to which the country can apply existing and new technologies to address a wide range of public policy problems, from building and maintenance of infrastructure to industrial development, from energy production to environmental protection, from natural disaster management to natural resource management, from agriculture to aviation, and from health to housing needs. In these areas, Nigeria still lacks the critical mass of scientific and technological cadre to power the transformation of the country.

On the day that policy makers, policy experts, and academics gather to honour the intellectual contributions of the ever-optimistic Professor Vremudia P. Diejomaoh, at age 80, to Nigeria’s development, it is most fitting to ponder how Nigeria can make the leap from a “Shackled Lion’ to a “Roaring Lion” status.

Otobo is a non-resident senior fellow, Global Governance Institute, Brussels, Belgium and author of Africa in Transition—A New Way of Looking at Progress in the Region.

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