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The Nigeria of our dreams – enhancing a productive economy

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Nwokoma

The popular saying that “if wishes were horses, then beggars will ride” readily comes to mind in one attempting to articulate what the Nigerian economy ought to be, given the enormous resources which the country has been endowed with over the years. Since independence in 1960, right from the 1962 National Development Plan, so many lofty dreams and aspirations were espoused with very high hopes on the economic potentials of the new nation that was expected to be a beacon of hope for the African continent and the black race at large. Fifty-nine years down the line, many of those lofty dreams of economic greatness have hardly been realised. Nigeria is still battling with basic problems of food, shelter and security. Poverty has become so magnified that the country is now globally identified as the “poverty capital of the world”. The number of Out-of-school children in Nigeria is among the highest in the world and the rate of unemployment is at its highest level ever since independence.

In celebrating Nigeria’s fifty-ninth independence anniversary, it is very apt to appraise how some of the many unfulfilled dreams of the founding fathers could be realised. Currently, the various governments in the country have been weakened due to the poor state of the economy. The latest National Bureau of Statistics data show that in the second quarter of 2019, Nigeria’s economy performed poorly with a second consecutive quarter of weakened growth with real gross domestic product slowing to a year-on-year growth rate of 1.94%, less than the revised 2.1% growth rate. Also, the slow paced growth and decline in the non-oil sector was recorded, all indicative of a suboptimal growth for the productive sectors of agriculture and manufacturing. This pattern of poor growth of the productive sectors have bedevilled the country since independence and have been exacerbated by the advent of crude oil revenue in national economic management such that the economy is becoming less of a “productive economy” and more of an “oil revenue sharing economy”. This is a clear manifestation of the “Dutch disease” syndrome.

As we celebrate another independence anniversary, as a nation, we need to have a sober reflection on how to return the country back to being productive. Issues of fiscal federalism which blossomed in the First Republic is being jettisoned and the federal and sub-national governments are now more concerned with the handouts from the monthly federal accounts allocation committee meetings. The focus on how the country can be returned to a productive and functional state, as was the case prior to independence in 1960, appear relegated to the background. This has to be arrested. There is need for a change. Production and enhanced productivity must be brought back. Though there are challenges, but it is doable. To bring back production, focus must be placed on massive infrastructural development.

Infrastructures are categorised as Social Overhead Capital or those underlying capital or support services in the economy that sustain private sector investment. Most lacking of these in Nigeria are transportation and road network, power and energy, water supply, education and public health. As is well known, when basic infrastructure are provided by the public sector, the functioning of the private sector as well as other productive activities in the economy is enhanced. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Index 2014-15, more than half of the 20 least competitive countries in the world are found in Sub Saharan Africa, partly due to its infrastructure deficit. This situation is worsened by the incidence of corruption since infrastructure services cost more in Africa than almost any place in the world. In response to these, African leaders adopted the 2012-2040 Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa in 2012, to address this vexing issue. Nigeria must invest in infrastructure to develop it productive sectors. According to the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan of 2014, the “key to the development and Industrialisation of Nigeria is the extent to which the government and private sector can develop and maintain vital infrastructure such as power, roads, rail, ports and other facilities” It goes on to state that “in Nigeria, according to the African Development Bank the infrastructure gap is believed to be $350 billion aggregated”. Currently, over 70% of the federal roads are bad and most infrastructures are now decayed and need repair, rehabilitation or replacement. These infrastructural deficiencies affect the competitiveness of industries, particularly SMEs because of their direct and indirect effect on the operating cost of the firms.

Going forward, government needs to identify the critical stakeholders in the project process, and make a focused attempt to address infrastructural deficiencies in the country. The power of focused leadership is very critical here and President Mohammadu Buhari should “walk the talk” in implementing vigorously his infrastructural development plan. This is key to national economic development, as acknowledged. Given that the public sector is presently challenged and funding is a major issue, the private sector must be fully engaged through public-private partnership arrangements to confront this issue headlong. Except we develop our infrastructure Nigeria will continue to lag behind economically in the comity of nations that the dreams of our founding fathers on the development of a great African economic power will turn out to be a mirage.

* Nwokoma, a professor of economist, is Director, Centre for Economic Policy Analysis and Research (CEPAR) of the University of Lagos, Akoka. He is a member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian.


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