Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Overcoming Nigeria’s Development Challenges

A British Development Economist, Dudley Seers (1920 – 1983) gave a simple test on how to determine if a country is developing. He said there are three indicators, rate of poverty, unemployment and inflation. If any two of these three are on the increase, then there is no development. In Nigeria, all the three indicators are on the increase.  There is galloping inflation, high rate of unemployment and grinding poverty. Since 1983 when the regime of former President Shehu Shagari introduced austerity measures, Nigerian masses have gone through a lot of hardship. By the time the military regime of military president Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida introduced structural adjustment (SAP) programme in 1986, things simply went from bad to worse. Many Nigerian workers were thrown out of job under the guise of right-sizing and down-sizing. Nigeria’s currency was also devalued so much so that the exchange rate moved from about $1 to N6 in the late 80s to about $1 to N160 in 2012. The rationale behind our under-development are not far-fetched, they include corruption, mismanagement, rising cost of governance, inconsistent government policies, infrastructural deficit, insecurity, unfair international trade (iniquitous terms of trade), bad leadership, incompetent workforce and many others.

Federal government, in fairness, has been introducing a number of monetary policies and fiscal measures to combat inflation. Also, some initiatives were taken to combat poverty and unemployment. These include the establishment of the now defunct Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI) meant to open up rural roads and other infrastructures that will stem the tide of rural-urban migration. There was also the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) established by NDE Act 1989 meant to get interested citizens to learn a vocation that will guarantee them self-employment.  The scheme among other things was meant to: Design and implement programmes to combat mass unemployment; Articulate policies aimed at developing work programmes with labour intensive potential; Obtain and maintain a data bank on employment and vacancies in the country with a view to acting as a clearing house to link job seekers with vacancies in collaboration with other government agencies; and Implement any other policy as may be laid down, from time to time, by the Board.

There is also National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) established in 2001 to fight poverty through empowerment of the masses. NAPEP is better known for the introduction of tri-cycles better known as Keke-NAPEP which it sells to interested buyers on credit to enable them participates in transportation business.  In the 2011 budget, President Jonathan earmarked N50 billion for the take off of National Job Creation Scheme. The latest of Nigeria’s government attempt at combating unemployment is the launch of YouWIN.  “YouWiN! stands for Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria. It is an innovative business plan competition aimed at job creation by encouraging and supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youth in Nigeria to develop and execute business ideas. The accomplishments of the 1,200 YouWiN! awardees were celebrated at the Presidential Villa on April 12, 2012”,  so says the website of the project. According to President Jonathan, the federal government hoped to create 80,000-110,000 jobs through the YouWin programme.

Despite all these initiatives, what is the scorecard of Nigeria on these three indicators, that is, inflation, poverty and unemployment? President Goodluck Jonathan in his 2013 budget speech on October 10, 2012 said Nigeria’s inflation rate is 11.7 per cent as at June 2012. According to National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment rate peaked in Nigeria in December 2011 at 23.9 per cent.

The Statistician-General of the Federation and CEO of the NBS, Yemi Kale while presenting the 2010 poverty profile report of the National Bureau of Statistics observed that “Not only is 60.9 per cent of the population living in absolute poverty – living on less than $1 per day and with daily intake of food falling short of the 2,100 calories per person recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation – the outlook for the immediate future is also bleak indeed.”
According to the President during his 2013 budget presentation, “As at the end of the second quarter, the economy recorded an impressive growth of 6.28% compared to 5.4% forecast for sub-Saharan Africa.” True, there has been economic growth in Nigeria but this has not in a significant way transformed to development. What we have is statistical growth which is yet to impact positively on Nigerians as majority of Nigerians are experiencing higher cost of living when what is needed is higher standard of living.

How do we ensure better life for Nigerians? There is no one track way of doing this. Multifarious approaches have to be adopted. Chief among them is the imperative of fighting corruption. There are too many wastefulness and leakages in the system that has not allowed government noble efforts at tackling the challenge of development to manifest. We have heard and seen all manners of probes; from the privatization probe to the power probe and more recently, the fuel subsidy probe. The question on the lips of many Nigerians is: How come none of the identified embezzlers and fraudulent people has been successfully prosecuted? More often than not, when charged to court, there is lack of diligent prosecution on the part of government while courts also granted these enemies of Nigeria bail and thereafter give long adjournments. Many of the bank managers who were charged to court for running their banks aground are still walking free more than three years after.

We cannot overcome our development challenges without first solving the energy problem that the nation has had to live with for more than 52 years. Nigeria cannot be transformed on mere 4,300 megawatts of electricity when less endowed countries like Ghana and South Africa are generating, transmitting and distributing tens of thousand electricity. For instance, South Africa, a nation of about 40 million people allegedly generates 40,000 MW of electricity while Nigeria, the giant of Africa generates and celebrates a little over 4,000 MW. What a shame! Affordable and seamless supply of petroleum products is also needful. Nigeria needs to fix the rot in the energy sector so that small and medium enterprises can thrive.

There is also the need to diversify Nigeria’s economic base.  Right now, Nigeria is more or less a mono-culture economy with over 80 per cent of her income coming from oil and gas. If the three tiers of government will take agriculture and solid mineral serious, millions of jobs could be created through these gestures. Cheap credit facilities and tax holidays will help to encourage people to become self employed. School curricula also need to change. There is need to mainstream vocational studies into our school curricula as well as the National Youth Service Scheme. This will assist young people to become employer of labour as they would have acquired practical skills that they can live on. Infrastructures such as roads, hospitals, potable water, schools and sporting facilities also need to be fixed. If we take the business of sports serious, this can generate thousands of gainful employment. We also need to deal a fatal blow on insecurity. Terrorism (bombing, kidnapping and robbery) is inimical to national development. There is need to sanitise Nigeria of these malaise so that conducive environment can be created for people to engage in legitimate and profitable business.