Nigeria’s economy had for over three decades now been presided over by the brightest economists from all over the world, from the top echelon of the World Bank, ADB/ADF, the Academic Community and other economic pundits.
Yet, The Human Development Index (HDI) of Nigerians which is an aggregate of the general standard of living of the people in terms of access to education, health care, housing, security, potable water and high life expectancy etc has not improved, and to some extent has deteriorated significantly.
So, what went wrong ? what can we do on the short and long term, and is there any need for policy and orientation shift to reverse this trend ?
Are we really on track? Nigeria has the highest numbers of children who are out of school in the world, 12 million of them followed by 5 million in Pakistan.
Most Nigerians do not have access to potable drinking water, which is a critical human necessity.
Life expectancy in Nigeria at under 50 years is very low even by African standards due to poor access to medical services, such that malaria takes over 200,000 lives annually.
The rich and influential however go abroad for medical treatment, leaving the poor to an uncertain fate
The house deficit stands at 18 million units and millions of Nigerians live in shanty towns without any sewage system, schools, running water and health services.
Nigeria, despite being a major exporter of crude oil, still imports refined petroleum products worth several billions of USD a year.
Nigeria is a heavy importer of food despite the abundance of arable and fertile lands showered by the tropical sun and fresh waters, which are ideal for farming wide varieties of grains, tubers and fruits.
The security situation in the country is very precarious, such that the movement of people is restricted and cautious because of abductors and kidnappers.
These are some of the plethora of problems confronting Nigeria today.
These challenges in most cases require simple solutions, which however were often complicated by untested economic policies, which are too theoretical,, impractical and sometimes unreasonable .
For example, If Nigeria’s economy is the fastest growing in the world, then, how come that tens of thousands of Nigerians are fleeing the country to Europe and other parts of the world ?
If Nigeria is trully out of recession, why can’t the effect be felt now, instead of in decades to come as being suggested by our economic experts?
In essence, there is no workable plan in place now and the Nigerian people are unhappy, and not fairing well. The adoption of market economy and privatisation policy , which is a refined form of capitalism in its poor and distorted form is the foundation of Nigeria’s underdevelopment.
The private sector has taken over the role of the government, whereas, both should work independently and compliment each other.
The private sector in developed countries operate freely, in several sectors of the economy, while the governments in turn provide free education, free health care, assist farmers, pay stipends to the poor and offer several social services.
The policy shift should ensure that the government assumes its responsibilities towards the people. The rampages of the herdsmen today will be a child’s play when they are joined by millions of Nigerian children who are currently out of school.
The problem of education should therefore top the list of government agenda. There can be no development without an educated population.
The free education policy of Western Nigeria of the past can still be replicated today.
The Lagos State model during the second Republic from 1979-83 is a good example to copy in terms of physical structures, teaching and management
On housing, the government should take advantage of the mass employment potentials in the huge housing deficit in the country.
A housing project of 2 million units a year has the potentials to employ up to 5 million artisans as; plumbers , electricians, carpenters, masons, tilers, supervisors, labourers and other accessory jobs.
Medical tourism abroad is a national embarrassment. The Nigerian government should build several world class hospitals to deal with this anomaly.
These projects could be funded from Nigeria’s 40 billion USD Foreign Exchange Reserves which is currently open to all and sundry to finance the importation of assorted luxury goods which add little value to the economy.
The same principle should apply to the building of refineries and reviving defunct government-owned enterprises (GOE) such as the National Airline and Shipping Line. These companies went down because of poor and incompetent management. .
Giant Chinese Construction and Oil Companies operating internationally are owned by the Chinese government and run by trusted party members and competent managers.
Finally and most importantly is the need to stop the continuous decline in the value of the Nigerian currency. The best way to strengthen the Naira is for the CBN to stop funding luxury imported goods directly from Nigeria’s scarce foreign exchange reserves.
Although there is a policy to this effect, the CBN has been circumventing it by funding them through the BDCs.
When sponsored alarms are raised in the media about the falling value of the naira in the open market, the CBN rushes to pump money to the BDC apparently to ‘shore’ up its value, but in actual fact, willfully or naively enriching the BDC operators and indirectly funding importers who are not entitled to foreign exchange at the official rates.
In principle, individuals who which to exchange their naira at whatever rate should be free to do so. This should not be the concern of the CBN. If the value of the naira is strong within Nigeria, the demand for forex would reduce. And this can only be done, if local industries are supported by the banks to grow.
The recent raising of tariffs on locally produced products in the on going frenetic tax drive can only worsen an already bad situation.
When Sékou Toure, the late President of Guinea Conakry opted out of the CFA Francophone monetary zone in 1958, he took a calculated risk and he had to sail or sink with the decision.
He created the Guinean Franc and pegged the official rate at 2,5 Guinean Francs (GF) to 1 USD. The parallel market rate was 200 GF to 1 usd.
What Sékou Toure did was to give local value to the GF which rendered the USD and other foreign currencies irrelevant in the country.
The government provided free education from primary to university level and the President put his children in the same school system.
There was free medical services and serious medical conditions were referred abroad, (usually to Morocco) at government expense.
Sékou Toure issued ration cards to every family, including diplomats, Nigerians, Americans , Germans to purchase rice, meat, fish, sugar , vegetable oil at reasonable prices. A 50 kilo rice was sold for about 10 usd.
This policy was so effective that incidences of violent crime was rare, Beggars were not in the streets, there was no prostitution or human trafficking in the country. This program not withstanding, the government did not shut down private sector operators who were also thriving.
The policy of food distribution to the public is not alien to Nigeria. It was a means of empowering the people in what is now derided as stomach infrastructure.
The Nigerian National Supply Company (NNSC) during the second Republic, had warehouses all over the country through which rice, sugar, vegetable oil, milk and stock fish were supplied to civil servants and the general public at reasonable prices.
This program should be revived to stem the current level of hunger in the land.
These simple remedies are more effective than the fabulous economic statements which have not benefited the Nigerian people in any form.
• Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director of Trade, Investment and Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.