By AKPAN H. EKPO
Since flag independence in 1960, Nigeria’s leadership, policymakers and, to some extent, the masses have nursed the desire to transform the Nigerian economy into a modern and prosperous one with majority of the citizens enjoying a high standard of living. The early development plans were geared towards achieving the objective of building a modern economy. Successive governments and leadership continue to parrot the need for transformation.
Yet the economy remains backward, primitive and underdeveloped. Nonetheless, there have been marginal gains as regards modernisation but economic development remains a far cry. Despite the neo-colonial status of the country, the leadership and policymakers are Nigerians and whether they choose to accept and implement external advice depends on how they perceive the reality of the situation. The leadership and most of the policymakers – bureaucrats and technocrats – have been engaged since independence in the most brutal form of primitive capitalist accumulation. The provision of basic needs is nothing to write home about; the public school system at all levels and the public health system have all collapsed. Recent published statistics put the rate of unemployment at 23.9 per cent, poverty incidence at almost 70 per cent, with the rate of inflation at 12.7 per cent yet the economy is growing at about 7.8 per cent. What a paradox! Impressive growth trajectory with miserable living conditions facing millions of Nigerians!! The security situation has become embarrassing. It seems the country is governed by warlords, whatever name we choose to call them. Do these facts indicate satisfactory economic performance of the economy?
From 1960 to date, the leadership, policymakers, bureaucrats, technocrats and most of the people have been Nigerians. There is another group of businessmen and traders which includes non-Nigerians. These non-Nigerians own supermarkets, barbing salons, among others, in exclusive areas of Lagos and Abuja. With liberalisation, the non-Nigerians have replaced Nigerians in the retail and wholesale business. The expatriate work permit quota seems to have been abused when one observes that non-Africans are now engaged in owning fast food joints, barbing salons, and others, in the country. The question to address, therefore, is can Nigerians transform Nigeria?
What do we mean by transformation in the context of an economy like Nigeria? Transforming the Nigerian economy would connote changing the present economic structure such that the contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, is about seven per cent while the contribution of manufacturing to GDP would be almost 45 per cent. This would involve adapting new ideas and new technology. Therefore, as the economy is transformed, the contribution of agriculture declines but its impact on the economy remains significant: the few farmers would be able to feed the domestic population and export to other countries, implying that agriculture becomes modernised, depending less on nature but more on modern technology.
The manufacturing sector would produce for both the domestic and foreign markets, be it finished or semi-finished goods in the production chain. At present, the contribution of manufacturing to Nigeria’s GDP is about five per cent. In Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and Singapore, the contribution of manufacturing to GDP is almost 45 per cent on average. But transformation goes beyond changing the structure of production. The development of both hard infrastructure (power sector, railways, road networks) and the soft (human capital, institutions) is crucial in the transformation process. In other words, for Nigeria to become transformed, she must be industrialised. Economic development requires continuous application of new and better technology to existing industries as well as the establishment of new ones.
Another important element of the transformation process is the role of the state. The state must perceive development as its utmost priority. The leadership must be focused, decisive and ready to sacrifice; they must lead by example. The leadership must win the confidence of the people to be able to drive the transformation process. Each stage must be evaluated and outcomes be made public. Consequently, the quality of leadership and governance form essential elements in the transformation process. The leadership must be responsive to innovations and new ideas. The state must utilise the best brains in the country to actualise the transformation process. Singapore is a good example of how a few committed persons can transform a once backward economy to an industrialised modern one. Nigeria has all the human and natural resources to transform the economy. Skilled Nigerians have acquired training in the country and abroad and they can be found in all fields of human endeavours. President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda has almost all the elements necessary to transform the Nigerian economy. These elements I would refer to as first conditions.
However, the role of the state or leadership (group in power) which is a significant element is not very clear in the President’s Transformation Agenda. It is almost six months since he received the mandate and more than one year before then, he was the President. We need to know the performance of ministries, parastatals and other agencies of government in the context of the transformation agenda. The data available show that poverty and unemployment are rising, thus making the growth in GDP a paper affair. Part of the transformation process is for government to be open to the citizens. For as much as possible, all outcomes should be made transparent. Nigerians have generally lost confidence in government. It is important to win back the trust and confidence from the citizens by being transparent and accountable.
One way of winning confidence is to take, for example, the power (electricity) project and ensure positive outcomes. It is the citizens who will say that the power situation in the country has improved and not members of the President’s cabinet. After all, ensuring adequate power supply is in the President’s transformation agenda. Another example is to revamp the collapsed public school system. No economy abandons its public school system (primary and secondary) and desires to be transformed into an industrial modern economy. The manpower needed to drive and sustain the new transformed, knowledge-based Nigerian economy is developed at both the primary and secondary school levels both in quality and quantity.
There is no doubt that only Nigerians (and those genuinely interested in the country’s economic development, for example, Nigerians in the Diaspora) can transform Nigeria. The success of the Transformation Agenda may not need a crowd but a few committed, dedicated Nigerians ready to sacrifice even the ultimate for the sake of the country. Only time will tell whether Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda will stand the litmus test.
(Ekpo, a Professor of Economics, is Director-General, West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, WAIFEM, Lagos.)