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Time to Grow People, Development-friendly Economy

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The nation’s continued vulnerability to shocks in 2014 as revealed in the recent report of the International Monetary Fund entitled ‘Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa Keeping the Pace’, should shock the nation and its economic managers, the positive macroeconomic indicators contained in the report notwithstanding.
For too long, the nation has grown an economy with profound macro-economic indicators but lean human development index. Put in a layman’s language, the nation has consistently grown a robust economy on paper but with scanty impact on the people and development.
For a nation whose economic fortune has been consistently predominantly powered by oil, with a lean impact on development and the people, the report can hardly confirm the position of the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, that the economy is doing “reasonably well.”
According to the IMF report, the nation’s oil-powered economy will, in 2014, up from 6.2 per cent to 7.4 per cent, the real per capita GDP growth will witness a rise from 3.4 per cent to 4.5 per cent, gross national savings shall increase from 27.8 per cent to 28.3 per cent, the nation’s reserve shall increase from 5.4 per cent to 6.4 per cent while external current account shall rise from 3.2 per cent to 3.6 per cent.
The report also projects that Annual Average Consumer Price shall nosedive from 9.9 per cent to 8.2 per cent while percentage change in consumer prices by the end of the year will fall from 9.7 per cent to 7 per cent.
But that is where the sweet tale ends. The World body says in the report that Total Government Revenue, excluding grants, will dim from 24.5 per cent to 23.1 per cent in 2014; that export will fall from 33 per cent to 31 per cent while terms of trade and Net foreign direct investment (FDI) will fall from 153.6 per cent to 151.7 per cent and 2.1 per cent to 2.0 per cent respectively.
The negatives identified in this report are obviously products of external and internal factors prevalent in oil-dependent economies such as oil price volatility, oil theft, discovery of oil by some trading partners, abysmal state of non-oil sectors, especially manufacturing and agriculture, poor competitive nature of non-oil products in the international market.
A peep into the nation’s economic performance in 2013 also presents a mixed bag of vulnerability and growth; with the economic minders playing up the feeble fortunes while the people groan under acute poverty, misery and unemployment.
While the Federal Government could not fulfill its monthly financial obligations to the states for some months back and unemployment net is widening by the day due to cash crunch and lack of political will, the Federal Ministry of Finance would want us to believe that “…this country is paying her bills, financing roads, rail, power and other critical infrastructure and even saving for the rainy day.”
But this response not only scratches the issue of development on the surface, it also takes the people for granted in a nation whose budget allocation is criminally skewed in favour of recurrent expenditure by 72 per cent, leaving a paltry 28 per cent for capital projects.
For too long, the nation’s leaders and economic managers have bamboozled the people with whopping figures and facts that fail to deliver welfare and development.
Despite the grandstanding by the Ministry of Finance over the wellness of the economy, the World Bank Report entitled ‘Doing Business 2014’ ranks Nigeria as 147th out of the 189 countries ranked, down from 138th position in 2013, in a world where a nation’s economy is predominantly powered by the private sector.
The World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, Marie-Francoise Marie Nelly, said at the bank’s Country Programme Portfolio Review in Enugu on November 12, 2013 that “1.2 billion people live in destitution out of which 100 million are Nigerians.”
As at October 2013, the nation’s inflation rate was put at 7.80 per cent. Unemployment figures have climbed over 23 per cent. Over 10 million children are out of school. The health sector is in a parlous state.
If the macro-economic indicators are robust as even the international bodies have confirmed, the question is; why do they not translate to wealth and development?
The answers are not far to seek: the nation’s resources are mismanaged while the economy is standing helplessly and uncreatively on a single plank, oil, against development principles.
The nation’s oil and non-oil receipts, including waivers, are criminally abused and misused to the detriment of the people. For instance, the N603 billion lost to waivers in nine months this year alone, as revealed by the Deputy-Comptroller of Customs, Garba Makarfi, at the National Assembly, is three times the fund the Federal Government just dolled to the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to gradually salvage the higher education sub sector. The import of this is that if that sum had been plugged and channeled into the education sector, the nation would have been saved the orgy of the ongoing strike, and the future of our youths and, indeed, our nation, would have been firmly secured. The revenues lost to oil theft, humongous salaries and allowances of political office-holders, corruption, among others, are enough to heal the economic ills ravaging the economy.
While there is an urgent need to diversify the economy as has been repeatedly canvassed but ignored, the fact remains that the nation has to deal with its thieving leaders for any meaningful initiative to deliver.
President Goodluck Jonathan needs to show leadership by declaring emergency on the economy while, among others, demanding strategic blueprints from ministers and heads of parastatals and agencies on how to move their areas of jurisdiction forward.
There is a need for the various committees of the National Assembly that have oversight responsibilities over ministries, departments and agencies to rise above primordial sentiments and perform their roles effectively so that the loopholes inherent in these organs could be checked and channeled to people and development-oriented ventures.
The nation’s agricultural sector alone, if well harnessed, is capable of providing jobs for the nation’s teeming jobless youths. The core indicators of a nation’s economic fortune are the qualities of its policies, budget and their implementation.
This nation has yet to fare well in these areas. There must be a deliberate attempt to diversify and liberalize the economy to save it from the vagaries of oil price volatility, oil theft, etc., that have constantly held the economy by the jugular.
The nation’s executives and the legislators need to wane themselves of the inanities of subjecting the budget to selfish tendencies every year. Budget is too critical, too central to the people’s welfare and development to be toyed with by people charged with the responsibility of fixing the economy.
Nigerians must for once realize that election is about handling their fate over to their leaders in trust. Countries like China and Malaysia have made a mark in the world because of the quality of their leaders and the strategic importance of their policies, democracy or nay.
We cannot sell our votes to nonentities and expect the economy and other segments/sectors of the nation to do well. Something, as the lawyers say, cannot stand on nothing. Getting it right as a nation starts with electing the right people to handle our affairs. We must demand the right political space and play the game by the rules.

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