About four weeks to the commencement of the 2019 general elections, it is shocking that the leading political parties and candidates for various elections, especially at the national level, have paid very scant attention to the issues of the economy. Instead, they have devoted greater attention to throwing brick-bats and propaganda.
Frivolities have been given preeminence over substantial issues of economic challenges and national development. Indeed, it is very sad and heartbreaking. More than that, it is alarming and potentially dangerous. Given the realities of Nigeria’s economic situation and the projections of an ever growing economic challenge, the least one would have expected was that our political leaders would devote more of their time and attention to evolving responsive policies that will speak to these challenges. Unfortunately, perhaps even predictably, that has not been the case.
Various studies by multiple organisations, locally and internationally, have raised the red flag on Nigeria’s economic future. A country that has been weaned on a staple diet of a mono product economy, has continued to balloon in population, while failing to expand its revenue stream.
Since oil emerged as Nigeria’s leading foreign exchange earner, it has remained the core of the country’s export. As a result, Nigeria’s economy has been closely tied to the seasonal fortunes and misfortunes of the oil market. When the price of oil goes up, Nigeria’s economy receives a shot in the arms and her fortunes rise. But whenever the price of oil goes south, the economy equally goes down and plunges the rest of the country into economic whirlwind.
This has been the sequence for many decades. Shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari’s election into office, a global slump in the oil market pushed the Nigerian economy into recession and wreaked havoc on the well-being of most Nigerians. It took a rise in the price of crude for the economy to begin to show signs of recovery.
Everyone would have expected that that development would inspire the policy makers to pursue, as a matter of urgency, the task of diversifying the economy beyond the usual rhetoric. Sadly, that has not been the case. Instead, the government has continued to cling to an economic policy regime that stifles the market, while expanding the role of government. The result has been pathetic.
The private sector, which is usually the engine of growth, has suffered tremendously under this economic regime. Conversely, the role of government has continued to expand, so much so that the private sector has almost been muscled out of the economic space.
Monetary policy which previously served to support the private sector has increasingly become a tool for the promotion of central planning. This is antithetical to the interest of a market economy.
The reality that this government must face is that government cannot be the lead player in the economy and expect sustained growth. Government should concentrate on policy and regulation and allow the private sector to play its role as operators. Government does not have the core competence to operate business successfully.
When government expands its remit from regulation to operation, it creates a moral hazard and distorts economic fundamentals. It is such distortions that have led to the strangulated economic outlook which the country is facing.
There is an old aphorism that government has no business in business. It was true then, it is true today, and it will remain true. The business of government is to make rules and regulations and ensure their enforcement. The business of the market is to operate within the rules and regulations of government in order to maximise profit. In the process of profit maximisation, the market offers goods and services, creates employment, creates wealth and grows the economy.
With a bulging population and diminishing opportunities, it is a self evident truth that for Nigeria to escape from the poverty trap, it has to become a nimble footed and efficient manager of economic resources. The challenge facing Nigerian policy makers is how to create meaningful engagement for the teeming population of Nigerians. Every year, millions of Nigerians qualify for the employment market. Sadly, only a handful of these people succeed in becoming meaningfully employed. The rest are thrown into the unemployment market to add to the existing pool. Consequently, Nigeria has become the country with the largest pool of unemployed people on the African continent and perhaps, the world, with unemployment figures above 30 percent. The outlook is certainly bleak.
Perhaps it explains why Nigeria recently earned the dubious distinction of being the centre of poverty in the world. According to the United Nations statistics, over 80 million Nigerians live in abject poverty.
Recently, the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness, Mohammed Sanusi II, drew the attention of the public to the fact that, given the current trends, Nigeria is likely to remain the country with the highest poverty rate in the world by 2050. By then, it is estimated that over 30 percent of all the poor people in the world will be living in Nigeria.
Given such bleak numbers, one would expect that issues of economic development will dominate political discourse and debate in the run up to 2019 elections. Curiously, that has not been the case.
This newspaper is deeply worried by the inability of the presidential candidates to articulate innovative economic policies. We are not persuaded that any of the candidates, except perhaps, the young Mr. Kingsley Moghalu, has paid sufficient attention to the challenges of the economy and the risk they pose for the well-being of the nation. Neither of the main political parties nor their candidates have shown any thorough understanding of these challenges. What is worse, none of them has demonstrated a commitment to finding solutions to our economic problems. There is an urgent need for creative approaches for managing the economy. It is important that Nigerians hold the presidential candidates to task and demand from them, their blueprints for resolving the economic quagmire facing the country. In this day and age, Nigeria cannot continue to operate backward and unproductive economic policies which do not conduce to rapid socioeconomic development.
It is obvious that there are major changes taking place in the global economy. Some of these changes have the potential of disrupting traditional norms and concepts in virtually every area of life.
The evolution of electric cars, the emergence of Information Technology and other scientific discoveries have fundamentally altered the way things are done in the world. It is not yet clear what impact these disruptions will have on the global economy. But it is obvious that things will not remain as they were.
The presidential aspirants should tell Nigerians how they intend to respond to these challenges and how they intend to protect and provide for the Nigerian people against the background of these technological disruptions which threaten to alter traditional economic norms and concepts.
For the presidential candidates to carry on as if the economic does not really matter and as if all that matter is name calling and propaganda is very sad indeed. It demonstrates, in addition to everything else, lack of competence, lack of vision and lack of preparedness to deal with what is easily the most compelling challenge of any presidency: economic management and wealth creation.
Even though the campaign season is winding down, this newspaper believes that there is still enough time for the presidential candidates to put the issue of the economy on the front burner.