By Uche Chris
What really is the value of the naira? This would elicit as diverse an answer as there are experts and is one that truly has no empirical and definite answer. Determining the value of any currency is essentially technical, but it comes down to one thing: The purchasing price parity, which is the price a certain amount of goods bought in one currency is sold in a other currency, usually, a bench mark currency, for instance, the dollar.
Before 1972, it was the dollar was linked to gold nugget as the bench mark standard for purchase power parity. The value of currency was determined by how much gold they could buy at any given time. But when the U.S. exited the gold standard on August 15, 1971, the dollar, which had been the gold-exchange currency, assumed the official PPP. So the exchange rate of the naira is technically determined by how much dollar it can buy at any point in time.
What then should be the value of the naira and how does the Central Bank of Nigeria fix it? Ordinarily and generally, the value of the naira should be the rate at which it exchanges for the dollar. But it is not, given the fact that the naira is not freely exchanged with the dollar in an open market. The exchange rate or PPP, being a technical issue, presupposes that it takes place in a free and open market without official restrictions and determination.
The premise for reaching an objective value of the currency or PPP is that it can sell for as much as it also buys in global trade. However, to create a fair price or exchange rate equilibrium based on the productive and export capacity of each country, a country must try to sell as much it buys to be able to earn as much dollars and it also would need for its purchases. This is simply commonsensical.
But all these are suppositions based on the economic jargon of ceteris paribus all things being equal, which is, usually inapplicable in the real world, as all things are often never equal. As such the exchange rate of the naira is neither the function of the dollar rate nor PPP, but simply a magical and whimsical determination based on and informed by political considerations, as different from economic factors.
So, the value of the naira is basically a political consideration that has little to do with economics of international trade and currency exchange. Unlike most countries, Nigeria cannot possibly afford to float the naira; that is, to operate in a free and open currency market where supply and demand determine the price or exchange rate. But why not, you may ask?
The CBN and other official experts would tell you that no country, even the advanced ones, such as China and Japan, leave their currency to the vagaries of the market; more so in our case where the market is really nonexistent as the CBN controls all supply.
In fact, this is only a half truth: Countries, such as those mentioned are largely export driven economies and higher exchange rate for the currency is advantageous for export. So, a higher exchange rate may be a monetary and fiscal policy to encourage export and earn more foreign exchange for the economy.
However, the reverse is hardly so. In other words, deliberate overvaluation of the local currency does not in any shape or form boost local economic development, as would happen with export growth. So, countries do not perpetually overvalue their currencies because of its debilitating effect on the economy and disincentive to export. But commodity producers like Nigeria, persist in this ruinous prestige policy.
For Nigeria, this has been the main foreign exchange policy thrust since the late 1970s, informed by the unrealistic hope of earning more dollars through oil sale to sustain an overvalued naira. Although Nigeria had earned some huge oil windfalls in 19991, 2003, 2010 it was flittered away, because of the wrong orientation and insatiable import appetite that has been its worst nemesis.
The battle to keep the naira overvalued is unwinnable and will continue to be unresolved until we swallow the bitter pills and let it float, at least partially, to eliminate dollar scarcity. Restriction to dollar access is creating its scarcity, which is a function of government policy to protect the naira from free fall. But the fact remains that the naira will continue to be in danger of devaluation as long as access is restricted and the rate is managed.
Of course, there is the official argument of imported inflation since the country is heavily import-dependent because we produce nothing. This is a self serving argument that dulls initiative and cripples action. Nigeria is none the better today with controlled exchange rate than without. The worst thing that can happen to a person, group or country is to remain static and stagnant in an inglorious position and making little or no head way.
Inflation may not in itself be avoidable sometimes, or even bad or negative in itself. Inflation has two major sources, namely, excessive money supply hot money through ways and means; and low productive capacity, which inevitably leads to higher demand to supply. Imported inflation is policy-driven and man-made; which should be least of our concern because we are not being forced to import those unnecessary things.
World Trade Organisation, (WTO) or not, we can still determine to a great degree, the things we want to import; what may be frowned at is outright ban or prohibition. Current inflation is being caused by government through its negative policies that are disincentive to industrialization and investment; as well as uncontrolled fiscal deficit, extra budgetary interventions, and social spending.
Imported inflation can only be temporary if there is improvement in productive capacity and investment. Without addressing this issue, inflation can never be tamed, because as productive capacity remains low, we will continue to import, which will keep up the pressure on naira and forcing it to decline, thereby lowering the PPP of the naira.
Unfortunately, Nigeria does not want to suffer to solve its problem and would want to wish it away, which is not likely to happen. Meanwhile, the suffering goes on, all because of politics.