By Fola Ojo
Nigeria is still reeling from a stranglehold of smothering economic recession. Nigerians are panting for breath under the clubbing, drubbing and slogging of financial difficulties. This Giant of Africa remains an emaciating elephant in the forest of despair and pervasive malaise. There seems to be no realistic, conceivable or visible end in sight to the grotesque and vile picture of the state of our nation.
A few hours ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo weighed in on the troubling times in a lecture: “…No administration can nor should be comfortable with the excruciating pain of debilitating and crushing economy. Businesses are closing, jobs are being lost and people are suffering. I know that President Buhari has always expressed concern for the plight of the common people but that concern must be translated to workable and result-oriented socio-economic policies and programmes that will turn the economy around at the shortest time possible…” Obasanjo spoke the minds of many home and abroad.
That resources are scanty has never been Nigeria’s problem. We have them in abundance. The IMF came out last October in an undeterred and audacious posture declaring the country as the biggest economy in all of Africa. It shoved Nigeria ahead of South Africa and Egypt as the biggest and the best on the continent. Latest estimates put Nigeria’s GDP at $415.08bn, from $493.83bn at the end of 2015. South Africa’s GDP at $280.36bn, from $314.73bn in 2015.
The affirmation surely ought to make President Muhammadu Buhari and his men shuffle around in some celebratory dance steps. In a season when sweetening news is rare, they must be tendering some butterflies in their stomachs because of this. The IMF’s declaration is by all means a free supply of munitions for this government to rev up with more fire assuring us that Nigeria’s tomorrow will be better than today.
Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with a population close to 180 million people. The 2014 rebase move of the government concluded that the country’s GDP was under-regarded in the 1990s. The move thus allotted a GDP of $454bn for 2012; and $510bn for 2013 firming up Nigeria’s lead over South Africa. There is a credible economic postulation now going around that by year 2030, the consumer arm of Nigeria will grow to be about 273 million in population, more than the population of France and Germany lumped together. The postulation also suggests that growth spurt will hit four sectors of the Nigerian economy thereby hiking the GDP by an additional $500bn! Wow! Nigeria with a GDP of almost $1tn?
But what are the tectonic effects of these bandied figures on the lives of ordinary Nigerians in Yenagoa and Yaba? How do you convince ordinary citizens that these aren’t mere numbers thrown around by some cohort elitists who are fooling the majority? What is big in an economy that cannot fulfil big dreams? What is big in an economy where big ideas have become lost in the confab of cabals? What is big in an economy that shrivels its youths and muffles its women? The IMF and a few Nigerians in leadership are perceived as nothing more than massive global deception machines that spew out figures not in sync with day-to-day reality occurrences in the nook and cranny of Nigeria. Yes; the economy is the biggest; so also are citizens’ plights and pothers.
On the one hand, the IMF tags us the biggest, on the other, the World Bank classifies Nigeria as one of the five extremely poor nations of the world. Nigeria’s poverty rate is pegged at 33.1 per cent. Almost 100 million people live on less than $1 a day, and 92 per cent on less than two dollars a day. Almost 62 per cent of households in Nigeria consider themselves to be poor while life expectancy remains low and is estimated to have decreased from 47 years in 1990 to 40 years. An economy that cannot put food on the table is BIG FOR NOTHING!
Nigerians will never read from the IMF poetry and instruction manual until life changes for the common man.
Health, health care and general living conditions in Nigeria are poor, and the basic daily needs of the people are still not met. Major roads are hazardous, minor ones are sick and sickening; electricity supply is mega below level; food is scanty and drinking water is laced with millions of diseased entities. And yet Nigeria is the biggest in Africa? When a man’s Physiological needs of food and water are deprived, his inner beings strive to meet those needs by every means necessary. In a country like Big-Economy Nigeria where 120 million people are categorised hungry, that nation is BIG FOR NOTHING!
Let’s assess a tiny speck of the Nigerian educational sector. Education indicators are poor nationwide. The sum of almost N370bn for education in the 2016 budget. Nigeria’s literacy rate is estimated at 61 per cent with a large number of out-of-school children and young adults with limited literacy and numeracy skills who have little hope of ever joining the formal workforce. Eighty per cent of primary age children never attended school in Borno State, for example. This compares with less than three per cent in most southern zones. Former Vice-President Abubakar Atiku recently declared that students in his privately-owned university are smarter and more intelligent than PhD holders from Nigerian public universities. Forty million Nigerian youths are unemployed; and 80 per cent of Nigerian graduates are unemployable. There are 1,252,913 students in Nigerian public universities, 43 per cent female; 57 per cent male. Nigerian hostel facilities are overcrowded, the lavatories are overstretched, laundry facilities are horrendous; and sanitation is an eyesore.
In a few of the universities, female students take their early morning bath in the open because showers are either non-existent or in poor condition. There is no university in Nigeria that’s able to accommodate more than 35 per cent of its students. Laundries and common rooms in many have been converted into rooms where students live in an open-prison style. Hostel rooms designated for five students are occupied by 20. And school administrators who are nothing but landlords of concentration camps continue to extort students charging commercial rates for school dormitories. It thus informs why students are susceptible to cultism, rape, violence, prostitution and other vices. In some of the Nigerian universities, students sit on bare floors to attend lectures. And Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa!
There is no doubt that the nation is blessed with good hands. We are like the biblical Moses who did not know the power he held in his hands. The solutions to our many problems are in-house. Unfortunately, politics, colluding with corrupt practices and ethnic shenanigans are strangling the country. Fools rule over the wise; and the wise are beholden to nincompoops who have no clue what needs be done. We have Nigerians inside and outside of the country who can be brought together to fashion a get-out method from these troubles that refuse to end.
My definition of good governance is the ability of an elected official to both FIND and FIX nagging problems in a system. It is also the ability of an elected official not to compound identified problems if he cannot fix them. An elected official is the Chief Troubleshooter in any given territory they oversee. They must be a solver of problems, not a creator of more endless pain.