By David Emoche
Despite recent commendable indices pointing to Nigeria’s gradual economic growth and exit from recession, poverty alleviation still remains a mirage. As noted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose aim is to help member countries achieve macroeconomic stability and reduce poverty, the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan has not made much of an impact in lifting many Nigerians out of poverty.
A recent statement by the business mogul, Bill Gates, jibes with this report every inch. He said, “The Nigerian government’s economic recovery and growth plan identifies investing in our people as one of three strategic objectives. But the execution priorities don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritising physical capital over human capital. People without roads, ports, and factories can’t flourish. And roads, ports and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy”.
It is disheartening and bewildering that every step forward by the government to advance the economy seems to turn back the hands of the clock to the era before the ground-breaking economic reform of Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala during the administration of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. This consistent regression seems to be far beyond the comprehension of outsiders who, with high expectations, have placed Nigeria on a pedestal as Africa’s preferred investment destination. Although Nigeria has proven itself to be a complex state to govern, which has been used to explain away the seemingly incorrigible frame of the country when faced with statistics like the aforementioned, the country is richly endowed to lead Africa out of poverty.
My goal in this article is not to tell the tale of woe of the country nor to join issue with the likes of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state who jumped the gun to defend President Muhammadu not long after Bill Gates’ address. My aim is to draw the attention of the government and the public to practical ways to ameliorate the conditions of Nigerians, as suggested by IMF, by leaning towards Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s philosophies and strategies for the economic reform of the country. This is documented in her book, Reforming the Unreformable. The book is a chronicle of the necessary reforms and policies initiated to arrest the decline of Nigeria’s economy at the inception of democratic governance in 1999. This was after several years of economic dictatorship which was characterised by socioeconomic distortion, corruption and political instability.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economic Science, 2001, in a review, stated that the book as an “insider’s account of the valiant effort to reform Nigeria’s economy will inspire anyone committed to changing the course of their country.” Meanwhile, it is sad that Nigeria, for whom the reforms were designed, failed to implement and sustain most of the contents of the masterpiece which would have saved her the scorn and reproach she keeps receiving in the global community.
Men like Nasir El-Rufai, who served in the Economic team during the time of President Obasanjo, seem to have ditched, for politics, the principles and framework for economic growth through what El-Rufai had himself named as National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS). NEEDS was designed as a full-fledged program of change for the economy, incorporating action in essential sectors, including agriculture, education, and health. The four cardinal goals of the strategy were wealth creation, employment generation, poverty reduction, and value reorientation.
With NEEDS, three action plans were proposed. “The first was changing the way government works by strengthening the management of public finances, better prioritising expenditures, restructuring the bloated civil service, introducing transparency in government business, and fighting corruption. The second was promoting private enterprise as the primary engine of growth by deregulating and liberalising important sectors of the economy and incentivising the private to invest and create jobs. The third was empowering people by improving the delivery of basic services that matter for their lives – education, health, and essential infrastructure.”
These strategies developed in September 2003, no doubt, comprehensively addressed areas of concern of the IMF in relation to people-centred growth in 2018 Nigeria. Among the numerous solutions proffered by the IMF, “the implementation of an automatic fuel price-setting mechanism, sound cash and debt management, improved transparency in the oil sector, increased monitoring of the fiscal position of state and local governments, and substantially scaled-up safety nets” are policies that will readily impact the citizens.
The question remains; why is Nigeria still groping in its effort to ameliorate the plight of the masses? This cannot be divorced from the lack of “comprehensive and coherent policy actions,” in the state and local government and from one regime to another. The need for consistency and uniformity in implementing NEEDS at the three tiers of government had necessitated SEEDS (State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies) and LEEDS (Local Government Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies). This was because of the belief that the involvement of decentralised entities is crucial to any reforms of a fiscal nature or improvements in the delivery of basic services.
However, the limit in the achievement of NEEDS and several other policies of the Iweala-led economic team was not because of the inappropriateness of the strategies, as many critics believe. In the memoir, Okonjo-Iweala did not fail to recount the impediments that confronted the programmes such as the disagreement between the federal government and other tiers, especially in respect to the Excess Crude Account (ECA), the public belief that there are no Nigerians who are selfless enough to do this without sinking into corruption or personal gain, and socio-political change in the country.
Without the sentiments of difference in political affiliation, ethnic background or religion, the present administration must take a leaf out of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s book to lead the populace out of its present endemic poverty and socioeconomic regression. Her works are not limited to NEEDS, neither are they confined only in the aforementioned book. The government must sit to plough the records, review its policies, sort out the significant ones, and plan out comprehensive and coherent actions for national development. Moreover, this should not be for the sake of the 2019 elections, but for posterity and the success of generations to come.
David Emoche is a Public Analyst from Makurdi, Benue State. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org