By Dele Sobowale
This lecture was delivered at the Annual End of Year Lunch of the Government College Ughelli Old Boys Association, Warri Branch on December 9, 2012. I think it is an appropriate bridge between the year 2012 and the New Year which should help us to know where we stand with regard to this goal which the Federal government has set for itself. Read on.
“The Economists like anyone else must concern himself with the ultimate aims of man”.
Alfred Marshall, 1824-1924 in VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 45.
Permit me, therefore, distinguished alumni of one of the greatest schools in Nigeria, to state that we are gathered in this room today, not to eat and drink; although that will happen. We are also not present because we want to share conviviality with other distinguished alumni; even though that is unavoidable. One thing only brought us here – we are all concerned about the ultimate aims of the people of Nigeria; particularly within the context of VISION 2020:20.
Let me assure anybody sitting here who might harbor the feeling that I am opposed to the achievement of the objective. Nothing can be further from the truth. I would be the first to welcome living in a country which can provide the benefits associated with such an exalted status.
For a start millions of jobs will be created and most of you here, like me, will have far less dependents than you have now. Nigerian roads will be world class and we all will not have to worry whether our relative going to Abuja will return safely or would be returned in a box.
Certainly, none of us will miss those noise-makers called generators if our nation can, like South Africa, generate 45,000MW of power instead of 4,000MW. There are literally thousands of benefits that Nigerians can derive from the promotion of our country to top 20.
So, the issue here is not whether we want Nigeria to reach the top 20 or not. The problem is can we make it in the year 2020 – which is a mere eight years away? As the topic given to me asked: how realistic? The answer, I am afraid is, NOT LIKELY. Let me now proceed to explain the reasons for that pessimistic view. But, first, let us touch upon a few related matters.
INVITATION TO RISING EXPECTATIONS
In that same page of the VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, we find a statement by a late Professor of Economics at Harvard University, Arthur Stone Dewing, who declared that, “behind the facts of economics are the facts of psychology….the emotions of fear and confidence, the judgments of doubt and certainty..”.
When politicians make promises, which to them are “like pie-crusts [biscuits if you like] made to be broken” (Jonathan Swift, 1667-1675), they sometimes find themselves straying into the dens of lions called economists. Economics, at its deadliest is a quantitative and cold-blooded subject.
Any assertion by public officials which would entail vast investment of funds is subjected to rigorous and sometimes contentious analyses. Thus, a statement such as “we want to make Nigeria a top twenty economy by the year 2020”, which politicians toss out like so much waste paper, perhaps to gather votes, is packed with numerous economic statements. Especially, when, at the time it was first announced in 2007, Nigeria was ranked 41 among nations listed.
At the minimum, Nigerians are asked to expect a different society from that they now have. But, what sort of economy will it be? The safest guide is to look at the nation which is now in the twentieth position. We might also profit immensely from taking a glance at other countries lying between us and the twentieth position.
Granted, few of us might have visited Indonesia, ranked 20. But, most certainly, many more people in this audience have travelled to South Africa, ranked 30. The promise to make Nigeria top 20 economy by the year 2020 amounts to transforming the Nigerian economy so rapidly that it would surpass that of South Africa.
Irrespective of which roads took you to this place today, you might answer the question yourself if Nigeria can develop the roads to compare with those of South Africa in eight years. Promises to reconstruct the East-West road from Warri to Calabar through Portharcourt and Ogoniland have been made since the 1970s.
More than 40 years after, arguably the most important road in Nigeria is still under construction. The contract for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which was awarded in 2009, had been terminated and re-awarded; the Portharcourt-Aba- Enugu road suffers from benign neglect – just to mention a few.
In neither South Africa nor Indonesia will you find an important road in such abysmal disrepair for so long. Thus, if roads serve as proxy for other aspects of infrastructural development the question, “how realistic?” can again be asked and answered by each person for himself. We will return to some of this later on.
Another obvious implication of that promise is that this country will, in fourteen years, 2007 inclusive, race past twenty one other nations to reach the coveted position. Among the countries our leaders expect will lay dormant while Nigeria climbs over them are the following:
There are more of them but the short list should provide the distinguished alumni of Government College, Ughelli, with sufficient information on which to decide for yourselves if the nations mentioned above are easy pushovers – given their years of track record of economic progress and achievements.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a nation having ambition to reach the top, especially one that is blessed with abundant resources like Nigeria. But, it is the verdict of economic history and experience that abundant, even superfluous natural resources alone can never confer lasting advantage or competitive superiority on any nation.
Adam Smith, 1723-1790, in his opus magnum, THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, had declared that, “What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which the far greater part of the members are poor”. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 271).
In none of the countries ranked among the top thirty can we find more than twenty per cent of the population living on less than $2 a day. In Saudi Arabia there is nobody so destitute. The domestic aggregate consumption is therefore large enough to create vast opportunities for manufacturing and by extension job creation. By contrast, 70 per cent of Nigerians live in poverty, mostly unable to procure the outputs of a modern economy. This partly explains why manufacturing is declining and joblessness is ever rising.
It is pertinent to end this segment of the lecture by pointing out that none of the nations above achieved their current status in less than a generation, which, in economics, is defined as thirty years. A country like Switzerland had taken over four hundred years to reach its present status — perhaps because they had no magicians running their government in those glorious years.
To be continued…