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Who is baking the Nigerian cake ?

By Dele Sobowale

World Bank predicts slower growth for Nigeria, others.” PUNCH, October 12, 2015, p 36.

In a report written by Oyetunji Abioye, readers were told that “the bank stated that a more challenging economic environment would make growth in the region to come down to 3.7 per cent from 4.6 per cent in 2014”. Readers, familiar with this page, surely know that we have not needed to wait for the World Bank to tell us the bad news about the Nigerian economy in 2016. So far in 2015, the economy had managed to grow only about 2.4 per cent; and is heading lower!! Every economic indicator known to forecasters points to a dreadful 2016.

The 55th Independent cake of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
The 55th Independent cake of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

The situation can only be made worse if we continue to delay taking necessary action. Incidentally, one of the unintended consequences of the delay in presenting the list of Ministers is that the comprehensive economic programme which might reduce the negative impacts of recession will also be delayed indefinitely.

One of the saddest aspects of governance in Nigeria is the time wasting that occurs even in the face of inevitable calamity. When President Buhari announced that the list of Ministers would be ready in September, his spokespersons and party supporters certainly could not have envisaged that only the first batch would be released on the last day of September.

Along the way the over-dramatisation of the integrity of those to be appointed has now raised the bar for approval by the Senate. Suddenly, documents which were not required in the past must now be produced. In addition, petitions, almost unknown in the past, have flooded the Senate against virtually every prospective Minister.

Consequently, we face the real prospect of not having the full slate of Ministers before the National Assembly, NASS, closes for its Christmas break. Generally, the NASS does not resume until the second week in January. Ultimately, the Federal Executive Council, FEC, might not be ready for business until February. Meanwhile the economy continues to deteriorate.

As we all know, we are not a productive economy. Unlike, China, India, Germany, Japan, among others, our consumption does not depend on what we produce as much as what we don’t – and that is crude oil exports; and to some extent, natural gas. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, recently released the monthly revenue from January to August this year. The report is shown below.

“{FIND REPORT AS ATTACHMENT}”.

Two facts stare us in the face immediately. First, the trend is downwards. The average for the first four months is about N154bn; for the second four months, it is N139bn; almost ten per cent lower. In no single month in 2015 was revenue near what it was in the corresponding month in 2014; which itself was worse than the revenue in 2013. “The economist, like anyone else, must concern himself with the ultimate aims of man.” (Alfred Marshall, 1842-1924).

The fear here is that while we have been busy with other matters, which are very important, (fighting corruption, Boko Haram, CCB etc) we forget that just as “an army marches on its stomach” (Napoleon, 1769-1821), a nation also moves on its stomach. Every human being is a digestive tube with two exhaust pipes at the end. Any government which fails to fill those digestive tubes is already a failure – irrespective of how many thieves it jails.

Since, we have organized our economy to “share” the cake, the least we can do is to recognize early when the size of the cake is about to shrink and to introduce measures to bake additional cake – otherwise millions of our people face famine next year. One of the unintended tragedies of waiting so long to appoint Ministers is the possibility that we might not get the cooks into the kitchen fast enough. The truth is: “Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man is starving.” (O. Henry, 1862-1910).

We will get nowhere unless people have jobs and can fill their digestive tubes regularly. And that means some government officials must be charged with the responsibilities of baking the cake. Unlike the Ministry of Petroleum, which the President intends to head, Finance, Agriculture, Commerce, Power and Transport need full time Ministers. They will determine the final outcome of our efforts aimed at baking a larger piece of cake – which will not occur by itself.

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