By Obadiah Mailafia
MY gentle readers, let no-one deceive you. The stakes we face today are of a destiny-changing order. The coming elections will decide whether our country will survive or will be thrown to the dogs. Sunday November 18, was announced by INEC as the date for the official commencement of the national electioneering campaigns. We are back to the colourful and exciting era of the soapbox and the hustings. It is a race that will not be for the fainthearted.
Anyone who aspires to lead this country must tell Nigerians and the entire world what solutions they will bring to tackling 8 critical challenges: insecurity; economic stabilisation; poverty-alleviation and job-creation; power and infrastructures; diversification of the economy; human capital development; institutional reforms; and finally, restructuring and constitutional re-engineering.
One, the security challenge must very tops of the agenda. For a decade, our country has been involved in the second civil war, much of its theatre being the North East. The Boko Haram war has produced economic and humanitarian consequences more devastating than the Biafra war. Today ,we have IDPs numbering more than 3 million. The once prosperous North East is in shambles. The entire economy of the North has been blighted.
Added to this has been a low-intensity internecine war perpetrated by well-armed shadowy “herdsmen”. They have launched an unholy war against the peoples of the Middle Belt which is the bread basket of the country; a war of attrition with the unlimited military objective of genocide, conquest and subjugation. Peasants are abandoning their farms while heading towards over-crowded cities such as Abuja, Kaduna and Jos. At the same time, our country has become the kidnap capital of the world. Conflict, nihilistic violence and criminality have taken over. We need solutions, not rhetoric. Those who aspire to rule must proffer cogent and workable solutions to the national security challenge.
Two, we must address the issue of economic stabilisation. Economic stabilisation has to do with redressing the imbalances in the macroeconomy. Within three years, our national debt has mushroomed from N11 trillion to more than N23 trillion. The CBN has forgotten its mandate and is focusing on peripheral issues with an opacity that encourages corruption and rent-seeking behaviour. The institution has lost its autonomy and kow-tows to a corrupt cabal that has taken over the reins of economic and monetary policy. They have encouraged a multiple exchange rate regime that feeds their insatiable greed for ill-gained wealth at the expense of the economy and the people of this country. We currently spend 60 out of every 100 naira in servicing our debts. And nobody knows what these loans have been used for. Our external reserves are dwindling. Inflation hovers well above the single digit threshold while the naira is suffering and the current account is heading south. Interest rates remain prohibitive in an economy run by bankers in the interest of other bankers. Banks are no longer in the business of giving loans; they are busy trading currency and treasury bills. As a consequence, manufacturing is in the doldrums and investors are fleeing in droves.
Bringing back the macroeconomy into steady-state equilibrium is an absolute necessity for progress in the coming years. Only economists will understand these imperatives.
Three, we must address the question of poverty alleviation and job-creation. According to the UN Human Development Index, in 2018 Nigeria overtook India as the world capital of poverty. Nigeria’s poor number 88 million while those of India stand at 70 million. It focuses the mind when you grasp the reality behind these numbers. India’s 70 million poor represent some 20 percent of her 1.2 billion population while our 88 million poor are almost 50 percent of our 195 million people. At the same youth unemployment is as high as 70 percent in the poorest regions of Borno and Zamfara. Those seeking office must bring all their solutions to the table. The lives and livelihoods of millions are at stake.
Four, the power and infrastructures deficit needs to be addressed in a practical and original manner. The capital budget has never exceeded 30 percent of our national budget as against 70 percent for recurrent expenditure. In the emerging economies of Asia, it is always the exact opposite. What is worse in our case is that the expenditure framework for capital spending remains. Most of the money is frittered away by all sorts of stratagems and scams, leading to white elephants strewn all over the place. We need a focused approach to aggressive electrification while building world-class infrastructure base using public works approaches that create millions of jobs. Tackling power and solving the infrastructure conundrum is key to our long-term prosperity. Anyone aiming to run this country must put his or her solutions on the table.
Five, structural diversification of the economy is an urgent imperative. The era of oil is over. Economists tell us that we are entering a post-industrial new hydrogen economy that will increasingly be based on sustainable energy systems rather than oil. Clearly, our petrodollar rentier political economy is no longer sustainable. It is dangerous for us to rely on one volatile commodity for 50 percent of government revenue and 94 percent of foreign earnings. In the coming weeks and months our political elites must put this issue squarely on the table. There has been humungous rhetoric but few understand what is at stake.
Six, human capital is of supreme importance. People are the new wealth of nations. Education, literacy, training and skills are now the sources for the competitive advantage of nations, in addition to universal access to health services. Putting forward ideas on how best to train our people and equip them with the right tools to succeed in an intensely competitive global economy is what will separate the men from the boys.
Seven, implementing the third generation of institutional reforms is the key to long-term prosperity. The first generation reforms were the disastrous structural adjustment programmes of the eighties. They failed because they were badly designed and were imposed by foreign powers that had their own selfish interests in mind rather our collective welfare as a nation. The second generation reforms were implemented during Obasanjo years 1999 – 2007. The third generation reforms require addressing the remaining bottlenecks in the economy, including liberalisation of power distribution, civil service reforms and creating an anti-monopolies and fair competition regime to ensure an even playing field for economic actors. Nigerians need to be convinced that those who have ambition to govern understand these challenges and can come up with actionable solutions.
Finally, we must address the question of restructuring and constitutional re-engineering. At present, everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. Most are insincere while those who genuinely believe in it are vague as to what should be done. We need a clear-headed debate on these issues. Those who aspire to govern must bring out a clear programme on restructuring, with clarity on principles and roadmaps. As a matter of fact, we need model constitutions underpinning the proposals on restructuring anchored on dialogue and nation building. We should aim to create a more enduring union anchored on peace, social justice and the rule of law. Consolidating our democracy, enhancing civic culture and laying the foundations for peace, communitarian harmony, happiness and prosperity is the primary mandate of heaven in our era.