.Nigeria

NOTE:

This is the first quarterly update on the forecasts made on January 1 this year. It is only fair to our readers to re-visit the projections made then in order for Nigerians to decide for themselves who is telling them the truth.

However, the update will not be as long as the original submission. We will only point to where we stand on some of the issues discussed then.

Consequently, this update will focus on the following only: economy in 2022, Governance, security, exchange rate and food production. Here we go.

BUDGET 2022 IN DUST BIN

Several projections were made concerning the Nigerian economy in 2022. The cardinal one was in regard to the 2022 Budget which I said would never be implemented because of the inherent flaws in the assumptions on which the budget was formulated. Below are a few for quick recollection.

1. Nigerians can expect more loans than budgeted; 2. Exchange rate will rise over N600/$1; 3. Lower crude output than budgeted is certain; 4. Low Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, expected; 5. Power generation and distribution will not be steady.

By the end of the first quarter, ending March 31, Buhari had already sent in a request for a Supplementary Budget  Allocation amounting to N2.55trn. Experts forecast that by year-end, if not before, the additional request might be over N4trn. The 2022 Budget, as predicted, is in the dust bin with nine months more to go.

Among the facts already available to us are the following:

• Crude oil production averaged 1.42 million barrels per day, mbpd, in 2021; declined to 1.399mbpd in January 2022; then slumped to 1.25mbpd in February; then the report: crude lifting falls 40%, as 90% of output by independents stolen; finally crude output falls to 1.24mbpd – lowest in five months.

• Power distribution in February and March has been less than 2000MW per day.

• Two days to Easter, the exchange rate on the street was N595/$1.

• Naira may fall to N700 per dollar over oil thefts, low exports –NACCIMA, economists. Report, March 27, 2022.

The facts speak for themselves; they point to a steadily worsening economic situation – which one can only hope will not lead to a breaking point.

GOVERNANCE/INSECURITY

“Where there is no leadership, the people perish.”

That there would be a more serious leadership deficit was also predicted in the following words.

“Buhari, a lame-duck President, will lose control.

“Politics will take precedence over governance…”.

Today, even those who, hitherto, had been reluctant to criticise Buhari openly, are voicing their concerns regarding the clear signs of loss of Presidential control. First, we examine the evidence. Deliberately, governance and insecurity had been grouped together. They represent the Siamese twins of what Nigeria has become under the current leadership.

  *Terrorists hit Niger 50 times in January, k!lling 220, abduct 200. Governor Bello, January 19, 2022.

   *Terrorists k!ll 1,545 in Kaduna, Zamfara, Niger, and others in 90 days.

   *Again bandits raid Kaduna, Zamfara, kill 62, abduct 62, raze 70 houses.

   *700 soldiers k!lled.

   *Kaduna-Abuja train attack questions our capacity to govern –Governors.

Report, March 31, 2022.

Only in Ukraine, now at war, were more people killed in the first three months of 2022, than in Nigeria. In fact, from January 1 till March 31, 2022, there was no single day when innocent Nigerians were not killed by bandits, herdsmen, gunmen and other hoodlums throughout the country. As the country slides closer to pure anarchy, the chances for economic recovery become more remote.

Meanwhile, where are the state Governors? With the exception of Professor Soludo of Anambra state, all the Governors spend more time in Abuja and on politics – while their states become impoverished. In the first quarter of 2022, the FG and 36 states shared less revenue than in 2014. Yet, instead of finding ways to increase their Internally-Generated-Revenue, IGR, they waste everybody’s time and opportunity on politics.

It was predicted though. The truly patriotic Nigerian Governors apparently have not been born.

EXCHANGE RATE CRISIS

To understand the exchange rate crisis, we need to step back to 2020. The global COVID-19 pandemic struck just as we were ending the first quarter, Q1, of that year. Two months after, I was on admission in a hospital and advising everyone within earshot, to go and buy dollars. The unofficial exchange rate was N330/$1. By the time I was discharged, in August 2020, the rates were N402/$1. By Christmas 2021, the rates jumped to N560/$1. March 31, 2022, the rate was N575/$1.

Like every economic commodity, the law of demand and supply remains at play here. We ignore it at our perils as individuals and as a nation. Those who took my advice and bought dollars in 2022 are running ahead of inflation. Today, we are on another threshold of exchange rate increase. The N600/$1 projected in January now is obviously conservative. We have reached that milepost before the first half of the year; and we are faced with a worse scenario than when we started the year.

Two unforeseen factors have intruded into our national economy – massive crude oil theft and Ukraine war. The two will produce only one negative result: raise exchange rate over N600/$1 in 2022. Here is why.

Massive oil theft is not new to Nigeria. Under President Jonathan, the former Minister for Petroleum Resources, fugitive Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, went before the National Assembly to declare that 400,000 barrels per day of crude oil were stolen from Nigeria under her watch. In my article in response to that claim, the following points were made. One, anybody who can be so certain of the quantum of stolen crude from Nigeria must also have an idea of where it is stolen and who is doing it.

Two, it is impossible for anybody who is not technically competent to break into a crude pipeline without creating more mess than can be hidden. Three, no absolute stranger can go into the oil producing areas, damage pipes, collect crude and escape without being detected. Four, security personnel, operating under “orders from above” are certainly involved for so many thieves to escape with their loot.

It was all “Authority Stealing” being reported as “unknown vandalisers and thieves”,

Today, we are faced with the same problem with a new twist. The ‘orders from above’ now come from people far removed from the Niger Delta. And, they are digging a grave under the Nigerian economy. Dollars are becoming more scarce every day in the economy; they are accumulating in private pockets. That is one of the greatest tragedies for Nigeria in 2022.

Ukraine war is an ill wind that, like COVID-19 in 2020, will damage the global economy. Invariably, low exporting and import-dependent nations, like Nigeria, will suffer the most. If bread stands as a proxy for other imported commodities, then, the price will go through the roof very soon. It already spiked in Q1 of 2022. Ukraine and Russia account for about 28 per cent of global wheat exports. Ukrainians can’t farm under bombardment. Russians can’t export because of sanctions imposed. Any way you look at it, Nigerians will pay more for bread, Ndomie and cakes. Inflation again!!

DOMESTIC FOOD PRODUCTION

“Nearly 5 million rural people in Nigeria are now displaced fully, and about the same number are partially unsettled.” The report, March 2022.

With almost ten million people, mostly food producers, now dis-stabilised, this year’s planting season is off to a depressing start. Nigeria’s major food basket states, except Kano, are now under siege. Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto and Zamfara are the worst hit. But, all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory are affected. Nowhere is safe for farmers anymore. That means lower aggregate productivity this year. There is a great influx of Northerners to Lagos State. Those interviewed claim to be farmers chased out by hoodlums. Many are not planning to return soon.

MIYETTI ALLAH ALSO CRY AND FLEE

“Miyetti Allah members now fleeing Nigeria to escape bandits’ attacks, cattle rustling” –MACBAN Secretary-General, Ngelzeerma Usman. April.

Nigerian herdsmen, among the world’s top five terrorists groups, apparently granted immunity by their Life Patron, and killing with impunity, have now met their match in other terrorist groups. Boko Haram has for years made Borno State a risky place for them to go. Bandits and cattle rustlers are now making the rest of the country too hot for them as well.

The same security forces, which were either over-stretched or afraid or just don’t want to check their own excesses, are now powerless to save them from those hunting them down. Nigeria is no longer safe for even those who made it unsafe for others.

Although the interview with Usman was published in April, some of the incidents which prompted the outcry occurred in Q1 of this year. Bandits and kidnappers suddenly woke up to the fact that cattle herders on market days present ideal targets for banditry. While they grab other victims and negotiate for ransom later, the cattlemen carry their own ransom with them at the end of the market day. The rise in the number of attacks on MACBAN members, therefore, represents a logical extension of the activities of hoodlums.

The response of MACBAN members is also reasonable. Better to leave Nigeria and stay alive than stay and get killed and the cattle stolen anyway.

Results are predictable: the rising price of beef products in particular and food in general. Cattle protein remains the bulk of our national animal-based meat consumption. It is also certain that malnutrition among the poor and destitute will increase sharply.

NARCOTICS CONSUMPTION ON THE RISE

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, under Brigadier-General Marwa (rtd) is doing a wonderful job, arresting drug barons and distributors. Unfortunately, the NDLEA is overwhelmed by the enormity of the task it faces. Imported and locally produced narcotics have swamped Nigeria.  Cannabis is now grown in virtually any small plot available and sometimes side by side with ordinary vegetables. The turnaround time from seed to harvest is relatively short.

Thus, any seizure can easily be replaced quickly. Importers have a booming market among Nigerian youth – including kids of the affluent.

In some states, drugs provide employment for thousands of young people. It is going to be difficult to solve this problem as long as 40% of youths are unemployed.

ANYWAY FORWARD?

I thought it was Napoleon, 1769-1821, who said the word “impossible” does not, or should not exist. I will like to agree with him.

Frequently, when people ask me “is there a way forward?” My answer is often “Yes, if the governments – FG, states and Local Governments – are prepared to allow fresh approaches to be tried”.  The Minister of Finance said last year that we “have a revenue problem”. That is not strictly true. It is true if you consider the fact that in no single year since 2015 have we been able to collect the revenue budgeted. But, is that because aggregate revenue is lower than projected? If so, then present a more realistic budget.

However, I firmly believe that what we have is a revenue management problem. And, I can prove it from information available to me, to Buhari to the Minister. Let me give a hint using the Value Added Tax, VAT.

Inflation increases VAT revenue collection. VAT on a car sold for N2,000,000 last year will be less than the same car sold at N2,500,000 this year. The correlation is direct. Nigerians should be asking why the FG and states are borrowing more when prices are higher. That is a clue to solving the “revenue problem” that the Minister claims we have.

Another hint: control ten MDAs and CBN; and see how much more revenue you will collect and you will borrow less as well.

CONCLUSION

Nobody derives any pleasure from forecasting economic problems. I certainly don’t. But, every honest professional economist has a duty to his country and the people; to warn them when things are going wrong. Politicians, in government never want to be criticised. They prefer praise singers who hail them when in office and then join others in condemning previous administrations after they leave office.

How many people are still defending Jonathan’s economic policies today? The same will happen to Buhari after 2023.

To be continued later in  Q3. 

Vanguard News Nigeria

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