Nigeria struggles, democratically, developmentally and economically. Thus rallying the nation back to prosperity never seemed so arduous. Yet rather than concerted brainstorming efforts, aimed at enduring solutions, all one hears from critical national sectors, and commentators are how bad things are. Then, there’s resignation; and then blame. Essentially, we’ve stopped listening and thinking.
Nonetheless, the state of the nation is linked singularly to most important and underpinning component of democracy — choice! Indeed, democracy is about choices. Good choices, hopefully. But curious downsides exist, and intermittently translate to nations making very unwise or hideous leadership and policy choices. Post-Brexit regrets and ‘had we known’ recriminations are good examples. So bad policy choices are always a possibility; and are mostly far removed from the twist of fate. In the present context, it’s noteworthy that the snags foisted on Nigeria, by not civilizing democracy and capitalism, are near insuperable.
Hence, Nigerian leaders need to hearken to the clarion call emanating from the just concluded G20 meeting in Hangzhou, China. (Perhaps, but for the recent loss of its rebased prime economic status, Nigeria ought to have been there). Yet three core messages out of China resonated: placate public discontent; growth has been too low, for too long, for too few; and civilize capitalism. The latter was a vital warning-cum-mantra dished out by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Interestingly, he found some notable buy-ins amongst his powerful minority peers.
All three messages point to the growing recognition that many amongst the world’s 7.4 billion people, are being underserved and at risk of being left behind by prevailing global and national economic policies. The resulting backlash is discernibly growing public skepticism over the much-touted free trade and globalization. A severe reverse of globalization is in the offing, and Nigeria along with its badly bruised economy presents as a viable case and theatre where the impact will be most felt.
For long, the benefits of free trade and globalization to Nigerians have meant the ability to find and buy anything they want and can afford (mostly Chinese-made-and-dumped goods ); but also their continuing inability to produce domestically, anything they need at affordable prices, which in turn, should grow the economy, provide employment and create wealth.
The readout from Hangzhou, China, points broadly to a “high degree of awareness” amongst the global leaders that gains of globalization are in auto-reverse and backsliding incrementally. The engagement of the reverse thrust commenced, perhaps formally, with Brexit; but the repudiation sentiments have simmered for far too long. The imminent risk, absent any instant remedial measures, is that those not represented at the G20 table — the victims and skeptics– will bear the brunt eventually. They, who embraced globalization when it was sexy, and held out much hope, will also be saddled with the garnishes of its deleterious impact, whenever globalization is fully disavowed.
Against the backdrop of the brutally frank discussions at the G20 meeting, there exist some critical lessons and core premises for concerted action. Nigeria policymakers grasping these will serve two purposes. It will help Nigeria overcome unrealized and broken economic promises by the ruling APC government, which has translated into economic recession. It will, also, preempt the pitfalls of a double jeopardy and related consequences: where Nigerians can no longer afford to buy cheap and badly produced foreign goods due to scarcity of foreign exchange, but all the same, cannot also manufacture such goods domestically, due to moribund Nigerian industries and manufacturing inefficiencies.
What are the redeeming and desirable next steps? First, is to do nothing, hoping that altruism and guilty conscience will prod G20 leaders to civilize capitalism universally, in a collective bid to rescue our wallowing globalization. Second, is for Nigeria’s government to think hard and quick, about how best to civilize Nigeria’s brand capitalism, which already is in reverse and at full throttle, thanks to extant wrong-headed fiscal and economic policies. The utter down side of globalization for Nigeria, is our unending full assumption of the middleman’s role, as we engage in buying and selling of badly produced foreign goods, dumped on us by our own volition. Our ECOWAS neighbours, thanks to free trade and movement, wait for use to buy imported wares with our hard currency, only to buy them off us with our inconvertible Naira.
The argument for immediate and substantive stimulus measures required to infuse energy into the tanking Nigerian economy remains valid. The realization that the national gini-coefficient continues to spiral downward; thus further highlighting economic and resource iniquity in Nigeria remains a compelling and validating basis for such prompt intervention. More importantly, perfunctory fiscal and economic policies that no longer deliver democratic dividends, prosperity and well-being to Nigerians urgently should be rescinded. They should be considered beyond misplaced and thus anomalous.
Yet, the rudimentary approach to civilizing Nigeria’s capitalism must be commonsensical, introspective and commence with putting extra cash in people’s hands and pockets, via a national stimulus package; increased employment, revitalization of SMEs, and support for Mom and Pop entrepreneurs, who provide basic services and communal needs. Such an approach ties in with measures advocated as pertinent to advancing sustainable development goals (SDGs). It must be holistic; which is to say, no Nigerian state should be left behind.
Meanwhile, one hardheaded question persist: Is anyone in the federal and state governments thinking deep about ways and means of civilizing Nigeria’s capitalism, with a view to forestalling the detrimental consequences of post-globalization challenges that’s bound to manifest soon?
Obaze is MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult Ltd.