It often seems imaginative to be pessimistic about Nigeria. And those who are hardly go wrong. But reality check, also informs that the prevailing pessimism derives not from nifty analysis, but from Nigeria’s consistency in being an outlier. This reality is further underpinned by political muddling and growing fragmentation in governance. The year 2016 is passé, along with its good and bad. As a year of promised change; of supposedly tangible and progressive shift, it flat lined from start to finish.
In hindsight, 2016 as a change year was deplorable on all counts, except to those engaged in political varnishing. Though all through Nigerians remained hopeful, activities of the past year did not in any way offer a modicum of hope for better governance in Nigeria. The disjointed year derived its impetus from a fledgling Executive Branch dogged by Legislative Branch hubris and the resultant Executive-Legislative run-in from the outset. The residual impact lingers and will either foster further challenges and or retard envisaged progress, if any.
Factually, but without a clear divide, year 2016 presages year 2017, a new year, in which Nigerians have taken to the social media early to “appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress for good governance.” Contextually, though not tottering on the brink, and far from collapse, a hopeful Nigeria is presently consigned to the grouping of states that are “highly dysfunctional and unable to control all its territory.” Hence, Nigeria remains the paradox that it has been all along.
Accordingly, prognosticating on year 2017 and what lies ahead for Nigerians, only conjures greater concerns. Worries about Nigeria’s inability to overcome prevailing governance challenges are indeed germane. Truly, there is no shadow of turning, if prevailing assessments are to be countenanced. Still, while recognizing that such challenges will not translate to governance stopping completely or the country imploding instantly, the prospects of the political and economic challenges lingering, must give any observer pause as the prevailing national malaise may be debilitating in the long run.
What Nigeria needs is to reform its governance toolkit – thought process, vision and operators. Elected legislators can’t run that gauntlet since it’s inimical to their wellbeing; which places the onus on the Executive Branch, which retains the prerogative to hire and fire. Routine, normality and business as usual won’t cut or foster change. You can’t change ways of doing business with the very template you want to change; nor for that matter, with the same insidious mindset.
As a matter of reduction and deduction, the successive budgets presented by the Buhari administration for 2016 and 2017, are stark metaphors for how not to engender change. Both mirror the other for lackluster policy and bureaucratic foggy thinking and for not grasping how to streamline policies, so that they can be implemented “within available resources”. Granted that deficit budgeting is almost always involuntary, but a nation committed to turning around its wellbeing can’t willfully continue to wallow in deficit. Whatever happened to the maxim “It will get worse before it gets better?”
Some analysts point to discernible fiscal and economic progress made in 2016. At best, such progress represents a mixed bag with hardly any redeeming value. Cut anyway, such halting progress is not good enough, even as projections are indicative of a possible 2.5 % growth in 2017. What matters, is attaining the catalytic kick start required for an irreversible turnaround of the economy and bringing the stagflation to an end. To celebrate a 2.5% prospective growth as opposed to the desirable minimum benchmark figure of 7.2%, which is in tandem with national GDP and GNP potentialities, is to be uninspired. To rehash what I’ve said elsewhere, the 2017 budget, if passed as is, may turn the nation around, but only, if fully funded and implemented. Otherwise, 2017 will be more punishing and agonizing for Nigerians.
Though oil prices are inching up towards $65 per barrel, the $100 per barrel days is no longer attainable, outside a major conflagration in the Middle East, bigger than the Syrian imbroglio. Moreover, greater uncertainties lie ahead as no one knows what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for Africa and Nigeria as well. Perhaps, an international crisis triggered by Donald Trump will also do the magic. But in that vein, Nigeria stands to suffer vicariously, if the U.S. chokes off funding for the Bretton Wood Institutions.
As such, Nigeria must bite the bullet and kill off the dual-tracked foreign currency regime; her Achilles Heels for the past several years. Though it may seem unlikely, if Nigeria courageously revert to a single foreign exchange regime, the existing foreign exchange gap will be readily filled by investors’ and diaspora remittances; and indeed, the voluntary repatriation of some of money — both legal and illegal — held overseas by Nigerians. It is only commonsensical that a further devalued Naira will make Nigeria attractive to investors. It will also make Nigerians more introspective; and more disposed to consuming domestically produced and certainly more affordable products.
Nigeria’s challenge is analogous to a coin with two similar sides. Hence, the flip-side of holding on to the dual-tracked foreign exchange regime is the bare-faced and myopic reluctance by the government at the federal and state levels to cut the cost of governance. Foreign exchange finances government perks, largess and patronage. As rightly observed, “there has not been enough tangible action to show that Nigeria is serious making itself a great place where the private sector can flourish.” Thus surmounting the turnaround challenge, which is basically a factor of rhetoric-cum-inertia, requires transcending the prevailing timidity that translates into awkwardness in policy coherence. It bears repeating again, that there’s no shadow of turning the country around in 2017, if we continue on the present trajectory. But then, how else can one tell the present leadership so, without being snooty or impudent?
Obaze is MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult Ltd.