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The Economy Doesn’t Need Private Jets To Fly

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It’s a new season these days in Africa’s largest and most populous economy. A new broom has come to sweep away old problems.

Nigeria’s 2015 elections have come and gone. Hell, after all, did not break loose.

The elections were not without blemish though: while most international observer groups gave a clean bill to the nation for a mostly peaceful exercise, locals might have had a slightly different experience. There were pockets of electoral malpractice and a few politicians and professional miscreants created temporary panic, threatening to kill the peace. But by and large, the soul of the nation sailed peacefully through its most introspective moment in history.

Every migraine that Nigeria experiences is an African problem.

The elections were therefore a democratic tonic for Africa. It set a good precedent for scheduled elections across the continent this year: Ethiopians are expected to go to the polls in May; Burundi, Central African Republic, Guinea and Somaliland (June); Togo (July); Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania (October). Voters will also elect new leaders in Ghana and Cape Verde in 2016.

The Nigerian economy is responsible for a quarter of the investment flux on the continent. Nigeria’s infrastructure ecosystem is 50 years behind schedule, but this has not stopped the world from doing business with Nigeria.

Hope has thus been revived. But so much needs to be done. The sheer size of the population showcases the depth of development work needed to turn this huge national engine around. Transforming Nigeria into a fast developing economy in the mold of Malaysia, Singapore, Brazil and Turkey will require consolidated efforts of national reconstruction by Nigerians and friends of Nigeria across the world.

Despite the inadequacies of their motherland, Nigerians are a vibrant, boisterous lot. This positive psychology will need to be funneled into rebuilding their nation. The decrepit healthcare, education, law and justice systems need urgent transfusion.

The arrival of the largest opposition party in Government House is providing Nigerians with an opportunity to recalibrate their expectations against the backdrop of perennial under-delivery by previous civilian administrations in power since 1999.

Prior to 1999, several military régimes governed the country for 16 years. So, if 16 years of military rule stunted growth and socio-economic development, one must then ask the question: how well has Nigeria fared after 16 years of democracy? The answer to this question is obvious. Nigeria has experienced some measure of economic growth mixed with little development and plenty of disappointment.

The verdict is simple: outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda was hobbled by graft and nepotism, and past leaders before him failed woefully to entrench pervasive prosperity, which is the point of economic development.

Appraising the Jonathan presidency, Patrick Utomi, professor of political economics at the Lagos Business School says: “One of the biggest mistakes this president has ever made is to suggest that the ownership of private jets is an indicator of Nigeria’s progress. It is a terrible thing. I was praying hard after he said it the first time that he should realize he made a mistake; but he repeated it several times during the World Economic Forum and I was so embarrassed. I said, ‘Oh my goodness, we need help.’ That has been their orientation, they have not noticed that the Nigerian people are actually (poor).”

Nigerians are indeed poor. Most do not feel an ounce of the wealth that surrounds them in the form of flashy cars; business, military and political elites attending bumper parties in exotic locations; the growing culture of wine and champagne consumption; overnight millionaires flaunting their ill-gotten loot, many with personal police escorts; and members of the middle class constantly travelling overseas for annual vacations.

“Nigerians remain hopeful that the incoming government will bring positive changes to their lives,” says Pretty Okafor, President of the Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria (PMAN). “Nigerian music and movies is currently uniting Africa and unleashing creativity across the continent. Our politicians just have to build on what the Nigerian entertainment industry has been doing over the last 10 years – allow private enterprise to flourish and watch the market explode with positive results.”

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