Winning the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections will turn out to be the easiest task for Nigeria’s new leaders. Governing Africa’s most populous country will prove more arduous.
Now that the polls have come and gone, Nigerians and the newly inaugurated government of President Muhammadu Buhari must now turn their sights on the hard, serious work ahead: fixing their economy, and the ethical fibers of their multi-cultural society.
This will be no easy task, considering that all eyes (local and global) will be on the retired army general as he seeks to resolve the country’s innumerable social, economic and cultural dilemmas.
“This country has to be fixed… with the engine running,” Buhari’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, told a gathering of media and business folks in Lagos last April.
No doubt the Nigerian nation continues to be a “disappointing case” despite its crowning as Africa’s leading economy, and despite its abundant resources.
Now, when I say “disappointing case” I do not mean to belittle this GDP badge of honor. I merely want to remind you that (most) Nigerians lack access to potable water, electricity, internet access, affordable housing, quality healthcare, quality education and efficient public transportation, just to list a few things on the development agenda.
“We are actually bleeding on many fronts,” a friend working in the Office of the Chief Economic Adviser to President Jonathan admitted to FORBES AFRICA. “Yet we keep behaving as if we are a Saudi Arabia, which has a bigger economy several times the size of Nigeria’s.”
Nigeria is a classic case of the Dutch Disease syndrome, a term coined in 1977 by The Economist to describe the decline of the manufacturing sector in the Netherlands after the discovery of the large Groningen natural gas field in 1959. This was around the same time Nigeria also began to export oil from its Oloibiri oil fields, in the creeks of the Niger Delta. Sadly, instead of growing in significance and wealth, Nigeria’s Niger Delta communities have become desolate and impoverished.
In recent times, declining oil prices have had a debilitating effect on the country’s earnings. Nigeria however continues to behave like a wealthy czar, overspending, undersaving and underinvesting.
Revamping the ethos of business and governance should be top priority for Nigeria’s new economic and political managers. Under the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the country’s petroleum sector became synonymous with corruption and murky corporate governance.
Crude oil prices ($115 per barrel in June 2014) now stand around $60. National revenues have declined by 29% over the last nine months. Decades of not saving enough and not investing enough in the economy have now caught up with the nation.
The IMF has called for a further devaluation of the naira, the national currency, which had already depreciated by 23% between November and March. Citizens at the bottom of the pyramid and small business owners across the country disagreed with this advice. Nigerians would prefer a peaceful nation; productive refineries and infrastructure; reforms that restore the professional dignity of the civil service, the police and other public service providers; pragmatic housing programs; deeper financial and economic inclusion and a drastic reduction in the size of government.
In a nutshell, this is the broad agenda for Nigeria’s new government. Nigerians can however be impatient. It will certainly take more than one election cycle (four years) to fix all of the nation’s economic and social woes. A few months is all we need to gauge if the change Nigerians desire will begin to happen under the old general.
Known as a frugal man with little penchant for frivolities and material acquisitions, it will be interesting to see how he attenuates Nigeria’s widespread culture of nepotism. Which brings me to another matter: state sponsorship of religious activities, events and pilgrimages.
Saudi Arabia made $18.6 billion and $213 billion from pilgrimages and oil exports, respectively, in 2014. Israel recorded 3.54 million tourist arrivals in 2013. The statistics for Nigeria’s tourism sector are nowhere near these levels. Which begs the question: who benefits more from religious tourism – is it the citizen, the state or religious institutions?
The agenda for Buhari’s team is certainly not a boring one.