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Recalibrating Expectations

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Nigerians are currently hard at work. What sort of work, you might ask? Economic reconstruction and the quest for social and political rebirth. The new sheriff in town seeks to sweep the dregs of a shattered polity into the cesspit of history. Clearing the skeletons and cobwebs of the past is, however, proving to be a delicate dilemma for the good people and managers of the Nigerian nation.

Grappling with sluggish growth, dwindling external revenues, double-digit inflation and a prolonged currency constipation, Nigerians must now wrestle with the seen and unseen forces of corruption and ineptitude, the gods of inertia and impunity, and the innumerable anti-development demons in its social democratic space.

A nation which was once embroiled in a two-and-a-half-year civil war in the 1960s, without borrowing a dime and without experiencing a run on its national currency, now finds it difficult to maintain a healthy balance sheet in peace time. No doubt, Nigeria has earned its spot in global economics by virtue of its position as Africa’s largest economy. This status will, however, not produce social harmony, wealth and economic growth for Nigerians.

Nigeria’s one-year-old government continues its search for the Chibok girls (#BringBackOurGirls), abducted two years ago from their school in the north east of the country. President Muhammadu Buhari has embarked on a global search for the country’s missing money, embezzled by past leaders and cronies of previous governments. Currently struggling to wean itself off crude oil addiction and diversify its productive base, it’s taken almost a year for the president and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party to begin to translate their social and economic agenda into a “SMART Framework”.

In what seems to be a blueprint and agenda-setting address to selected private and public sector leaders during a National Economic Council (NEC) retreat in March, the president listed agriculture, solid minerals and infrastructure investments as the fulcrum of his agenda, with national targets for self-sufficiency in tomato paste production by 2016; rice production and milling by 2018; and wheat by 2019. He also introduced a new phrase into the lexicon of governance: “import competition”, where states focus on growing selected crops in which they have natural comparative advantage.

These confidence boosting steps notwithstanding, Nigerians are increasingly wary of the future. They have come to terms with that fact that the path to the future is riddled with dead promises.

On the political rostrum, campaigning for votes between 2014 and February 2015, APC big wigs made numerous promises to Nigerians. Granted this was all done in the heat of politicking, Nigerians now want the current Lords of Aso Villa to quit blaming previous administrations and simply execute their well-intentioned strategies.

The president has been blamed for not ‘radicalizing governance’ fast enough, which was one of the reasons Nigerians voted for his party. He has also been blamed for reneging on a campaign promise to provide a monthly allowance for unemployed youths. The APC’s manifesto also promises to: “create additional middle-class of at least two million new homeowners in our first year in government and one million annually thereafter; by enacting a national mortgage system that will lend at single digit interest rates for purchase of owner occupier houses.”

Good idea. But have two million new homes been built in the last year?

In just one year, the national mood has swung from politically-induced hope to a calm and unnerving anxiety about “personal survival in a regressive system” as it becomes increasingly clear that things will get worse – for much longer – before they become better. Thankfully, Buhari has also said this much, as he pleads for patience against the growing wave of disappointment and despondency.

So, El Nino has finally caught up with the nation’s 2016 fiscal budget, as GDP growth for the 2016-2017 period is likely to remain below 3%, according to the IMF, unless of course global crude oil prices shoot up to $100 per barrel.

This is very unlikely, observes Bismarck Rewane, renowned economist and CEO of Financial Derivatives Ltd.

“That era is gone for good. The chickens (of decades of economic profligacy) have come home to roost. We are now going into a likely prolonged phase of belt tightening,” he told members of the Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria recently.

The smart, hard, work must go on.

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