Much ado about rebased GDP

Statistician-General-of-the-NBS-Dr-Yemi-KaleThe Statistician General of the Federation, Dr. Yemi Kale recently announced the rebasing of Nigerian economy. The new statistics show that the economy has grown from $292 billion to $510 billion. It could now claim to be Africa’s largest economy pushing down South Africa to the second position, and the world’s 26th.

The federal government last changed the baseline for calculating Gross Domestic Product for Nigeria in 1990. This was a headline-grabbing moment for the government of Goodluck Jonathan which is short of good news.

For some years now, the leading lights of his government – the Minister of Finance Dr. Okonjo Iweala and Dr Olusegun Aganga, the Minister of Trade and Investment, have spoken glowingly about the economy’s growth in response to the Presidents transformation agenda.

The suspicious statistics they doled out have now been confirmed by the official figures from the Statistician General.

For a country famed for operating without statistics, the rebasing exercise is being celebrated in government circles eventhough it came a quarter of a century late. We congratulate Dr. Kale for achieving this feat. The figures are necessary to local planners and international investors who will now have relevant information at their finger tips to guide their actions.

Ironically and most interestingly is the countrywide response to what should have been a cause for national cheer. What we have experienced so far is a loud hiss.

The feeling of national despondency is reflected in the comments of some economists who say the exercise is a vain one because it does not add to the welfare of the man in the street.

Despite Nigeria’s new status, South Africa’s GDP per capita is $7,352 compared to our $1,555. South Africa produces 40,000 megawatts, set to double by 2025, while we battle with a miserly 3,000 with no prospects of improvement, if our immediate history is any guide.

Most devastating is the verdict of the World Bank which came barely a week after the ‘good news’. According to the Bank over 100 million are living far under the poverty line.

There is the big problem of unemployment. The National Bureau of Statistics says youth unemployment is over 54% although some commentators insist the true number is almost 80%.

The unemployment nightmare was vividly brought home to Nigerians in February with the harrowing images of millions of youth fighting for 4,500 positions available in the Nigerian Immigration Service. Amid the crush, 16 people died.

In the North East, all vestiges of state control have completely broken down as a result of the terrorism unleashed on the society by Boko Haram.

There are issues of widespread corruption and theft of crude oil all of which the government appears to be unwilling or incapable of tackling. The suspension of Sanusi Lamido as Central Bank Governor after he raised the alarm over missing oil money has done very little to improve on the image of the government as a scandal besotted regime.

Last week, the International Youth Foundation released its first Global Youth Wellbeing Index. Nigerian youth ranked lowest for wellbeing.

The country was ranked near bottom in terms of economic opportunities and near bottom in use of Information Technology. Nigeria’s education system — as seen by young people aged 12 — 24 – is ranked the worst in the world.

A rebased economy that does not take care of these facts has achieved virtually nothing.

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