In the last couple of weeks, our country has attracted the world’s attention for the wrong reasons. The dreadful and appalling crime of up to 300 school girls’ abduction has shocked the world’s conscience. News of efforts to rescue the girls rather overshadowed the World Economic Forum Africa, whose theme was: Forging inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs. The backcloth of the Forum itself was the statistical exercise that rebased our economy. The result of the exercise made us the largest economy in Africa and placed us among the top 25 in the world. But those numbers are at variance with the lived experience of our citizens. Across the length and breadth of this country and in our cities, poverty is so visible, so general and so extreme. Those numbers have no meaning to the well being of the vast majority of our society.
The theme of the conference was also at variance with existing policy priorities. The rebased numbers were weighed in favour of the service sector, particularly the banking sector which contributed about 70% of the growth.For the rebased economy to affect lives of our citizens in a positive way and for the theme of the conference to have any meaning, we must take a serious look at our economic policy priorities and rebalance our policies in favour of agriculture and manufacturing to take people out of poverty and make them consumers for the expansion of the productive private sector and manufacturing. In addition, create jobs for millions of young unemployed and opportunities for the millions entering the job market every year. Everywhere you go there is display of foreign goods. We are turning ourselves into hawkers of other peoples’ manufactured goods. It makes no sense to maintain policies which close our factories but help keep foreign factories open!The way out of poverty is to put people to work. Workers should earn reasonable wages for their labourand farmers reasonable prices for their produce.
The government should have a second look at agricultural support. Current efforts on large scale farming are laudable, but it is the small scale farmer across the country who needs support to improve his yield and get out of poverty. The federal and state governments should, in addition to current efforts, concentrate on provision of small-scale credits, inputs (pesticides, fertilizers), extension services and revival of local cooperatives. That way the small farmer will be empowered to produce more and enhance his income.
Industries are in a bad shape. It is a national calamity. Government should look at quick remedial and relief measures. First, help industries with their fuel and power costs. In recent months two countries whose industries are more established than Nigeria’s (India and U.K.) received massive government grants to cover their energy costs. And for the manufacturing sector to thrive in Nigeria the government needs to extend and widen the CBN intervention initiative with much lower interest rates and longer periods of repayment. In this way, we will be on course to develop an economy that is inclusive, a society that is prosperous and at peace with itself, guaranteeing not only prosperity and peace to West Africa but also to Africa as a whole, currently home to the world’s poverty, conflict and insecurity. Nigeria is the buffer and shock-absorber to the West African sub-region.
Our current difficulties notwithstanding, the conference, a private sector initiative was a welcome move to partner with our private and public sectors to compliment our efforts in line with our developmental policy priorities, especially in long term infrastructure while the state concentrates in decisive intervention in health, education and facilitation of pro-poor and support for industry.
We must have a sensible balance between the private and public sectors without ideological preference to either. To attract beneficial long term foreign investors, as opposed to predators, we must dramatically improve on our governance. Our processes must be transparent, our legal system must be professional and law enforcement agencies also professional. Above all, eliminate corruption which is the greatest danger that stands in the way of our progress and peace.Needless to point out that the best thought-out economic plans and policies can have no effect if the security situation is dire. No one will bring his investment when bombs are exploding and schoolgirls are kidnapped!
The security situation the country is facing requires a holistic approach: security agencies of the (federal) government need closer cooperation with civilian security infrastructure which is in place but seldom considered as a part of the security effort. The local government structure from ward to district to state level is an excellent starting point for an over-all new security initiative. State-wide effort should be carefully coordinated with federal authorities. It should be a bottom-to-top operation. The bickering between Abuja and the states should cease if we are serious in wanting to win the war and end the conflict. All monies voted must demonstrably be seen to be spent on security.
The country should also come together with unequivocal support to the government and security agencies in this fight against mindless violence and mad-cap ideologies. The country should have one narrative about Boko Haram. It is an abhorrent, anti-Islam, anti-religion, anti-human sect. Accordingly, under the auspices of the federal government, prominent representatives of Islamic, Christian, traditional rulers, political leaders, labour leaders, women leaders and the youth should in one and the same forum come together and issue a declaration to demonstrate to the world that public opinion in Nigeria is at one in dealing with the wicked cancer of Boko Haram which is threatening the country’s peace. We should not allow politics, ethnicity and religion to disorganize the country.
The internationalization of this rescue effort is welcome to Nigerians. The command and control should, however, be led by Nigerians and foreign forces should respect the country’s sovereignty and be wary of local sensitivities.
Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a former Head of State, is chieftain of opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).