Sam Amadi, Senior Lecturer, Baze University

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Subjects of Interest

  • Commercial Policy
  • Economic Governance
  • Electric Power
  • Law & Economy
  • Public Sector Reform

Five points for elite consensus on Nigeria’s future 07 Nov 2022

Nigeria is at a threshold. The present is terrible. The future can be worse. Nigeria has 20 million out-of-school children – the highest in the world. If we estimate that children are no more than a quarter of Nigeria’s 200 million population, it means that about half of those children are not in school and will be illiterates. Couple this with the expected increase in drug addition, pervasive criminality, and extreme poverty that will increase as these hopeless children struggle to survive without social protection. The human capital crisis of the future will be very huge.

This is one small slice of Nigeria’s darkling plain. The economy itself has collapsed and would need more than a team of geniuses to revive and stabilize. The country is spending more than its total revenue to service its public debt. In 2023, the government will borrow an additional N8 trillion to fund the deficit in the N20.51 trillion national budget. This is as public revenue is fast dwindling. The Minister of Finance argues persuasively that considering that Nigeria’s debt-to-GDP ratio is still manageable, the country has a revenue – not a debt – problem.

Nigeria cannot meet its OPEC allocation of 1.8 million barrels per day. It exports on the average 1.1 million barrels per day, losing close to 700,000 barrels a day to oil theft. The fiscal burden is made worse by petrol subsidy, which is projected to reach N11 trillion by the end of 2022, an amount that is more than the projected revenue for the year.

The crisis is beyond economics. It is existential. As I write, school and public places are shutting down based on credible alerts by foreign diplomatic mission of terror attacks in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The US and UK government have asked their citizens on non-essential services to leave the FCT as a precaution. In Kebbi, many hundreds are fleeing their communities in northern Nigeria taken over by ISWAP-Boko Haram terrorists, even as kidnapping and sundry crimes flourish in Nigeria’s southern states. Flooding has devastated 33 states in Nigeria, killing about 660 persons, displacing about 1.5 million and affecting 2.5 million people. Already, 10 million Nigerians will become poor in 2022. The flooding will throw millions more into poverty and increase public health crises.

So, Nigeria heads into 2023 a very weak and unproductive state, a state terrorized and pauperized, with poor human development indicators. The urgency of a transformative leadership for the country is beyond argument. The politicians by their glib political talks seem to recognize that the country is in a development trap. The biggest problem is how to get out of the dangerous trajectory and focus on development rather than predatory and exclusionary politics.

If Nigeria does not fast-track and prioritize economic growth and distributional fairness as quickly as possible, it will submerge irretrievably in state failure. Already, the country is listed amongst the world’s five most terrorized countries. But getting Nigeria working is easier said than done. What should be done to make Nigeria find a path towards development?

We can borrow ideas from Oxford economist, Stefan Dercon, who argues in his 2022 book, ‘Gambling on Development: Why Some Countries Win and Others Lose’, that the route to development, irrespective of regime type, is via an elite consensus on development. Dercon thinks that the consensus may not necessarily be on the standard wares of western-type neoliberal market reforms. But it must be on investment in greater productivity, increase in export, and improvement in human development. The challenge he sees is how to craft such elite consensus, especially in societies long divided by caste, religion, and ethnicity. But examples from countries as culturally diverse as South Korea, Rwanda, and Taiwan teach that the pragmatism of elite consensus can work in plural and divided societies as long as the focus and strategies are right.

Nigeria’s future depends on whether its politicians can craft a ‘development bargain’ that will stabilize its politics and create inclusive growth. The ingredients of this bargain are five-fold: one, protection of life and property; two, the rule of law; three, functional education that leads to personal and social development; four, science and technology for social advancement; and five, fair and just reward system that leads to higher productivity and social justice.

The challenge is how we can commit Nigerian leading elites to overlook the conveniences of the moment and the centrifugal forces tearing against political stability and focus on investing resources on these five key drivers of development. The pragmatics of this bargain is that it does not require agreement on any of the contentious and incommensurable differences on values and comprehensive moral truths.

Nigerian politicians can get to an overlapping consensus on the necessity of a focus on practical sides of economic growth and social meritocracy, in spite of cultural differences. If they can achieve this cognitive reset, if they can develop a narrative that prioritizes these five socioeconomic action points, then the 2023 general elections will usher Nigeria into the dynamics of development. If not, free and fair elections may be insufficient to put Nigeria on the development path.

Sam Amadi, PhD, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, is the Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts.