How did developed and developing nations find their ways out of backwardness, underdevelopment and poverty? Are the templates they used still available or did they finish using them and make them forever unavailable? Is it possible to learn positive lessons from economic history of nations? Alternatively, is it possible to use common sense and pragmatism to guarantee national development?
These questions have become forcefully imperative because of the fact that for so many years, we have been moving in circles in Nigeria, pretending to be moving forward economically and socially when after all the movement, we end up at the starting point. Essentially, it has been movement in a barber’s chair. To compound matters, there seems to be no national consensus on what constitutes forward economic and social movement. There are variations and articulations as many as the interest groups in the Nigerian eco-habitat. With policy reversals, false starts and manifest dishonesty, the crab movement of everyone keeping all down continues to manifest.
It is the proposal of this discourse that the first steps in development are to build a national consensus around certain basic fundamentals of governance and to agree on what constitutes development including economic growth. In this shared national vision is an opportunity for all to benefit from the proceeds of development and economic growth; an opportunity to leap out of poverty and live a life of full dignity. It is also about a level playing field for all to contribute to national wealth creation whilst linking the drawing of benefits to the quantum of contributions of individuals and groups to the national patrimony. It is about liberating the creative energies of the average Nigerian to give him a space for self-expression.
In this direction, the government that leads the task must accommodate all sections of the nation, heal a divided Nigeria and must not simply tell certain sections of the country to go to hell. What we have presently is a divided nation where tribe and tongue differ and brotherhood is still a matter of lip service. The political environment should not be charged and energy dissipated in imaginary inter and intra party fights. But stakeholders must be calm enough to think in the positive direction which unleashes creativity for nation building. A ruling party like the All Progressives Congress needs to put its house in order and provide policy direction for governance for the country at large.
It has therefore become imperative that the focus at the national and state levels of governance to be on facilitating environment for value addition and wealth creation. The recent statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics on economic growth and the employment situation are not flattering. When this is combined with the warning of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria that the economy may be sliding into a recession early next year if proactive steps are not taken to stem the tide, then the need for urgency in handling economic matters comes to the fore. The nation cannot afford to wait a minute more longer before embarking on these proactive steps.
It is posited herewith that building a Nigerian economic growth model that is focused on empowering Nigerians in the country and in the Diaspora should be the central theme. The low hanging fruit of agriculture can lead the way. It should no longer be about mouthing slogans and platitudes but practical actions to improve productivity and value added. For some years now, there has been a lot of confrontation between cattle herdsmen and farmers who cultivate crops. This can provide an opportunity to get the herdsmen to settle down in cattle ranches and organised farms across many states of the federation especially in the North with vast arable but uncultivated plots of land. State governments can use their power under the Land Use Act to acquire lands and with little investments in boreholes powered by solar energy, thousands of hectares can be irrigated, covered with green vegetation and create a revolution that makes us self-sufficient in meat and dairy products with target for export markets in the next five to six years.
Instead of grumbling about the CBN’s foreign exchange restrictions, Nigerian entrepreneurs can begin massive cultivation of lands for tomatoes, fruits and all those not valid for foreign exchange related-agricultural products. Thereafter, they can be processed with a lot of value added. Pray, where are the thousands of graduates from the Universities of Agriculture established under the Ibrahim Babangida administration? They can be the linchpins in terms of manpower to drive the revolution. With a little more practical training, they can take mechanised farming to new heights. The resurrection of farm value chains in oil palm, cocoa, groundnut, cotton, rice, sugar, etc across the country will see more jobs created and the caveat will be that there will be no export of raw commodities after the first two to three years. Collaboration between fiscal and monetary policies can unleash the resources for industries that add value to these commodities so that exports can begin to earn real money rather that the peanuts earned from commodity prices which are always fluctuating and subject to the vagaries of international capital which we do not control.
The government can support all these with a trade, tariff and foreign exchange policy that is locked in by law for the next four to five years guaranteeing that there will be no policy reversals or that policy reversals will be difficult and need the input of various stakeholders to effect. Our Customs and Excise must be up to speed to police the borders so that banned products are not allowed to enter whilst being more involved in “open market operations” to confiscate banned items from markets and shops. Those who insist of violating the law must be taught some hard lessons which will encourage them to change. Even though this is a free market economy, Government may consider discouraging certain types of investments in the national interest. In a place like Abuja with a surfeit of hotels where the occupancy rate has also fallen, it makes no more sense for every nook and cranny of the city to be suffused with new hotels. The resources used in building these idle rooms can be channeled to more productive ventures.
Foreign investors should simply not be allowed into the country to set up basic retail shops and supermarkets which can be done by every Dick and Tom. What value do these supermarkets add to the economy when virtually all they sell are imported, including flying in fresh fruits and vegetables that can be produced locally. At the end of the month, they simply put up the naira to chase the dollar for repatriation to their country and continue piling pressure on the value of the naira. If any investor wants to come, let him set up a manufacturing outfit or render a service that is not already available locally. Not just a service to displace the locals already in the sector.
Governments at the federal, state and local government levels must also expand the tax base by bringing in more Nigerians into the tax net. The advantage of this is that it will bring in more revenue into the coffers of government whilst at the same time increasing the demand for accountability and transparency in governance. Ultimately, it will be a win-win scenario for all.
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