Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Nigeria’s economic and political scenarios — failing or failed?

The parallels with Afghanistan and the attempted ISIS Caliphate in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East is a sign of the possibilities across Nigeria.

• April 21, 2022
President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

For some strange reason, I encountered three different “reports” on the same day, Wednesday April 20, 2022 which re-ignited my worries about the fate of this our dear nation, Nigeria.

First was a news documentary on Sri Lanka produced by the news analysis programme Gravitas on WION the global Indian news channel which was sent to me by a Remo compatriot. If you replaced the name Sri Lanka in that report with Nigeria; and substituted Lankans for Nigerians; insert Buhari in place of Rajapaska and some other minor details, the story could easily have been about Nigeria, and not Sri Lanka. The tale is of a “populist” presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was elected in 2019, promising lower taxes (substitute subsidies!) and duly fulfilled his promises triggering fiscal crises in his country. It is a tale of policy errors, dysfunctional politics, failed leadership, budget and trade deficits, unsustainable borrowing, tragic trade policy including import bans, abandonment of markets and investment, inflation, depleting foreign reserves and depreciating currency, daily power blackouts, infrastructure loans from China, rising poverty and food shortages, even religious politics and policy and resort to the IMF to save the bankrupt country.

There are only two significant differences, which account for why Nigeria has not yet reached the Sri Lankan end-game of bankruptcy and default-we are a much larger economy and therefore can defer calamity for longer and our debt/GDP ratio is still acceptable even though our debt servicing/revenue ratio is approaching 100 percent a huge problematic of its own! We may avoid Sri Lanka’s fate for a while, but except there is a miracle of leadership in 2023, our trajectory to Sri Lanka (and Venezuela) is perhaps inevitable!

Then I came across an excellent conversation around “Data, Terrorism and Nigeria’s Future” between Khadaria Ahmed and a journalist and analyst Rotimi Sankore on Ahmed’s “Quarter to 12” programme. The things Sankore said on that programme are things I have said on multiple platforms and occasions but it was exhilarating hearing them from someone else, who had an excellent command of the facts, underlying issues and data and who was able to articulate them across contexts-North East, North West, South East and even Lagos and the South West in Nigeria and Africa. I have said on numerous occasions that a decade ago, whoever looked at socio-economic data from the North-East and North-West could have predicted the current breakdown of society, law and order and governance being experienced in those regions. The surprise is that our so-called leaders and governments at state and federal levels were seemingly surprised by the arrival of Boko Haram and banditry!

The mix of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, early childhood marriage, high rate of childbirth (over seven per mother), polygamy, high maternal mortality (and therefore high orphan births), out of school children, hunger and malnutrition, lack of family care, absence of skills and economic opportunity, religious fundamentalism, large ungoverned spaces, absence of infrastructure and development, corruption and climate change around the Lake Chad area in the North-East and more generally in the North East and North West was bound to produce insurgency, extremism, banditry and lawlessness. I have always suspected that the short-sightedness of northern political leaders who sought to sustain a feudal aristocracy in which they kept the masses poor, uneducated and brainwashed through religion and ethnic politics was doomed to fail, unfortunately with tragic consequences for all of us, but even I could not anticipate the scale of socio-economic and political tragedy and bloodletting that now bedevils northern Nigeria but that is already seeping through to other parts of the country.

The parallels with Afghanistan and the attempted ISIS Caliphate in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East is a sign of the possibilities across Nigeria, West Africa and the Sahel! I was troubled as I watched Khadaria evolve during the conversation until at a point the full realization of the case for separatist agitations in Southern Nigeria, especially the logic for a separated Western Nigeria stared her in the face. Khadaria Ahmed is from Zamfara State, perhaps the most failed of the states in Nigeria’s North-West ironically along with Buhari’s Katsina according to Sankore’s informed and brilliant analysis. Those who have ears let them hear!

And then I saw a report dated from June 2021 issued by the US Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard Kennedy School of Government which concluded that Nigeria is now at a point of no return with many signs of a failed nation! The report suggested that Nigeria had moved from a weak nation to a fully failed state manifesting signs of state failure including critically the inability of government to protect the citizens against large scale violence and festering insurgency. The report was authored by former US Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell (who one hopes may accept some responsibility for Nigeria’s current travails, given his active role in shaping the 2015 transition!) and Robert Rotberg of Harvard Kennedy School.

None of these reports surprised me. Our work at RTC Advisory Services recognizes three fundamental politico-economic scenarios for Nigeria-Wavering (in which the nation more-or-less continues in its current sub-optimal conditions, one step forward and one or two steps backward); Sustained Expansion (which could happen if the miracle of leadership happens in 2023 and we find the will to execute required social, political and economic reforms) and Collapse (in which national dysfunction and sup-optimality finally reaches its logical conclusion and the country is plunged into widespread social, political and economic collapse. I urge all those interested in governing Nigeria in 2023 to ask themselves why they are interested in leading Nigeria? Is it in order to avert disaster and build a new era of sustained expansion or like their predecessors, do they just wish to realise a personal desire to rule Nigeria?

Opeyemi Agbaje is Founder and CEO of leading strategy and business advisory firm, RTC Advisory Services Ltd. He was former Head of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Lagos Business School and is a lawyer, economic and policy expert and strategist. He is also Chairman of Stairways Communications and Advocacy Ltd, a political consultancy. 

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