There is a variety of Nigerian patriots for whom the mantra “my country, good or bad” is a creed of some sorts. Not, though, in the manner of a self-evident truth, existing alongside other such axioms. But a fundamental dictum of conduct that must be observed, as it were, in “every field of national endeavour” regardless of the specific issues involved or the circumstances associated therewith. For this class of countrymen, any narrative addressed to the shortcomings of the incumbent administration is at best “unpatriotic”, and worse, could be “seditious” and inimical to the continued corporate existence of the nation.
Against this perspective, I often wish I could indicate another category of my co-nationals, whose criticism of the current administration is apodictically “over-the-top”. That is, Nigerians who cannot find anything good about anything the incumbent administration has done since assuming office. That way, between hagiographers on one hand, and gripers on the other, I could look for a “mean”: a sweet spot in the grey areas in the middle of this discourse where some semblance of the truth may lie.
Try as much as I may, though, my sense is that we have too many of the “celebratory type Nigerian”, and not enough of the angry ones. Consequently, we over-applaud non-events (4,000Mw of electricity generated by an economy of 160 million people; 4G data and voice transmission networks that are nothing of sort; etc.), and are indifferent to/or readily tolerate more troublous facts (apparently we have not done enough to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015; we will not generate, despite numerous iterations of promises to do so, 10,000Mw of electricity by year-end; we will miss all the Vision 20:2020 goals; etc.).
In the run up to a new general election cycle, what is the nature of this debate? In the “Red Corner”, we have the “Messiah Complex”, according to which failure to re-elect incumbents could signify the end of the world as we have come to know it. In the “Blue Corner”, the fin de siècle crowd plies its trade. This bunch advertise themselves as the solution to the national problem: boot out the incumbents, and the vicious auto-generating cycle that we have been victims of since 1960 comes to a delightful end.
Despite the hubbub that has been generated by the beginning of a new election cycle, it is hard to tell what the nature of the national problem is from listening to both sides. “Corruption” is a problem we are told. But we have the one advantage that all current parties to the national discourse have/are running governments at different levels – none of which is a poster child for clean government. If corruption is then a constant, it is self-evident that this one risk will not alter much any of the contending parties’ equations.
Last week, in conversation with a friend, he posed a question that I think goes to the heart of our national headache(s). “How come”, he asked, “this economy has averaged GDP growth of 8% annually since 2007, and things still remain like this?” He has invited us (much later) to investigate changes to key indices in emerging market and developed economies elsewhere that grew by 8% annually over a decade to see what lessons we may learn from these countries.
Until, then, though, I worry that we do not have enough educated conversation – even argument – around the economy to help shape the policies that will move this country forward. The death, recently, of Baroness Thatcher briefly forced to the forefront, debate over her policy choices in her years as prime minister of the United Kingdom. Between her Tory government, and Ronald Reagan’s Republican administration in the United States, a choice was made between state intervention in the economy, through public spending designed to drive aggregate demand, and a small state relying on prudent fiscal policies to drive non-inflationary growth. The world has since had to live with the consequences of these choices.
What choices confront us? The Sanusi Lamido-led CBN has done a healthy job keeping inflation contained. But unemployment remains a key worry. How do we tackle this? With make work schemes, like SURE-P? Or by getting businesses to grow enough that they demand new workers? And the new workers, where will these come from? Our social infrastructure – schools, hospitals, and general welfare – do not support the kind of labour force that will make this economy competitive outside of the most basic industries. At which point we return to the character of our economy. And the question: “Have our current stewards of the economy done enough to make Nigeria a good place to do business?”
I don’t think so.