PETERSIDE ECONOMIC REVIEW

Chamberlain S. Peterside, Ph.DWednesday, May 5, 2010
[email protected]
New York, NY, USA

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WHO CAN DELIVER ECONOMIC DIVIDENDS?
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES IN NIGERIA

…Renewed Vibes

y writing expedition over the years has been nothing short of an epiphany to say the least. It is such that, level of my enthusiasm determines the urge to put thoughts together for publication, which in turn is driven by/and is a function of prevailing political and economic circumstances around the world and at home in Nigeria. I get really energized when there are newsworthy trends/activities such as Obama’s run for presidency or economic/financial reform efforts in Nigeria during the early to mid part of 2000s.


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Unfortunately that keenness was somewhat dampened in the last 3 years, no thanks to an unexpected lull in tempo of activities and positive transformation in Nigeria. Then again I am beginning to feel the renewed vibes – what for recent spate of events, vibrant debates, landmark decisions and ideas festering in Nigeria over the last 3 months since ascension of Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President. Most notably;

  1. We have been witnessing the polemics of whether Goodluck Jonathan should or shouldn’t run for Presidency in the coming general election.

  2. His bold decision against all probable odds, to dissolve the federal executive council, while retaining some former ministers and appointing new ones.

  3. Signing new oil sector local content bill and attempt to radically reorganize and commercialize NNPC;

  4. Finalizing and signing the 2010 appropriation bill in record time.

  5. Active engagement with multinational oil companies on the petroleum industry bill (PIB) that will fundamentally change the face of the industry.

  6. Recommendation of new power reform measures (the bane of the economy) and need to begin implementation of the power reform act of 2005 designed to unbundle, privatize and decentralize power generation, distribution and transmission.

  7. Announcement of new national minimum wage and host of other initiatives in the pipeline.

…Development is Not One Big Bang
You have to agree that not since the end of second tenure by President Obasanjo in 2007 have we seen such plethora of policy initiatives and measures to move things forward. That to me is quite salutary because economic development is not one “big-bang” but rather result of consistent and coordinated steps. More importantly, Nigeria is a country in need of rapid development.

Unfortunately efforts to actualize that vision have not amounted to much. Since the last 20 years successive administrations have failed hopelessly to take decisive and the proper steps to set Nigeria on the right economic track, leaving most citizens and companies constantly yearning for change. With the advent of every new administration, the populace gained renewed hope that maybe the long awaited reprieve has finally come. But that was never to be. There is possibly no plausible excuse that could justify failure of all the administrations since Nigeria’s independence.

Both civilian and especially military administrations since then without exception (despite whatever subtle strides achieved) have performed below expectation based on world or even emerging market standards. Policy decision-makers have simply been incompetent, uninformed, self-centered, complacent and dishonest at best. This time around there is again renewed hope that maybe critical steps by Goodluck Jonathan could help reposition the economy and set the country on a new pedestal.

…What Has Zoning Got to Do With It?
While all we common folks nurse such high hopes the political stalwarts and ruling class remain oblivious of the deep chasm and continue to speak totally different language – insisting on zoning system for the presidency without consideration as to whether that can actually deliver the dividends of democracy. My major concern is that without a remarkable shift in the condition of living, there simply might not be a people to govern as the level of angst and frustration continuous to rise.

What is very crucial moving forward and which must form the core of political and leadership philosophy of the ruling (as well as opposition) parties is that the populace cannot be taken for granted indefinitely without dire and undesirable consequences. As history has shown at some point, people are tempted to resist, vent their frustration and take situations into their own hands, whether it is in the growing cases of kidnapping around the country, violent crime wave, youth restiveness, militancy in the Niger Delta, religious fanatism in the North (Umar Abdul Muttallab and Boko Haram quickly come to mind) or ethno-religious and tribal skirmishes in Jos.

Nigeria’s situation is made worse by its multi-ethnicity and demography in midst of widespread poverty, which might have been a huge attribute and catalyst for progress, assuming things were better. Experience of incessant attack on the nations oil-industry assets over the last 5 years have clearly exposed the vulnerability of Nigeria’s economic and financial might. Such unpleasant experiences should never be taken for granted or allowed to persist. The only way to assuage such threats is to focus on tangible programs that will ease tension and alleviate burden of everyday survival.

…Is Jonathan Up to the Task?
Is Acting President Goodluck Jonathan equal to the task? That’s open for debate but chances are that he might not be totally ignorant of the prolonged economic crunch and suffering in the country. What becomes crucial in such circumstance is not geographical zones, religious affiliation or ethnic coloration but delivering concrete value to the country. As Jonathan aptly explained in his CNN interview with Susan Amanpour during the visit to Washington DC - running for Presidency is not paramount but offering some results within the short tenure is key.

In recent years, Nigeria can boast of few elected or public officials that are tried and tested or successfully performed while in office. During discussions and debates in Internet chat-rooms some of those professionals who have excelled constantly crops up. Unfortunately electoral process and unpleasant antecedents in Nigeria have been such that it is not about who can deliver results, but who has the clout to clinch the coveted office. That scenario combined with very volatile political environment, unpredictable business climate and rising social tension leaves Nigeria in a very precarious situation.

Several grim prognoses have been published – like the US intelligence report that predicted disintegration of Nigeria within 15 years or repeated press soundbites and so-called expert opinion that classifies Nigeria as a “failed state”. All this does not make for positive long-term economic prospects for the country, given that investment decisions by both local and foreign business executives are based on risk analysis fed by this same hypes, innuendo and facts - whatever you might call them.

…Deja Vu 1999
The current situation in Nigeria reminds you of pre-1999 after demise of President Abacha and emergence of transition government led by General Abdulsalam Abubakar. The situation today leaves Nigeria very limited choice and little room for error. It does offer vital lessons for the ruling party though, to retool and reposition just as opposition parties can also take advantage, seize the moment to craft and sell the right message which may help them capture power at local, state or even national level.

Whether or not Acting President Goodluck Jonathan can muster the courage to make wise decisions between now and the next election remains to be seen. My reasoning is that whatever emanates from current circumstances must take into account the tense political climate and extra-ordinarily challenging economic environment which citizens, local business and prospective investors are forced to contend with.

It is not pretty at all and might not last much longer. If you ask me, I had recommend some type of political solution that can lead Nigeria out of the current economic trough down a path where it could repair age-long damage, revive its ailing economy after historical under-performance.

This solution can also help undo the stalemate in governance over the last 3 years. What concrete form or shape all this should take is left to the politicians and parties to work out. It will be foolhardy of them not to heed the telltale signs. For politicians to assume that things can continue with “business as usual” in Nigeria or that all shall fall into place with passage of time is even more stupid and callous.

Chamberlain is a New York based financial professional and member of Rivers State Economic Advisory Council.

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