PETERSIDE ECONOMIC REVIEW

Chamberlain S. Peterside, Ph.DSaturday, May 16, 2009
[email protected]
New York, NY, USA

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NIGERIA ON THE THROES OF SOCIO-POLITICAL CRISIS …Can it Ever Change?

…Realities of Life

ver so often you hear lamentations from Nigerians both at home and abroad about how poorly their country is doing. So much so that the reaction to every slightest issue is – I told you so. Whereas any improvement is questioned and often considered a flash in the pan rather than tangible progress that could be counted upon in the tedious journey of nation-building.


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Frankly speaking, as keen observer and someone involved in the practicalities of Nigeria’s development process, am not really surprised at the level of angst by citizens at home or disdain shown by those in Diaspora. You could hardly tell if Nigeria is making any progress merely by looks on the faces in the streets of Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt, where I have been opportune to spend time in recent months.

This is quite anecdotal but also reflection of realities on grown. Wherever you go, the contrast in Nigeria can truly be shocking to its own people and most visitors. For under-privileged inhabitants, when you have been down for so long, it becomes your world and you wonder whether it will ever improve - but change it will. For the well-heeled, there’s no better place than Nigeria, so why should it change? – But to them I say also, change it will.

…Groundswell of Discontent
The bane of Nigeria today is the prolonged economic dislocation caused by decades of mismanagement, disjointed policies, incompetent execution and of course, outright embezzlement. Statistics underscore this condition and based on recent data from World Bank it is estimated that about 18 million Nigerians will become poorer in the current year due to ongoing global economic turmoil. Both in qualitative terms - condition of living, healthcare standard, consumption of basic amenities like power, food calorie intake etc, or quantitatively - cost of living, level of poverty and average daily survival income, Nigeria remains a basket case - for how much longer is debatable given recent gradual but steady strides around the country.

It might surprise you to know that on purchasing power parity (ppp) basis, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in Nigeria is now well above $1200 – level that it lost during the mid to late 1980s, in fact a state like Rivers State has more than three times the national average or $3200 per capita income, which compares favorably with international standard middle income per capita income of $5000.

Recent progress in Nigeria notwithstanding how subtle, remains obscured in the cacophony of national crisis nay; tough re-election battle in Ekiti State, widespread fuel shortages, electoral reform, Niger Delta militancy and everyday survival. All this makes the average citizen ask if Nigeria will ever transform for good. I have heard people in public places call Nigeria a “failed state”. I have seen and lived under breakdown of law and order such as collapse of communism in Soviet Union during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nigeria remains a far cry from that.

Based on my analysis and observation, I make bold to say there are pointers to the contrary, that gives reason to believe that Nigeria might indeed improve. For one, it has surprisingly remained somewhat resilient contrary to expectations from current global economic crisis, thanks to aggressive financial reforms put in place over the last 4-5 years. The decline in Naira value from N120 to N145 per $1, over the last six months might be small price to pay compared to how battered some advanced and other emerging market countries have been in recent months – it could have been worse.

…Pockets of Change
On a personal note, I was pleasantly surprised during my first visit to Calabar and Tinapa to find how well laid-out the city (and project in particular) are. You would agree that it takes quite a bit of work (in midst of the frustration and Nigerian factor) to conceive and successfully execute a project such as Tinapa. For the most part Calabar reminds me of middle-income cities in Eastern Europe during the 1990s, in terms of its functionality, serenity, orderliness and average life-standard.

Added to that, I personally consider Tinapa a world-class facility that would compare to any shopping mall in Europe or North America, albeit not fully functional and enjoying desired patronage by visitors and consumers at this point in time. But lets wait and see, chances are that it will take off and set the standard in the region in terms of the type of leisure and business park Nigeria and indeed Africa needs to energize its market.

The next level in this re-occurring decimal in Nigeria is Lagos State. Everywhere you go you hear about Lagos and Fashola (the Governor), not so much for his aggressive urban renewal drive, still at its nascent stages, but more for the audacity and effort to think that he can change Lagos that is well noted for such decay and notoriety. Of course it will take far more than urban renewal to solve endemic socio-economic problems of Lagos or Nigeria, which continues to threaten the fabric of the nation.

…It’s About Focus
Indeed whichever direction Lagos heads is where Nigeria might go. Therefore, assuming more states and indeed the federal government will borrow a cue and do little bit, one step at a time like; fixing power shortages, rebuilding broken infrastructure, aligning the role and aspirations of public and private sectors and setting the right policy framework for investment-flow and employment creation in various jurisdictions, the country will be miles away few years from now.

Despite all odds, you will notice the same pockets of change and concerted efforts around the country, whether by Governor Ameachi aggressively driving his economic and restructuring agenda in Rivers State or Governor Saraki relentlessly striving to position Kwara State as the future breadbasket of Nigeria.

Overall these are the kinds of single-minded focus and bold vision you need to move Nigeria forward at the seams. The efforts so far can hardly be enough to fully ameliorate current tense social climate or assuage concerns of (often well-meaning) critics and ordinary citizens who truly deserve better.

It is hard to argue with them, if weighed against backdrop of militancy, crime wave, healthcare crises, abject poverty and high unemployment that has now crystallized into pervasive socio-political discontent in the country. The question to my mind is whether the groundswell of these vices will be able to overtake the gradual but steady progress being recorded in the country.

Signs are that unless Nigeria ceases to exist as an entity, it will ultimately turn the corner and its future could be brighter – how soon is a different issue but we must keep pondering.

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

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