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Revisiting Nigeria’s democratic journey- A mixed picture of economic performance

Return to colonial anthem: Who are the real owners of ‘Nigeria’?

By Chiamaka Agwulonu and Muhammad Akanji

Celebrating 25 years of uninterrupted civil rule in Nigeria is a significant milestone. This highlights the nation’s progress in not only restoring but also maintaining democracy and the efforts of its citizens to uphold democratic values. During this period, Nigeria has witnessed numerous elections, peaceful transitions of power, and ongoing efforts to strengthen democratic institutions. However, as we commemorate this achievement, it is essential to critically appraise the journey, considering both triumphs and challenges. From economic performance to security situations, social policies, foreign relations, and public perception, Nigeria’s democratic path has been shaped by various factors.

For context, May 29, 2024, marked one year since President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) took over the reign of leadership, and a lot has changed this past year. A raft of analyses, comments, opinions, and reports were circulated to appraise the first-year performance of the administration. The results have been mixed, depending on the assessors, indicators considered, and the scope of the analysis. In this piece, we delve into the nuances of Nigeria’s democratic journey, focusing on the achievements and potential areas of enhancement for the current administration.

Read also: Democracy isn’t real, its future in peril – Moghalu

Nigeria’s democratic journey so far

Nigeria, a land of vibrant energy and abundant resources, has grappled with economic tides for decades. Successive reports pointed to the decline in the first-year performance of Nigeria’s presidents since the return to democracy. In the report provided by Analysts Data Services and Resources (ADSR) titled “Scorecard of President Tinubu’s One Year in Office,” the report stated that “the first-year performance ranking of Nigerian Presidents has been on the decline.” It reported further, “It fell from the highest level under Obasanjo (72.8 percent) to the lowest under Buhari (48.8 percent).” However, there is a turning point that is being observed in PBAT’s administration, with an overall first-year performance of 53.6 percent.

To this end, this piece explores the first-year episodes of the past five presidencies, each facing a unique and peculiar socio-political and economic landscape.

Obasanjo’s Inheritance (1999–2000): Inheriting a nation in transition, Obasanjo steered a course of cautious optimism. Growth flickered at 3.9 percent, while inflation remained relatively subdued at 6.9 percent. Unemployment loomed at 13.1 percent, a testament to the challenges ahead. Yet, with a stable exchange rate (₦92 to the dollar) and a flicker of foreign investment ($1.9 billion) in the telecom and oil sectors,.

Yar’Adua’s Steady Hand (2007–2008): Years later, Yar’Adua built on that fragile hope. Growth surged to a robust 6.76 percent, the highest in a while. Inflation stayed in check at an average of 11.6 percent. Unemployment remained a concern at 14.9 percent, but progress was evident. The oil and gas sector continued to attract foreign investment, pulling in a significant $7.01 billion. The exchange rate held firm at ₦120 to the dollar, a pillar of stability.

Jonathan’s Boom and Bust (2010–2011): Jonathan’s era witnessed a boom followed by a concerning dip. Growth exploded to a staggering 6.1 percent. Inflation, however, crept up to an average of 13.72 percent. A bright spot was the surge in foreign investment to $6.01 billion. However, unemployment remained stubbornly high at 21.4 percent, and the exchange rate, though relatively stable at ₦150 to the dollar, hinted at future concerns.

“From economic performance to security situations, social policies, foreign relations, and public perception, Nigeria’s democratic path has been shaped by various factors.”

Buhari’s Trials (2015–2016): Buhari’s tenure faced significant economic headwinds. Growth sputtered to a slow 2.79 percent. Inflation skyrocketed to a concerning average of 15.68 percent. Unemployment increased to a troubling 12.1 percent. Foreign direct investment (FDI) plummeted from $3.06 billion to a meagre $1.04 billion as investors grew wary. The exchange rate suffered a devastating devaluation, with the naira dropping from ₦197 to a shocking ₦750 to the dollar.

Tinubu’s Uncertain Start (2023-2024): The jury is still out on Tinubu’s first chapter. Growth showed a glimmer of hope, inching up to 2.98 percent from the previous year. However, inflation remained stubbornly high at 22.22 percent. Unemployment continued to be a major hurdle at 33 percent. There was a cautious flicker of investors’ optimism with a rise in FDI to $1.23 billion. The exchange rate, however, remained volatile, still hovering around ₦1400 to a dollar.

Nigeria’s democracy has been a story of trials and triumphs over the past 25 years. While the country has faced political instability, corruption, security threats, and economic challenges, it has also seen democracy gradually take root, granting citizens rights and freedoms unknown during military rule.

Looking at President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s one year in office, Nigeria’s 2023 economic performance presented a mixed picture. On the positive side, government revenue more than doubled, fueled by tax reforms and increased economic activity. The long-awaited Dangote refinery and other modular refineries commenced operations, boosting domestic refining capacity and potentially reducing reliance on imported fuels. Additionally, the Central Bank cleared a backlog of foreign exchange requests exceeding $7 billion, easing pressure on businesses and individuals. There were also signs of improvement in the oil sector, with credit rating agencies upgrading Nigeria to B+ with a stable outlook and oil production climbing to 1.34 million barrels per day. However, these gains were overshadowed by significant setbacks. Nigeria’s ranking in the global economy dropped from 32nd in 2022 to 42nd in 2023. Inflation soared to a 28-year high of 33.69 percent, eroding purchasing power and causing hardship for many Nigerians. Public debt also reached a concerning level of 97 trillion naira. The security situation remained a major concern, with persistent terrorist attacks adding to the anxiety. Frequent power grid collapses further hampered economic activity and quality of life, while the rising cost of living crisis forced manufacturers to exit the market, potentially dampening future growth prospects.

Read also: The challenge of democracy for Nigeria is not having strong institutions Darren Walker

Are we better off today?

However, celebrating unbroken democracy for a quarter-century begs the question: Has this translated into a better life for Nigerians? We need to scrutinise economic indicators like GDP growth rate, inflation, unemployment, and foreign direct investment. If these haven’t improved food security and overall well-being for the majority, there’s reason for regret. Nigerians deserve more than just the longevity of democracy; they deserve real progress in their daily lives.

Security also remains a major concern. Terrorism, insurgencies, and crime continue to plague the nation. The government’s response to these challenges needs evaluation. If citizens don’t feel safe, it’s a significant drawback in the democratic journey. Safety and stability are fundamental rights that should improve over time in a functioning democracy.

Finally, social policies and representation leave much to be desired. Despite 25 years of democracy, women haven’t received their fair share of opportunities. Marginalisation persists in both elected and appointed positions. Calls for electoral reforms and increased female representation are essential. The lack of substantial benefits for women is a regrettable outcome. A true democracy empowers all its citizens, regardless of gender.

 

About the authors:

Chiamaka is a research and data analyst at BusinessDay intelligence. She has a degree in Economics and over one year of cognitive experience in data visualisation and handling.

Muhammad is a research and data analyst at BusinessDay Intelligence. He has over seven years of quality analytical experience on issues related to the economy, finance, and human capital development.

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