• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Nigeria: Politics, trade and aid

Embracing platonic politics

When two or three Nigerians are gathered the politics of their country will be up for discussion.

And there is usually a rancorous ring to this exercise. By contrast, minimal attention is given to economics. Whereas, the latter also constitutes the life-blood of our Nation or any other Nation for that matter.

This is why, in much of what follows, we will focus on the issues of trade, aid and the Nigerian social formation.

There is this maxim in international politics that what a country needs more is trade rather than aid. Proponents of this notion usually argue that, aid by its very nature, ultimately does not help the recipient. Rather, the argument goes further that the donor countries have put in place creative and self-serving tactics to ensure that all the gains of aid invariantly return to their source, the donor.

This is why for instance there is the idea of tied aid. The aid is tied in the sense that the recipient who has been given a chunk of money, and which has been announced with all fanfare, is obliged or even compelled to use the self-same money for the purchase of goods and services from the donor country. It is very rare to see a deviation from this well-known norm.

Even then, such is the neatness of the arrangement that, more often than not the recipient never gets to see the money. Rather he is merely supplied with goods and services from the donor country. And such are then rendered in quantitative terms and announced loudly as aid from country A to B. It is only to be hoped that one day, Development Journalism will grow to a point that such assertions will be interrogated and exposed.

Read also:  Bitcoin panic-sellers are giving Christmas gift to wealthy traders

All the parties in the game are well aware of this interesting situation, where, ultimately, aid does not aid. However, a closer look reveals that some gains or better still, grains accrue to the recipient country after all. The fat bureaucrat in the ministry gets to travel and see exotic places on the platform of that media-driven aid, and naturally he is happy. But beyond this personal relief, no such thing can be said about his country. Which is why, and over the years, a careful look at the developing countries revealed that rather than for aid to serve as an instrument of development, this has not happened.

On the contrary, the deepening misery of these developing countries continues to obtain on a consistent basis. Our country Nigeria is an example of this dismal arrangement. Since 1960 till date, we have been the recipient of aid from various social forces in the international system. Yet, development continues to elude us.

It is a situation which has compelled some fresh thinking as regards how Nigeria and other countries should contend their perennial status of underdevelopment. One way out, which seems appealing even seductive, is TRADE.

Hence the slogan: Trade not Aid. But even then, after a closer look one would see that even Trade can be so mismanaged that the country can end up poor. It is useful to appreciate here that the developed countries trade more among themselves, than they do with the developing countries, of which Nigeria is an integral part. Such is this situation that the rich countries even engage in trade wars.

Indeed, and in much of international trade, over 90 per cent of it, takes place between and amongst social formations like the United States of America, Russia, China and Japan. The lop-sidedness was such that new bodies like the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development came into existence with a view to supplanting a more status-quo body like the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT).

Incidentally, GATT has since floundered, and it has been replaced by the World Trade Organisation, where our own, and their own Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala currently holds sway. It does not take much for anybody to appreciate that an Okonjo-Iweala is something of a contradiction as Head of WTO.

She comes from a country where trade volume is low, and where such trade even obtains under difficult circumstances. This may well explain Washington’s initial reluctance to endorse Okonjo-Iweala.

And a quick caveat is necessary here. She is amply qualified for the job but there is certainly a lack of fit between her and Nigeria – her native country. However, this situation has since been neutralised by her double nationality. This explains why it was pointed out earlier on that she is one of them and also one of us, case closed.

But the case is not that simple as regards Nigeria’s trade profile which again like aid, cannot be used as an instrument of development.

There are so many variables which have gone a long way to ensure this dismal situation. There is the issue of policy somersaults on the part of the government. One policy is on stream today; another one obtains tomorrow. Beyond this is the poor infrastructure. Critical factors like poor roads, power and insecurity continue to dominate the Nigerian space. The case of power is so appalling that some members of the younger generation have never known a time when power was stable in this country. This factor alone can scare away any genuine investor.

Indeed, latest figures reveal that our trade volumes with the outside world have continued to decline. Meanwhile, very much the same can be said for our roads. Sometimes, as you travel on what passes for roads here, you will be forgiven for thinking that you are either in war-torn Afghanistan or Somalia. The visible ones here are well known roads like the Lagos-Badagry Expressway; the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, both under perennial construction and of course the roads leading to a major centre of trade – the Apapa Ports.

And when one factors in the issue of insecurity, it is clear that neither trade nor investment can thrive here. Which is why sadly enough, Ghana continues to be a major destination. As things are, Nigeria has succeeded in re-writing the book of development. The assumption is that any country with a big population will achieve development sooner than later.

Thus far, Nigeria has defied the scenario. The situation has been compounded by the ongoing industrial action of the judiciary workers. A critical arm of the government has stopped working for the past three months. Thus putting on hold mediatory processes that are bound to occur on the platform of trade and other variables. At the same time the political atmosphere is so toxic that the various gladiators are merely talking past each other.

Under these dispiriting circumstances, it is clear that trade like aid lacks the capacity to catalyse Nigeria’s development.

However, there is a final puzzle. Despite the bind that we are in, it is still possible to see foreigners hanging around Nigeria. Doing what I may ask? Legitimate business? Possibly. But it could well be that such individuals are mainly here for the proverbial instant coffee. The short run. Or to use that famous quip: Take the money and Run! And would you blame them? For even you dear reader, on the platform of sheer objectivity, if you had the resources, between here and say Ghana, where would you invest?