• Sunday, May 26, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Nigeria’s unfinished success stories hold promises

Nigeria

At 60, a Nigerian civil servant is expected to retire. A plaque is presented for meritorious service and a party is organised for the retiree to recount the good old days.

Besides, it is a young country. Even at 60. Over four out of ten Nigerians are below 14. The 87 million within this age bracket are more than the entire population of Germany. Just 3 percent (5.5m) of the 196 million Nigerians can boast of being older than the country but life expectancy is 53.95 years. And in democratic terms, it just turned an adult after 21 years of uninterrupted civilian rule.

These numbers are both impressive and depressing at the same time, reflecting the Nigerian promise and paradox.

Is remaining together the greatest achievement of Nigeria? Unfortunately, military coups (and civil wars) are still common in Africa. Nigeria, unlike South Sudan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Mali, and Zimbabwe, has enjoyed uninterrupted democratic rule.

Soldiers cut short the euphoria of independence and short-circuiting Nigeria’s experiment with democratic self-government, ruling the country for 33 years of her history. In 1999, just before the beginning of a new millennium, Nigeria said goodbye to khakitocracy and has managed to keep the soldiers in the barracks. Though military coups are no longer fashionable in Nigeria, elections are still rigged and the democratic system is flawed with too much power in the centre.

What should a country have achieved at 60? What achievements could be listed on a plaque presented to Nigeria to honour its nationhood?

The reasons for celebrating have been downplayed. Nigeria is marking its 60th anniversary during a trying period.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken an already weak economy pushing it into a recession, the second in five years, and the worst economic contraction in a generation. The commotion the virus has caused in the economy is forcing President Buhari to make tough decisions. Like a patient taking medication and making lifestyle changes long prescribed by the doctor.

The year Nigeria turned 60 will of course be remembered for how COVID-19 disrupted lives and livelihoods. The socioeconomic difficulties many are facing this year will not be forgotten easily. Still, 2020 will also go down as the year the global race to reduce carbon emissions began in earnest. China, one of the biggest consumers of oil in the world, plans to cut its dependence on carbon emitting fuels by 2060. The race to batteries and hydrogen cell fuels will make oil producers irrelevant in this century.

The drop in oil prices, from which the government gets more than 60 percent of its revenues, has made the government see that the trillions of naira spent on subsidising petrol and electricity are unaffordable luxuries.

That itself is worth celebrating. Doubters will say, we’ve been here before and as soon as oil prices rebound the government will make an about-turn. Optimists will point out that this time it is different.

The changes happening mean this should be the first truly lowkey and sober Independence celebration. Nigeria is like a patient who managed to survive COVID-19, against the odds since those aged 60 are more vulnerable to the virus especially if they had previous health conditions like diabetes.

In such a reflective mood, such a patient is bound to think of successes achieved in life. In the case of Nigeria, the gains made in telecoms, movies and retail stand out. Growth in these sectors went underreported for years until 2013 when the GDP was rebased.

What this revealed was the immense consumer base within the country – young, burgeoning and with some spending power. Add to this steroid of diaspora remittances. Money the 1.24m Nigerians abroad send home has outstripped what the country earns from oil. PwC, a consultancy, says the $23.63bn sent in 2018 was “83 percent of the government’s budget, 11 times the Foreign Direct Investment flows and 7.4 times larger than the net official development assistance (foreign aid) received in 2017”.

Add to this the reform of pensions in 2004. So far over 8 million Nigerians are assured of a steady income source when they retire. The value assets in which the contributory pension scheme has been invested in the past 16 years is now over N8 trillion. Most of it invested in bonds and stock markets.

These are unfinished success stories. For instance, the 8 million workers taking part in the pension scheme represent 12 percent of the 70 million Nigerian workers. The gap to be covered is an opportunity, several dots remain unconnected (imagine transport, power and health infrastructure funded with remittances and pension funds. Above all, the lessons learned from implementing such reforms can be replicated in other crucial sectors: education, health, agriculture, oil and gas.

Building Nigeria is a work-in-progress; retiring at 60 is not an option.