• Saturday, April 20, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Re-evaluating Exchange Rate liberalisation: A call for balanced economic policy

Naira and Dollar

In the realm of economic policy, few measures have sparked as much debate and controversy as exchange rate liberalisation. For years, proponents have touted its potential to spur economic growth, attract foreign investment, and enhance market efficiency. However, as we examine the case of Nigeria’s experience with exchange rate liberalisation, it becomes evident that the reality does not always align with these lofty promises.

Exchange rate liberalisation, in its essence, advocates for the removal of government controls on the value of a nation’s currency, allowing market forces to determine exchange rates. The idea is appealing in its simplicity: free markets lead to optimal outcomes. Yet, the stark reality of Nigeria’s economic landscape paints a different picture—one marred by volatility, currency depreciation, and economic instability.

Since the initial liberalisation in June 2016, followed by another in June 2023, the Nigerian naira has experienced a relentless downward spiral against the US dollar. What was intended to usher in a new era of economic prosperity has instead left the naira vulnerable and weakened, eroding the purchasing power of Nigerian citizens and exacerbating inflationary pressures.

Proponents of exchange rate liberalisation often argue that it fosters economic efficiency by allowing market forces to determine currency value. While this may hold true in theory, the practical implications for developing economies like Nigeria are far more complex. The scarcity of the dollar, coupled with dwindling oil revenues and capital flight, has created a perfect storm for the devaluation of the naira, leaving the economy exposed to speculative attacks and external shocks.

 “The idea is appealing in its simplicity: free markets lead to optimal outcomes. Yet, the stark reality of Nigeria’s economic landscape paints a different picture—one marred by volatility, currency depreciation, and economic instability.”

Moreover, the premise that exchange rate liberalisation is a panacea for attracting foreign investment is fundamentally flawed. While foreign direct investment may inject dollars into the economy initially, the subsequent repatriation of profits drains these resources, leaving Nigeria in a perpetual cycle of dollar dependency. Additionally, the volatility and uncertainty associated with liberalised exchange rates can deter long-term investment, further undermining economic stability.

It is time to reevaluate our approach to exchange rate policy and pursue a more balanced economic strategy that prioritises stability and resilience over short-term gains. This does not mean reverting to outdated, heavy-handed government interventions, but rather adopting a nuanced approach that takes into account the unique challenges facing Nigeria’s economy.

Read also: More woes for importers as CBN raises exchange rate for customs duty again

One alternative worth considering is a managed float system, which allows for some degree of flexibility in exchange rates while providing central bank intervention to mitigate excessive volatility. This approach strikes a balance between market forces and regulatory oversight, allowing for a more stable and predictable currency market.

Furthermore, Nigeria must address the underlying structural issues that contribute to its vulnerability to external shocks. Diversifying the economy away from reliance on oil exports, investing in infrastructure and human capital, and promoting export-oriented industries are essential steps towards building a more resilient economy less susceptible to fluctuations in global commodity prices.

Concluding this narrative, while exchange rate liberalisation may hold appeal in theory, the reality of its implementation in Nigeria has been fraught with challenges and unintended consequences. We believe that it is time to acknowledge the limitations of this approach and embrace a more balanced economic policy that prioritises stability, resilience, and inclusive growth. Only then can Nigeria chart a path towards sustainable development and prosperity for all its citizens.