It is that time of the year again when individuals, businesses and economies bring closure to their activities for the year as the holiday season looms. It is a period of soul searching, stock taking and retrospection on what was in the year, what could have been, and how things could have been quite different.
It is also a time when plans for the coming year are conceived and strategies put in place to achieve them. It is not peculiar to Nigeria. These practice is common in many places across the world. This period, we are already deep into the “ember” months and Nigerians are mostly on auto drive as they expectantly await the year-end holidays and celebrations.
Perhaps, if you are Alan Fisher, you may still consider chasing a few Guinness World Records before the year is over. Or if you are Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress, you may decide to throw in one more industrial action or strike to press home your dissatisfaction with a state government. The last quarter of the year, particularly the last two months, is truly an interesting period.
Many companies have their financial year end in December. The banking sector, for instance, ends its fiscal year in December. Activities must be at a feverish pace now in the sector as banks organise their books, take inventory, balance their statements, and generally examine the financial health of their companies.
When you have done well in the year as the banking sector has done, based on the sector’s nine months financial performance to September 2023, the year-end closure could be exciting. There is a relaxed atmosphere to the year-end activities; no book cooking or overstatement of account is required. And there is certainly a lot more optimism for the year ahead. But when one has experienced failures on so many fronts, there is a lot more soul searching for what went wrong, a lot more worries as to the state of things, and anxiety for the year ahead.
As a nation, Nigeria has so much to ponder over. The managers of the economy must wonder what they got wrong to leave the forex market in shambles, characterised by very high arbitrage due to pricing inefficiencies. They must equally reflect on a second quarter with zero investment in the oil and gas sector, a sector the country is so dependent on for its mainstay. They must agonise over the country’s drop in external reserves to a two-year low, which further weakened its ability to fund imports.
They must conduct a sector by sector analyses and realise the economy did not do so well. They must surely spend some time to contemplate the new subsidy removal regime and how that seemed to have distorted economic activities and further pauperised the citizens. The nation’s borrowing spree that has seen the country amass a whooping N87.38 trillion in debt in Q2 2023 must seriously occupy the leaders’ minds. Inflation and interest rates remain problematic and so is unemployment. The seeming intractable rot in our institutions will surely be top of mind. Our poor healthcare system and equally poor healthcare coverage have caused the nation avoidable deaths and loss of productivity.
Was a supplementary budget truly needed? Is the renewed crisis between two of the biggest businesses (Dangote and BUA) in Nigeria beneficial to the economy? Surely, this is no time for petty rivalries; rather, it is a time for cooperation and collaboration to steady a drifting economy. Could popular comedian, Mr Ibu’s leg have been saved? Is the nation doing enough to curb insecurity? What could be done to stem the japa tide? These, and many more questions will form the bulk of the stock taking as the year winds down.
The country’s work is truly cut out for it in 2024. One imagines that the challenges listed above and many more would form the bulk of the bucket list for the nation in the coming year. People want genuine and beneficial change. Better ideas and planning are undoubtedly required to have a different story in 2024.
The country is proposing N26.01 trillion for the 2024 budget. Is that adequate? Will the government have the fiscal discipline to work within this budget? How does government plan to finance this? So many questions we do not yet have answers to. It is not enough though to release the coming year’s budget. In the stock taking, our leaders must be able to analyse and show us the performance of this year’s budget so that we see what works and what didn’t.