It is now almost a national sing-song that the nation’s currency, the “Almighty Naira” of two generations past, is falling beyond redemption. All efforts by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration to shore up the strength of the Naira appear to be yielding a completely opposite result.
The first two weeks of “floating the Naira” appeared to have driven a final death knell into the notorious round-tripping that weakened it during the better-forgotten Emefiele years at the helm of Nigeria’s apex bank. From nearly N820 to the dollar, we witnessed a sharp reduction to N700/USD and a never-seen reduction in the gap between the “official” and parallel market exchange rates to a bare fifty Naira (N50). The cabal that had held the national economy by the jugular appeared to have lost its control as hope glittered.
There is, unfortunately, no amount of Tinubunomics that can reverse the current fall of the naira until the Government takes a bold step to boost non-oil exports
A false hope it has turned out to be as the Naira unbelievably began the downward spiral to almost N1,350/USD. Although it is clear that the present administration inherited an unbelievable myriad of headaches, the most damaging as of today is, clearly, the challenge of giving value to the Naira. How did we get here? Is there any hope of a reversal? Can the national currency ever manage to rebound and trade at a fair exchange rate that enables the country to rebuild the seemingly collapsed economy?
Going by the realities of today, the answers to these burning questions appear to be a sadistic negative. This article will attempt to highlight critical issues that are either yet to be seen by the current managers of the nation’s economy, or have built up to become insurmountable mountains, and proffer a few recommendations to what could become a veritable march towards economic revival, if taken into implementable consideration by the powers-that-be.
The first point we would like to stress here is that the exchange rate of a nation’s currency cannot be legislated. The strength of a country’s currency is, in all cases, determined by that country’s foreign reserves, and its performance in global trade – a terrain described by the International Trade Centre (Geneva) as fiercely competitive. There is, unfortunately, no amount of Tinubunomics that can reverse the current fall of the naira until the Government takes a bold step to boost non-oil exports. While being careful not to be tagged a doomsday prophet, we hasten to state here that the spirited efforts to “flood” the forex space with $10 billion (or even $50 billion) will, at best, be a sporadic response and temporary measure as these are not sustainable over the long term. No amount of borrowing to shore up the availability of new Dollars in the foreign exchange market can provide a sustainable (never even a permanent) solution to the current crises. In the same vein, the government’s current efforts to widen the tax net will doubtless enlarge the nation’s Internally Generated Revenue (at the risk of killing budding nano, micro, small and, medium enterprises), but they can never boost the nation’s foreign reserves; at least, not to the level that a virile non-oil exports sector can!
The biggest killer of Nigeria’s economy remains the country’s erstwhile over-dependence on crude oil exports as the main source of foreign exchange earnings, since the damaging discovery of the demon at Oloibiri in the early 1970s. The discovery, which was widely celebrated, and led the country into the: Oil boom” era has turned out to be Nigeria’s doom. Can the doom be reversed and the economy reset onto a path of new glory and boom? We answer a very big YES. But this yes depends on a firm understanding of how Nigeria’s economy can be reconstructed using non-oil exports as bricks and pillars.
The point we are making is that the potential in the non-oil export sector is huge. Every State in Nigeria can boast of at least two products that can thrive well in the global market and earn huge income in foreign exchange for the country. Niger State is the world’s largest producer of Shea Nuts Butter. Paradoxically, 95% of this product grows in the wild. Why is Niger State not the world’s largest exporter of Shea Butter?
We must understand the humongous potential of Jatropha Oil, an agricultural black gold whose plant is toxic to humans and animals but when pressed produces one of the most highly-priced essential oils in the international market, with China the world’s leading exporter and earning a whopping $500 million per annum! The jatropha plant can grow anywhere and is even used to prevent desert encroachment. The oil is also a raw material input into the production of Biodiesel. Should our States and Federal governments consider this as a special export opportunity and design a project around it, the export earnings will certainly help in the fight to revamp the dwindling fortunes of the nation’s currency.
Ondo State produces 65% of Nigeria’s Cocoa and Nigeria is rated as the world’s sixth largest exporter of Cocoa. What is the ranking of Ondo State in World Cocoa deliveries? While its erstwhile peers in world cocoa production and exports, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have ramped up their production and processing, between them accounting for annual deliveries of over two million metric tonnes per annum, Nigeria’s production remains at less than 300,000 metric tonnes per annum.
Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, and Cross Rivers States, between them, have the capacity to catch up with Malaysia on Palm Oil. But where are they? The whole country is busy expending good energy complaining that Malaysia “stole” the oil palm seed from Nigeria! The response should rather be to design an export orientation around all these natural resources that hold long-term potential for significant foreign exchange earnings!
Now that we have highlighted just a few of the veritable sources of sustainable foreign exchange earnings from non-oil exports, what should be the next steps? How can the Government harness these low-hanging fruits off an even lower-hanging sector of the economy?
The Nigeria Export Promotion Council recently coined a truthful mantra “Export4Survival”. We would add a marching-order timeframe to revolutionise this charge by recoining the mantra to read “ExportNOW4Survival”.
The strategies to achieve this new direction and restore hope for Nigeria’s ailing Naira will be discussed in the next part of this article. Stay tuned.