Tackling Nigeria’s Economic and Security Challenges Differently, By ‘Tope Fasua

Three issues weighed on my mind as I contemplated this article:

1. An economic boom is coming, as it usually does, after a pandemic or war – but I reckon this opportunity may pass Nigeria by at this rate;

2. Nigeria is presently on a cliffhanger. It may explode anytime, given the centrifugal and centripetal forces yanking her in every direction, and it seems we cannot defend and justify her continued existence, even if our lives depended on it;

3. The Platform talk by Dr Charles Omole, wherein he disparaged those who ran for presidency and proffered that people should start ‘small’. I need to address how he has misconstrued issues.

Whereas I must later have to deal with each of these issues individually, some of the concerns will be covered in this article. I have always tried to be optimistic about issues, and even to set agenda for Nigeria to aim higher than we have over time. As things stand, it all looks like doom and gloom and we aren’t getting inspiration from our leaders. Yet, the world is priming for an economic boom. Are we calibrating our economy and population to get lifted from the impending boom? Will we be net receivers from the boom, or as always, net losers? What does a country have to do to be a net recipient or gainer? Now, this ties into the security outlook for Nigeria. In particular, Ambassador John Campbell is at it again, promising another article in Foreign Policy/Foreign Relations magazines – after several famous articles, including two books – to prove that Nigeria is already a failed state.

His latest book, Nigeria and the Nation State, explains eloquently how Nigeria is neither a nation, nor a state. I have issues with Campbell’s position. I think his is now an overkill and I wonder what beef he has with us, but a riposte in Foreign Affairs magazine, written by Nic Cheeseman and Fola Aina, and titled “Don’t Call Nigeria a Failed State”, came out – in my humble opinion – rather cheesy (pun unintended), with claims that Nigerians have never been as united and fulfilled as they are today. The opposite is the reality (Nigerians have never been more divided, unfulfilled and violated), but I believe that we should be able to state a more nuanced, more truthful and more intelligent case for the future of Nigeria.

I challenged some young entrepreneurs and private sector people who I believe are ‘doing well’, that this is the time to speak up and show the world that we have intelligent people who understand the challenge of this going concern, and who can fathom a clear line of sight into a stable, even glorious future, even if they aren’t in politics. My challenge hasn’t been taken up and I planned to write that defence of the fatherland myself.

Again, this thought flows into the third. One of the most interesting talks in the recently concluded May 1 lectures at Pastor Poju Oyemade’s The Platform, is that by super-intelligent Dr Charles Omole. He sought to prove that the devolution of powers is not the way forward for Nigeria, as against popular opinion. He also layered into those who contested for president, averring instead that those who go into politics should ‘start small’, by contesting for positions in local governments from whence they could transform the country. My contention is that the real big issues we face today are not micro, but macro in nature. We need an overarching vision from the very top. We need a driving force, a momentum, a collective sense of purpose, hard work, excellence and urgency, right from the top. We cannot drive the vision and sense of urgency that Nigeria requires, from a council or ward.

Dr Omole’s thesis is that systems are not as important as the people driving or working them. This thesis somehow negates his premises because we cannot send all the ‘good’ people to the local areas and abandon the topmost leadership positions to featherweights who will promptly liquidate all the good work of local people with tardiness and the wrong macro policies. As one who contested in Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election, I was touched by his statements… ‘riled’ is perhaps a better word.

I understand that Dr Omole is currently an adviser to the speaker of the House of Representatives. I hope he gets to know, with time, that thousands of young Nigerians contested for every position in the land in 2019 and a bunch of us who went for the centre realised the sheer centrality of a president’s role in the very destiny of a nation. It is foolhardy tweaking a tiny part of a systemic crisis, while the whole malfunctions. We also needed a catharsis and for the world to take note that Nigeria is not populated by intellectual lightweights and capitalistic cowards, looking only to make money. Look where we are today? Not even Gbajabiamila can use his oratory to take us out of this mire.

Anyhow, in a very crisp fashion, let me explore what I would have done differently, to take the Nigerian economy out of its present doldrums. Then I will also look at the security situation and what I could have done if I was president. It needs to be said that these are not particularly easy issues. They are also related in some catch-22 fashion. A booming economy means less unemployment, and consequently less crime. Even terrorists will take a break. Also, a sound security structure means that people can express themselves freely by doing business, and businesses will attract the required cash flows for expansion.

Right now, we are on a downward spiral on both fronts – security and the economy. What is more? Whereas I am this crazy chap who has always pushed for double-digit GDP growth pre-COVID, the onset of a pandemic has shifted the situation to one of sheer economic survival. The world has had to embrace some sort of rabid Keynesianism, with every country spending far beyond budgets to reboot their economies in order to make up for lost time. The result is inflation and a much-reduced growth rate for the economy. Still, we must take note that a boom is around the corner – or may have started in some places; China’s economy grew at 6.5 per cent in the last quarter of 2020 and 18 per cent in Q1 2021.

On the matter of security, Nigeria’s situation seems to be getting more complicated. God help us, but we now hear that the vestiges of ISIS and AlQaeda are taking root in Nigeria, and collaborating with Boko Haram! At the same time, there is insurgency in the East and West of Nigeria, the Niger Delta is getting increasingly restless, bandits have seized the North-West, with incursions into the Middle Belt, while gory tales of migrant and often foreign Fulani herdsmen clashes with our farmers litter the newspapers daily. As these go on, other signs of insecurity, like cult clashes, ritual killings, kidnappings, carjacking, traffic robberies and so on continue unabated.

The above should paint a picture of a complex, interrelated, multilayered crisis on both the economic and security fronts, with local and international ramifications to deal with.

The Economy

How would I have managed this differently?

1. The first thing I would have done is to set an agenda of double-digit growth at 15 per cent per annum, pre-COVID. This may have assisted us as a people to aim high. What this means is that all of us should try and be 15 per cent more productive year-on-year;

2. In spite of COVID-19, the growth rate should now be calibrated to take advantage of the coming boom, and we should target not less than 10 per cent GDP growth going forward. Indeed, we need such growth rate consistently to tackle unemployment, which presently stands at 33 per cent;

3. Nigeria is presently in a stagflation, with inflation at 18.13 per cent and a growth rate of 0.11 per cent. My belief is that a rapidly growing economy cannot but suffer high inflation and Nigeria should be a rapidly growing economy, not a plateaued one. Therefore, it is economic growth that we need to work upon. The conceptualisation of our growth trajectory is important, as it sets the agenda for every sector, but for now we seem hypnotised that we cannot do better than we are doing or break out of the cycle of mediocrity;

4. The trick to our economic renaissance does not lie in foreign direct investment (those will come if we have good security and our human capital is ready). Neither will we find the solution by racking up more debts. The trick lies in how to increase productivity – especially among our burgeoning youths – and how quickly we achieve economic complexity. This means that we must become an experimental economy. Our youths must be encouraged and incentivised to compete in improving every facet of our economy by adding value to whatever they can lay their hands on. This way, we will be able to produce more of the things we need and import less. Also, rather than chase foreign investors, we should first capture and encourage domestic investors.

5. The premise for 4 above, is that Nigeria is a place where so much still needs to be done. We can see our infrastructure, electricity, environment, even our security as challenges, and tremble in trepidation, but they can also be seen as opportunities. Reorganising these areas means money is there to be made. Rather than wait for foreigners to come and make the money, why don’t we try and do so ourselves. This means we must get rid of the mentality of thinking that everything should be easy. If we are honest, we will see that those foreign countries we eulogise actually struggled and suffered to get to where they are. They created their countries themselves – largely from the scratch. Nothing comes easy. This is what we must do. These challenges are our best opportunity. This is therefore the time to rally round this country, not the time to pull her apart in several directions. This is, however, not to decimate the serious issues of injustice, tardiness on the part of leadership, and inefficiency, which have defined us for way too long. In short, we cannot import economic development.

6. Emphasis will be on the maintenance and optimisation of existing infrastructure. Too many abandoned projects exist in Nigeria. Too many abandoned roads and non-functional infrastructure. A few honest people who have been in government have told us that Nigeria acts like a little baby in need of new toys. We actually have more infrastructure than many countries. We just run them down fast and then seek new ones because it is in new infrastructure that opportunities for big bribes exist – according to the World Bank.

7. Deal decisively with the issue of corruption – which is actually a disease. Luckily it is getting increasingly more difficult to spirit money abroad. However, decisive action on top government functionaries caught frittering the little we have, will go a long way in conserving our national resources for the benefit of everyone.

8. In order to tackle the employment crisis, which critically feeds into the economy, I believe that the ‘enabling environment’ needed by entrepreneurs is not only a matter of infrastructure, but also in terms of security, environmental ambience, and social services. To this extent, Nigeria has not really ever done the needful to create a solid, resilient society. Rather than thinking of laying off government workers or just slashing salaries across the board, if I was president, I will be repurposing these workers. There are many areas of the economy that needs more personnel. The real challenge is that successive governments have been wary of using our limited funds to actually ORGANISE SOCIETY in an honest manner. The result is the chaos we see today. It is a great investment to try and organise society, and some economies have used this strategy. Imagine if we repurposed those pushing files in government secretariats to become:

a. Teachers – we need millions of them still;

b. Social workers – someone needs to remove 15 million children from the streets and keep them in school;

c. Security – our inadequate policemen are doing houseboy work for ‘big men’. No matter the case, we need a whole lot more policemen, military personnel and intelligence workers. Granted, there are a lot of ghost workers in this department, which the honest use of technology will fish out. Our current leaders are just not ready. More on this below;

d. Environmental workers – Nigeria needs a new face, a new look, a makeover, a transformation. And the youths can do this work and maintain that look;

e. Primary health workers – we did not take advantage of COVID-19 to reposition this sector but it is never too late;

f. Agricultural extension workers – we could use more youths in this area, relying on their knowledge of technology and freely available knowledge on platforms like Youtube and MOOCs. Nigeria needs to use a whole lot more of her arable land and our famers must be empowered in this regard.

With these ideas, I would achieve, as president, in four years:

i. A GDP growth rate of 10 per cent year on year, leading to almost 50 per cent growth in the economy in four years;

ii. The raising of per capita income by about 30 per cent, with the GDP growth rate outstripping the population growth rate of 2.6 per cent;

iii. Taking 20 million people out of poverty through an inclusive economic strategy involving youths, en masse, and targeting productivity, not merely giving handouts;

iv. Catching up with emerging economies by progressing into secondary and tertiary products of our own, thereby consolidating on the African Free Trade Agreement, to totally reposition the mindset of Nigerians, and not concentrating on inflation-targeting. This work is for everybody. It is the absence of such an agenda that has reduced most Nigerians to agitators for break up today. It takes serious focus and mental strength to rein our people back.

The Security Situation

Security rises and falls on the basis of intelligence, diligence and willingness to bite the bullet and do the needful. The compromises of the past is what has laid our security situation bare today. Dishonesty in employment. Dishonesty in ridding the service of ghost workers. The calibration of security services to only protect political position holders and moneybags who can pay, and so on. These are the issues. Still, the following can be done to reposition our security:

1. Use of technology – even cheap and available ones deployed honestly – to know the true situation of personnel in the service. Also technology is needed to fight the urban warfare we are now saddled with;

2. Weeding out of ghost workers, so that we know just how many boots we have on ground;

3. Employment of at least another 200,000 people into Nigerian Police and over 50,000 into the Nigerian Army, among others. Also, the DSS and other agencies in the security sector need new blood and the employment of thousands of Nigerian youths. It is important to note that by recalibrating our finances, we can pay for this new investment of employing more youths in critical services, as a way of creating the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Without security, all businesses are dead on arrival;

4. Separation of industrial security from social security. A large proportion of our policemen work with banks and oil companies and what not. The payments made by these organisations are not made official, while the rest of the Nigerian space is unpoliced. There is a need to separate the two and ensure that these companies fork out the money for their own security – officially. Senator Misau (a retired Commissioner of Police, whose father retired as an AIG) once alleged that the IGP pockets N10 billion monthly in this area. By reorganising the service in this manner, the gaps will be more obvious and Nigeria can employ more policemen to fill the gaping lacuna;

5. Granting of state police. Also, it is obvious by now that the fear of state police is unfounded. Indeed, many of the governors who were strident about state policing have since gone quiet, having seen that the idea will ‘disappear’ their security votes. We should push harder in this direction as the current centralised structure no longer works;

6. Food security is perhaps the most critical form of security. Food must be cheap and prices must be stable. This will be assured by the deployment of more scientific methods in our agriculture. Closely tied with this is the need to evolve a plan for decent housing for the poor. This has never been done in this country. I believe a lot of Nigerians are innately angry, partly because of the environment they live in.

Most police stations in Nigeria get zero allocation all year round. Many of them have to hire cars from locals for patrol and pay the drivers from the bribes they collect by mounting roadblocks. This anomaly has seized the police and the occasional firing of a bribe-collecting policeman is just a ruse. Again, it is either Nigerian leaders are ready to INVEST in an orderly society or they would rather sate themselves and their fantasies while society disintegrates. The interrelationship between security and the economy cannot be overemphasised But I believe that with honesty, this nation can fly.

Tope Fasua, an economist, author, blogger, entrepreneur, and recent presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), can be reached through topsyfash@yahoo.com.

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