I listened with some ambivalence; a mixture of positive acknowledgement and suspicion of demagogues as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari reeled out one after the other, the list of the strides his administration has made in boosting the prospects of a better economy for Nigeria during his Democracy Day address to Nigerians on June 12.
The economic initiatives spanned the gamut of various productive spheres within the country, ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to social welfare. These ranged from the Anchor Borrowers Programme which the President claimed had created 10 million direct and indirect jobs for farmers by government’s support of local rice, maize, cotton and cassava production, to other economic initiatives like the AgriBusiness/Small and Medium Enterprise Investment Scheme, Non-Oil Export Stimulation Facility, Targeted Credit Facility, Textile Sector Intervention Facility and the Bank of Industry 200 billion naira Facility to enhance the establishment of 60 new industrial hubs across the country intended to create approximately 890,000 direct and indirect jobs, among others.
Objectively examining what the President placed on the table, one must admit that these were indeed laudable, if truly the Buhari administration had embarked on such aggressive economic revamping, as I also haboured some doubt about the veracity of what was being presented before Nigerians, especially as to if this was not borne out of some political necessity, based on the wave of bitter criticism the administration has been experiencing in recent times. On the other hand, one would also be left in a dilemma as to why the economic fortunes of the country seem to continue on a downward spiral despite these grand initiatives. Could it be problem of implementation or an unsustainable economic structure to buoy them into full propensity?
One cannot but call to mind the latter consideration based on recent evidence of a financially broke country that continues to survive only with the feasibility of borrowing.
The incumbent Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki sometime ago lamented the pitiable situation of the country’s financial standing and claimed that the government now had to resort to printing of money to meet up with her fiscal responsibilities. In response to this allegation, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele sometime in April corroborated the allegation while addressing journalists in Nasarawa State and noted that the CBN has an obligation to support the government in times of financial difficulties which is far worse than it was in 2015 and 2016. This was after the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed had initially denied it. Tacitly, the CBN governor had admitted to the dire fiscal situation the country is presently facing. As if to consolidate the previous pronouncement by the CBN Governor, the Senate President of the 9th National Assembly, Sen. Ahmed Lawan sometime in June, also hinted that Nigeria is a poor nation that has to borrow to fund infrastructural development. Poor Nation? How? In the midst of so much human and natural resources?
One would be forced to soliloquize and ask: are the Economic initiatives of the government not yielding the required result? If the President has indeed expended so much into the agricultural, manufacturing and small medium sectors, then we ought to be seeing signs by now. How come the skyrocketing of the cost of goods and services which has further pushed many Nigerians below the poverty line? Why the asymmetric progression in the spate of unemployment? What about the continuous pressure on the local Naira currency that has led to its steady devaluation in recent times?
We need to be factual with ourselves that Nigeria has never possessed a solid economic structure to sustain even the best economic initiatives. Before real positive change can be noticed in Nigeria’s economy, a thorough restructuring has to be done which will involve a whole lot of things such as resolution of the problems of corruption and unaccountability, a lasting panacea to the challenge of power supply and a decentralization of the country’s economic activities which is what we would really like to examine.
By economic decentralization, what is meant is the diffusion of economic responsibilities among the federating units to ease the pressure on the centre. For example, more power should be granted the States of the Federation to pursue rigorous economic initiatives. These should include a wide array of economic activities such as exploration and processing of raw materials and mineral resources, attraction of Foreign Direct Investment on State level, establishment and support of manufacturing industries and of course, investment in initiatives to boost power supply on State level. This arrangement should also provide for a situation where the federating units will pay some percentage to the Federal government in terms of tax, while the Federal Government will still be granted leverage to carry out certain economic policies on behalf of the country as a whole. This will need a serious constitutional overhaul, as this will imply that many items on the Executive list will be moved to the Concurrent.
Already there have been clamours for decentralization of power in Nigeria, which would place her in a system similar to a Confederal arrangement, as many political stalwarts are of the opinion that the enormity of the responsibilities placed on the Federal Government is a key contributing factor to the problems of governance in Nigeria. This was well expressed in the final compendium that culminated after the Sovereign National Conference (CONFAB) that was held during the Jonathan Administration.
Many advantages are to be envisaged if economic decentralization is eventually adopted. First and foremost, it eases the enormous responsibility on the shoulders of the Federal government and provides States with the opportunity to explore other avenues that could serve as potential money spinners, which have been hitherto ignored due to the country’s over reliance on oil. Also, many States are enormously blessed with lots of agricultural and mineral resources to which they have displayed lethargy because of the mindset that even if they explore these resources, the Federal Government will lay claim to it. Hence, economic decentralization will increase initiatives on the part of States if they realize that their survival depends on themselves and that they have the sole rights and ownership over their resources. Economic decentralization will also ensure that economic initiatives get to the grassroots, as one of the major challenges why economic initiatives on the Federal level seems to be ineffective is the tedious bureaucratic processes involved which makes accessibility sometimes difficult. However, with economic decentralization, citizens can have a better feel of government initiatives and welfare. Decentralization will also increase employment opportunities for young people in the country as there will be an equivalent increase in economic activities which the Federal Government is sometimes constrained to regulate due to her meagre income.
It is high time we begin to think outside the box as it is quite evident that the present economic arrangement is unsustainable and cannot carry us far as a country where borrowing has become the norm and over 70% of the county’s revenue is gulped by debt servicing.