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NIGERIA: THE ECONOMICS OF FAILURE

NIGERIA: THE ECONOMICS OF FAILURE.
 
By Obiageli "Oby" Ezekwesili 
Senior Economic Adviser 
Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative
 

 

1)    The Big Idea proposed at this podium is that for Nigeria to survive it must overthrow the existing [leadership] order -- especially its fifty seven year old political class and their entrenched patterns of bad behavior.  The consequence of that unwholesome pattern is colossal poor governance that has caused the majority of citizens pain and misery. 

 It is therefore time to invert the unfulfilled dreams of our founding nationalists that securing political freedom will deliver economic independence. Our tragic experience is that it has not and cannot with political class that has produced more failure and misery than success and prosperity for the people. Redirect the resources invested on unproductive political discourse to a HARD conversation led by Citizens and not the political class on Economy, Economic Governance, Economic Structure and Economic Inequalities. Think differently. It is Economic independence that can birth true true political freedom and reveal a fit-for-purpose political structure. Structure follows Function not the other way round. 

2)    The corollary Big Idea is that there is a Market of Governance that has so far failed. It is therefore urgent to recalibrate the Market of Governance. The age long suppliers of poor governance have injured themselves like the monopolist almost always ultimately does. The demand side of governance must become more organized and powerful enough to anchor the fiercely needed debate that will usher in and legitimize the new economic order. The era of the citizen shall see ordinary people empowered enough to demand for a and successfully wage a war of ideas for building a dynamic and progressive country. The one who have suffered most from the Nigerian Failure as evidenced in the inequality profile of acute disparity between the poor and the rich must lead the Economic War. The proposition is that it is the war of economic  Ideas and not one of the usual politics that will reverse and end Nigeria's Economics of Failure. 

 

 
 
1. The sounds of War are here again. To Nigerians who are above fifty  like me, the rising trend of political drama could be regarded as same-old-nothing-new theatrics because we have seen various versions of it in the past. But is it really the same as in the past? Does anyone really think that there is nothing to worry about because the dust will settle as it always did previously? Anyone in my generation who answers yes to these  questions falls into the grips of the fallacy of misdiagnosis. It is a truism that structural problems demand structural solutions. However, if the right structural problem is not the one that is identified and addressed the adverse conditions only worsen.
 
Things are simply not the same. The Times are remarkably different. The context of today's quarrels and ethnic restiveness of our political class (and their protégés) is patently different and combustible. For one, today's quarrel is happening at a time of severest multiple dimensions of insecurity including terrorism, economic decline and near total erosion of social capital. Nigeria is not at all in a good place and the existing order cannot contain the existential threat facing the country.
 
I refer to what the country faces in the disconnect between those who fall into the class of elite and the rest of the people as the Economics of Failure of the Nigerian State. The concept must be boldly and publicly interrogated. A few empirical and several anecdotes point to this failure as the inevitable outcome of an entrenched approach which both in the past and the present made. That obsolete approach made matters that directly impact on economic progressive, inclusion, productivity and competitiveness of country and people a tangential agenda. 
 
Oxfam and Development Finance International recently published a global index on inequality known as "Commitment to reducing inequality index" which puts Nigeria  as the outright last in a list of 152 countries ranked by their “commitment to reducing inequality”. Nigeria’s social spending (on health, education and social protection) is, according to the report, “shamefully low” and “reflected in very poor social outcomes for its citizens”. 
 
There is a concept that I find fascinating in the technology space and which now seeks to dominate the economic space as the world enters a new state occasioned by the second machine age. That concept is Disruption. Disruption takes a left turn by literally uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day. Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru Clayton Christensen  says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative. 
 
 
The Nigerian Problem can only be fixed creditably at this stage through positively disruptive forces that can overthrow the outdated Thinking in our polity.  The only way to save Nigeria from failure is through Disruption of its politics. A disruptive phenomenon is the only process that can  take Nigeria out of the lowest equilibrium trap it has dug into all these decades of political talks. Poor governance with all its cheerless indicators is what Nigerian people have in common. It is all that its version of elite class of actors who traverse the east, west, north and south of the country have managed to deliver since independence in 1960.
 
A nationally represented Nigerian political elite class has reduced Governance to a Russian Roulette while entrenching Poverty and widening Inequality between it and a well spread  citizenry excluded from benefits. If therefore there were ever a country  where "Positive Disruption" must occur to overthrow a decadent and spent status quo, it is in Nigeria. Such disruption would be one that challenges the cumulative and unsustainable failure that decades of poor governance has delivered. 
 
 
2. When governments fail to live up to their responsibility persistently, the Fragile States Index classifies them as a fragile state. Some of the features of a Fragile State are :
  1. The central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory;
2. There is non-provision of public services
3. There is widespread corruption and criminality; 
4. There is refugees and involuntary movement of populations; 
5. Finally, there is sharp economic decline.
At a score of 101.3  Nigeria is no 13 on the 2017 list of Fragile States. 
 
 
3. Nigeria has for long been a challenge to its citizens and the world. However, the complexity of today's Nigeria has attained a new dimension too dangerous to be ignored or denied. But there is action worse than than ignoring or denying today's Nigeria Problem. It is the futile attempt to solve it at the same equilibrium that created it. That is tragically what the political class is doing as it neglects an introspective understanding of the "present time and season" that Nigeria finds itself. Not even the fact that the apparent risks facing the country have aggravated to existential threat has activated a new kind and depth of understanding by the political class. They remain stuck in their pursuit of crass "group and individual quest to retain, capture or recapture power for purely primitive accumulation". 
 
4. As the polity again heats up in another cycle of political disenchantment the same group dominate the "debate". Some citizens call attention to the fact that the group which collectively created the Nigeria Problem are at it again. Incredulous however is that even after several cycles of non-differentiated failures, nothing out there in our public debate space resembles an articulate and coherent vision for Nigeria's progress. Articulate Vision for Progress? What progress some may even ask. Who thinks about progress for Nigeria? Has the country ever had a group of people who are unified in purposeful , deliberate and intentional charting of a course for Nigeria's progress? Has anyone of such groups ever presented a convincing plan on how the country Nigeria can transit from a country of diverse people to a progressive nation?  May be it is the unwritten accord of groups and individuals not to think of Nigeria's progress that makes the failure of the country inevitable. 
 
5. My age of awakening happened  in 1970 when as a seven year old back in Lagos after the civil war, I  would ask my Dad why our country looked different from the beautiful countries  on TV. Why was there filth, conflict and poverty everywhere we turned unlike the picture of cleanliness, orderliness and high standard of living of people of those other countries? He would respond that the basis for the difference was failure of our government to do the things that would make  Nigeria and Nigerians look like those countries.
 
 It was a little child's first understanding of the term, Failure. Those television images or newspaper pictures of Success by other countries were poignant enough in differentiating Nigeria's failure in the eyes of a child. Now I realize how profound it was that one's first reflection on Failure had nothing to do with school since the three year civil war had prevented me and other children from attending formal classrooms. It was  learning so early that her country had failed to make progress like other nations because it was failing to do the right things. Such memories never erase. 
 
6. When later as a young professional in the 1990s, one became acquainted with the words of Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore that summarized the basis of his country's rapid mobility from third world to first, my conversations with Dad held an even deeper meaning. According to Mr Lee, Singapore a country with similar political history of colonial Britain as Nigeria, "found a few key things that needed to be done right and just kept on doing them". 
 
7. That simple definition of governance by that foremost leader of Singapore went on to produce one of the world's miraculous examples of national transformations. All of it happened within five decades. Singapore's Economic Development indicators of Longevity- measured by life expectancy at birth, Knowledge- measured by adult literacy and number of years children are enrolled at school and Standard of living- measured by real GDP per capita at purchasing power parity are proofs of its success. 
 
In 2016, the Singaporeans' longevity measured by their life expectancy at birth stood at 85 years, Knowledge measured by adult literacy was 96.8% and citizens' standard of living measured by real GDP per capita at purchasing power parity was $87,855 ( international dollars) or $52600 US Dollar. The data evidences are definitely pictures of success in nation building. 
 
 
7. In contrast, during the five decades of Singapore's rapid progress and ascendancy to the rarified spot on the global economic league table, Nigeria persisted in failing. At independence in 1960, the global expectations concerning Nigeria was giddy. In what Larry Diamond - a Stanford professor and political scientist -- themed "conspiracy of optimism" he writes ruefully of what the world anticipated for Nigeria at independence. 
 
 
8.  In his book Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria, Diamond wrote: "Expectations for Nigerian democracy at independence were generally high, both among Nigerian politicians and world leaders and observers. ....The prevailing sense was that if there was hope for democracy anywhere in Africa it was in Nigeria."  At almost fifty seven years by October 1, 2017 the same Nigeria stands precarious uncertain of the future that awaits it every new day. 
 
9. The specific nature of the disruption one wishes to canvass is one which is triggered by a new awakening by Citizens to demand a rebalance the weight of power between those that "rule" and the ones they rule. How does this happen? It can happen by the agency of informed, active and engaged citizens who are cohesive and collective enough to launch a Buy Out Option and enforce the retirement of the existing political class and changing the structure and substance of the ongoing conversation. 
 
The honest truth is that Nigeria has been long overdue for another war.  It is however a different kind of war that citizens can help compel and arbitrate. It not an ethnic war. It is also not even a religious war despite some of the obvious matters of concern in that realm. Nigeria needs an Ideas and Mindset war that will topple the prevalent predatory elite and their obsession for rapidly thinning natural resources rents as their economic anchor and safe zone. Nigeria must stage an Economy, Economic Structure and  Economic Class War that is intellectually revolutionary enough to birth an entirely New country and people. 
 
As the world pushes further into a new economic state of the Fourth Industrial Revolution , the Second Machine Age, the era of Artificial Intelligence- AI, Robotics, Internet of Things, Simulation Science, Big Data and Block Chain Technologies, it is impossible for Nigeria to survive much further into another decade without the  overthrow of its existing order.  Ideas fight that will reverse and end the country's Economics of Failure is worth every sound and fury of citizens who have learned to organize their dissatisfaction effectively. The incentive for citizens forcing the new architecture of rulers-citizens negotiation is that failure to do so is too costly for each person. 
 
 
It is time for citizens to organize a collective action that can produce success.  It means reaching across the many known divides often exploited by the better organized political class and uniting to reverse the "economics of failure". It means a new way of organizing that citizens currently lack the tools, skills and nuances to assure success. Could the potential of such citizen-inspired disruption of current debate become a disincentive that forces the political class to the negotiating table for an Economic Governance Discourse, Vision and Strategy? 
 
 
10. We posit that the most appropriate question about the state of Nigeria at this time is a causation one. This causation dilemma can easily be expressed in the simple question:  "Is the dismal failure of Nigeria rooted in its political structure or the mediocre economic outcome it has produced in nearly six decades?" Should Function follow Structure or vice versa? Had the Function been better  expressed would the economic outcome for each citizen been considerably better regardless of their ethnicity, religion and such like. Establishing a causality between all the variables is key to understanding why Nigeria continues to face existential threat despite all manner of political dialogues that have held to address its now perennial multi ethnic agitations. The existential threat for Nigeria is a future with scary data on education, health, children, women, youths, old , low growth and national income and burgeoning population. 
 
 
11.  In Economics, Incentive matters in determining action and  although it also does in Politics, we posit that Nigeria's failure has been more severe because of the former than the latter. Actions when right are more likely to produce the right outcomes. Nigeria's legendary economic failures which are the evident drivers of the instability of the Union are the result of unbroken series of wrong actions by the Nigerian political class. This Economics of Failure of the Nigerian- State must thus be boldly interrogated differently from the tangential approach of the political class in the past. It is harder to have an economy talk when everyone is sieged by the political entity dialogue . And yet the the core of Nigeria's failure on what Governments invests its effort. WHAT IS THE INCENTIVE? Who most benefits whenever there is low focus on economic development and all focus is on politics? 
 
12.  The Economics of Failure of Nigeria should compel the Nigerian people to ask very painful questions. Foremost is, "Should Nigeria with all its potentials still have the kind of low Factor Productivity to be an Economy of merely  $415Billion Gross Domestic Product , $2500 GDP  per capita and in our purchasing power parity $5, a habitat of more than 61% or over 100 million poor people and overflowing with more than 10.5 million or 50% of the global number of Out-of-School-Children in 2016? Should 11m children be stunted in Nigeria as a result of poor nutrition according to the findings by Federal Ministry of Health? Why is the life expectancy of Nigerians merely 54 years at a time in the world when longevity is tending toward 90 years in places like Singapore because of improved living standards? Why is the literacy level still 59% while Rwanda has progressed to 72% within two decades since the genocide war? Should Nigeria be third largest IDPs with 3.3 million displaced people? “In Nigeria, 37% of children under five years old were stunted, 18 percent wasted, 29% underweight and overall, only 10% of children aged 6-23 months are fed appropriately based on recommended infant and young children feeding practices.

“Youth unemployment which is 42% in 2016 is very high, creating poverty, helplessness, despair and easy target for crime and terrorism. Over 10 million children of school age are out of schools with no knowledge and skills." According to a UN Country Analysis report . Should Nigeria have the level of acute income inequality that Oxfam recently  described as "shameful" because of lack of commitment of government to address it? 

 
13. The answers to those questions are proofs that Governance in Nigeria has not lived to its basic globally agreed  rai·son d'ê·tre for governments which is assured improvement in citizens' welfare .  It is for this reason that raging public debate on the Nigeria Question should be deeper than the focus on the viability of the political entity called Nigeria.  If energy is dissipated once again to repeat the unproductive conversations we have had for over five decades on the political structure of Nigeria, the result this time around will be too grave for the country. The obsession with politics is diversionary strategy of the ruling class every time . It favors the rapacious elite to distract the suffering masses with Politics. They are saved from accounting for failure to improve the fortune of the poor from government to government whether Military or democracy when the people follow the lead of their politicians and obsess about politics. 
 
Addressing the Nigerian failure demands calls for the fiercest sense of urgency. The  timeline for the proposed Economy and Economic Structure  and Class War must be immediate. Any further delay will be exceedingly costly. More citizens will be lost to failure to fight and win the economic war than can be lost by machine guns in a second military war.  We therefore either fight this economic war now and win it or our people, regardless of their ethnicity and politics will perish in large numbers.
 
15. If the ultimate desirable outcome for all governments - whether advanced, emerging and developing - is for most among their citizens to set and rest the public agenda. In our case it means to evolve a Nigeria that is inclusive and benefits all those who have hitherto felt excluded from a stake in it, then we must look around the world and learn from helpful examples. There are proximate models which show that when Economy and economic Structure became priority for some countries, the resultant improved performance forced a natural and peaceable Re-Set of their political structure to create even more room for success and benefit to all. Such countries are the proof that Structure follows Function and that Economy does it faster and better than Politics. 
 
 
16. Think Rwanda. Think Rwanda not just because its history of genocidal war reminds us as Nigerians of our civil war but for how differently it subsequently charted a part away from it. Rwanda became a country which has been deliberate in deploying governance as more of Economics than Politics. It is a country that places matters of economic wellbeing of the people at the center of governance. Regardless of how some may perceive the flaws in the political credo  of Rwanda, the majority of its citizens have a different view. The Rwandans use their confident expectation of yearly improvements in their individual and collective standard of living as a counterweight to any argument that seeks to diminish their national success. For majority Rwandans, Rwanda is their success. They see no  failure. 
 
A Delivery of Prosperity Index by the 2016 Africa Prosperity Report by the Legatum Institute London validates them. The report measures prosperity delivery by parameters such as health, economy, entrepreneurship, personal freedom, education, governance, social capital as well as safety and security.  Using the report to compare the levels of prosperity delivered by each country in Africa  to the country’s actual wealth shows that some less wealthy nations have “significantly over-delivered” prosperity to its citizens. Rwanda tops that list 
 
17. Contrast with Nigerians. Majority Nigerians consider Nigeria a failure. Nigeria ranked 26th in the Delivery of Prosperity Report and was  in the bottom half of the rankings showing a critical failure to deliver prosperity to citizens despite their economic growth and its resulting wealth.
 
The greater fear among Nigerians is that our failure as a country has become normalized. This normalizing of the aberrant is seen in the extent to which the people have adopted, adapted and internalized diverse coping strategies to escape the reality of Nigeria's failure. Whether it is sectors, structure, institutions, systems and values in the country, it is not the a technical problem as much as it is a Governance Failure that has blighted the fate of Citizens. 
 
 
Shockingly, the Nigerian political class (military and civilian) has shown no inclination and no incentive to heed the counsel of Albert Einstein.  According definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results". Is that not the reason the current rancorous debates in the country sound exactly like several others before them which created different levels of comfort zone for the competing elite to temporarily sheet their swords at different times. 
 
 
18. Can a well constituted  bi-partisan group of intellectual elements within the Nigerian society therefore help organize and equip the Nigerian citizens for the  appropriate war that it must fight and win? What is urgently needed is an entirely data-driven  Economic Structure conversation for in such lies the truth on the tragedy of   productivity and  competitiveness failures of fifty seven year old Nigeria. Could investment in analytical and empirical evidence by such a group help prove that the fundamental problem of the Nigerian construct is not foremost  its political structure but the failure  of the ruling elite to produce stakes for the impoverished majority in the country?  
 
19. We propose that citizens would call for and supervise a competition of ideas among intellectual groups that can  demonstrate to the Nigerian people that they can also enjoy the kind of economic prosperity and wellbeing of their contemporaries in South Korea and Singapore.  The strategic combination of a massive population of the impoverished with facts and analysis can help create a new momentum that forces productive kind of debate or talk vastly different from the ones that rage on at the moment without direction. Imagine if the kind of question the Nigerian citizens are interested in having those that govern address were an analytical one like " what would it take for Nigeria to triple our GDP to one and a half trillion dollars in the next decade, increase income per capita to $5000?" or " if China could lift more than 700 of their citizens out of poverty within 30 years, how long will it take you to lift 100 million Nigerians?" " How do you plan on reverse the deepening trend of acute inequality to reduce the disparity between the rich and poor Nigerians?" "How long would it take to tackle the social cohesion gap that  continues to deepen the Inequality of benefit of the negligible growth so far realized by Nigeria while equalizing our misfortunes? "
 
Yes Nigeria does need to talk. But no, Nigerians do not need another political Talk Fest among politicians . 
 
According to UNICEF, Every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age. This makes the country the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world. Preventable or treatable infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and HIV/AIDS account for more than 70 per cent of the estimated one million under-five deaths in Nigeria. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of morbidity and mortality of a large proportion of children under-5 in Nigeria. It accounts for more than 50 per cent of deaths of children in this age bracket. 
 
Similarly, a woman’s chance of dying from pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria is 1 in 13. Nigeria, which has two percent of the world’s population  contributes 12 percent of the maternal burden. According to UNICEF , Nigeria has unenviable distinction of having the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world today. Statistics paint an alarming figure of 145 Nigerian women dying daily as a result of pregnancy- related complications. 400,000 women die every year in the country from childbirth related complications because maternal mortality ratio has hit 576 deaths out of every 100,000 live births daily.
 
 
According to FRSC, 15 people die on our roads in accidents daily and 5440 in a year not just because of reckless driving but because of woeful road infrastructure. 3 million young people annually enter the labor market but only 10% of them will find decent jobs because of a mix of poor skills and non rapidly expanding economic opportunities, more than 50% of the Out-of-school-children in Nigeria being Girls will face a bleak future in early marriage that blights the prospects of their children repeating the cycle of poverty to an intergenerational one. 
 
What is worse than poverty is the disparity between the poor and the rich in society. It is part of what blinds the eyes of our leaders in cognitive dissonance. They simply do not see the poor. Inequality is a lethal seed of implosion. 
That's easy to know. If you analyzed the speeches and the lifestyle of our politicians in Abuja and the capitals of our thirty six states you would not need a global index to know that they have no commitment to tackle inequality. 
 
These are the same fellows leading dragging the impoverished along with them into another round of vacuous "political talk". 
 
Not any more. As the maverick Charles Oputa would remind those who are wise enough to understand " our mumu don do". 
 
It is time for the long suffering citizens to arise.  It is urgent that citizens took hold of the Conversation that the country should have about its future. It is urgent that citizens took their proper place in Governance. It is time for citizens to disrupt the status quo. 
 
It is time to demand for Nigeria rescue squads that will compete on the Boldest Ideas to Deliver Productivity and Prosperity to the people.  
 
It is time for citizens to dare dream of a vastly productive Nigeria that delivers prosperity to the man and woman in urban  Nigeria and their peers in the city. It is time for Nigerians to dream that our children can out compete their peers in China in the global learning outcomes performance assessment. It is time for Nigerians to dream that our young people can be builders of the next generation of technology giants like Elon musk and Steve Jobs. It is time to dream that our companies can be global brands. It is time to dream that our country will be known for our world class human capital and not for global fraud. 
 
Only the kind of talk that would produce strong teams with convincing plans and execution records to achieve  all these dreams and more should interest any right thinking Nigerian citizen. 
 
Some of you may think this a pipe dream. That's okay. Cynicism is a Choice. To dare to dream is also a choice. 
 
And this one thing I know is that   "The Future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

 

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