Nigeria @50: A Quest for Economic Independence

The attainment of economic independence is a key marker of the contemporary transition for any nation into adulthood. It is fascinating to know that Nigeria is celebrating her 50th political independence anniversary amidst the illusion of economic growth and uncertainties as to the country’s preparedness to truly gain an economic independence in the nearest future.

A quick look through the scheme of governance and events since independence had proven a near “in vain” the vision and labour of our heroes’ past. The clamour for nationhood since independence in 1960, has led us through a venture of governance without purpose, or better put a government without economic vision. No doubt, our “lost” heroes won the country a victory from political dependence 50 years ago, the road map (since then) to make the country an economic independent entity had been quashed by a series of self-governed and visionless leaders (in most cases, rulers).
After independence, the Nigerian economy seemed very promising. Many saw Nigeria, with 25% of Africa’s population, then, as an emerging economy. However, this potential never materialized. A series of unfortunate political and economic events have stalled Nigeria’s growth. Although the country still plays an important economic role in the world no doubt, especially as a producer of fossil fuels, these prospects have not shown reasonable impact in the livelihood of her citizenry and the nation. Regardless of the epileptic power situations, the dwindling education and health sectors brouhaha, the government is bent on and prepared to expend over N6.7bn of tax payers’ money on 50th independence anniversary celebration. Sacrilege may appear an understatement for such a one-off spend if one considers the cost of fixing our aged power plants and refineries in the country; the needed investment in education, health, housing or mortgage, and job creation.
In true economic independent nations today, there is relatively little difference between the basic life of the so-called higher and lower classes; both have food, clothing, and shelter. But in the eighteenth century and earlier in the capitalist countries, the difference between the man of the middle class and the man of the lower class was that the man of the middle class had shoes and the man of the lower class did “not” have shoes. In the United States today the difference between a rich man and a poor man means very often only the difference between a Cadillac and a Chevrolet. The Chevrolet may be bought second hand, but basically it renders the same services to its owner: he, too, can drive from one point to another. More than fifty percent of the people in the United States are living in houses and apartments they own themselves. On the contrary, less than 27% of Nigerians own a decent accommodation and a little above half of this owns their own house.
When America celebrates its independence, it left the world with one of the most stirring words ever written in a political text: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This is how economic independence works. That I have the right to permit my leaders to spend public revenue for just cause as it affects my life, liberty and happiness; that I also have the right of choice to choose between alternative ways of bettering my life style at, and to enjoy the benefits of being led but not ruled.
Of course, the nation has often fallen far short of the social and political revolution announced by the founding fathers immediately after independence in 1960. Nevertheless, after 50 years of independence, could it be fair to say that Nigeria’s political revolution has been remarkably durable and successful? A little walk back through the economic history showed that the lower spending of the 1980s was partly the result of the structural adjustment program (SAP) in effect from 1986 to 1990, first mooted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and carried out under the auspices of the World Bank, which emphasized privatization, market prices, and reduced government expenditures. This program was based on the principle that, as GDP per capita falls people demand relatively fewer social goods (produced in the government sector) and relatively more private goods, which tend to be essential items such as food, clothing, and shelter. These objectives have since remained far from reach to millions of Nigerians, which about 63% of are illiterate.
As of 2001, the most conspicuous fact about Nigeria’s economy is that the corruption and mismanagement of its post-colonial governments has prevented the channelling of the country’s abundant natural and human resources, especially its wealth in crude oil, into lasting improvements in infrastructure and the construction of a sound base for self-sustaining economic development. Thus, despite its abundant resources, Nigeria is poorer today than it was at independence in 1960. Still one of the less developed and poorer countries of the world, it has the potential to become a major economic power if our leaders resolve to learn from past mistakes and to harness the country’s rich natural and human resources for a productive and sustained effort to promote economic development.
Even though the nation is seen to be celebrating its 50th Independence anniversary, there is continuous decline in economic indices; foreigners control most of international merchandising and a reasonable proportion of the oil and gas market. There are widespread fears that foreigners now possess an economic stranglehold over Nigeria. Indigenous companies have hollowed out their manufacturing base, shifting much of their assembly lines into neighbouring cheaper regions, especially Benin Republic. The necktie class providing fewer jobs to skilled-labour; and most untapped skilled-labour prefer to fly their trade outside the shores, most notably to Malaysia, Indonesia and some part of the Europe. Taken altogether, a growing number of commentators foresee a nation in decline, brought down by too much debt, too much consumption, too much expenditure on activities that does not promote growth, and too little production. In a true independent economy, production is enhanced at a geometric progression against consumption.
The purpose of the 2010 Budget is to accelerate economic recovery through targeted fiscal interventions intended to further stimulate the economy and support private sector growth. Capital expenditure has been rationalised and prioritised to avoid spreading resources too thinly across too many initiatives. Accordingly, the 2010 budget provides about 90 per cent of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) capital expenditure to five key priority sectors-critical infrastructure; human capital development; land reform and food security; physical security, law and Order; and the Niger Delta. However, given the importance of the federal budget, it is not surprising that budget implementation, monitoring and evaluation have attracted much interest in recent years.
To underscore the need for effective implementation of the budget, it is expected that the present administration would form an alliance with the civil society and the media in monitoring the budget performance. This is the norm in economic independent nations across the globe; an economy which is said to be independent should exhibit large capacity for the satisfaction of the peoples demand, quantitatively and qualitatively; predominant staffing at all levels by national citizens, the ability to engage in international economic relations on te
rms of relative equality. Since independence, it was anticipated that successive governments will create an avenue of necessity for national self-reliance. The basic trend is that an ideological framework in which self-reliance must be believed to be possible and desirable before real progress can be made towards its attainment must be set aside.
As it stands now, our leaders may have down tools on strategies and framework that could be put in place to help the nation attain its true economic independence since 1960. The economic independence will help Nigeria in its quest for “political self-determination,” and perhaps translate the economy to that in which our past heroes left behind; the economy that paraded an exchange of N0.57 = US$1. A quest for an economic independence will constitute a proactive manpower development. However, a planned strategy of localization related to reasonably careful protection of national needs and backed by an adequate education development plain remains the exception rather than the rule.
Further, emphasis on rural development in a broader context has its pros on growth and linkage to industrialization. Economic independence is not normally the primary aim of such policy; but the nation can nonetheless significantly further such an aim if they grow more to replace food imports, and create the basic inputs for the growth of nationally-based industrialization to replace the import assembly of “paying, polishing and packaging”. It is also important to alter the economic structure through a greater array of both home and foreign market-oriented lines of production and of emphasize on industrialization.  The difficulty in evaluating our efforts so far towards a structural reformulation is the lack of reasonably well-designed strategies backed by political support.
Over the years, external debts whose motive was geared towards advancing the economy never provided a light to see the nation through; instead it aggravated the problems of inflation and unemployment. Although it has been stressed by economic scholars that economic growth does have its drawbacks as well as those unforeseen hiccups, the price of a serious attempt to attain both economic independence and rapid economic development is almost certain to be austerity.  The only exception, of course, would be cases in which the transformation took place under conditions of continuous primary export booms until a nationally integrated economy was firmly founded.
It is assumed and expected that the nation celebrates its political independence in a tee-total mode while reflecting on means of identifying and fashioning out frameworks and strategies that will consolidate on the labour of our heroes’ past; rather than the gigantic N6.7bn spend on fanfare. What is more, such a one-off spend that would not impact on employment generation or a cut in the nation’s inflation rate could adversely put the possibility of attaining a true economic independence in a mirage.
Salim Salihu Muhammed


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