A look at Nigeria’s economy shows it as one that is not only complicated and complex but also interesting in several ways. Once a word and /or phrase enters Nigeria’s lexicon, it is teased, abused and its usage becomes blurred. I am referring to the word “uncommon”. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, “uncommon” can be defined as “not existing in large numbers or in many places.” It is synonymous with “unusual, rare”. In the same vein, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English for Advanced Learners defines uncommon as “rare or unusual”
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In the Nigerian economy, the word uncommon has been bastardised. We hear of “uncommon” transformation, uncommon Governor, “uncommon” leader, “uncommon” growth “uncommon” economic stability, “uncommon” management know-know, “uncommon” this, “uncommon” that, etc. What is so uncommon or unusual or rare for a government elected by the people to utilise public funds in building roads, hospitals, schools, street lights and civic centres for the people? What is so uncommon for a government to provide water, electricity and other basic needs, charging users fees? The word “uncommon” is used as some word whose outcome is unique to Nigeria and as one which calls for a grand 21-gun salute! If we remove these “uncommon” performances of Nigerian leaders and managers of the economy, then what are they in office/government for. Why should citizens applaud a government for providing basic amenities – why should the provision of basic needs be uncommon?
On the other hand, the uncommon socio-economic and political matters are not described as such. It is “uncommon” for an economy such as Nigeria’s with abundant human (skilled and unskilled), material and natural resources to have poverty incidence of almost 70 per cent, unemployment rate of 24 per cent and 50 per cent for youths, lending rate averaging 25 per cent, decayed infrastructure, embarrassing public and private school systems at all levels, epileptic power supply, inadequate and deteriorating health delivery system, among others. There is “uncommon” corruption. Most of the political leaders and technocrats as well as public servants loot the treasury with impunity. Yet those found corrupt are not properly sanctioned but are rewarded with national honours and chieftaincy titles –– all of which being oddly uncommon.
The economy is better described as uncommon when government officials lie about the performance of the economy. The economy is growing at about 6 per cent annually but both the economic performance and misery indices portray an economy in distress – Is this not uncommon? In common emerging economies, looters of public funds, at least, invest domestically (Asian economies for example). In Nigeria, primitive accumulators keep their looted wealth in foreign banks. Is this not uncommon? The looted monies provide investible funds for economies in Europe and America while potential investors in their own country are desperately seeking for funds to finance ideas and innovations and manufacture some items in the value –chain. The “uncommon” Nigerian economy imports Chinese toothpicks, Indian incense, sardines, chieftaincy caps, rice, among others, from wherever in the world they can be found. The “uncommon” economy with petroleum resources exports crude oil and imports refined products. The “uncommon” economy built four refineries; yet, none is operating at 40 per cent of installed capacity.
The fiscal federalism profile of the Nigerian economy is uncommon. The sub-national governments (states and local governments) can hardly generate up to 14 per cent internal revenue. The government at the centre as well as sub-national governments depend on an exogenous source of revenue which is export of crude petroleum. Only an uncommon economy can depend on a source of revenue whose price and output it has no control over. In spite of the resources at the sub-national level, states go cap in hand to collect allocations over the years. Most of the states owe salaries to workers for almost eight months. This is uncommon!
Can there be a positive uncommon phenomenon in Nigeria? The manner in which the government handled the Ebola scourge was uncommon. The performance of the leadership and their followers demonstrates that if willing, the country can perform uncommon (rare) feats. Why can the leadership not repeat similar feats in the economy? The founding fathers were uncommon in leadership, ethics, values and commitment to build a modern Nigeria. They were not corrupt. In spite of challenges, they portrayed evidence of selflessness.
During the 1960s and up to the late 1970s, the economy was never characterised as uncommon; yet the performance was satisfactory. The rate of unemployment was almost at a full level (averaging 5 per cent during the period). The school system and the provision of healthcare were qualitative. Our hospitals were rated globally high, particularly the University Teaching Hospital, Ibadan. The poverty incidence was around 40 per cent and power supply was almost 24 hours, at least in the cities. The external reserves earned from the export of agricultural commodities were well managed. The regional system imbibed the spirit of bringing out the best. It was a case of competitive regionalism and cooperation. The proceeds from the sale of cocoa built the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. The revenue from groundnut and cotton resulted in the establishment of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, while proceeds from palm oil built the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Most Nigerians would prefer the good old days when the economy was common and the system was working. For example, more often in the common Nigeria of the past, job-seekers may not need to know someone to secure employment. Letters of application for employment to private companies and government agencies for employment received either positive or negative replies. In today’s common Nigeria, the story is different.
Let the ‘new’ Buhari administration return to Nigerians the common economy where the provision of basic needs was never a major challenge and the poverty incidence was low and the rate of unemployment was near full-employment.
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Ekpo, a professor of Economics, is Director-General, West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management (WAIFEM), Lagos.
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