The last 20 years have not been a great period for this country. If you disagree, take a look at what some emerging market peers have been up to in the same period; especially some of the Next Eleven (N-11) countries. In 2018 for example, GDP growth in N-eleven peers such as Indonesia was 5.1%, Pakistan, 5.8%, Egypt 5.3% but Nigeria 1.9%. Given the scale of the challenge and the collective failure of governance in Nigerian for decades; whoever emerges from the fort coming presidential election among President Buhari, Alhaji. Abubakar, Prof. Moghalu and the many other notable Presidential aspirants, will have to understand and embrace the unique and hinge nature of that year. Standing in the 2019 spot with both hindsight and foresight, it’s exigent that this country be steered towards business and away from politics. The next 20 years could either be totally eventful from an economic and development perspective or totally unremarkable and catastrophic. Growing market integration in Africa and unrestrained population growth in Nigeria, coupled with stagnancy, if not retardation in Infrastructure, technology and human capital can permanently rewrite the history of this country in this time frame. How exactly?
One great way to visualize Nigeria’s future as a populous but struggling and inefficient economy is to visualize what might have been the implication of a present day poor China, both for the Chinese, the Asia Pacific region and the globe; which is unthinkable, if that nation with 1.386 billion people was to be living in extreme poverty. In lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the last forty years – one of the greatest economic development feats in recent time – China has averted the greatest all time global economic and security crises and saved the world from tens of other very ugly situations that would have been the alternative. What would have been the case, if the four decades of transformation that began in China in 1978 had been unsuccessful?
Nigeria is sure not as populous as China yet, but it is a nation with a disproportionate amount of poor people. Nigeria’s 2019 general election is remarkable in several ways. It marks 20 years, since the democratic journey that began in 1999 and heralds the forward journey to our scary 400 million population by 2050. It’s unavoidable therefore, that the Nigerian electorate should ask for business and not politics in 2019. Modern infrastructure, production technology and human capital development, which are mostly undeveloped, are the business of the electorate. These three elements should form the core of the electioneering conversation, the bedrock of any meaningful step to create a desirable next 20 years for the country. Peer economies and even junior states in Africa (by all measure) are stealing the glory in the region, at Nigeria’s expense. While the needed competitive edge is not there, it can still be built, if only we will talk business in 2019 and not politics. Should the electorate ask for business (and they rarely do) in 2019, politicians will have no option but to give just that. As the most populous country in Africa the rest of Africa should be our market; where Nigerian products and services from different sectors should be holding sway in a bullish manner. That’s still a far ambition today and that ambition requires but lacks the technology, infrastructure and human capacity needed to actualize it.
Relatedly, when Nigeria joins the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) beyond 2019, the current inferior competitive state of the economy may deliver yet some surprises, unless meaningful business/entrepreneurial capacity midwifed through optimal infrastructure, technological capability and human capacity is guaranteed through better governance.
The scale of the challenges facing Nigeria is under reported for several reasons. Several communities and cities in Nigeria are largely outside the radius of any accurate economic monitoring radar, data gathering or reporting mechanism. This provides a superficial perspective to several problems. However, like all latent problems which pass through a seemingly harmless incubation period before bursting to reveal unanticipated levels of damage; this nation may have to deal with very serious unpleasant scenarios, if business continues as usual. In that scenario, those who are hoping to run for office in 2023 and 2027 may have one but one promise to make to the electorate; cubing migration!
Nigeria is one of three countries – along with India and China – projected to account for 35 percent of global growth in urban population between 2018 and 2050. Without a radically transformed economy, what presents today as a mild but rapidly growing exodus of people – through legal and illegal migration – may expand to colossal economic problems of previously unseen proportions. And from an economic and development point of view; we may create for ourselves and for the world– in the next 20 years – the problem that China averted for its people and the world, forty years ago.