Buharinomics and challenge of prodigal economy
It is no longer news that after over 50 years of making nothing and importing everything – from toothpicks and rice to education, healthcare and petroleum products, Nigeria is today the classic picture of a prodigal son who squandered his share of the family wealth on a life of debauchery. In pain and penury, he was reduced to working as a hired hand in a foreign farmland where he barely had enough to eat, even sharing food with pigs.
Since the Nigeria version of the story is still unfolding, we do not know how it would end: would the prodigal nation come to its senses and go back to its roots in genuine repentance? Or would it continue to tumble with the pigs in regret and shame? Only time will tell. So far, the prospects don’t look too good. I will explain.
In the Biblical parable of reference, the key to the Prodigal son’s redemption was his resolve and practical wisdom of going back to his father. This represents a return to first principles: an admission of error; a retracing of steps; a decision to face shame and possible mockery at home rather than die in self-pity abroad; a realisation that in the end the worst treatment one could get from his own family is probably better than the best one can expect from the streets. This principle appears currently lost on the Economic Management Team of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In tackling Nigeria’s economic challenges head-on, the president appears to be spending more time and energy abroad than at home. In one year, he has travelled to USA, India, Iraq and China, among several others. At every stop, he drums up international support for rebuilding the Nigerian economy, fighting insurgency and beating corruption.
Whereas there is clearly nothing wrong with seeking international collaboration to tackle domestic challenges, there is obviously no corresponding effort to galvanise local national energies, talents and passions to achieve the same goal. Indeed, the impression being created is that Nigeria and Nigerians are a helpless lot whose only hope of redemption lies abroad – in the hands of foreign investors. No visible effort is invested in building new national mindsets or motivating indigenous production capacities. It is as if in the mind of President Buhari’s think-tank, the average Nigerian is only good enough to fill employment openings that will be incidental to the expected inflow of foreign capital from his various trips. This approach is not only wrong; it is misguided and short-sighted.
Nigerian farmers, artisans, entrepreneurs and industrialists are waiting for direction, incentives and protection from their own government. This seems nowhere in sight. With the possible exception of the Dangote group which was already a success story, the Nigerian government appears largely uninterested in supporting other Nigerian enterprises to grow to national relevance, regional strength and global reckoning.
In healthy economic models, foreign investments follow or support local industrial emergence. Wherever it is the other way round, you have the enslavement of local populations and emergence of false economies with strings pulled from abroad. This is what happened in our oil industry where foreign businesses own virtually all the means of production. After over 50 years, our fate is still in their hands. Local content is almost non-existent. That is the true story behind the troubled Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). That is the true story behind current shortages in domestic fuel supply which depend on imports!
In seeking to fix the Nigerian economy, President Buhari must avoid the temptation to go for short cuts and quick fixes. He must seek to build solid structures on a firm foundation. Only an economy driven by local initiatives and firmly in local hands qualifies as such. There is no progress in moving from an import-dependent economy to a foreign capital-dependent economy. Both are external dependencies. Both are dangerous.
No nation in history has ever developed out of the generosity and benevolence of another nation. Indeed, every nation or civilisation that has thrived has done so in spite of obstacles and (sometimes) ill-will from rival nations. The international community is primarily a theatre of competition, not of collaboration. Britain emerged as world power from intense rivalry with France, Spain and Germany during the Industrial Revolution. The first and second World Wars were fought essentially over competition for territories and accruing natural resources.
America fought off the choking grip of Britain to emerge as world leader following a century of isolation and internal rebirth. Even after receiving the Marshall Plan for post-World War 2 reconstruction, European nations vigorously and systematically shook off U.S and Russian influence to become major players in their own right in global geo-politics. In Japan, the Ford Motor Company was excused in favour of Toyota which was given special protection for many years. In Germany, BMW, VW, Mercedes, Bosch, Siemens, etc roared right back to reckoning on the strength of German technological ingenuity. Germany’s resurgence was completed in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was brought down to re-unite a nation once deliberately divided along ideological lines to keep it from being too strong.
Under our very eyes, China has just emerged as the world’s fastest-growing and second largest economy. This happened in spite of constant harassment by Western powers – claiming human rights abuses and shortage of democratic principles. But China held its nerves and dug into the vast potentials of its peoples. Today, Europe and America have reluctantly come round to accept the inevitability of the rise of the Chinese Dragon. The Chinese currency, the Yuan, has recently been admitted as one of only five international currencies of exchange.
As a Nigerian and staunch Buharist myself, I have a vested interest in the success of this government, especially its economic agenda. It is a rare chance to turn around a bad situation. But I am worried that there are yet too many unanswered questions. These questions need to be addressed now before the economy ship loses sight of shore.
•Anazonwu, a company executive, writes from Lagos. He sent in this piece from firstname.lastname@example.org