Governance And Challenges Facing The Nigerian Economy: Is Jonathan The Answer?

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Governance and Challenges Facing the Nigerian Economy: Is Jonathan The Answer?

By Victor E. Dike

Introduction

Recent developments in Nigeria have made a review of the health of the nation's economy rather compelling. The political leaders have always raised the people's hope by painting glowing picture of their development plans and how to take the nation to the ‘Promised Land' of true democracy and economic prosperity. They swore that citizens' empowerment would become their top priority yet they refuse to fix the infrastructure and institutions that would propel the economy and create employment for the millions of graduates churn out by the educational institutions yearly. Like the leaders before him, Jonathan has promised a bunch and the people cannot check their enthusiasm.

It is unarguably a Herculean task to govern a society, and it becomes much more daunting in a society such as Nigeria with an uncertain sociopolitical and economic environment. The state of the society is, therefore, defined by the ineffectiveness of the political leaders and poor social institutions that have crippled the economy and pauperized the people. The myriad problems in the society are exerting untold pressures on the people who have utilized every opportunity to pour out their anger and frustration before any person who is willing to listen. It appears, however, that there is public optimism that the Jonathan would usher in a new era of politics and integrity in governance. But if the past is prologue it is doubtful that he could deliver on his promises of resolving the nation's socioeconomic and political problems. In other words, it is doubtful that Jonathan is the answer to the challenges facing the Nigerian economy.

Methodology and Research Questions

The data for this paper were derived from the research and analysis of scholars, analysts and practitioners, government documents, and recent newspaper and journal articles. This is to say that the primary method of study was an extensive review of available literature for description and critical analysis of the problems facing the Nigerian economy today. The sources of information were, however, carefully evaluated and analyzed to determine their veracity. As noted earlier, previous political leaders of Nigeria have not kept their promises. Since the leaders of are known for not working for ‘common good', the people should be warned to check their enthusiasm about Jonathan.

Challenges facing the Nigerian Economy

Human Development Challenges: Human resources play an immense role in the success or failure of any organization or nation in terms of capability and strength of character of the workers or leaders. In Nigeria, most of the problems facing the economy are a reflection of the poor quality of human development and management because education, which plays a critical role in human development and the economic health of the nation, has been neglected for decades (Krueger & Lindhal, 2001; Dike, January-March, 2002). One has to understand the problems facing the educational institutions to really appreciate the magnitude of problems facing the Nigerian economy.

Good quality education or ‘value education' that involves ‘educating for character', good ‘moral values' and civic responsibility shape the character of nations. As Lickona (October 1992) has noted ‘respect and responsibility are the two foundational moral values' that a society should teach its citizens. Others include honesty, fairness, tolerance, prudence, self-discipline, helpfulness, compassion, cooperation, courage (the virtues of Aristotle) among other democratic values. And ‘taking responsibility for the things we do wrong as well as the things we do right' is important for national development (Lickona, id).

Part of the problems facing Nigeria is that its educational institutions are not designed for the modern economy. They lack the tools to produce good quality graduates to manage the affairs of the nation. Majority of them (the graduates/workers) lack the skills that drive human productivity. Increase in productivity would enlarge the nation's economic pie and reduce poverty and crime. The environment in which businesses or nations operate determines the outcome of their activities. No nation would make any meaningful socio-economic and political stride without viable educational institutions. In its 2010 report on ‘Doing Business in Nigeria 2010-Through Difficult Times', the World Bank ranked Nigeria 125 out of 182 economies surveyed in the Global Doing Business Report. The report also noted that about 90 per cent of Nigerian businesses that operate in the informal sector lack access to credit. And in its 2008 Review of World Development the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked Nigeria 157 out of 177 in Human Development Index; it was also among the ‘Least Livable' nations.

The leaders appear oblivious of the magnitude of the problems facing the economy. Although some of the problems facing Nigeria today require common sense solutions, others would involve sophisticated framework of ideas (debate, discussion and decision making) and application of modern technologies. As Albert Einstein has noted ‘the specific problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them' (cited in Dike, February 1, 2000). For the economy to grow, and for businesses to thrive, the institutions responsible for human capital development should be properly funded, equipped and managed to enable them produce advanced skilled manpower to manage the affairs of the nation.

Leadership Challenges: The leadership problem that has confronted Nigeria since independence appears to be worsening because the state of the polity is rapidly deteriorating. As noted earlier, very few of the leaders, if any, work for ‘common good.' Over the years a wave reform programs have been undertaken but the society lacks political leadership committed to implement them to address the problems facing the economy. Thus leadership is a responsibility.

Leadership, among other definitions, ‘is a process of getting things done through people'; it ‘means responsibility'- having ‘passion for the purpose and the mission of the organization' or society one leads (Northouse, 2007). But the leaders of Nigeria appear good at prescribing solutions to economic problems without providing the institutional framework to make it grow (Acemoglu, June 2003; Dike, October–Dec, 2003; Edison, June 2003). And more often than not, their policies are hastily put together and poorly executed. The political landscape is littered with wreckage of unreasoned policies and those involved in such activities appear to enjoy the nation's underdeveloped status (Dike, July 22-28, 2006). The activities of the leaders shape the reality the nation faces today because there is a glaring contradiction in their words and their deeds. They fail to understand that performance is the only standard by which leaders are judged. Nigeria's development rests with good leadership and governance.

Governance Challenges: Related to leadership problem is bad governance. Governance has among others, been defined as a system of values, policies, and institutions by which a society manages its economic, social, and political affairs through interactions within the state, civil society and private sector (Shabbir Cheema, April, 2004; UNDP, 1997; UNDP, 2000). Thus governance comprises the mechanisms and processes for citizens and groups to articulate their interests, to work together and mediate their differences, and exercise their legal rights and obligations with rules, institutions, and practices that set limits and provide incentives for individuals, organizations and firms. Good governance refers to the question of how a society can organize itself to ensure equality of opportunity and equity (social and economic justice) for all citizens (Shabbir Cheema, April, 2004). It also promotes people-centered development.

Bad governance (political, economic and social governance)-the three dimensions of governance (Shabbir Cheema, April, 2004), is among the major causes of the problems facing the nation as it is threatening to undermine the nation's democratization process. The people are not allowed equal economic opportunity and freedom to participate in the political process. But as Sen (1999) has noted, ‘unfreedoms' leave the people with little choice to exercise ‘their reasoned agency.' He posits that ‘Freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its primary means.' Therefore, development (social, political and economic) ‘requires the removal of major sources of unfreedoms' (Sen, 1999).

The problem with Nigeria is that the system lacks checks and balances (or mechanisms) to control the autocratic tendencies in government and to hold political actors accountable for their actions. Also, the politicians do not practice ethical politics and their actions do not add values to the system. Lack of ‘ethical politics and values' (Dike, January 15, 2007) and politics of hate and destruction contribute to the economic and political hiccups in the society. However, the people should not just sit there and hope for the best; they should be politically active to get the government and the politicians to listen and act right. Political pressure from the people could determine the type of policy the government would choose for execution. Corruption is, however, a greater part of the problems facing Nigeria as it leads to poor governance, which hampers socio-political and economic development.

Corruption Challenges: Although corruption is a global scourge, Nigeria appears to suffer the most from it because the leaders are pathologically corrupt. Everyone appears to believe that the nation has a ‘culture of corruption' (Smith, 2008). Over the years, Nigeria has earned huge sum of money from crude oil, which has gone down the sinkhole created by corruption. In an article, "Oil giant that runs on grease of politics," Nigeria was described as a rich nation floating on oil wealth "but almost none of it flows to the people" (San Francisco Chronicle, March 11, 2007). Top public servants are very rich because they harbor the mentality that public money belongs to no one. National dailies are awash with news of how public officials are acquiring million-dollar homes (within and outside Nigeria) and stockpiling stolen public money in financial institutions abroad.

With the gallery of corruption scandals, including contract inflation from governmental establishments and corporate leadership, this writer thinks that the struggle against corruption in Nigeria appears like trying to detain the wind. Because of their insatiable appetite for material wealth and ostentatious living the youths have the corrupt politicians as role models. For instance, the erstwhile chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP), Vincent Ogbulafor was forced to resign recently because of the mountain of fraud charges against him (BusinessDay, May 15, 2010). Ogbulafor had earlier challenged the society to prove the 16 count charges against him (Daily Trust, May 11, 2010). The former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, was arrested in Dubai recently (BusinessDay, May 14, 2010) on money laundering charges; and Kenny Martin has about"$97.5m fraud" charge hanging over his neck (Vanguard, May 20, 2010). It was also discovered in recent times that over ‘N5bn' was allocated ‘to non-existent agency' in the 2010 budget (Nigerian Tribune, May 20, 2010).

As everyone has pointed out, the countless reforms have left Nigeria as corrupt as ever. How well Nigeria performs economically, politically and socially depends on the ingenuity and integrity of its leaders. Jonathan who has been harping on the anti-corruption crusade seems to be rewarding corruption. Under his leadership the PDP appointed Okwesilizie Nwodo (former Governor of Enugu State and National Secretary of the PDP) its chairman without minding his involvement in the 2003 National Identity Card Project scam of about $214million (Daily Sun, .June 14, 2010; Vanguard, December 30, 2003). Also, Depreye Alamieyeseigha (former Bayelsa Governor), who was found guilty of corruption by the courts in 2005 was re-admitted into the PDP. In addition, there have been a wave of corruption scandals oozing out of the National Assembly, including the N2.3 billion car scandal involving Speaker Dimeji Bankole and other members of the ‘dishonorable' House of Representatives) and the Halliburton and Siemens, and Willbross bribery scandals involving some high-ranking public officials. This appears to confirm that Nigeria's problems are not from the "harshness and the niggardliness of nature" (Keynes, May 1932) but corruption, which prevents the society from putting its abundant human and mineral resources into productive use.

Can Jonathan be trusted? The challenge is how does one expect a party controlled by people of questionable characters fight the ‘war' on corruption? Corruption leads to ‘poor governance and low growth' and hampers social development (Rose-Ackerman, 2004). To breathe a new life into the nation's ossified political system and the ailing economy, and improve the people's living conditions, the society must purge itself of high-level corruption and strengthen the institutions and infrastructure that drive the economy. One of the ways to control corruption in Nigeria would be to monitor the peoples' sources of income, particularly those who brazenly display their ill-gotten wealth, instead of investing on the infrastructure and institutions.

Infrastructural and Institutional Challenges: Any person familiar with Nigeria would agree that one of the main challenges facing the economy are poor social infrastructure and institutions: bad roads, erratic power supply, limited access to potable water and basic healthcare, and ineffective regulatory agencies, and much more. And the plethora of policies in the society is ineffective due to broken institutions and dilapidated infrastructure (Hoff, 2003).

Building a vibrant economy or restoring growth to a sluggish economy takes resources; to ensure long-term growth and prosperity Nigeria must use its resources wisely, invest in advanced technology and rebuild the institutions and infrastructure without which the economy will not gain from the ‘power of productivity' (Lewis, April 2004; Dike, January 31, 2006). A nation enjoys higher standards of living if the workers can produce large quantity of goods and services for local consumption and extra for export (Mankiw, 2001). The deficiencies in the economy lead to low productivity, poor quality products and competition in the global market place. And without sustainable growth and create employment the people would lose interest in the society.

The Federal and States' budget appropriations and statutory allocations recently reported that by December 31, 2010 the three tiers of government (federal, state and local) would have spent N40 trillion or more, since January 2006 (Vanguard, June 7, 2010). But there is nothing on the ground to show for spending such a huge sum of money. In a country where electricity is said to be about 40 per cent cost of production (Daily Sun, June 7, 2010) reasoned macroeconomic policy and investment in electricity would lure lucrative industries into the society and wake up the sluggish economy.

Macroeconomic Challenges: Policy inconsistency and greed are among the causes of the ‘hemorrhage' in the economy (Eichengreen, 2004). Every administration that comes on board takes on a new policy initiative instead of building on the previous ones. As a result, Nigeria has toyed with a series of ineffective and poorly implemented policies. For instance, as Chief Economic Adviser to Obasanjo, Charles Soludo instituted the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), which was supposed to focus on creating wealth and employment, reducing poverty and guide values re-orientation. But the NEEDS failed to achieve its objectives because of the reasons already elaborated in the preceding sections. The late Umaru Musa Yar'Ardua administration (inherited by Jonathan) dumped the NEEDS and adopted the Vision 2020 and the Seven-Point Agenda (Daily Trust, February 16, 2009). The Vision 2020 is the unrealistic aspiration of the administration to transform Nigeria into one of the first 20 largest global economies by the year 2020. These programs that now appear dead gulped huge sum of money, which could have been used to resolve some of the social, economic and political challenges facing the nation.

And as the Governor of Central Bank, Charles Soludo, in 2004, started the banking consolidation exercise that reduced the number of banks to 25 from 89 and set the minimum capital base of banks to 25billion Naira. But the program has not translated into better governance or risk management in the financial sector as the managers of AfriBank, Bank PHB, Equitorial Trust Bank, Finbank, Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank, Spring Bank, Union Bank were recently dismissed by Lamido Sanusi who was appointed governor of Central Bank on June 4, 2009. Acknowledging that the exercise was facing not a panacea, Lamido Sanusi recently noted that unethical practices in ‘some banks and other financial services providers are detrimental to the growth of the economy' (Vanguard, May 13, 2010). Other practitioners and analysts have also noted that ‘a healthy banking sector is one of the keys to unlocking Nigeria's full growth potential' (Nigerian Tribune, May 13, 2010).

The political leaders do not appear to understand that real reform requires systematic policy initiatives (Rose-Ackerman, 2004) and that well thought-out and coordinated policy actions drive social and economic development. Ensuring price stability and strong currency while preserving the external reserves appears daunting for Sanusi and his team at the Central Bank. Despite the claims by the CBN that it has achieved price stability within the system records show that the economy is suffering from rising inflation and unemployment (stagflation). Reportedly, however, inflation dropped to 11.8 per cent in March from 12.3 per cent in February, but went back up to 12.5 per cent in April (Guardian, May 14, 2010).

There is a positive relationship between inflation and spending habits and level of productivity. One of the problems with Nigeria is that there is a lot of un-regulated spending by the politicians. Records reveal that from January to April 2010 the three tiers of government received more than N1.4 trillion from the federation account, and over $3 billion from the excess crude account. In fact, about N1.3 trillion was disbursed during the same period in 2009. And with the 2011 elections around the corner, inflation is expected rise with the huge liquidity that would be pumped into the system.

One of the problems facing the economy is poor capacity utilization of industries. As Charles Soludo noted the economy was operating ‘at only 25 per cent capacity' in 2007 (Daily Independent, November 6, 2007). The gross underutilization of resources has been blamed on ineffective institutions and infrastructure. And the huge foreign reserve accrued when Charles Soludo was at the CBN is gradually disappearing. The CBN reported recently that the nation's foreign reserves went down to $38.7bn as at June 2, 2010 from $40.28bn on May 17, 2010 (BusinessDay, June 3, 2010). This is apparently because the economy depends precariously on foreign inputs.

Nigeria's foreign debt has also been rising. Perhaps one of the major achievements of the Obasanjo administration was to bring down, if not pay off, the nation's foreign debts. This writer is not a fan of Obasanjo, but the truth must be said. Between 2005 and 2006, the administration succeeded in making the Paris Club to write off the nation's $30 billion debt, after a down payment of about $12 billion, reducing Nigeria's foreign debts to about $3.54billion. Sadly, Nigeria's debt profile has gone up, again. According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), as at March 31, 2010 the foreign debt was about $4.104 billion and domestic debt was N3.4 trillion. One wonders what the late Yar'adua administration did with the money.

If Nigeria's economy were a patient, it would need a strong dose of good medicine. To curb the inflationary trend, the CBN should withdraw excess liquidity from the system through the Open Market Operation (OMO) and adjust its monetary policy accordingly. Good monetary policy helps to control the business cycle: it slows growth in a boom and spurs growth in a slump. The National Assembly should adopt good fiscal policy because monetary policy alone cannot correct all the anomalies in the economy. Economic growth should be tied to activities in non-oil sector because resources from the oil sector alone wouldn't grow the economy. Thus growth in agricultural output and the manufacturing sector could moderate the prices of goods and services. In a well-managed economy monetary policy and fiscal policy work together to change the level of total demand.

Market Challenges: Lack of genuine competition in the system is among the challenges facing the economy. Real capitalistic economies are controlled by market forces or what Adam Smith brands the ‘invisible hand' of the market (see The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759). The self-regulating nature of the market determines where one lives and works, how much one earns, and what one can buy. Although every economy (developed, developing or underdeveloped) needs some form of government intervention, Nigeria's leaders are yet to heed the advice of Adam Smith in 1776 that the State should not unnecessarily interfere in the economy. In Nigeria, the federal government has virtual monopoly of setting the prices of petroleum products and other goods and services. Recently, the federal government arbitrarily raised the price of gas by 400 per cent (Daily Trust, May 28, 2010) without considering the distributive negative consequences on the economy.

Given the sordid state of the economy the debate or conversation in Nigeria today should focus on how the government would provide the enabling environment for a healthy economic competition, and allow the law of demand and supply (not personal idiosyncrasies) to regulate prices for the well-being of the society. Market forces (and competition) would drive ineffective organizations out of business and open up more market to well-managed corporations. Therefore, for the Nigerian economy to change along with the changing new global economy, the economy managers and political leaders must discard their anti-people and anti-development mentality and adopt policies that would enable the economy to flourish.

Political Parties without Ideology: The multitude of political parties devoid of discernible modern political ideologies is a part of the problems facing Nigeria today. As a result, the politicians thrive on the people's ignorance. In advanced economies and true democracies there are inherent ideological ‘wars' among political parties that drive democracy and economic development. In such nations people of similar ideology congregate under a party, push their agenda and build a strong democratic government. And in the process of selling their ideologies (vision, values and beliefs) to the public political parties help to shape the political culture of nations and promote development.

In Nigeria, however, the politicians' shuttle from one party to another to achieve their selfish purpose; and many of them would disappear into the thin air after collecting their share of government grants. The nation's politics and democracy suffer because the politicians are not directed by philosophy. The politicians are thus obstacle to political and economic development as their activities have negative impacts on the polity. A few of the‘lawmakers and lawbreakers', if any, is willing to make the sacrifices necessary for Nigeria's development. The politicians are becoming a public nuisance: they resist change and publicly fight over bills that do not favor them; and they are not accountable to the people. And the problem of entitlement has assumed a disturbing dimension. For instance, some of them take home a ‘salary of N2.48 million a month' (outside their allowances). The ‘fat salary' takes place in a society with a high unemployment rate and where about 70 per cent of the population lives on less than $1 a day.‘ In addition, ‘each member is said to receive about 200 per cent of the basic salary as housing allowance, 75 per cent as allowance for vehicle maintenance, 30 per cent as allowance for entertainment and another 30 per cent as allowance for utility, 25 per cent for wardrobe and personal assistance allowances each. And for domestic staff allowance each senator gets 75 percent of basic salary, 10 percent as recess allowance, while 15 percent of the basic salary is for the purchase of newspapers every month'(Anaro, June 21, 2010). Such a waste can only happen in Nigeria!

Thus greed, ignorance, unethical practices and lack of democratic principles in political discourse are serious problems in the society. What is ethical and moral is often reduced to what the politicians say publicly to make a good impression, and not what they do. The plethora of political parties (56 political parties and growing) lacking basic democratic philosophy does not in any way represent political development. According to the ThisDay of May 21, 2010, the political leaders in the House of Representatives who have been sounding the trumpet of ‘political reforms' could not trim down the number of political parties to ‘two' as suggested by some progressives. The reality, however, is that Nigeria does not need more than three political parties grounded in modern democratic ideologies. To trim down the number of political parties, the government should discontinue the mouth-watering grants the INEC gives to political parties; and with that those political parties that are there just to collect the grant would die away.

Lack of true federalism is among the challenges facing Nigeria. The federal government has enormous power; it gives out monthly allocation to states and local governments and controls the mineral resources in their domain. Any nation toying with the federal system is expected to conform to its basic tenets without which it would not be regarded as such. The Nigerian economy may not grow and the society may not change positively until the political parties and politicians learn to play by the rule.

Disrespect for the Rule of Law: Disrespect for the rule of law was rampant during the Obasanjo administration. It was an era of selective justice, with a set of laws for the rich and well-connected and another for the poor. Although disrespect for the rule of law has lessened, it has not stopped completely. There are still some unresolved 2007 electoral cases from the 2007 elections (Punch, January 14, 2010). For instance, after a protracted court cases the Appeal Court in Enugu ruled on March 25, 2010 that it was Alphonsus Igbeke of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and not Joy Emodi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who won the April 28, 2007 election for the Anambra North Senatorial District. David Mark would have refused to swear in Igbeke as directed by the Court without the intervention of the Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke (Daily Independent, May 19, 2010). Joy Emodi, in collusion with the Senate leadership, attempted to take the case to the Supreme Court after the INEC had issued Igbeke a certificate of return. The ‘lawbreakers' failed to understand that the Appeal Court is the final court to deal with matters of elections disputes. Corruption in Nigerian politics has rendered the laws of the land impotent. It is against the principles of democracy and fair play to swear into office an individual who was not duly elected while the actual winner is held hostage in the court.

Jonathan has, however, promised to set up Special Courts for Electoral Offences. But many people fear that the electoral offences court could be hampered by the same forces that have rendered impotent the Election Petition Tribunals, EFCC and ICPC. What are the consequences for the judges who fail to expedite actions on electoral cases? Related to this problem is the ‘zoning' of the presidency by some political parties without considering that the Constitution has no provision for zoning. Good governance, not zoning will move Nigeria forward. Handing out public offices based on ‘zoning' or ‘federal character' would discourage hard work, competition and hamper productivity. In addition, it will prevent the society from electing the best possible candidates to manage the affairs of the nation. To sustain the nation's democratic experiment and improve the economy Nigeria must encourage a healthy culture of political competition, tame corruption, conduct free and fair elections, and make good laws.

Social Structure and Value Systems

The nation's social structure and skewed value system are among the problems facing the polity. Social science literature has defined social structure as the way a society is composed or organized, including the ‘social web of relations that regulate human interaction' (Ferriss, May, 2006). The social structure of a nation determines its economic system and wealth distribution patterns, legal system and people's quality of life (id). And social and economic conditions in a society determine the people's attitudes and their social values. However, values are conceptions that guide the way individuals act and react to issues, evaluate people and events, and explain their actions (Rohan, 2000; Rokeach, 1973; Schwartz, 1992). Also, values determine what people believe in (good or bad). And values vary according to groups (religion, tribes, and ethnic groups). A person's (or an organization's) values give one ‘structure and purpose' as it help the individual (organization) determine what is important and meaningful to him or her. Some people, however, believe that social structure develop naturally, while others think that it is socially created by the elites who seek to control the economic systems or institutional structure (Hoff, 2003).

Social and leadership values could either spur or retard a society's pace of socioeconomic growth and development. Put differently, some cultures are more suitable than others for economic growth and development. Decades ago, Max Weber (1864-1920), talked about the ‘Protestant work Ethic' and the forces that led to the emergence of capitalism and competition. And because of their work ethics most people in the West become rich through hard work (invention, innovation, and higher productivity). The economic success of the ‘Asian Tigers' could also be attributed to the ‘Confucian Ethic' that lays emphasis on hard work, loyalty and respect for authority, and of course, punctuality to work. But with moral laxity and high level corruption in the society any person could become ‘wealthy' and famous in Nigeria without a discernible source of income and nobody blinks. Public servants do not show up for work on time and do not take their work seriously. The general ‘I don't care attitude' of the people and the mentality to get rich through fraud often discourage the spirit of competition and hard work and thus stunt economic growth and development. The mentality that hard work and honesty do not pay (or not properly rewarded) has unfortunately found its way into the nation's schools as students do not take their studies seriously any longer. As a result, the gap between the richest and poorest has continued to grow.

The incessant social conflicts in Nigeria have combined with the turbulent global economy to undermine the people's ability to improve their lives (see the Global Competi-tiveness Report, 2007-2008). And the World Development Indicators published by the World Bank in 2007 shows that more than 70 per cent of Nigerians are living on less than $1 per day. Reportedly, however, the World Bank changed the poverty line to living below $1.25 a day. Also, because of the social structure and injustice (lack of public assistance to the needy) the growing number jobless and sick Nigerians survive by virtue of a traditional safety net- the extended family system. There are conflicting accounts as to the rate of unemployment in Nigeria. The Nigerian Labour Congress at some point estimated the unemployment rate to be about 35 per cent, while statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that about 10 million Nigerians (about 20 per cent of the entire labor force) were unemployed as at March 2009. And the World Bank recently reported that over 40 million Nigerians are unemployed (Daily Independent, June 22, 2010). How can a nation become great when most of the youths are unemployed and discouraged?

Perhaps because of the nation's social structure and skewed value there are many failed visions and agenda littering the landscape: Vision 2020 and the re-branding campaign, etc. These programs gulped a huge sum that could have been invested on public infrastructure to rebuild the economy (Daily Independent, October 23, 2009). History shows that no society has become an industrialized nation without investment in technology. In fact, the "Asian Tigers" could not have become what they are today without copious investment in human development and technology (Mohan, 2003). Any person who thinks that Nigeria could become an economic power-house without technological capability must be living in a different planet.

And ‘That's what's the Matter'1

The Nigerian economy has suffered a ‘shell-shock' because the infrastructure and institutions (including educational institutions) that spur the economy have been neglected for decades. And the unresolved challenges have increased public discontent. Nigeria needs a leader with the commitment and political will to challenge the status quo and transform Nigeria into a ‘knowledge' society. A ‘knowledge' society is ‘a society of mobility'- one ‘in which many more people than ever before can be successful' (Drucker, November 1994). Development-conscious and ‘knowledge' societies are constantly restructuring and updating their political and educational institutions and equipping them with modern technologies. No nation will become a ‘knowledge' society without viable educational institutions. The primary goal of education is research and learning to push back the frontier of ignorance.

Poverty and hunger are also serious national problems. Today, the biggest worry for the poor and unemployed Nigerians is not the brightness of their political future but when the ailing economy will become well enough to create employment. Thus the government should focus on providing good economic environment and invest in human development, including health care, education, skills training and acquisition of advance technology (Sen, 1975). Skills acquisition would enable the poor to learn both soft as well as hard skills with which to find employment and improve their lives. An effective government is therefore at the root of achieving economic growth and development in any society.

Meeting the Challenges: Is Jonathan the Answer?

Nigerians are tired of living in an unstable politico-economy. The political leaders do not seem to have the welfare of Nigeria at heart. As the people are slogging through the wreckage of corruption and wallowing in penury the leaders are busy painting glowing picture of their plans and mesmerize them with colorful debates on how to lead the society to the ‘Promised Land' of true democracy and economic prosperity. Like other leaders before him, Jonathan has a laundry list of things to accomplish, including tackling the long-standing power problem. But can Jonathan meet the challenges? Can he transform Nigeria from a consumer society to a producer nation and change the nation's acrimonious and polarizing politics? Painting an unrealistic rosy picture of a bad situation is not enough. The problems require realistic solutions.

History has offered the world a wealth of information on how economies grow and thrive, and perhaps how economies fall. But the political leaders of Nigeria have refused to utilize the wisdom of history and follow the paths taken by leaders of successful nations. For those who may not recall, it is, however, pertinent to note that Obasanjo promised to give corruption ‘a bloody nose' yet corruption blossomed; and he was at some point the Petroleum minister but fuel shortages persisted. The late Umaru Yar'adua followed his footsteps and promised to declare state of emergency on power but Nigerians are still living in the dark; and he vowed to create jobs, among many other things with his Seven-Point Agenda, yet the rate of unemployment is climbing off the roof.

One of the problems with Nigerian politicians is that they do not operate on any known modern democratic principles. What is the difference between Jonathan and the past leaders? What are his values? The leaders have always raised the people's hope by starting up as individuals with progressive agenda; but the people have witnessed a sea of disappointments and thus lost confidence in the leaders. Now they doubt that the promises made by Jonathan contain any grain of truth. In other words, the people doubt he is the answer to Nigeria's problems. How would he change the corrupt politicians who are benefitting from the rot in the system? There is a growing concern that he could connive with the political contractors and leave the nation with its elusive search for economic prosperity.

The best way for Jonathan (or any other person) to promote his or her values is by living them. Thus for Jonathan to leave a positive legacy he should focus on good governance, standard and responsibility by reversing the injustices and economic hardship littering the landscape. It does not seem that Jonathan has the political muscle to push through the much touted electoral reforms and to fight corruption. This writer does not want to dampen public enthusiasm about Jonathan. But any person who thinks that Jonathan is the answer to the power problem should understand that he was a part of the Yar'adua administration that rigged itself into office and could not fulfil any of its promises. And as noted earlier, Obasanjo was at some point the Petroleum minister yet fuel shortages persisted. Even the retired military Generals under whose watch the menace of corruption blossomed are now expressing outrage over the magnitude of corruption in the society. Because of the ‘come-and-chop' nature of Nigerian politics sycophants have rolled out their drums for one of the Generals aspiring to lead Nigeria again, despite his refusal to give account of the missing $12.4billion Gulf War oil revenue (BusinessDay, May 6, 2010).

The critical test of any administration is the ability to use its policy (political, social and economic) to change the society for the benefit of everyone. Erratic power supply and pot-holed roads are preventing the many self-employed Nigerians from earning a living. Factories are closing and others are relocating to neighboring nations with favorable business environment. The growing insecurity in the Niger Delta and kidnapping for ransom in other parts of the society has worsened the already harsh economic environment. Security is the foundation of any a nation's social, political and economic growth. It is in doubt that Jonathan can resolve the long-standing Niger Delta crisis. Without creating an enabling environment for the economy to grow and for businesses to thrive, without tackling the corrosive high-level corruption and insecurity, and without ensuring that rules and regulations are followed, the search for economic prosperity and political stability will remain elusive.

Concluding Remarks

Nigeria's socioeconomic and political challenges have remained perpetually unresolved; and this casts a glaring light on the inadequacy or incompetency of the ‘home breed leadership.' And if the past is prologue it does not appear that Jonathan, who is perceived as ‘messiah' in some quarters, could give the society a great push forward. The complex problems facing Nigeria is not for a feeble heart. How can one give what one does not have? To address these challenges Nigeria needs a leader who can adopt progressive social policies and values and tame bribery and corruption, nepotism and tribalism and other obstacles to national development.

And there is need for capacity building. Nigeria could become an economic power-house and command the attention of the international community only if it can give proper attention to education and technological development, learn to reward hard work and creativity, and ensure constant power supply and produce high quality goods and services. The people have a critical role to play in meeting the challenges facing the economy; they should become politically educated so as to make the political leaders to listen and act right. However, without good monetary policy and fiscal policy, and without good governance and transparency, the Nigerian economy will continue to shrink with high unemployment, poverty and crime. It is certainly unlikely that Jonathan would resolve all the problems facing the Nigerian economy. This writer would, however, rate him successful if he could tackle corruption and insecurity that have made good governance and sociopolitical and economic development impossible.

Notes

  1. David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen and Thomas A. Bailey (2006), The American Pageant: a History of the Republic (13th Edition), Boston and New York, Houghton Mufflin Company, p.471.

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Re: Governance And Challenges Facing The Nigerian Economy: Is Jonathan The Answer?
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