Nigeria was 100 years on January 1st, 2014, and the Federal Government celebrated this milestone achievement. A century is significant for a country like Nigeria which has had its fair share of upheavals ranging from colonialism, communal clashes, civil war and religious crises, to even insurgency. While it is proper to justify some degree of festivity, it is also expedient to retrospect and appraise our national life.
An anniversary is always worth celebrating, but the extent to which one celebrates is somewhat determined by the achievements one has made. What score is on our national report card? How strong is our imprint on the global map? Have we been left behind or lost in the global radar?
In the past, whenever Nigeria speaks, the world listens; and when Nigeria leads, the rest of Africa follows; not because of population or resources, but because of bold global foreign policy initiatives.
It is either we lack the initiatives now or we are now hostage of our internal problems. In the global scene, we have become very inert and supine. No doubt, we still attend regular global summits, regional meetings, presidential inaugurations, foreign burials, ceremonies and events, but not in an active capacity but as onlookers, bystanders and mere back benchers.
The last time global focus was on Nigeria was when President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected President of the African Union, Chairman of the Commonwealth and Chairman Non-aligned nations in 2004. Since then, our status has reduced.
Pre-Colonial and Colonial Eras
In the pre-colonial Nigeria, there were considerable market-oriented economies in such areas as agriculture, commerce, arts and craft. There were various trade routes and centres. The commercial activities of the natives were largely unstructured and informal. Markets for its manufactured goods were opened in the 19th century by British dominant commercial presence in West Africa. Some trading companies then are precursors to present day multinationals.
The Once Upon a Time Agricultural Sector
Agriculture was the major industry at the time. The main challenges facing the sector have always been:
1. Large scale production –growing population
The population of the country was growing nonstop and we are still counting. The challenges resisting large scale production at the time were:
- Getting the farmers to accept and swap peasant farming for high-tech agriculture
- Education and training for high-tech agriculture
- Provision of agricultural equipment
- Provision of fertilisers, pest control aids
As colonialism faded out, farmers embraced the idea of mass production and let go of their suspicion of high-tech agricultural techniques, synthetic fertilisers and pest control chemicals. Education for high-tech agriculture, including livestock farming, boomed and youths were trained.
However, little equipment was provided and fertilisers and pest control aids were scarce. This was mostly because in the early post-colonial days, the government left food production to fend for itself for too long. The result was a shortfall in food production, and overwhelmed farmers. This led to a slump back into peasant farming which, by now, was no longer a ‘dignified job’ and saw youths fleeing the excruciating and less rewarding labour of the farm for city jobs.
2. Rural-urban transportation of food stuff
This was a challenge and the colonial government took it head on. The immediate post-colonial government focused more on cash crops for exports, so it kept the rail, road, and water networks running for the benefit of cash crops.
But these were barely maintained. Transportation for food stuff became second fiddle to cash crops. The exploration of crude oil took the government’s attention off cash crops shortly afterwards. As a result, rural-urban transportation of farm produce was practically abandoned altogether.
3. Preservation and processing
The challenges here were:
- Skill acquisition
- Developing new products
Right from the colonial era, Nigerians were already getting familiar with products like yogurt, evaporated versions, powdered, cheese, butter, juices and crushes, jam and marmalade, etc; this was in addition to the local varieties.
More products meant better demand, better preservations and near-zero waste. It was important that the products were socially accepted, and they were. This was progress.
Provision of equipment trickled in but has remained haphazard till date. Also, the training of manpower for the mass production has been grinded to a halt. There are several reasons for this; one of which is the absence of the equipment the trainees were being trained to use. Soon, the little equipment available were either ruined from overused or poor maintenance, and are totally obsolete.
Lack of funding meant new equipment could not be acquired. So, many farmers had to return to the peasant farming methods. That means we lost the points we scored on embracing high-tech agriculture. Many developing countries, even in Africa, have recorded substantial progress in mass production of food.
Oil Boom Era
In 1971, the share of agriculture to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at 48.23%. By 1977, it had declined to almost 21%. Agricultural exports, as a percentage of total exports, which was 20.7% in 1971, reduced to 5.71 percent in 1977. The discovery of oil in commercial quantity in the mid-1950s, coupled with the oil-boom resulting from the Arab oil embargo on the USA in 1973, affected the agricultural sector adversely. The economy became heavily dependent on oil. By this time, oil revenue represented almost 90% of foreign exchange earnings and about 85% of total exports. While the boom afforded the government much needed revenue, it also created serious structural problems in the economy.
The agricultural sector was the most hit. Rural urban migration increased, as people attempted to reap or benefit from the windfall from oil. Production of agricultural commodities for export declined. Food production became a problem.
Starting from 1974, the economy became a net importer of basic foods. Huge foreign exchange earnings were utilised in importing food. Nonetheless, prices of foodstuff remained high. Policies like the government's Operation Feed the Nation programme could not reverse the deteriorating food situation. Government was involved in direct food production, provided subsidies to peasant farmers and created more commodity boards for various agricultural and food products. The growth rate of GDP was quite high, such that a growth rate of 10.5% in 1976 was considered unimpressive.
Government expenditure fuelled the inflation rate. Between 1975 and 1976, the rate of inflation reached 23%. It reduced to 16% in 1976 and 1977. For the same periods, unemployment rate was 4.3% and 2%, respectively. The discomfort index in 1976 stood at 27.3%.
The exchange rate regime encouraged imports. The economy was heavily dependent on imports; almost everything was imported, from toothpicks to toothpaste dispensers. There was no serious attempt to invest the windfall from oil in viable projects. Except for the huge expenditures on education and construction of dual carriage highways in some parts of the country, Nigeria would have had nothing to show from the oil boom era. The industrial sector also depended on imported inputs, machinery and raw materials.
Declining oil revenues, disequilibrium in the balance of payments, growing unemployment, increasing rate of inflation and political instability, all confirmed that demand-induced policies were no longer effective. A country which had thought that foreign exchange was not a constraint on development went borrowing on the Euro-dollar market. Despite the oil boom, the private sector remained weak. The existing macroeconomic policies continued to encourage consumption rather than production. The economy was consuming what she was not producing.
Neglect of More Sectors
Clearly, apart from the abating agricultural sector, some other sectors of the economy have also been left behind while we have managed to accumulate few scores in some sectors.
In the late 50s, 60s and even early 70s, students from all over Africa came to study at Nigerian universities which were considered the best. Certificates issues by these universities were accepted and valued all over the world.
More Nigerians embraced education, especially with the free education campaigns in the South West. More universities and colleges were opened nationwide. Corruption and neglect took its toll and the rest is history. Nigerians are rushing off to study in ‘former fellow third world countries’ and pay huge fees for it.
Health and Mortality
The health sector sings along with the education sector. It is the same story. Private hospitals and clinics are springing up like the private schools. The lacklustre supervision of these is scary. Just like education, it is strike after strike. Neglect, recklessness, and unnecessary deaths ooze from the government hospitals.
The country has been left behind. Today, Nigeria does not have a functional cancer centre, when India, a fellow colony, has several well developed centres.
Infant mortality, deaths at child birth, and even malaria deaths have shamed on the statistics. Even more shameful is the fact that Nigeria still records cases of polio, a crippling childhood disease that many countries have long eradicated into their history books. The last surge of this horrific disease had a few people suggesting that Nigerian immigrants to their own countries be tested to avoid a spread.
Information and Communication
We have scored some points in the information and communication technology and this was made possible by the private sector, in spite of the road blocks by several government officials and policies over the years.
The government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has taken credit for this. The abominable price tags the mobile phones started with damped that ‘progress.’ The real progress came with the price crashes and the affordability of mobile telephones for the average Nigerian. Several factors including the per-second regime initiated by indigenous GSM provide, Globalcom in the face of stiff ‘fight backs’ by rival companies, the price-crash war initiated by Visafone and the massive freebies from Globalcom and Etisalat should be lauded for making mobile telephony a real progress for Nigeria.
The explosion of the used-items (second hand) markets in the 90s expanded into the used PC market; lower prices made laptops more accessible to lower income earners who make up the majority of the population. The explosion in mobile telephony alongside this brought the Internet, infotech and communication benefits to many Nigerians –something they have been deprived off for ages.
Today, many Nigerians have access to computers, mobile devices and the Internet. The number is growing steadily and on this count we are not lost on the radar, albeit lagging behind. We still have a long way to go in this sector especially with regards to the quality of service.
Leadership and Corruption
This is the centre of it all. Our progress as a nation or lack of it is a result of leadership. The years of military rule were setbacks for the country, but the civilian government has to get to work.
So far, it has been all about salaries, allowances, theft, and of course, the boxing and wrestling bouts of the state and federal lawmakers. They really seem oblivious that the world is leaving them behind.
Corruption on the other hand is growing bigger by the day. It has developed and expanded. Usually, culprits go unpunished; making it glamorous to the youth. Thieves now get heroic receptions in Nigeria while more third world countries are taking corruption seriously.
State of the Economy
Nigeria's economy is struggling to leverage the country's vast wealth to displace the poverty that affects about 45% of its population. Economists refer to the coexistence of vast wealth in natural resources and extreme personal poverty in developing countries like Nigeria as the "resource curse."
This table trend the global ranking of the Nigerian economy, in comparison with other countries of the world, derived from the historical List of countries by GDP (PPP).
Nigeria must grapple with its decaying infrastructure and a poor regulatory environment. The country possesses many positive attributes for carefully targeted investment and will expand as both a regional and international market player. There is a growing Nigerian consensus that foreign investment is essential to realising Nigeria's vast but squandered potential. European investments are increasingly exploring the Nigerian market.
Companies interested in long-term investment and joint ventures, especially those that use locally available raw materials, will find opportunities in the large national market. The Nigerian Government is keenly aware that sustaining democratic principles, enhancing security for life and property, and rebuilding and maintaining infrastructure are necessary for the country to attract foreign investment.