Many thoughts have been expressed about the GDP rebasing and there is no need to rehash most of them here. There are however two takeaways it has highlighted for me that I’d love to share. The first is the repeated failure of systems in Nigeria. GDP rebasing should be a routine exercise done every three to four years. However, because we have not built a system to make this happen, we have waited for 24years for our GDP to be rebased. And before anyone jumps and says it is so because of military rule, fourteen of those twenty four years have been under a civilian government. Fourteen years is more than ample time to have rebased four times. Whilst it is commendable that the present administration undertook the exercise, such an important aspect of our national economics should not be left to the impetus of any individual or single administration. It should be systematic, simples.
I have been a vocal advocate of the need to institutionalize many things in Nigeria. We seem to have mastered the art of creating systems that support corruption and impunity irrespective of the people who occupy positions within those systems. We need to translate this mastery into the positive things, so that we don’t end up doing with owanbe after twenty four years what we should have done routinely done. The reason the different political actors on both sides of the divide can politicize rebasing the GDP is because it hasn’t happened for so long. When we systemize things, the opportunity for scoring cheap political points significantly diminishes.
We seem to be particularly adept as a people at dismantling whatever systems we create that works. A case in point is the current fiasco that the customs service has created around the destination inspection exercise. A few years ago, destination inspection of goods was introduced to solve a problem, and private companies such as Cotecna and Global Scan were brought in to handle this. They did so efficiently, creating a system that worked so well that goods were cleared within days, at reasonable costs. That was until a few months ago, when the customs service decided to usurp the roles of these companies and take on destination inspection by themselves. Today, it has become a mess, with goods staying uncleared for an average of three months and incurring unnecessary demurrage. Of course, in this confusion, corruption has become rife and clearing agents now complain of being charged Fifty Thousand Naira per Bill of Laden by customs officials to fast-track the process. This fast-tracked process will still take five days, more than the average when the previous system worked. It a problem of dismantling working systems and replacing with deliberate inefficiency to create an enabling environment for corruption.
The second issue is a communication one. I have raised this point before about the power reforms, but it bears re-emphasizing once again. The simplest explanation of the GDP rebasing I’ve seen so far is from a non-government source, in this piece by Abigail Anaba (link here http://www.ynaija.com/8-questions-youre-too-ashamed-to-ask-about-nigerias-gdp-rebasing/). Citizens must not be expected to simply understand complex reforms or economics. It is the job of the government and their communications team to break it down and make it comprehensible to the citizens, especially with regards to how it will affect their lives. When the Chinese were going to begin a move from purely communist ideology to a market economy, it was a huge paradigm shift. But to his credit, Deng Xiapong distilled the thought using a popular Chinese proverb “it doesn’t matter if it is a white cat or a black cat, a cat that catches mice is a good cat”. By putting it that way, the people understood what he was saying and were able to buy in and run with it, even during the seismic Sino-Soviet split.
We need very brilliant leaders who will go on to do necessary things like rebasing the GDP, reforming power and oil sectors and even more important reforms in our electoral system. But equally importantly, we need those leaders to be effective communicators. We need them to be able to follow Deng and Franklin Roosevelt’s example of being able to reduce the complex reforms into language and concepts their people could easily grasp and run with. This is not about talking above the heads of the people and hitting with a barrage of facts and figures. That has its place, but it will not get you the people’s buy-in. This is also not about reacting to attacks on whatever government policies are in view by political opponents. Rather, it is a deliberate effort to craft and own the narrative around what the government is doing and how it affects the ordinary Nigerian.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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