Credit: Thisday

Olusegun Adeniyi: World Economic Forum In The Shadow Of Chibok

The African edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) began yesterday in Abuja but not many Nigerians care since our people are being treated as some families would treat their eccentric relations that have to be locked out of view when important visitors come calling. It beggars belief that our distinguished guests, majority of who are actually from other African countries, are here at our expense (that is how Nigeria hosts events) and will depart our shores by the weekend without experiencing a functioning Nigerian society. But as it would happen, given the recent abduction of over a hundred female students in a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, the attention of the world has focused more on the fate of the missing girls than the glitz and glamour that the WEF usually bring to the table. That this is a defining period in the life of our nation is no longer in doubt but it is also time those who preside over our affairs stopped living in denial.
While addressing workers at the May Day rally in Abuja last Thursday, President Goodluck Jonathan disputed claims that Nigeria is a poor country. Said the president: “the GDP of Nigeria is over half a trillion dollars and the economy is growing at close to 7 per cent. Aliko Dangote was recently classified among the 25 richest people in the World. I visited Kenya recently on a state visit and there was a programme for Nigerian and Kenyan business men to interact and the number of private jets that landed in Nairobi that day was a subject of discussion in Kenyan media for over a week. If you talk about ownership of private jets, Nigeria will be among the first 10 countries, yet they are saying that Nigeria is among the five poorest countries…”
To start with, we are clearly not a rich country by whatever yardstick, even if our national wealth were to be distributed evenly. Besides, even while the president admitted that we have a challenge of income distribution, he failed to see the connection between that and the poverty of many Nigerians. Yet I am almost certain that if you combine the total assets of the richest 1000 Nigerians, they would probably account for about 90 percent of our national wealth or perhaps even more. When you have such inequitable distribution of income, it is not so difficult to understand why majority of the people are poor so the number of private jets owned by a few Nigerians cannot be a basis for judging the prosperity of our nation or any nation for that matter.
As a Yoruba saying goes, if you have just one rich man among ten poor relations, what you have is a congregation of poor people. That may then explain the convulsions that we have in the system and the recent recruitment exercise of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) which ended in tragedy should be an eye opener. With millions of our young people without jobs and with several more millions out of school, it is no surprise that the devil has been rather busy in finding bloody vocations for some of our idle hands. It is therefore within that context that I welcome WEF to our country because the theme of their engagements in Abuja, “Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs”, is most fitting.

To be sure, inequality is a global problem. For instance, according to a January 2014 report by Oxfam International, a British humanitarian group, the richest 85 people in the world hold 46 percent of the world’s wealth ($110 trillion) while about 3.5 billion people, the bottom half, account for about $1.7 trillion. But that is the challenge policy makers in most countries are facing as they concentrate efforts on lifting those at the bottom of the ladder rather than on those who can help themselves, and have been doing so, at the expense of the greater majority.
It is however, comforting, that the Coordinating Minister for the Economy (CME), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, appreciates the challenges we face as a nation. Rather than being in denial as some other officials are wont to be, the CME has always admitted to the problem of inclusive growth and shared prosperity. Last week, the Kukah Centre in association with the Ministry of Finance held a somewhat closed session in Abuja to reflect on “Nigeria’s GDP Rebasing: Issues, Facts and Fiction” with Okonjo-Iweala and the Statistician General of the Federation and CEO of the National Bureau of Statistics, Dr Yemi Kale, in attendance.
In his introductory remark, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah said he called the session so that there could be a serious engagement on the rebased economy rather than the cynicism that seems to dominate debates about such issues in Nigeria, especially at a time the only thing patriots can do is to market hope. He, however, added that even if the figures from the rebased economy are correct, there is a ready Nigerian response to such reality: “Na GDP we go chop?” which in itself raises questions about the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
In the course of her intervention, Okonjo-Iweala said the rebasing of the economy was a needful exercise that ought to have been conducted many years ago and should ordinarily be routine. But she did not dissemble when analyzing our challenges. According to the CME, given our huge population, Nigeria’s GDP per capita still remains low. “After rebasing, the GDP per capita increased from $1555 to $2,688. On this per capita basis, Nigeria is ranked as 121st in the world, rising from a previous 135th position. By comparison, South Africa has a higher per capita GDP of $7507, and is ranked 69th in the world for per capita incomes,” said Okonjo-Iweala.
Kale, whose NBS conducted the rebasing exercise, put the challenge of our economy in context in a rather lengthy presentation that touched on virtually all sectors. While agriculture accounted for 33 percent in the past, it now accounts for 22 percent of GDP, a 50 percent decline! From his analysis, only 3.5 percent of Nigeria has permanent crops yet 87.3 percent of the land is agricultural, based on a 2011 World Bank report. From Kale’s paper, Nigeria’s tax revenue-to-GDP has also dropped from 20 percent to 12 percent and is today not even up to half of South Africa’s.

Perhaps for the benefit of critics who take statistical figures as absolute, Kale used an analogy from a recent UEFA Champions League semi final football match to show that one still needs to go beyond the numbers. Bayern Munich, as the home team in the match in question, had 64 percent of the ball possession to Real Madrid’s 34 percent; 19 attempts on goal to Real Madrid’s 13; nine corner kicks to Real Madrid’s 3. Yet at the end of 90 minutes, Real Madrid defeated Bayern Munich by four goals to zero! What that says, in a nutshell, is that whereas 100 people may own private jets within a society, if 100,000 others go to bed hungry at night, that society is still a very poor one!
That is the challenge before WEF as they seek to find a formula for inclusive growth and job creation on the continent but resolving the Nigerian contradictions seem to be more daunting given the menace of Boko Haram. From the cold-blooded murder of anybody at sight, the criminal gang has moved into kidnapping innocent female children who, by the morbid declaration of their leader, would be sold into slavery. And that brings us back to the mismanagement of the Chibok tragedy in which both the President and the First Lady were establishing different committees with conflicting mandates and making contradictory pronouncements that have not only turned the presidency into a butt of internet jokes but have also further ridiculed our country in the eyes of the civilized world.
How do you tackle national insecurity under such a cynical (some would say, comical) atmosphere and how do you reposition the economy when a great majority of our people are on siege; when students are being abducted from schools in broad daylight and when villages are being invaded by some blood-thirsty criminals who shoot and maim anybody on sight? Answer to such a question may be beyond the purview of the distinguished men and women who are in our country for the African edition of WEF but it is one that should task our authorities if there is ever going to be any meaning to the current engagement on “Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs” in Abuja.
I am aware that there are people in government who feel unhappy that the attention of the world is fixed more on the missing Chibok girls than on the WEF but not only do they miss the point, it is precisely because of that mindset that we have not had a solution to the Boko Haram insurgency. What Chibok has done is to let the world know that terrorism is holding us back as a nation and that we need help. Fortunately, the world has responded. From the United States to China and the United Kingdom, assurances have come for President Jonathan that Nigeria is not alone as we seek to find not only the kidnapped school children but also a lasting solution to the Boko Haram menace. It is an opportunity that should not be lost.
However, in a week that global attention ordinarily ought to focus on Nigeria’s economic status in Africa and the best of our people and culture as a result of hosting the WEF in Abuja, all the world has been hearing about Nigeria is the sordid drama of the missing Chibok girls while the most spectacular footage from our country is the misguided ranting of one lunatic who takes delight in taking innocent lives. One implication of this is that long after the WEF has ended, the world may have to wait for how the Nigerian leadership resolves our security challenges before deciding whether our country is indeed open for business. That for me is the tragedy.

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The Verdict Written By Olusegun Adeniyi and Culled from Thisday; olusegun.ade[email protected]

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