Gloomy Economic Reports: Shelving political leanings for greater communal good

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Several reports arising from studies of the state of the Nigerian economy has largely continued to reflect signals of strains and projections of unwholesome development which largely speaks ill of what may befall the Country should critical matters be left unaddressed, or better still, handled with levity. The projections of the effects the wobbling state of the economy would have on the Country reveal woeful threats against socio-economic and political architectures of the Country. One resulting pillar of the weakening state of the economy is the elasticity of the unemployment rate which has continue to rise significantly. Figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in a recent report on Monday, 15th March, had revealed that Nigeria’s unemployment rate had worsened with a rise from 27.1 per cent in the second quarter (Q2) of 2020 to 33.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020.

A Saturday report by Bloomberg had projected Nigeria to assume the position of being the worst Country with the highest rate of unemployment in the world. The projection had expectedly reminded Nigerians again of the fear of a blurry future. On critical points of note, the wave of prevailing situations largely present bending more towards horrible inclinations, should issues of concern be left without forceful attention. The observations of social and political analysts on the bearing of unemployment to insecurity can arguably be tendered valid, particularly with the notation of the corresponding heightening of security challenges in line with increasing unemployment rate which is by and large a string of a failing economy. The subject of the failing status of the Nigerian economy has largely become a topic of elaborate discourse with prognostic postulations averred from various observers regarding the unbearable possibilities that are bound to manifest within the socio-economic and political architectures of the Country.

One of the critical reactions the recent Bloomberg report had attracted was the position of Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, whose averment centred on the assertion that the insecurity in Nigeria is a function of youth unemployment in the Country. According to the him, Nigeria got to the prevailing situation due to the abandonment of policies initiated by past Administrations. In the reactionary statement titled ‘World’s Highest Unemployment Rate: Time To Help This Government Help Nigeria,’ Atiku observed: “I have never felt so bad at being proven right, as I am by the report from Bloomberg Business on Saturday, March 27, 2021, that Nigeria is to emerge as the nation with the highest unemployment rate on Earth, at just over 33%. We warned about this, but repeated warnings by myself and other patriots were scorned. And now this. How did Nigeria get here? We got here by abandoning the people-centred leadership and free trade and deregulatory policies of the Obasanjo years (which saw us maintain an almost single-digit unemployment rate) and implementing discredit command and control policies that have led to massive capital flight from Nigeria. And with the paucity of funds, we continue to ramp up government involvement in sectors that ought to be left to the private sector, with the latest being the ill-advised $1.5 billion so-called rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt Refinery that has failed to turn a profit for years. What this government must realise is that the unprecedented insecurity Nigeria is facing is the result of youth unemployment. Idleness is the worst feature of unemployment because it channels the energy of our youth away from production, and towards destruction, and that is why Nigeria is now the third most terrorised nation on Earth. Now, how do we address this challenge? In 2020, I recommended that to immediately and drastically bring down youth unemployment, every family in Nigeria with at least one school-age child, and earning less than $800 per annum should receive a monthly stipend of 5000 Naira from the government via their BVN and NIN on the condition that they verifiably keep their children in school. My recommendation still stands and stands even stronger now that we have crossed the rubicon in youth unemployment.”

In Atiku’s point of view Nigeria’s unemployment solution lies in education by getting the about 13.5 million out-of-school children into the school system for proper education, which according to him holds the possibility to turn Nigeria around in one generation.

“If we do not do this, then the floodgates of unemployment will be further opened next year, and in the years to come. We can no longer say we cannot afford this. We can. As a nation, we are better off privatising our refineries and the NNPC through the time-tested LNG model in which the FG owns 49% equity and the private sector 51%. Recall that in 20 years ending 2020, the NLNG had delivered $18.3 billion dividends to government irrespective of taxes and other benefit accruals to the country. This will not only free the government of needless spending but also clean up the infrastructure mess in the petroleum downstream sector. I say this because the fastest way to bring down a world record unemployment rate is via incentivised education. An educated citizenry is more employable and more self employable. Increased education has been scientifically linked with lower rates of crime and insecurity, along with lower infant and maternal mortality, and a higher lifetime income. We must then incorporate those youth who are above school age into a massive public works programme. There was talk of 774,000 Special Public Works jobs for the youth, which was to have started in January of 2021. This is a commendable step, but it must be done with a proper agenda, rather than propaganda. Perhaps we may want to consider the Malaysian model, whereby with the exception of very few highly specialised jobs, foreign contractors are not allowed to import labour into the country. And we also need to do three things urgently to encourage capital inflow and foreign direct investment. First, Nigeria must move towards a single exchange rate to be determined by market forces. Secondly, the federal and state governments must reduce taxes, to make Nigeria more business-friendly. And finally, financial and monetary institutions, like the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, must be free from the type of political influence that resulted in the prohibition of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. We are at a precipice as a nation and the truth is that all stakeholders and elder statesmen have to speak up on time, while there is still a Nigeria to save.This government obviously lacks the capacity to address our current challenges, and we must help them, not because of the government, but because of our people. In a situation where we are simultaneously the world headquarters for extreme poverty, the world capital for out of school children, and the nation with the highest unemployment rate on Earth, there is a very real and present danger that we might slip into the failed states index – God forbid!,” he asserted.

It is high time premium attention be given to addressing national problems which portend dangers before the Country, outside the box of political leanings. It is imperative for the Government of the day to pay attention to significant points of note on possible solutions to stormy issues which are drawing the Country aback, as against reducing them to mere political understatement. The reality before the Country calls for the present Government to look beyond political leanings to break out of limitations in addressing the challenges of the economy. It is glaring that reports on the economy have most recently trailed the lines of unsavoury observations and projections of economic melancholia.

Recommendations such as remodeling the working patterns of public finance; downsizing the cost of governance; and  restructuring the political economy of the Federation among others, are fundamental matters which require modifications. However, it is apparent these fundamental matters of modifications have remained irreconcilable with the posture of the present Government. It is imperative to note that in as much as the custodians of the political architecture of the Federation continue to direct their navigations according to the drumbeat of political and myopic sentiments rather than giving the appropriate response to troubling issues of concern, the Country will continue to wax deeper in the quagmire of economic depression. The courage to face matters with reality by proferring and injecting the corresponding efforts to address prevailing problems, is one major point of note the custodians of political authorities in the Country need to embrace in resolving the myriads of troubles the Country is currently enmeshed in. It is therefore paramount for those manning  course of government to treat the worsening challenges of the Country with sincerity by the political will required to deploy the appropriate measures towards addressing the fundamental matters giving expression to the economic woes of the Country. Nigeria is currently enmeshed in the web of disturbances with several strings of socio-economic and political destabilisation. It is alarming for the Government to take decisive steps of courage on fundamental matters which may be coloured with political and myopic sentiments. This is essential to forestall unmanageable outcomes which may result out of degeneration of pressing issues held with levity.