The possibilities and prospects of Nigeria’s future political economy are real and discernible. The polarisations, biases, myths and fevers created by the forthcoming Buhari–Jonathan election duel at the ballot-box in a fortnight’s time are not going to change the realities of the Nigerian economy. The reality is that the state of economy has always depended on external shocks for performance, initially agricultural exports then crude oil which have both declined. There are also external policy shocks too. Will there be another kind of shock that will make Nigeria prosper and lead the world?
There are many Nigerian and non-Nigerian Panglossians who believe the “Grand Nigerian Dream,” which sets up Nigeria to be a world economic power just around the corner, no matter how dismal the nation’s economic capacity or options are. There is also the “Local Nigerian Dream” in which tens of millions of Nigerians, who have no accommodation of their own, no jobs, no social contacts and often no good education, believe they will become rich very soon, often with the encouragement of their religious/spiritual gurus and examples of unusual parvenus.
Indicative facts like Nigeria is the 26th largest economy in the world, its current GDP is world-leading; its GDP has been rebased to look good; it is the most populous nation in Africa, all become predictors of a “magical economy” conferred by Providence in the hands of Panglossians. Pleasing statements like “Nigeria will be among the 10 richest countries in the world by 2040” or “Nigeria will provide constant electricity to most citizens in 4 years” or “Nigeria is gearing up to be one of the world’s leading industrial nations” are the kind of talk Panglossians and so-called patriotic Nigerians want to hear. Such “panglossed” optimisms have been enthusiastically touted since Independence, but Nigeria keeps falling behind, not achieving miracles.
The facts confirming the atrocious widespread burdens of punishing poverty, intractable unemployment, constant electric power failure, lack of clean water, poor sanitation, inadequate health care, etc. are ‘permanently invisible’ to the Panglossians. How about concrete facts like over 100 million Nigerians live on less than £1.25 a day; the average life expectancy of the Nigerian is 46 years; Nigeria has the largest population of illiterates in the world; Nigeria’s electricity per capita consumption is among the lowest on Earth; Nigeria is probably still the world’s most corrupt country despite what Transparency International promotes; and multinationals prefer foreign-trained graduates to home-trained ones.
Nigeria could not handle the 2012 Floods that ravaged the country and allowed to take its devastating natural course by the government. Nigeria has been touted as an “investment magnet” since the Lagos Plan of Action in 1980 when Africa received its first dictates of neoliberalism with the promise of foreign investment from the globalising dictators. The investment has not arrived but the Panglossians remain optimistic after four decades of ‘begging bowl economics.’ Nigeria even forgot to invest in its military and security services. Nigerians have to tighten their belts because thieving politicians squandered vast oil revenues and incurred new heavy debts all over again.
The Panglossians never mention or consider the Bauerian criterion for a developing economy to grow successfully, primarily due to the beliefs, attitudes, character, habits and skills of its citizens. Nigerians do not possess the cultural requirement necessary to be a leading economy. No economy ever rose with prevalent culture of short-termism, distrust, one-upmanship, deception and irresponsibility in transactions. A reading of John Glubb’s Fate of Empires and Search for Survival will clearly show Nigeria is mimicking the end days of an economy and certainly not the rise of a flourishing one.
Economists like Mancur Olson and Geoffrey Hodgson make it clear that nations with the best institutions have the best managed economies. That is not a Panglossian dream but indisputable fact. Nigerian can only insure itself against external shocks and grow its economy with ‘institutions’ and not neoliberal forms that focus exclusively on finance, but those that all great modern economies built before they could become great.