Nigeria’s Journey towards Greatness; An Estimate

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Nigeria gained independence in 1960 and became a republic in 1963. The first democratic dispensation, which commenced in 1960, was interrupted by a military coup in 1966. Following more coups and counter coups, and a brief transition to democracy in 1979 for four years, the current democratic rule since 1999 has been the longest in Nigeria’s history.

Despite early promise shown, Nigeria has continually lagged behind on the developmental curve. This article highlights four markers that must be considered to reverse this trend. These are 1. Research & Development (R&D), 2. the Military, 3. the Civil service/Public Sector and 4. Production Capabilities. Ultimately, the golden question relates to the rate of achieving economic growth using current comparative advantages.

Firstly, the period starting 1948 following the establishment of Nigeria’s premier institution of higher-learning- University of Ibadan- marked a time for intellectual accomplishment. More educational institutions such as University of Nigeria and Obafemi Awolowo University quickly followed by the 1960s. However, these institutions slowly became ravaged by internal politics amongst the early scholars.

Consequently, the nation quickly lost pace with global competitors in the wake of government instability and this may be considered a key inflection point in Nigeria’s history. Today, given that the minimal proportion of GDP spent on R&D, which is a global indicator for a nation’s competitiveness, the charge towards economic greatness appears thwarted.

For example, United States which is the world’s leading R&D nation allocates approximately 2.85% of GDP for this purpose. Germany, South Korea and South Africa spend roughly 2.85%, 3.4% and 0.95% respectively. Nigeria spends 0.2% and this is a reflection of the current state of the economy. In passing, European Union countries agreed in its Barcelona target that overall spending on R&D and innovation should approach 3% of GDP.

Secondly, Nigeria once boasted one of the strongest military forces in Africa based on reputation garnered from peace keeping missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone etc. However, coupled with this strength has been the ability to force actions within Nigeria. Military intervention which arguably changed Nigeria’s course started in 1966 after the first coup which was followed by other coups and counter coups in later years.

The constant military intervention as an attempt to correct civilian misgivings clearly shows the role of the military in defining our current state. The once feared Nigerian military has today become a shadow of its former self. For example, United States spends approximately 3.5% of GDP on its military while others such as China, Russia and United Kingdom spend 2.1%, 4.5% and 2.2% respectively.

Given that Nigeria spends a meagre 0.4%, the military is grossly underfunded and weak. This can be mainly attributed to the fact that civilian regimes since 1999- when democratic rule was reinstated- have feared over-strengthening the military for fear of coups. The consequent neglect has encouraged impunity and widespread corruption evident in the current scandals rocking the military institution vis avis equipment purchase, lack of passion in the fight against terror and colluding with civilians to influence elections using military personnel. A true reform of the military seems overdue.

Thirdly, the history of the civil service in Nigeria, dates back to the colonial era when it acted mainly as administrative buffer between Subject and Government to help enhance the functions of government. Following its establishment with a Nigerian mandate in 1954, the technocratic impact of the civil service has been slowly eroded over the years.

With an ever increasing and inefficient civil service littered with obsolete ideas and lack of effective reforms, the Nigerian civil service lags behind global best practices. The great Kwame Nkrumah likened obstacles to development of ex-colonial territories to mines left behind by a vanquished army that has to be cleared in order to make the land usable again.

One of his key proposals was to instill a sense of nationalism in the fiber of a country’s civil service. If we consider the strength and efficiency of a civil service as a measure of a country’s success, an in-depth transformation of the Nigerian civil service is needed to change the course of our future. Since 1999, three attempts have been made to transform the Nigerian civil service.

They include—the Civil Service Renewal Programme by Olusegun Obasanjo, the public sector reform by Umaru Yar’adua and the Transformation Agenda by Goodluck Jonathan. And, common to all three, is the objective of transforming the civil service into ‘a world class institution for the efficient and effective execution of government policies and programmes with professionalism, excellence and passion’ which it is currently yet to attain.

Fourthly, Production Capabilities in Nigeria are currently comatose given the heavy reliance on imports. Agriculture which used to be a buoyant sector had been neglected since oil discovery but has gained increasing traction recently. In the past, agriculture alone accounted to 60% of GDP and 70% of exports. Cocoa was the mainstay of the rural economy with Nigeria supplying 18% of the world’s cocoa in the 60s. Nigeria also supplied 65% of tomato in West Africa.

Furthermore, groundnut was a vibrant export in addition to a thriving rubber industry which fed local industries such as those producing tyres. It is worth highlighting that tyres are imported today. These aforementioned industries helped ensure fewer imports leaving Nigeria on sustainable course.

There was also less demand for foreign currencies which is needed to purchase imported goods. Today, we spend about one-sixth of the national budget on importing everything from fish to wheat or even toothpick despite possessing 23% of arable land in West Africa and over 86 million hectares of untapped land. This is clearly unacceptable and unsustainable and the need to diversify from oil revenue is increasingly required.

The original question posed relating to how fast economic growth in Nigeria can be accelerated is non-trivial and can be described in terms of three factors; efficiency, fairness and sustainability. By applying the basic principles of economics as outlined by Adam Smith, the three factors appear listed in order of hierarchy.

An efficient market at equilibrium is likely to be fair since information asymmetry between the players is likely to be small and if both are true, sustainability is highly probable. In Nigeria today, institutions are not efficient, certainly not fair and therefore far from sustainable.

Given the four markers of a buoyant nation discussed above, it is clear that despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Nigeria is still operating below par. Whilst some advanced technologies have been adapted for use in Nigeria, success is mainly noticeable in communication and financial services.

Despite attempts to grow the production sector vis avis auto manufacturing and agricultural reforms in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, spending approximately one-sixth of the budget on imports is not sustainable.

Furthermore, much needed reforms which have been primed for the Civil Service and Military must be accelerated since a more efficient and streamlined public sector coupled with increased social security provided by the Military is likely to facilitate entrepreneurial investment by local and foreign stakeholders.

In conclusion, a multi-faceted approach is needed on all fronts to progressively expand our capabilities and achieve economic growth. Given some of the outlined benchmarks for R&D, the Military, production capabilities and the civil service, compared to more advanced nations, it becomes possible to map our current state in order to develop an idea of the journey ahead.

One thing is however very clear. With the added complexities such as religion, ethnic diversity and self-interests in Nigeria, which will add some rate differential to the transformation process, the timeline towards greatness seems more undefined than ever.

Dr. Tomiwa O. Erinosho is currently a Research Associate in Materials at University of Bristol, United Kingdom.

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