2019: A better year for Nigeria

By Nonso Ozoemena

Every new year, for the first month at least, most Nigerians experience a word I made up called “Janumism.” It is a portmanteau of “January” and “Optimism.” We are generally positive about having a fruitful, prosperous year, we make resolutions that make us feel hopeful, and we project our minds to December with a vision of accomplishment. Reality starts to set in in February and the mood dissipates but for the first month of the year at least, people tend to believe they have a shot at a better year ahead.

Off the back of a turbulent 2018, I’m not sure how many Nigerians have the Janumism spirit within them. It was a very challenging year. Back in June of 2018, it was reported that Nigeria had surpassed India to become the nation with the most people living in extreme poverty. 87 million Nigerians against 71.5 million Indians. What makes this particularly mind-blowing is that India’s population is more than six times Nigeria’s: 1.3 billion people compared to 190 million.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2018 was weak. GDP is the market value of all goods and services produced within Nigerian shores. From 2.1% in the last three months of 2017, it slowed to 1.9% in the first three months of 2018. It slowed again to 1.5% in the second quarter of 2018, before picking up to 1.8% in the third quarter. The main takeaway from this is that our dear nation is not growing fast enough economically to lift its people out of poverty.

Population growth in Nigeria is at an annual rate of 2.6% which exceeds our GDP figures. Think of a family woman making N50k monthly with two children to care for. Assume she adds another child every year but her N50k salary doesn’t rise. The burden of supporting a growing household with stagnant wages is what Nigeria is facing with millions of her citizens bearing the brunt of weak economic growth.

There has to be a better way because none of the problems we are facing will magically disappear in 2019. A hopeful solution can be found in making the right choice in the upcoming February 2019 elections. Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar and his running mate Peter Obi, look very much like the proverbial light at the end of a pitch black tunnel.

Mr Abubakar and Mr Obi intend to transform Nigeria into a modern economy that is people-centered. How do they intend on doing this? By, among other things, attracting much needed investment funds into the nation. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Nigeria has fallen in recent years: since peaking at $718m in the third quarter of 2015, it fell to a low of $118m in the third quarter of 2017. In the 2nd quarter of last year, it reached $261m. Point is, we need more money. We need more investment coming into Nigeria to boost our infrastructure and Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi are the best placed candidates to get Nigeria back on track.

For foreign investors to be comfortable enough with Nigeria to send more funds our way, they have to be confident that they will operate in an environment that is conducive for business. Atiku is a businessman. Obi is a businessman. They both believe in a healthy private sector that is attractive to foreign investment. Much work needs to be done to improve the business environment. The World Economic Forum ranked Nigeria 115th out of 140 countries for Global competitiveness. Infrastructure was ranked 124th. ICT adoption ranked 123rd.

The more investment dollars Atiku and Obi can convince to come into Nigeria, the stronger the Naira will be. It is a case of demand and supply. More investment dollars flowing into Nigeria means the supply of dollars increases. This reduces the cost of acquiring them which makes the Naira appreciate. The Naira has not had it easy under this administration. Thanks to the recession of 2016, dollar scarcity got so bad that one dollar was going for N500 back in February of 2017! Things have moderated but are still expensive. The Central bank’s official rate is N305 but the dollar goes for N366 on the parallel market.

Nigeria had a chance last year to boost its currency position by increasing trade with our African sisters and brothers via the African Continental Free Trade agreement. It was signed last year by 44 of the 55 member nations of the African Union in Kigali, Rwanda. President Buhari pulled out of his trip to Kigali at the eleventh hour, saying he had to consult with stakeholders. Why he didn’t consult with them ahead of time is part of why we are where we are today and in need of practical, pragmatic leadership from Abubakar and Obi.

Practical, pragmatic leadership accurately highlights inefficiencies in a system, as Mr Obi did when talking about Nigeria’s expensive fuel subsidy. He called for funds used in subsidizing fuel for Nigerians to be used in improving our education sector. The more we hear about the subsidy, the worse things seems to get. The Guardian recently reported that the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) which has the responsibility of determining the pricing template of petroleum products imported into Nigeria, has been unable to do this over the past two years! Their website has been dormant for the last two years with no updated information on how much it costs to bring refined fuel into Nigeria.

As at last year, the daily consumption figure for petrol consumption in Nigeria was pegged at 50 million liters by the NNPC’s Group Managing Director, Dr Maikanti Baru. There has been no one at the PPPRA to verify this information. The Guardian reported that the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has taken over the required calculations from the PPPRA. This was confirmed to the Guardian by the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division (GPAD) of the NNPC. When he was asked to confirm the 50 million liter per day consumption figure, all calls entered voicemail.

The Guardian went ahead and used the most recent data available to calculate what the subsidy cost and arrived at a staggering figure of N2.43 billion per day. You can read it here https://guardian.ng/news/petrol-subsidy-hits-n2-43b-daily/

So we’re spending an astounding N2.43 billion per day on subsidy, we don’t know if Nigerians consume more than 50 million liters or more of fuel per day, and the Agency tasked with calculating this information has not done so for two years. If that doesn’t spell inefficiency then I don’t know what does. Mr Obi was spot on.

Nigerians are suffering under an incompetent, inefficient administration with misplaced socialist tendencies that are not improving matters. We need leadership that can identify our issues, proffer bold solutions, and be courageous enough to see them through. That leadership comes in the form of Atuki Abubakar and Peter Obi and come February 16th at the polls, Nigerians have to make the all-important choice of sending them to Aso Rock to turn things around.

Our entire future depends on it.