Nigeria: A Crystal Ball Into Nigeria in 2020

2 December 2019
opinion

It might even be that, next year, the plan to behead purveyors of fake news works to the benefit of the economy, especially by helping keep population growth down - not just through the initial spate of decapitations, but even by the simple expedient of forcing many commentators into exile.

This year ends in a couple of days from today. It has passed with pace. Much of the breathlessness with which we head into next year, however, is a function of the excited state in which public policy has been all year. Whether it was the Central Bank of Nigeria's (CBN) decisions to raise banks' loan-to-funding ratios, and to subsequently bar borrowing customers from its fixed-income market, or the federal government's decision to barricade the nation's land borders, even as its tax authority frightened businesses across the land, uncertainty was the name of the game in 2019. All the talk about forward-guidance being important in the formulation and implementation of public policy, if businesses are to plan long-term evanesced in the smoke-filled wake of a government seemingly bent on blindsiding domestic economic actors.

Inevitably, across boardrooms in the country, shamans and necromancers are in high demand. And only one question is asked of them: "What will 2020 bring?" One thing it will not bring is any of the goals of our "Vision 2020". In other words, by next year, Nigeria will not have become "... one of the 20 largest economies in the world, able to consolidate its leadership role in Africa and establish itself as a significant player in the global economic and political arena". Nor will it "... have a large, strong, diversified, sustainable and competitive economy that effectively harnesses the talents and energies of its people and responsibly exploits its natural endowments to guarantee a high standard of living and quality of life to its citizens."

A far more likely forecast is that all the problems, which propelled our design of the Vision 2020 programme would have worsened by next year. These include (but are not limited to): "poor and decaying infrastructure; epileptic power supply; weak fiscal and monetary policy co-ordination; fiscal dominance and its implications for inflation and private sector financing; pervasive rent-seeking behaviour by private and public agents, including corruption; weak institutions and regulatory deficit; policy reversals and lack of follow-through; inordinate dependence on the oil sector for government revenue/expenditure; disconnect between the financial sector and the real sector; high population growth which places undue stress on basic life-sustaining resources and eventually results in diminished well-being and quality of life; insecurity of lives and property; threats of climate change, especially in relation to food production; and vulnerabilities in the global economic environment, in particular, the global economic crisis and disturbances in the international oil market."

So, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose? Undoubtedly, Yes. Except that over the last five years, we've added a few idiosyncratic certainties to our suite of policy outcomes. For instance, the public sector debt will continue to rise next year, and the resulting domestic dis-savings as government borrows to plug the hole will crimp private investment. Public works project will continue to proceed at the pace at which work on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway (a 127.6-kilometre-long stretch of highway that we've been rehabilitating since 1999) has proceeded. The central bank will ramp up its intervention programmes in search of emollients as the comatose economy gets worse.

Next year will, thus, not be much different from the many other periods of troubles that Nigerians have had to live in since the late 1970s. But it sure promises to be a lot more exciting.

And, Oh Yes! Governments (central, state, and municipal) will continue to implement new policy directives (especially the disruptive type that is the new hallmark of governance) without allowing for a consultation period in which other perspectives might be entertained and policy fine-tuned. Nor will our governments, in designing policies, agree an implementation timeline that starts at a future date, which ordinarily ought to help economic entities that will be affected by the policy change plan better.

One way in which the ensuing disorder will be managed next year, is that occasionally, public officials, affrighted by the rapidly-widening gap between official propaganda and the facts on the ground, will deploy myths (including the fact of Thai rice-millers folding up because Nigerians have stopped importing rice) just to keep sane. Governments, will, on the other hand, be less mindful of the harm that an economy this fraught could wreck on the minds of its citizens. On the other hand, some public functionaries will seek to gag the populace, aiming to prevent some sectors of it from pointing out the sundry contradictions that public policy will comprise.

It might even be that, next year, the plan to behead purveyors of fake news works to the benefit of the economy, especially by helping keep population growth down - not just through the initial spate of decapitations, but even by the simple expedient of forcing many commentators into exile. But certainly, by making it increasingly difficult for the more garrulous amongst our citizenry to commentate on public policy, government may succeed in ratcheting down the commonweal's temperature.

Next year will, thus, not be much different from the many other periods of troubles that Nigerians have had to live in since the late 1970s. But it sure promises to be a lot more exciting.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.

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