As Nigeria commemorates its 56th anniversary as a nation state today, there is the temptation to dwell on the negatives. And they abound:
An economy in crisis, millions of job losses, infrastructure woes, spiraling inflation, a crippling exchange rate and a Muhammadu Buhari presidency that is yet to get its act together.
However, President Buhari’s own words this time last year should provide a ray of sunshine in what looks like a dim tunnel:
“No temporary problems or passing challenges should stop us from honoring this day. Let us remind ourselves of the gifts God has given us. Our Creator has bequeathed to us Numbers – Nigeria is the ninth most populated country on the planet. We have in addition: Arable land, Water, Forests, Oil and gas, Coastline, Solid minerals”, the President said.
He added that: “We have all the attributes of a great nation. We are not there yet because the one commodity we have been unable to exploit to the fullest is unity of purpose. This would have enabled us to achieve not only more orderly political evolution and integration but also continuity and economic progress”.
The Buhari administration swept into power on the back of a mantra and erected for itself a mountain of promises.
These days, it is not uncommon to hear government officials labour to walk back some of the promises or lower expectations.
It was always going to be tough for anyone who had become Nigeria’s President at a time of plunging global oil prices. And therein lies the problem with Nigeria:
Since the country first struck oil in commercial quantity in the ‘60s, subsequent leaders of this potentially great nation simply failed to diversify as the years went by.
The bounty harvests from Groundnuts, Cocoa, Oil Palm and Cotton, have since been replaced by the sweet taste and easy money of oil. With gravitation toward a rentier state, Nigeria was always one shock wave in the price of oil away from an economic crisis.
Two quarters of consecutive negative growth under Buhari has led the country into an economic recession. All of this because the global price of a commodity plummeted. This could all have been avoided if past leadership had acted differently and paid more than lip service to diversification.
The Buhari administration also dithered and plodded where it should have hit the ground running. It took a President facing an economic crisis six months to name his Ministers. It took him more than a year to name an Economic Adviser. It took the administration several months to put together an economic team, the administration took forever to deregulate the downstream oil sector and devalue a currency that had been hit by falling oil prices.
It has been painful to watch, on occasion, as Buhari and his team took an eternity to confront the economic challenges headlong.
But it hasn’t been all bad news from Aso Villa. At last, there is what appears to be a spirited and sincere effort at diversification of the economy, insecurity has been tackled headlong and the administration has confronted the monster that is corruption with bags of nerves and sincerity of purpose. The Treasury Single Account (TSA) has restored sanity to government coffers and ghost workers are finding it increasingly difficult to operate under stricter financial controls.
The next twelve months will be decisive for the Buhari administration as some of its policies hopefully begin to yield visible results or falter.
In any case, with a population of over 180 million, Nigeria will continue to play a significant role in the global economy. Portfolio Investors who have fled the country’s shores, will always return, for the simple reason that the market is here.
Young Nigerians continue to break new grounds in technology and innovation—tapping into the global knowledge economy, one smartphone swipe at a time.
The good days will return as surely as they left, if efforts at diversification from leadership translate to action and if corruption becomes a thing of the past.
So, yes, celebrations are in order today.
Happy Independence Day Nigeria!