Dr. Boniface Chizea is a former banker and seasoned economist. A Ph. D holder in Business Administration from the Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, he worked with United Bank for Africa (UBA), in various capacities before his retirement. He is a Consultant, a prolific and highly regarded contributor/commentator on economic issues. He is also a member of the Institute of Management as well as the Institute of Directors.
Dr. Chizea was also one time resource person in Business Ethics at the Lagos Business School and equally taught MBA students at the Centre for Management Development and the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Business School, Lagos. In this interview with Assistant Editor, CHINWE MADUAGWU, he threw light on some economic issues agitating the minds of Nigerians
TNE: During his recent visit to Nigeria, Bill Gates said that the government’s economic blue print did not address the unique needs of the country. What’s your position on that assertion?
It depends on how Bill Gates defines the real need of the people and it is a bit uncertain how he reached that conclusion. But what we must give Bill Gates and for which we are certain is that he means well for the country. In the first place, he is not a politician and, therefore, there are no political points to be scored. He is an internationally acknowledged philanthropist who is spending his hard earned money to provide better quality of life for humanity; in this case Nigerians who are ravaged by the scourge of polio and also to eradicate malaria a debilitating sickness amongst the poor, which saps the poor of needed energy and leaves the poor with low level energy to live productive lives to earn their keep and contribute their quota to the welfare of a generality of the citizenry. So we must see his comments from the preceding premise.
Bill Gates argues that the Government does not seem to be doing enough for the improvement of the quality of life of a generality of Nigeria poor. He scores the Economic Growth and Expansion Plan poor going by the attention that is paid to pro poor issues such as Education, health and some basic infrastructure such as power and roads.
The fact remains that as a country we do not have even enough to allocate to the critical sectors of social overheads such as Education. For instance, UNESCO recommends that 26 per cent of the Budget should be allocated to Education. What percentage has the country been able to allocate with the best of intentions; often below 15 per cent and, therefore, we can begin to see clearly the inadequacy of budget allocation to this sub-head of the Budget. The fact of lack of commensurate allocation to Education, for instance, has accounted for the poor quality of the products from particularly our tertiary Institutions. Witness the growing queue of the unemployed and the glaring mis-match between the qualities of graduates relative to what is required by private sector employers. It is, therefore, ill-advised to go into argument with Bill Gates who as far as I am concerned assigned himself a thankless job all because of his love for humanity.
I think rather what we should do is to see if we could recruit him to partner with us to source badly needed funds to enable us to channel more funds to these identified critical sectors of the economy. It is misreading of the situation to input motives and become unnecessary defensive of a clearly unacceptable situation deserving of urgent attention.
TNE: But do you agree with his position or not?
From my perspective on this matter it is not a case of either agreeing or disagreeing with Bill Gates. He has presented a position on the management of the Nigerian economy, which we understand has input of some reputable research institutions globally and the best attitude is for us to see to what extent we are able to overcome the obstacles clearly on our way to having the sort of conducive environment, which all would like to see in the country. For the avoidance of doubt, Bill Gates is not your typical business man. He is mainly a philanthropist who is doing his best to contribute to the creation of a conducive environment in the country, which most compatriots would wish to see.
TNE: Is Nigeria truly out of recession as the Government is claiming?
Yes, Nigeria is notionally out of recession if we understand recession to indicate a situation of lack of growth in the GDP. The Federal Office of Statistics charged with the responsibility of producing data to measure the performance of GDP in the economy says so and we must be seen to give this reputable institution the benefit of doubt. After all, it is same institution that announced the fact that the GDP was experiencing negative growth. But the fact is that when the economy is growing at under 3 per cent which is the estimated rate of growth in population, that level of growth would not be enough to impact the quality of life of the average Nigerian.
TNE: If the country is out of recession why is the impact not being felt by the ordinary Nigerian?
Well, as I explained above, a situation whereby the population is growing at close to 3 per cent per annum and we are recording a growth rate, which is still below 2 per cent explains why the impact of the exit from recession is not being felt by a generality of the population. And it is also important to note that not all the sectors of the economy experience the same extent of the impact of the exit from recession. The reality is that some of the sectors are still reeling from the impact of recession and some of these such as trade and services where a dominant segment of the population operate are still being affected by the impact of recession, in other words, the exit has not gotten to such sectors.
TNE: Are there any particular reasons why some sectors of the economy are still under recession?
No, there are no particular reasons only that is how it is supposed to be. Some of the sectors of the economy were more affected by contraction such as those that are more exposed to the external sector and therefore were more vulnerable. You would not, for instance, expect a sector like agriculture with minimal dependence on the external sector except maybe for equipment and fertilizer to be as affected as trade. The expectation is that as the economy rebounds and higher growth in Gross Domestic Product is attained that it would also begin to reach such sectors better.
TNE: What is the greatest challenge of growing the Nigerian economy?
The greatest challenge of growing the Nigerian economy is the ravaging effect of corruption, which had resulted in humongous misappropriation of fiscal allocations. There is also the problem of lack of executive capacity and shortermism, which means that most people in government cannot think beyond the next election. This orientation explains why often it is difficult to find the requisite discipline to find the patience to implement development plans and even the capital component of the National Budget which is often prepared belatedly for any meaningful progress to be made in that respect. The Economic Growth and Expansion Programme is for a duration of four years. How much attention is this plan going to receive particularly against the background of the looming 2019 election?
This explains why most informed compatriots have bemoaned the lack of Development Plans, which hallmarked governance in the early years of flag independence. Also, there is an urgent need to clean up the electoral process so that politicians are accountable to the electorate so that those who have failed to perform are forcefully told so by the election results.
TNE: You used the phrase ‘flag Independence’ does that suggest that Nigeria is not truly independent?
This is just for emphasis so that it is not confused with other forms of dependence. But there is no doubt that Nigeria is independent. But to be meaningfully so, you must get your acts together so that you earn the respect of the rest of the world. If your country is in crisis because of mismanagement of your economy and your citizens are dying in droves at the Mediterranean sea because they are attempting to escape the harrowing conditions at home, what sort of respect do you expect to enjoy when you are the problem of the rest of the world?
If you borrow irresponsibly and you have debt overhang with creditors knocking on your doors praying that you do not default, what sort of independence is that? The quality of the independence you enjoy as a country is circumscribed by the perception which the world has of you; to say the obvious.
TNE: What should the government focus on for the economy to grow?
As could be gleaned from the submission made herein one of the issues to pursue relentlessly is to address the values we bring to the table when taking critical decisions that impact the future of the economy. We must find the resolve to ensure that every kobo of fiscal expenditure counts. And we are able to do so to the extent that we find the political will to show some examples with identified looters of the economy by ensuring that they have their date with justice. It is about time some powerful message is sent to the extent that some people are sent to jail for the crimes they perpetrated in the past. But the credibility of the fight against corruption would be enhanced if those being accused are not only individuals from the opposition party. After all the reality of the situation is that most of the key players in government today cross-carpeted from the opposition PDP party.
Every effort should be made to target deliberately the weakest of the population by boosting spending on social programmes; such as education, health, roads, power etc. to create the much needed enabling environment so badly necessary for the growth and development of the national economy. We must find the resolve to articulate and implement the national budget. A situation whereby the National Budget is not approved ready for implementation not until the middle of the year is certainly inimical to the growth prospects of the economy.
TNE: In a few sentences, how would you describe Nigeria’s economy?
The Nigerian economy is an economy so endowed with humongous human, mineral and physical resources, but which is being grossly underutilized hence the reality of a stunted growth, which has impoverished a dominant segment of its population. Nigerian economy has tremendous potentials which is currently being allowed to waste. It is an economy with lack of requisite infrastructure for a favorable enabling environment.
The economy remains monoculture being highly dependent on the extractive sector in spite of attempts made in the past for diversification. This explains the vulnerability of the economy to external shocks particularly shocks from the oil market despite all the efforts that have been made so far for an amelioration. But the fact remains that the Nigerian economy is poised to beat the world once the country is able to get its politics together for the focused implementation of developmental programmes.
TNE: If you were to draw an economic blue print for Nigeria what would it be like?
It would be like the Economic Growth and Expansion Programme. It would be like Soludo’s Vision 20/2020; his NEEDS, National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy and SEEDS; States Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy etc. We do not have any problems with crafting purposeful development plans with well thought-out programmes. The problem had always been with being able to find the political will to focus and implement such programmes and policies.
TNE: Are you saying that Vision 20/2020 should not have been jettisoned?
Yes, because the problems of this country have remained unchanged. If re-visit this document which I am sure could still be found on the web, you find that the Vision, Mission, challenges of this country including even the suggested strategies for solution have remained relevant. The same could be said for the other documents which have been prepared after investing a lot of resources such as NEEDS (National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies) and SEEDS etc. including even Vision 2010. If you access the Economic Recovery and Growth Programme of this administration you would discover that there are a lot of carry forward issues from some of these documents.