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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Columnist: Michael Evbrohonren Owhoko, Contributor

Nigeria’s 2023 outlook and the looming danger

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I am neither a prophet nor a clairvoyant, but from the manifestation in my crystal ball, I see Nigeria in 2023 being shaped by upheaval fueled by miseries and hopelessness. Agitation reminiscent of the ENDSARS protests will break out.

Primary triggers are the country’s pathetic economic indices, including growing unemployment, cynical gross domestic product (GDP), inflation and the undiversified weak mono-commodity economy, lacking leadership and managerial oxygen.

Secondary triggers are the dampened economic opportunities induced by nonchalance over worsening corruption, mounting debt burden, crude oil and foreign exchange manipulation, macroeconomic flux, insecurity, hunger, poor electricity supply, and lack of constitutionalism and rule of law.

Tertiary trigger is the unresolved national question pertaining to the incompatibility of the country’s political system and its diverse ethnicities, which is negatively impacting on the country’s fundamentals. Put differently, the country’s unitary system is antithetical to a multiethnic society like Nigeria, which undoubtedly, is the root cause of the country’s regression and despairs.

These concerns will transpire immediately after the power transition in May 2023 with increased build-up towards the end of the year and beyond. This unprecedented development will mark a watershed in the history of Nigeria.

Nigerians are fed up. Suicide cases arising from hunger are on the increase. Over 82 million Nigerians now live on less than a $1 dollar a day. At a conservative black-market rate of N580 to a dollar, the average Nigerian survives on less than N580 daily. This amount cannot buy a standard loaf of bread of N600. You now know why Nigerians are looking malnourished except for those that have access to the country’s treasury, and the privileged few who are involved in under-the-table transactions, either in the public or private sector.

Nigeria was ranked 103rd out of 116 countries by Global Hunger Index (GHI) as one of the hunger-plagued countries in the world, an indication of the government’s failure in the provision of welfare. Even the World Bank recently affirmed in its 2022 Poverty Assessment Report that 4 out of every 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line.

The report added further that only 17 percent of the Nigerian working class earn wages that can lift them out of poverty while the wages of the remaining 83 percent are too meagre to guarantee exit from the poverty domain.

This is a mirror image of the depth of poverty in the country where some Nigerians go to bed hungry while the majority are unable to afford two quality meals a day, resulting in discontent and frustration. Yet, the country’s GDP is said to be growing, even as the poverty capital of Africa and the World.

Can a growing band of unemployed and idle youths improve a country’s GDP? Majority are not employed, implicitly, and are not adding value to the production of goods and services. With no income earned, purchasing power is prostrate. Rather than shrink, GDP is growing. Nigeria’s economy is a study in contradiction.

It is near impossible for a country’s GDP to grow in the face of a corresponding rise in unemployment, particularly among youths who constitute the majority of the workforce. Data for the youth unemployment rate in Nigeria is in the region of 35 percent, about the highest in the world. Obviously, this is exacerbated by a lack of creative, determined and visible leadership efforts at addressing this precarious anomaly.

It is unhelpful that figures being published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) do not inspire hope as they contradict market realities. The NBS had said Nigeria’s GDP grew by 3.98 percent (year-on-year) in real terms in the last quarter of 2021. Though, an optimistic trajectory, it is a paradox when viewed against the background of the alarming rate of youth unemployment whose input into GDP is paramount.

Look at the number of graduates coming out of universities and other institutions of higher learning yearly, coupled with the country’s skill-less educational curriculum, the rural-urban drift, and the astronomical rise in population, you will understand why all residential streets are busy with high presence of idle youths during working hours. This was not so in the past when the streets were empty and quiet during the day, indicative of people’s presence at work. Not anymore!

Again, looking at the suffocating inflationary rate, you begin to wonder whether the data deployed by NBS are tested or are just for political show. From the consumer price index (CPI), NBS had said inflation dropped to 15.60 percent (year-on-year) in January 2022 when compared to 16.47 percent recorded in January 2021, a reduction of 0.87 percent. Really? It is imperative NBS officials go to market or grocery shops for personal purchases as part of feedback mechanism to ascertain firsthand, the real inflation texture in the country.

These economic flaws and current dysfunctional unitary system of government which has held the country down, preventing states or regions from unleashing their optimum potential, remain a major threat to unity and peace in the country.

The powers that be have conceitedly subjugated as inconsequential, the contending questions. Unfortunately, hitherto strategy of deceit, repression, oppression and domination aimed at diverting attention from the country’s many woes will not work, and will be disrupted in 2023.

Having failed on all fronts of its promises to fix security, economy and corruption, the exit of this administration in 2023, will mark a new era that will usher in renewed agitation for repositioning of Nigeria’s polity for enduring peace and progress.

The gaps created by mismanagement of diversities and inability to convert opportunities into capital, including failure to take advantage of existing unifying catalysts to strengthen the country’s unity, will deepen inclination for self-determination in 2023. This may lead to reshuffling of existing structure aimed at dousing and averting eruption of bottled-up tension next year.

The year 2023 will also mark a new consciousness among frustrated youths of the ineffectuality of internet fraud (yahoo, yahoo), betting, gambling, drugs and other pseudo-revenue generation mechanisms. There will be a complete emotional shift based on new reality that these vices are not solutions to their problems, and may elicit a resolve to take their destinies into their hands.

Indeed, the youths will be more concerned about their dimmed future, which they believe, has been sacrificed on the altar of greed by politicians and those in authorities. The impaired vision of the country’s leadership and lack of capacity to design programmes and set priorities to lift the country from its current dark clouds are believed to be chiefly responsible for the deteriorating living conditions of Nigerians.

The reality is that no amount of rejigging of the country’s unitary constitution can make Nigeria work, except it is replaced with a federal structure characterized by fiscal autonomy, where every state or region can freely aspire in line with its capacity and resourcefulness. The current system cannot unite and hold the various nationalities together.

What is fundamental is the real search for “solution to the disillusion”, to borrow from the great reggae artist, Peter Tosh. It is not about elections and leadership change but about disillusion in the land. The solution is total restructuring based on the 1963 Constitution. This constitution had been tested, and it worked.

The current unitary structure breads corruption, ethnicism, nepotism and misery. That corruption has become a way of life in Nigeria, permeating all strata of government and society, is a proof of the country’s chronic and irredeemable state of decay. Undeniably, the current political structure cannot even pass the Rotary Four Way Test, if used to measure the sincerity of purpose. Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Does it build goodwill and better friendship? Is it beneficial to all concerned? The answer is a resonant NO.

This is also the reason why elections and national headcount are difficult to conduct in the country due to competing regional interests for national power, and fear of change to current balance of power and status quo by benefited sectional power blocs.

Until the country is restructured from the current unitary system to federalism, a game-changing disruption for the realization of a new Nigeria in 2023 is inevitable, and the 1999 Constitution will be the first port of call.