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Opinions of Monday, 30 August 2021

Columnist: Gbadebo Adeyeye

Nigeria’s raging hunger under APC government

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

The United Nations issued a warning on July 30th, 2021 that hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots before the end of the year, citing highest alerts for “catastrophic” situations in Ethiopia, Southern Madagascar, Yemen, Sudan, and Nigeria.

In a country where the ruling APC government of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), has spent much money to fight poverty in the last six years; and like the corruption war, the annual budget on war against poverty in our nation has increased astronomically under the present administration. Yet, the conditions it is meant to cure have only got worse, and the closely interwoven problems of graduate unemployment and crime have increased astronomically in our cities.

Whereas nothing is more directly responsible for poverty in Nigeria than our corrupting, destabilising, demoralising, and dehumanising political system – a self-defeating system that perpetuates hunger and crime by enticing poor citizens into the blind alley of palliative handouts at the polling centres where their humanity is further degraded.

Giving the present APC government in Nigeria a better grade than D- in economic policy reflects my bias for trying out new ideas to reduce hunger in our society.

Late American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” In some regards, running the affairs of a nation is like running a private company. If you are not constantly updating your product and the way the company runs, competitors will pass you by, and investors will flee.

Agreed that former president Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP administration left behind a poorly managed economy, however, General Buhari has performed terribly below average in reckoning with some of the black holes that threaten to swallow up our entire economy. For example, while it is certainly not clear to anyone in Nigeria today how our country will meet some of the 21st century challenges in the global market, especially now that many policies that hindered our economy since the military regime have not been replaced, the present Buhari regime is comfortably arguing that the only catalyst for Nigerian economic recovery is to put a permanent restriction on importation. Whereas the whole concept of economics is all about demand and supply; and every good student of Economics 100 understands that there is no substitute for free trade economy in modern world.

That is why Buhari and all the economic grave diggers in his cabinet must not take the kindness of Nigerian voters for weakness and realise quickly that the toughest and most thankless thing in government is to ignore the poverty question from the citizens, cut the nation’s economy from the rest of the world and continue playing victim by blaming the previous administrations.

More than 70 years ago, for instance, China was once described as being far ahead of any European city in the excellence of its buildings and bridges, the number of its public hospitals, the effective maintenance of public order and the manner and refinement of its people. Later, the Chinese built the great wall and cut themselves off from the entire world. Following that, China’s development stopped, and the country fell hopelessly behind the rest of the world the same way Nigeria tumbled since the ban on importation by the military administration of General Obasanjo in 1979, chasing retail giants like Kingsway and Leventis with thousands of employees out of business in a country that cannot produce common toothpaste. But, unlike Nigerian borders where cash-and-carry custom agents look at made-in-America products like abomination in our society, China is presently gaining international respect as one of the world’s great powers due to their restoration of national pride after decades of socio-economic deprivation.

Similarly, one of the most inspiring stories of the past 60 years has been that of the developing countries that were mired in absolute poverty after the World War II but adopted the right economic policies that triggered astonishing prosperity in their nations. Unlike Nigeria, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Chile had succeeded because they simply stressed basic economic principles, such as fewer government restrictions on importation, open market, lower import taxes and competitive industries; and, of course, they each placed a high premium on the education of their citizens.

All these principles have opened up their economy and integrated them with those of the developed world. Without any doubt, such progress is within the reach of any nation, and Nigeria can also liberate itself from poverty to join the rank of industrialised countries in the next 10 years. This can be achieved, for example, by adopting growth-based policies and pulling chains on those “Fine Bara” custom agents at our borders. Indeed, the country can make an enormous positive contribution to the welfare of her citizens and the prosperity of all Africans.

Another success story is being written but the three towering giants of the developing world – India, Brazil and Indonesia –all which have turned the corner towards potential economic prosperity. With a population of about 950 million, India is gradually shedding its reputation as a socialist economy. It has increased trade with Western Europe and the United States; and strengthened its rupee in the international financial market. The literacy rate has improved by over 170 percent since 1960; per capita GNP has risen from $110 to over $700 in the past 30 years. Despite the fact that India suffers from religious conflict (as Nigeria presently does) and civil strife, it has become a great power in the 21st century by taking a ride through the path of free market economy.

And Brazil, with over half of the South American population, has made a remarkable economic turnaround in the past 25 years. Plagued by runaway inflation, high foreign debt, a crumbling public infrastructure and widespread political corruption like Nigeria, the government of President Itamar Franco opened the door to economic reform. Brazil GDP grew from more than four percent in 1993 with almost 10 percent increase in the industrial production. Export to the United States has increased to more than 85 percent over the last 25 years. Agreed that Brazil has formidable problems like Nigeria; however, with the tremendous improvement in its commercial activities, it has the potential to become an economic showcase for the rest of Latin America.

Indonesia is another example of how a developing nation moves from poverty to prosperity through the adoption of free market policies. Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world, after China, India and the United States. It is the largest Muslim nation in the world with more people than all the Arab nation combined for more than 40 years now, the population of Indonesia living in object poverty has declined from 60 percent to about 10 percent. Annual per capita income has increased from $50 to $650. And just like Nigeria, Indonesia suffered from political corruption and nepotism but their progress continues as economic freedom is expanded in the country.

Turkey has transformed itself from an economic basket case into an economic breadbasket. Beginning in the 1980s, the late Turkish Prime Minister, Turgut Ozal aggressively lifted trade restrictions, liberated government policies and integrated Turkey economically with Western Europe – a type of boldness that has been difficult for Nigerian leaders to accomplish since the military rule. These policies boosted Turkey’s per Capita income from $1,400 to $2,000 in the early 1990s when the new government of Tansu Ciller pledged to keep Turkey on the same track of economic reform.

Mexico has been the economic wonderland of the past three decades. Under the leadership of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexico increased its trade with the United States, liberalized state – ran industries, restored world confidence in peso and eliminated costly government expenses while the wives of Nigerian leaders continue driving government SUV vehicles to Bodija market and buy firewood. And since Mexico began to reduce its trade restrictions in 1986, U.S. export into the country climbed from $12.4bn to almost $50bn in 1992. As a result, Mexico has become Latin America’s most progressive economy and has set an example for other nations.

Back home in Nigeria, we can never move from poverty to progress, particularly under the present gargantuan political system unless we project values that go beyond corruption, nepotism and costly overseas trips for medical treatment. And how we meet these serious challenges within a few years will determine not only our future as a country, but also the future of our democracy, our economic prosperity and our position in the African continent!