Magazine article African Business

2011 Elections Let the Real Debate Begin: The 2011 General Election Will Mark a Watershed in Nigeria's History. It Comes Immediately after Nigeria Bids Farewell to the First 50 Years of Political Independence (and 96 Years of Existence as a Country) and Will Usher in the Set of Leaders That Will Lay the Foundation for the Journey to the Next 50 Years. Professor Chukwuma Soludo Lays out His Hopes and Fears for the Country

Magazine article African Business

2011 Elections Let the Real Debate Begin: The 2011 General Election Will Mark a Watershed in Nigeria's History. It Comes Immediately after Nigeria Bids Farewell to the First 50 Years of Political Independence (and 96 Years of Existence as a Country) and Will Usher in the Set of Leaders That Will Lay the Foundation for the Journey to the Next 50 Years. Professor Chukwuma Soludo Lays out His Hopes and Fears for the Country

Article excerpt

Like every other election all over the world, the 2011 elections in Nigeria should be mainly about the economy. Our first 50 years had a chequered history as we struggled to forge a nation out of the disparate nationalities. The first few years of independence, with the regional economies as the driving force, saw spectacular growth of the economy. With oil came a new political economy based essentially on consumption-distributional politics rather than production.

So far, more than $400bn of oil rents have been spent with modest progress. We seem to be saddled with an oil resource curse and a political economy that emasculates the future. We have gone through a series of development plans, programmes, visions, etc. On paper, some were far-reaching. We have also had the courage to implement some radical reforms. But, without a holistic systemic change and commitment to sustain reforms, we often take three steps forward and four backwards.

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It appears that the future is foggy and serious discussions about that future--the new Nigeria in the next 50 years--has not begun. The debate so far is about who would be President and so on, and not about what they will offer. I am afraid that we may again conduct elections without any serious issues being canvassed.

I recall the robust debates relating to the alternative ideologies and manifestos of the five political parties during the 1978/79 elections, I remember specifically listening to Obafemi Awolowo in 1979 explaining how much it would cost to implement free education at all levels and free medical care, and how he would reconstruct public finance to squeeze out the money to implement them.

Not any more! There are no alternative visions, no ideologies and no programmes that offer the voters clear choices about their future. Even my political party, the behemoth PDP, has no clear road map for the country. It has remained a platform to grab power, and I am not sure how many party members can coherently explain what the party stands for. Some of us joined it in the hope of changing it from within, and we have not given up.

I am a strong believer in Nigeria's future and in its destiny to lead the black race. If Nigeria does not make it, sub-Saharan Africa cannot make it. That is why some of us have elected to devote the rest of our lifetimes to work for Nigeria's future.

The challenges are herculean, and the next four years are critical. At current GDP and population growth rates, it will only be in 30 years' time (2040) that Nigeria will attain South Africa's current per capita income. The tragedy is that the country has no implementable plan to steer a different outcome. Under the current political economy, the Vision 2020 will remain what it is--a beautiful dream! Neither the investment levels nor the productivity (given the decaying educational system and poor skills) required to realise Vision 2020 will happen.

For Nigeria to take a shot at 2020, the economy needs to be growing at about 14-15% a year (more than twice the current rates of 6-7%). Even with improved efficiency, this requires annual investment rates of more than 40% of GDP (higher than the total earnings from oil). With the cessation of hostilities in the Niger Delta and the oil price rising to about $79, external reserves ought to be growing. Rather, external reserves are depleting precariously to about $36bn currently. Private capital inflows have largely ceased. The capital market is comatose and capital flight is back with vengeance!

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I am deeply worried. As a consequence of deliberate choices made by public sector managers and the constitutional/structural bottlenecks, the economy cannot generate the required investment to secure prosperity for all Recurrent expenditure of the public sector has more than doubled since 2004, leaving very little for investment.

With massive government borrowing during a boom and paradoxically very low levels of public investment, the private sector is stymied into a trap. …

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