by Frank Onuoha
We made history – I like to think it is for good – by beating the South Africans to the race of becoming Africa’s largest economy and the 23rd largest economy in the world. When I read that, I thought “Wow!! Isn’t this lovely?”
It is certainly a good thing that we are making more money, not minding whether we drown ourselves in plumes of 130 million generators or making the list of the five extreme poor in the world. Today I read the statement of United States Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, Bisa Williams, “If you ask me, I would say that corruption is extremely high in this country; there is no other polite way to say this.” She said to Vanguard.
Not that I mind so much of what the US government thinks about us – the tendency to police everyone is ingrain – just that it is the same lingo most of the largest economies we are struggling to compete with, use for us.
One thing she said that is significant is “Nigeria as a country has tremendous intelligent people who do not have to be corrupt, because they have all it takes to be successful.” True, only that being “intelligent” in this country can be akin to “pen-thieving.” Most of the millions that are missing were not stolen by people with heavy weapons or Biological weapons but only pens – whether ball point or Leo Smart.
Now we have been told we have more money than five African countries put together – about $510 billion, of what benefits does it translate to Mama Iyabo who sells Boli and groundnut at Obalende? Does it pay little Iyabo’s school fees who falls among the mass of 10.5 million out of school children? Does it help Mr Ibrahim in Bornu whose shop and house has been burnt down by rampaging terrorist – Boko Haram and maybe Fulani herdsmen? Does it provide solutions to Oga Chukwudi in Onitsha whose containers has been in a state of limbo at the Wharf because the officials at Nigerian Ports Authority are so corrupt or their equipment moribund? Does it guarantee – at lease – ten hours non-interrupted electricity for the Mr Edet in Calabar whose only source of income is his Laundry Business?
What positive impact will the education sector plagued by decades of mismanagement, maladministration and policy missteps derive from $510 billion?
I do not doubt the statistics released by the Statistician General of the Federation and Chief Executive Officer, National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, Dr Yemi Kale, what I regretfully contend is the commitment of his employers – President Jonathan’s administration – to make something tangible and substantially positive with the report. Many Nigerians are witnesses to the persistent bad faith the government have shown towards almost all the groundbreaking reports that had potentials of putting the country to the part of true greatness.
There is nothing great or spectacular about having a lot of money while over 50 million Nigerian youths remain unemployed and 67 million of the population remain below the global poverty mark. Having more money doesn’t make you great overnight. If anything several countries have proven that sitting at the summit as an economic power may not translate to improved standards of living. South Africa which has occupied the position for sometime has the third highest unemployment rate for people between the ages of 15 and 24. That means more than 50 per cent of South African youths. China which is the second largest economy in the world and with a great potential of overtaking their major rival the United State in no-distant time makes up the list of the five countries with the extreme poor people in the world according to the World Bank.
What should also give us cause of concern are the sources of our new found wealth. Going by the rebased 2010 series, the report by the NBS says, “The share of agriculture has decline to 24 per cent. The share of industry to the country’s GDP has also declined to 25.8 per cent, while the share of services to the country’s GDP has increased to 50.2 per cent.” It does tell us that, the culture of mono-economy has continued unabated due to government’s cosmetic approach to revitalizing other sectors of the economy. That our industries contribution to the GDP is declining reflects the inadequate priority being accorded to manufacturing in the country.
With great wealth comes great responsibility. The global torchlight is beaming on us. If there is anything years of sharing the same neighbourhood with acute corruption and gross irresponsibility have taught some of us, it is this “it is too early to roll out the drum.”
In the coming days, what the government does with this sudden wealth will be very “telling”, the question will be, “will it be worth “telling”?
Frank Onuoha is a historian and researcher. He lives in Lagos.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.