The Growth Demographic: How to Double the Nigerian Economy

May 3, 2016by Tope Fasua0

Logic will take you from point A to point B… but Imagination will take you everywhere. – Albert Einstein.


While the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala once brought two big cakes to a budget presentation. That must have been 2014. She wanted to indicate how the ‘rebasing’ of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was a great thing that they had achieved. She brought up the first cake, and put some toys on top of the cake. She asked people to observe the magical presentation. Then she asked for the second – larger – cake. She then put the toys on the larger cake and said to the people; ‘You see, the bigger, the better’. When the cake (GDP), is larger, more people enjoy/benefit’ – or something to that effect.

I watched the TV with my mouth agape. Not only because it was an ingenuous way of explaining economics, but because the explanation was patently wrong on several fronts.

First, the GDP is not a cake that government bakes. It is not to be equated with the usual money that government shares. A country’s GDP can grow with or without government doing anything extraordinary. GDP is not OWNED by government. Government is only one stakeholder (important one at that if it chooses to be productive), but not the all in all. What is GDP? It is meant to be the aggregation of all income earned (goods and services produced), or all productive activities within a country in a given year.

Investopedia defines it this way: “Gross domestic product (GDP) is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period… GDP includes all private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports minus imports that occur within a defined territory. Put simply, GDP is a broad measurement of a nation’s overall economic activity”.

In economies that have achieved development and therefore plateaued, the governments make efforts yearly, but the economies manage to grow in paltry fractions. In other economies – like in Africa – some with irresponsible governments, GDP grows by as much as eight percent, not because of, but in spite of the government. Successive governments in Nigeria – as it is obvious by so many corruption probes, which are but a tip of the iceberg – have been crassly irresponsible, interpreting governance as opportunities for self-enrichment. Yet our GDP grew in leaps and bounds.

Second, it was fundamentally dishonest to put those toys on that cake and say the GDP is some cake baked for all, such that when it grows bigger EVERYONE benefits. We all know that in a country like Nigeria, the GDP growth is skewed to some sectors, and certain individuals, who make all the money. There are better economic development measures than GDP. Say, HDI – Human Development Index. Story for another day. I will focus on actually growing the GDP today.

Some economist view GDP from the perspective of Consumption, Investment, Government Expenditure, Export minus Imports. All that attempts to do is to isolate measurable productive activities that take place in a country within a year. Other economists use monetary concepts of the money in circulation to determine GDP. Whichever approach one adopts, there is a need to be careful about bandying figures around.

Again, I quote Mark Twain and Benjamin Disraeli; “There are three types of lies; lies, damn lies, and statistics.” In a country like Nigeria and most of Africa, our statistics and data need not only cleansing, but immersion in soap and chemicals, and rigorous spinning in washing machines before they can attain any level of credibility. In other words, our data-gathering is still at very rudimentary stages and is heavily tainted by politics and other primordial concerns (imagine, some cultures believe you must never count children, and politicians want to get a bigger share of government largesse by presenting huge population figures that are largely fictitious). I personally don’t believe that Nigeria is up to 170 million in population, because other sources that should corroborate that figure have not done so. Not our election figures (where keenly contested), nor our school enrolments, have been able to somehow corroborate the lies that our politicians concoct anytime there is a national census.

But I am more interested in how we can double our GDP, because I believe this economy has so much untapped potentials and this is not another flight of fancy. Naturally, I have seen through a lot of our self-deception, but at the end of the tunnel lies so much potential for growth, even if we were to simply concentrate on the GDP. Yes, there is so much productivity to loosen up in this economy. There is so much productivity to unleash; productivity that is presently locked up by the devices of corruption, primordial thinking, and more importantly, the lack of imagination.

Unleashing Productivity

In order to loosen up the productivity factor in Nigeria, one will have to consider economic growth (GDP) from the individual perspective i.e. what is each and every person contributing to this economy? When considered in this manner, one will realise that the most important demographic; our largest demographic – our youth – can do a lot more, but have been left in the lurch for too long. I will never get tired of talking about this, irrespective of the fact that our leaders have refused to see this critical issue for some reason. I was shocked to hear Dr. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala speak at a recent World Bank meeting about the fact that our youth have been neglected. I wondered why she could not have concentrated all her energy on cranking the engine of youth productivity and why she allowed her focus to be so dissipated to the point where we lost the opportunities under her watches during the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations, which she both served as finance minister. Under the present Buhari regime, I have shouted hoarse about the need for youth mobilisation, as in the MAMSER days, and how this can unleash great concomitant productivity in this nation. I have been ignored, and Nigeria has lurched from one deep trouble to another. I don’t claim to have the answer, but by Jove, I have a different, robust perspective. I have thus determined to keep exploring this idea on my own.

The International Perspective

It was not only Okonjo-Iwealla that spoke about productivity.

In a currently trending video clip, four living US FED Chairmen – Paul Volker, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yallen, attest to the fact that what seems to be the problem with the US economy, is that productivity has slowed. They believe that the US economy is not really in any bubble – and I can attest to that – but that they are finding it difficult to get people to be more productive. That is, the economy is on a plateau – having achieved much success over the centuries. The US economy is unique for its ability to interact with itself (self-sustainability). Americans are very patriotic people, with a huge number of them not bothering to travel to any other country apart from theirs in their lifetime. The problem now is, if economic ‘growth’ must be the way forward, how does their government get people to ‘produce’ more? If only from what I see at American airports – overfed porters and traffic safety agents lost in slumber (usually blacks) on duty – I know ‘they gat a problem’; to use the American street lingo.

Rethinking Unemployment

But can Nigeria be so equated? What we have here are millions of hungry people: hungry for food, hungry for jobs, hungry to prove themselves. Even hungry to be of help. No one is simply calling on them to help. In the time of our fathers (those who attained adulthood around Nigeria’s independence, people immediately became useful once out of primary school. Even before the white man departed this land, anyone with a primary school certificate was a potential teacher, pulling others up with the little they knew. In time, that shifted to the secondary school level. A lot of our parents lived and died great lives full of achievements, with only their secondary school certificates. They found jobs in places like UAC, SCOA, CFAO, Leventis and other such. They rose through the ranks, were often trained abroad, and lived fulfilled lives, sending us to university by dint of their hard work.

Today, we have neglected all of that. A secondary school graduate is considered as useless. Why? The Nigerian government no longer provides for them, no longer encourages them, no longer talks to them or mobilise them. They are simply left to their own devices; to fend for themselves in any way they can. We bought a toxic version of ‘market economics’ by which only the private sector provides jobs. First, the private sector is in the business of MAKING MONEY, USING THE LEAST AMOUNT OF RESOURCES. They are not in the business of creating jobs. That is why jobs are tougher to get these days. Even manufacturing industries are no longer teeming with the hoi polloi. Second, the USA – whom we look up to – as well as other countries like it, actually paid attention to creating scenarios for youth employment. That is how their economies have become self-sustaining today. They didn’t sit around and ASSUME, that once an ‘enabling environment’ is created, the youth will find work. They went ahead and created most of the jobs when their economies were in a trough.

Our new understanding of unemployment is GRADUATE UNEMPLOYMENT. Dear Mr. Government sir, by the time you got worried about Graduate Unemployment, the horse had bolted from the barn. You cannot catch it again. What needs to be done is to ensure any child finishing secondary school is useful to this nation. Even secondary school dropouts should be tapped for their energy. They are not useless. You ignore this energetic demographic only at your own risk sir. This is the demographic where attention must be concentrated on national tasks. Imagination is required. Take them by the hands, pamper them, but get the productivity out of their innocent but affective energies. There is no other way but this I tell you.

The Youth As Our Strength, And Our Weakness

And why not? When you do a SWOT analysis of Nigeria, you cannot escape the word ‘Youth’, both as a Strength and a Weakness. You can’t escape the youth. Don’t wait to regret like Madam Ngozi. Don’t wait to complain like the four FED Chairmen about their inability to grow productivity. Our economy is not like the US’s, our everything is not like theirs. Before you yoke our economies together, ensure that our environment is looking like theirs. Until then, stop deceiving yourselves. Now is our time to take advantage of our only true strength. Empowering the youth is our best bet. Put money in their pockets, engage them in turning the society and environment around. And then watch how productive, imaginative and artistic they can be! We need these young ones to innovate every process relevant to us in Nigeria. They will only be productive when we show respect to them and tell them they can achieve anything they dream. But first we must banish hunger; not by giving free food, but by ensuring they have something to do to earn money.

I have observed the way young people think, compared with old people. I have seen what they have been exposed to as compared with old people. Old people cannot take this country to the next level, I’m sorry. The speed, accuracy and sophistication of thinking in the world have simply changed. No time for laggards. We need to call in our troops. How can we hope to make progress when we have refused to call our intellectual ‘first 11’ to duty? It just won’t happen!

“The Manner In Which Work Is Organised”

Now let me hack back to my favourite, but time-tested description of economic development. It is by no less than Walter Rodney – the famous 20th Century socialist among other things. I am not a socialist. I believe in countries blending whatever ideology to choose whatever works for them. We cannot afford to be one-track minded. Rodney, who wrote How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, described Economic Development in a way that suggests to me that Africa may have actually underdeveloped itself.

Hear him: “What then is economic development? A society develops economically as its members increase jointly their capacity for dealing with the environment. This capacity for DEALING WITH THE ENVIRONMENT is dependent on the extent to which they understand the laws of nature (science), on the extent to which they put that understanding into practice by devising tools (technology), and on the manner in which work is organised” (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Pg. 3).

Now his definition reechoes the whole thing about ‘productivity’. We can break the definition into four parts. One is the need to ‘master’, or ‘deal with’ the environment. I will expand ‘environment’ beyond the physical, into the sociological, political, economic, global and other types of environments that need to be understood and mastered. A people will not be deemed ‘developed’ except they understand what is going on in these environments and are ready to preempt events before they happen and throw them out of balance – as a people will avoid a hurricane or volcano. African countries cannot be said to be developed because they seem unable to anticipate economic events like a downturn in commodity prices, or global financial meltdowns, much in the same ways as many of our people cannot anticipate the coming of floods, famines or even epidemics!

The second part is how we understand science. Our reaction to the environment, and ability to preempt and prepare, depends on how much of science we understand. The third aspect deals with how much we have expended in preparing technology to help us master the environment. Look at our sociological environment. We seem not to want to understand ourselves in Nigeria. Daily, it’s all about bloody quarrels – from Fulani cattle rearers to Biafra, to Agatus, to Yorubas, and back. And if we were willing to try, one will ask how much technology we have invented in to help us. Why for example, have we waited this long to propose grazing reserves? And is that the best we can do?

The last part is what concerns this piece the most. Rodney talks about HOW WORK IS ALLOCATED, DISTRIBUTED, SHARED. He says this will be significant in determining which nation is economically developed. Just how?

Recall the four FED Chairmen and productivity? They, and Rodney, are saying exactly the same thing. They are saying that a government will only be deemed useful to the development process if it is able to press its demographics into service. Everyone who can work, or who should work, should be given a fair opportunity to contribute in a society. That is how societies become great. It can be argued that Nigeria was deemed great in the 50s to 70s because of this reason. The old people were in the villages working as farmers – no matter the low productivity of their farmlands. Their children who remained in the village were productive working with them. Their children who went to school, were immediately useful to society, and earning their own monies, once they finished secondary school. Simple. How won’t you have a great society? That was when our GDP truly ballooned and statistics were not too tainted with politics of hate and distrust. And greed.

The Youths’ Contribution to GDP

So if you want to double Nigeria’s GDP, give it a shot and press our youth into service. Now let us borrow from Rodney and look at our environments. Until our physical, economic, social, political and other environments look anything like America’s, THERE IS WORK FOR OUR YOUTH TO DO. If you don’t see this, then what is lacking is IMAGINATION, without which you cannot go EVERYWHERE. In fact, we shall not be going ANYWHERE at this rate. Yet we need leaders who can go everywhere in Nigeria; at every level of our national existence. Yes, we do.

Economic Hypnotism: Why Does the IMF Cap Our Imagination?

This said, it saddens me when I see what is akin to economic hypnotism playing out in the world today, with African countries bearing the brunt. African countries seem to be sitting on their hands – and of course their brains – while outsiders come to postulate our future. Who are IMF and the World Bank? Who is the World Economic Forum to come here and perform some equivalent of hypnotism, by saying ‘REPEAT AFTER ME, YOUR ECONOMY WILL NOT GROW MORE THAN THREE PERCENT THIS YEAR… SAY IT THREE TIMES AND SO SHALL IT BE’. And we answer ‘Yes Massa!’ They then go ahead to prescribe what, in their view, is the best economic medicine they can muster for our economic predicament – more taxes, devaluation of currency, deregulation of several sectors, inflation targeting, financial sector soundness, encouragement of ‘foreign investments’, foreign borrowing, abolition of subsidies in all spheres and so on. These things never work, and only put us in more trouble.

Our people have told us that it is unadvisable to ask your neighbour to help you name your newborn child. They said the neighbour is likely to name that child after the ridiculous attributes of your ancestors that you would rather forget. They will name your child after your ancestors who are hunters, drummers, shamans, and the ones with congenital diseases. That is the path Africa has chosen for ages. So, it is a far sight better if we name this child ourselves. IMF and World Bank and the rest don’t know us. They don’t know our people. They don’t know this economy. They only observe from afar. They don’t even care. We are the ones who give them too much credence. I like the rhetoric coming from our new Finance Minister’s office. I wish her Godspeed, but it is dangerous territory for her, except she gathers the entire country, and all of her colleagues behind her and most importantly, she understand and means what she is saying.

So here it is; hear what the IMF is predicting for us this year. Simply ridiculous:

“According to the International Monetary Funds (IMF) World Economic Outlook for 2016, as revised in April, the fastest growing economy in Africa for 2016 is Cote d’Ivoire and the slowest is Chad, which is expected to record negative growth. Cote d’Ivoire is expected to experience an 8.5 percent rise in GDP, while Nigeria’s neighbour, Chad, would see a -0.4 percent growth. Cote D’Ivoire (8.5 percent), Tanzania (6.9 percent), Senegal (6.6 percent), Djibouti (6.5 percent), Rwanda (6.3 percent), Kenya (6.0 percent), Mozambique (6.0 percent), Central African Republic (5.7 percent), Sierra Leone (5.3 percent) Uganda (5.3 percent). Madagascar, Zambia and Chad are expected to see a growth of 4.1 percent, 3.4 percent, 3.2 percent respectively. The fastest growing economies in Africa by GDP growth rate, as projected by IMF for 2016, are: Cote D’Ivoire (8.5 percent), Tanzania (6.9 percent), Senegal (6.6 percent), Djibouti (6.5 percent), Rwanda (6.3 percent), Kenya (6.0 percent), Mozambique (6.0 percent), Central African Republic (5.7 percent), Sierra Leone (5.3 percent) and Uganda (5.3 percent). DR Congo expects a growth of 4.9 percent, Cameroon; 4.9 percent, Ethiopia; 4.5 percent, Ghana; 4.5 percent and Republic of Congo; 4.4 percent. Madagascar, Zambia and Chad are expected to see a growth of 4.1 percent, 3.4 percent, 3.2 percent respectively. Major oil exporters, Angola and Nigeria, hard hit by the slump in crude oil prices, are projected to see a growth 2.5 and 2.3 percent. At 2.3 percent, Nigeria is expected to see its poorest GDP growth since the return of Democracy in 1999.”

The World Economic Forum (WEF, a private-sector global seminar) also stepped up to advise African countries on diversification. Why aren’t we thinking for ourselves? Hear them: “It is important to recognise the challenges that many African economies face – the commodities slump, currency devaluations and geo-security risks all threaten growth,”

Should these guys be thinking for us? See the way they are allocating GDPs to different African countries? Are they not allocating dreams to us; sort of capping our dreams and hypnotising us not to thinking beyond their ‘informed’ dictates. Their strategy is effective because they have their agents on ground, and it is to these agents that our governments go for every advice. This was poignantly brought home for me when our Vice President said recently that they were collating the names of one million very poor Nigerians who will be given N5,000 monthly as stipends, “with the help of the World Bank.” I felt odd and exposed. Is it now official that we believe that the WB knows us more than we know ourselves? I don’t believe they do. How can they know our poor and their location more than us? Of course I know we don’t trust ourselves in anything.

Still I personally see no reason where EVERY sub-Saharan country cannot grow beyond 10 percent annually! These are countries with teeming, unengaged youth.They should simply be engaged. Yet there is no short or long-term course down in Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Oxford, and the rest without at least a Nigerian in attendance. What are we doing with all the knowledge acquired? Ok, what about those of us who attended less glamorous schools? What about freely-available education these days? It is ridiculous if this is all we can achieve with all our education?

I wonder though what kind of arrogance makes the IMF dictate to countries what growth they can achieve with the time on their hands, their demographics, their histories, their peculiarities. By every means, no one can dream for another. But they say if you don’t know where you are going, someone will take you to where they want you to be. That is the way I see it.

by Tope Fasua

Tope Kolade Fasua is a Nigerian ex-banker, entrepreneur, economist and writer with 28 years of work, business and policy analysis experience. He is the founder and CEO of Global Analytics Consulting Limited, an international consulting firm with its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, and footprints in the United Kingdom, USA and United Arab Emirates. Fasua has authored numerous columns on newspapers and six books. He currently keeps regular columns on policy analysis issues with Premium Times and Daily Trust newspapers.

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