A Take On Recent Economic Policies (2) By Sheriffdeen Tella
The bar and the bench, within the same age group, are contributing their own quota to the malaise through undue court processes and delayed justice or contradicting judgments. It is becoming very clear that no one caught for corruption among those big names will go to jail. The judiciary is not ready to send anyone to jail. The judiciary is part of the elite and the current tyranny of the Nigerian elite has its roots in that noble profession. The judiciary that is often referred to as the last hope of the common man has become the last hope of the Nigerian kleptocrats to avoid jail. The lawyers cannot exonerate themselves as it seems the money they could not collect through election petitions after the 2015 elections is now being received through defending corrupt politicians or the political elite. If the country must get out of these difficult times, all hands must be on deck, probably investigative journalism like what happened to the judiciary in Ghana is imperative here too.
Let us return to the main meal. The most important sector that can generate employment at a faster speed and deeper rate is manufacturing – small, medium and large scales. But, the energy and road infrastructure remain impediments. Thus, large scale subsidy is required for the manufacturing sector while improved funding of electricity and roads should be given priority in budget implementation. We cannot also ignore agriculture and education in this quest for rapid change, and we shall touch on these sectors later. Albeit, in providing intervention funds for the manufacturing or any other sector, there must be requests with implementation plans, controls, monitoring and time-bound for repayment. It should not be like the one carried out under President Goodluck Jonathan where no one paid back and some even used the money to invest in other countries, like the establishment of a power company in Ghana or purchase foreign exchange for illicit transfers.
Grants must be clearly stated or distinguished from intervention funds. The former, which should be for implementing government projects like education, health and social services do not require repayment while interventions which are meant for production, particularly in the private sector, must be repaid, though without interest. Intervention in the manufacturing or industrial sector needs to be focused on bailing out those companies that are on the verge of collapse, particularly those producing consumer goods and are largely dependent on raw materials within Nigeria and companies that produce inputs for other manufacturing industries. Such companies can be small, medium or large scale but the need for intervention should be apparent.
For agriculture, the major target of intervention could be cash crops that not only supply raw materials for industries such as cotton, cocoa and cassava but also capable of being exported for foreign exchange earnings. On education intervention, a revamping of the entire sector is necessary. Qualitative education requires qualitative manpower in the sector. Two facts are incontrovertible in the case of education. None of the advanced economies has literacy level below 90 per cent, including China with a population of over 1.3 billion! Secondly, Japan imports all its raw materials for production as it has no mineral resources like other countries, yet it remained, for a long time, the number two economy in the world ranking. It depends solely on its educated population to transform the imported raw materials into finished products for domestic consumption and exports.
If one goes to Europe, America and Canada, there are millions of Asians studying largely in science and technology areas in the tertiary institutions, particularly on government sponsorship. International exposure for students and researchers is imperative if Nigeria is to make progress in its quest for development. It is important to acknowledge, in this regard, the efforts of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund for tertiary institution scholars, Amnesty funds for ex-militants and the government of Kano State under Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso. More importantly, however, there is the need for retraining of teachers at the lower and higher levels to be able to deliver quality education to students for the transformation of the country as we move forward. Only few state governments have concern for education funding. That is why we see student learning under trees, sitting on the classroom floors and in dilapidated buildings in the 21st century! Many state governments pay teachers’ salaries as the last option and they are the staff used for auxiliary services in periods of elections, census and other non-teaching related activities. No country gets it right without putting education and educationists in the front burner.
Intervention in infrastructure, particularly for energy and roads, could be in terms of special arrangement for disbursement of funds from approved budgets. International community can assist these sectors through various combinations of joint public-private sectors initiative, bilateral agreements with governments of friendly countries on Built-Operate-Transfer arrangement. It is not possible to light up the whole of Nigeria at the same time and it is therefore necessary to prioritise power development area into industrial and non-industrial. The energy requirements of the former would involve the use of gas, hydro or thermal and nuclear energy sources while that of the latter can made do with lesser intensive energy generation like solar and wind. Thus, as the country develops more solar and wind energy sources for non-industrialised states, it diverts intensive energy sources to industrialised states or areas while further developing the sources of energy. That way, the government should be able to mark 24 hours electricity in some states by the end of 2018.
In many developed economies, each modern energy plant is built on a combination of energy sources such that it is possible to switch between gas and solar or gas and hydro or hydro and nuclear whenever a problem arises in one source. This is the way the country should go. Existing plants can be modified to accommodate dual energy sources. All these are expensive in the short run but cheaper in the long run, and can be developed on BOT basis whereby the companies that build and supply the energy are in charge of distributing the same to industrial or residential consumers. It is true that as the major importer of generators, lamps and other electricity generating alternatives in the world, Nigeria will have lots of enemies (internal and external) to battle with in her quest to lighting up the country but we must look for countries and companies that are ready to assist. For all assistance, there should be plans to train Nigerians to take over all the projects in the near future.
Finally, on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework that was recently adopted, it should be appreciated as a step in the right direction. However, such a framework must be derived from a long term national plan, which does not exist for now except if the Vision 20:2020 has been adopted by this government. A long-term national plan of about 25 years duration, endorsed by the public and the National Assembly is imperative for economic restructuring or change that the country desires now.
For many important sectors in Nigeria, it is not possible to download the government policy and framework relating to each sector, either because the policies do not exist or they are just in hard copies. Countries and individuals who want to do business with Nigeria would normally google and download the required information for familiarisation but if these are not available, they look elsewhere. Apart from making each policy framework visible to the rest of the world, a long term national plan containing these policies and programmes with timelines for those who want to key into our project, is a necessity and the Ministry of Budget and National Planning cannot afford to ignore the production of a truly developed national plan. The present economic challenges need to be accepted as an opportunity to break the barrier of development torpor as China did between 1960s and 1980s or in a space of 20 years.
Tella is a Professor of Economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye