Nigeria’s Change Mantra In the Era of SDGs, By Noimot Balogun

…the wealth of a nation is sustained when stakeholders are collectively committed to a common good. This public good which is the core of economic stability can only be propelled in the wake of genuine collaboration of concerned actors, thereby creating national wealth that trickles down to individuals, groups and societies and encourages sustainable development.

It is now a glaring fact that so much is happening in the Nigerian polity, especially in relation to economic policy making agencies. This may be partly owing to the pressure of stakeholders at the local and international levels on finding a lasting solution to the current challenges of the Nigerian economy. Declared to be officially in recession a few weeks ago, Nigeria has witnessed a reactive series of policy statements and approaches from different policy making bodies even to the point of creating policy summersault as manifest in the arguments and counter-arguments of decision makers.

In retrospection, the unpleasant fact that was beginning to manifest in recession had hitherto been predicted by renowned economic experts. These experts had been volunteering intermittent opinions on the staggering economic indices and its effect on market forces from the first quarter of 2016. It was however not until the beginning of the third quarter that this bitter pill had to be swallowed, following the indicators by the National Bureau of Statistics which showed Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data of a negative growth rate of -0.36 per cent and the declaration by the Federal Minister for Finance, as well as the Governor of Central Bank. At present, the situation is still unimpressive, with a GDP contraction of about 2.06 percent, an increase in inflation rate to about 17.6 percent coupled with a fall in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and an external reserve that is down by 25 percent. Highlighted reasons for the unimpressive indices include the fall in global oil prices from over $100 to below $40, past mismanagement of resources, and ongoing security challenges in the oil rich region, which had led to a reduction in the production of crude oil from the anticipated 2.2 million barrels to just above a million barrels. Invariably, these changes have exerted an overwhelming pressure on the non-oil sector, leading to an increase in gross inflation in the price of goods and commodities, high electricity tariffs, worsening FOREIGN EXCHANGE RATES, and a commensurate increase in consumer spending, among others.

More pathetic is the fact that many of the recent government policies and actions are yet to translate to a better standard of living and wellbeing at the grassroots level where prices of goods and commodities are still largely on the increase. In a country where Out of Pocket Payment (OOP) remains the common approach to accessing basic services like health and education, these services are forced down the priority lists among the masses to give way to survival, with an attendant rise in ill health and illiteracy, and widening inequality. Therefore, in proffering solutions, it is of utmost importance to analyse how Nigeria as a nation got to this frightful edge. The idea is to use the lessons to chart a way forward for the future.

To start with, documented evidence from other economies has shown that the development of a nation can be affected due to different human errors. The book What Matters Most by Jeffrey Hollender and Stephen Fenichell is one critical collection of events in the western world which chronicles the scandal of corporate global organisations in the Western countries around the late 1990s to about 2002. From the different analyses in this book, one important point that stands out is the singular fact of mismanagement where the primary focus was on increasing profit, even when it involved unwholesome and corrupt practices at the expense of the consumers and society who are also critical stakeholders in the survival of such businesses. These activities eventually led to the collapse of such businesses with an overarching impact on the economy. The writer, in his recommendations, cites ways of preventing such occurrence by providing an alternative business structure where the core values are premised on a triple bottom line of profit making, social protection and environmental stewardship. In his judgement, the writer concluded that the governments’ role of regulating businesses and their operations remain invaluable in promoting accountability and social protection for the citizenry.

With a teeming population of youth among the 170 million people in Nigeria, promoting diversification of the economy through these youths is of critical importance. This can be achieved by providing third tier financial security opportunities, which will reduce the requirement for loans and credits for these start-ups, especially at the grassroots level.

Bringing this scenario to the Nigerian situation, it will be very apt to say that the recession miasma which Nigeria unfortunately finds itself in is a product of long years of mismanagement, inefficient management and use of national asset, and poor regulation in the areas of businesses all over Nigeria. More unfortunately, these vices take their roots in an endemic case of inequality which has led to the exclusion of a lot of stakeholders in the development of a promising and productive country. As such, the long term effect of inequality has also permeated the social enterprise sector where not for profit organisations, academic institutions, as well as religious institutions belong.

In other words, the core values of accountability, transparency, and sustainability that qualify social responsibility of individuals and societies have been eroded. Such implications have thus metamorphosed into social issues where these neglected stakeholders react in the form of militancy in the oil rich region, kidnapping, religious insurgency, a poorly motivated work force, the widespread lack of patriotism, among others. These implications have now contributed greatly to the loss of social capital, which is an important facilitator of wealth generation in any country where development is a priority.

It’s yet another critical period for Nigeria as we run through the last quarter of 2016, which also coincides with the period in which awareness of the new national orientation slogan of ‘Change begins with me’ is in top gear. It is very instructive that this slogan may be driven to create a new Nigeria where inclusion of all Nigerians is seen as the operational term to develop our public and social goods. The objectives of this slogan can effectively be achieved when policy makers become sincerely committed to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals whose main focus is on collaboration of all stakeholders from the national level down to the grassroots. Policy makers are thus saddled with the responsibility of using this witty slogan to advocate for the creation of social capital where all Nigerians are made to see the unity and development of Nigeria as important goals. However, this change has to be seen to emanate from them first in terms of adjusting the apparent mismanagement of national wealth, especially by the political class. Other recommendations include:

• The promotion of internally facilitated survival strategies which will redefine business relationships in Nigeria, especially among the youth. With a teeming population of youth among the 170 million people in Nigeria, promoting diversification of the economy through these youths is of critical importance. This can be achieved by providing third tier financial security opportunities, which will reduce the requirement for loans and credits for these start-ups, especially at the grassroots level. An enabling environment in terms of the ease of doing business will also help attract Nigerians in the diasporas and create confidence in the hearts of potential investors.

Some of the highly needed social interventions include: a financial relief scheme such as health insurance, education discount and waivers, provision of financial security for small businesses, promotion of community development projects that create export BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES for the community dwellers.

• An improvement of governance in the area of regulatory responsibility in products and services standardisation in Nigeria. As a matter of extension, community relations, consumer protection, which put public good at the core, should also be given national priority, while ensuring that sanctions are stated out for non-compliant businesses. This, however, has to emanate from the leadership, where public office holders are held to perform on standards. Policy makers should also establish different engagement platforms that will facilitate the harnessing of ideas from citizens in facilitating sustainable national growth.

• A realisation that economic policies are better discussed with the inclusion of basic social services like health, and education. The different economic policies will only be meaningful to the average Nigerian if there is a direct impact on his quality of life. Thus, intervention in the areas of health, education, and social development, in line with economic strategies, will help reduce burden and improve top-bottom relationship. Some of the highly needed social interventions include: a financial relief scheme such as health insurance, education discount and waivers, provision of financial security for small businesses, promotion of community development projects that create export business opportunities for the community dwellers.

In conclusion, the wealth of a nation is sustained when stakeholders are collectively committed to a common good. This public good which is the core of economic stability can only be propelled in the wake of genuine collaboration of concerned actors, thereby creating national wealth that trickles down to individuals, groups and societies and encourages sustainable development. More so, success in collaboration is also a viable way of aligning with global goals (SDGs) which is premised on stakeholders’ collaboration. Coincidentally, the president of Nigeria was one of the prominent African leaders who participated at the just concluded United Nations General Assembly, which was a coalition for the assessment of the progress on SDGs. It is thus expected that lessons from this coalition coupled with the local efforts towards addressing recession will be the right catalyst to relieve Nigeria of its present plight and build a sustainable and collaborative economy. This is when national redefinition through ‘Change begins with me’ will become a sweet song from generation to generation.

Noimot Balogun is a health communication specialist with strong passion for social capital as a means of achieving SDGs. She writes from naimahbadru@yahoo.com.

PremiumTimes