The Forgotten Country Man, By Ozioma Ezeugo

Social and economic policies should, in the main, be construed to mitigate the effects of the unwholesome status of the local economic substratum and hence empower the “forgotten country man” for national recognition and visibility.

The domestic economy of any country is, unarguably, a dynamic fiscal/monetary organism bound together by critical challenge scenarios which sneer continually at the core centres of socio-economic decision making. The dynamism of a given economy is often enough woven around specific streams of national socio-economic, human and natural endowments. And so, when managers at the commanding heights of the domestic economy train their search lights on the critical strengths of the economy, the perceived result of their creative exploration and appropriation measures is often read as economic growth and development.

However, the issue which is often overlooked by domestic economic managers is whether all the “critical strengths” of the economy have been taken into account and effectively addressed. And that is one of the things which have continually tugged at the hemlines of domestic economic management, begging and pleading for effective attention.

The process of evolving the Nigeria of our collective dreams is unarguably incremental, even daunting. However, it must be stated, without controversy, that a focused, consistent and measured approach to the project will surely reward doggedness, persistence and patience. It is well-documented, by informed sources, that there has been a continuing exponential rise in the population growth in many African countries in the last three and a half decades. Most African countries today have an annual rate of population growth of between two and three percent. And when we anchor this scenario on the demographic status of Nigeria as accounting for two out of every five Africans in population, it should become obvious that the resultant underground economy would assume staggering proportions.

A socio-economic management infrastructure which therefore fails to take effective and robust account of the simmering productive undercurrents could not have fully and decisively addressed all the “critical strengths” of the domestic economy.

The socio-political character of the Nigerian economy is unduly woven around the neo-capitalist paradigm, which is not necessarily a major shift from the erstwhile raw concept of crass, unmitigated and unbridled rat-race for the golden sceptre of profit. The current system willingly throws up a substratum of this unwholesome economic arrangement which assigns a disproportionately large population of Nigerians to sheer socio-economic irrelevance and oblivion, giving rise to the blighting syndrome of the “Forgotten Country Man”.

The allocation of critical factors of production, the economic and value reward structure, and indeed the national recognition infrastructure have been held hostage by this neo-capitalist genre of domestic economic management. It is a vicious system built around a reformist and revisionist agenda to satiate indigenous socio-political contexts and which invariably throws up the bogey of the “forgotten country man”, a scenario which is liable to viciously challenge societal peace and progress if uncatered for.

It is therefore my preliminary argument that within the context of a revised capitalist agenda as the motive force and anchor of the domestic socio-economic management, it should be possible, and indeed imperative, to structure, institutionalise and execute programmes of private-sector-led and government-enabled initiatives to directly address the compelling anxieties of the system-induced economic substratum which harbours the “forgotten country man”.

A key challenge of socio-economic growth and development is to guarantee the prevalence of secured peace. And secured peace is invariably enveloped in the basic imperatives for development, some of which include a robust programme for resource allocation, effective value and reward system, and a visible, fair, egalitarian and productive national recognition infrastructure which will not discriminate against the productive potentials of the economic substratum of the forgotten country man, with tremendous capacities for improving significantly the overall national wealth and capital formation.

The question may be asked, who is the “Forgotten Country Man?” This epithet refers to the man, woman or young Nigerian who society has taken no account of. He or she often operates at the fringes of the economy, with little or nothing to show for it; subsisting on a daily reward (if any at all) of less than USD1, sometimes with a large family to support. However, the “Forgotten Country Man” is often marked by the following attributes, namely, hard working, professionally and vocationally gifted, talented and skillful, sometimes intellectually endowed and creative, severely and severally financially challenged, mostly with little or no formal education, rural/urban, engaged in all forms of socio-economic endeavours, spread all over the country and socio-politically disadvantaged, and voiceless.

They constitute the weakest link in the socio-economic value chain. The tragedy of it all is that a society and indeed a nation is as strong and vibrant as its weakest links. And herein lies the unmitigated dilemma of the Nigeria Enterprise.

For the Nigerian Enterprise therefore, to effectively address all of its “critical strengths”, domestic economic managers must effectively engage with the reality of multiple millions of Nigerians, whose common crime is that they fit nicely into the set of attributes listed above. Their number is so staggering and overwhelming that their neglect and passive regard for their potentials for overall good may indeed qualify for reference as collective societal amnesia and criminality. It paints the picture of a society bleeding profusely from all the points of its anatomy. It is as grave as it can possibly be.

I indicated elsewhere in a preliminary position that it should be possible to structure, institutionalise and execute programmes of private-sector-led and government-enabled initiatives to frontally address the lingering bubble. I might also propose that some of the key issues which should engage domestic social and economic managers, on short, medium and long term spans, coloured after are peculiar anxieties of the system-induced substratum of the domestic economy include productive credit extension policy, appropriate venture capital environment, internal savings, liberalisation of land allocation and tenure, the tax environment, cost of power and national recognition infrastructure and a range of fiscal regimes.

One strategic implication of frontally addressing the anxieties of the economic substratum of our collective Enterprise is the reclamation of the middle income class. A cursory look at the local underground economy will reveal that the domestic middle economic class has over the years collapsed into the underground economy and is currently slaving away at sheer economic irrelevance.

Stable economic growth and development are largely motivated by strong and sustainable local consumer-driven demand of goods and services. And the major driver of a viable local consumer demand remains the middle economic class. If socio-economic managers therefore are able to engage with the commanding issues enunciated elsewhere with respect to the special needs of the domestic economic substratum, they will not only be emancipating the “Forgotten Country Man” but indeed reinventing the forgotten middle economic class which will make for real growth and development of the overall economy.

The process of evolving a Nigeria, where every man, woman or child, no matter their socio-economic circumstances, can find fulfillment and take pride in, should without question, constitute a viable objective of the management of the domestic economy. Social and economic policies should, in the main, be construed to mitigate the effects of the unwholesome status of the local economic substratum and hence empower the “forgotten country man” for national recognition and visibility.

Ozioma Ezeogu, a knowledge entrepreneur, writes from Abuja.