Economic diversification and Nigeria’s leadership challenge

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This write-up is basically in admiration of the Business Report page of the Daily Sun of Monday July 27,2020, with the title, “Managing Naira’s exchange rate conundrum through economic diversification”, written by that leading newspaper’s Business Editor, Amaechi Ogbonna. The article also has a rider: Experts urge CBN, FG to support diversification. The article, on its own, is complete in arguing that no nation survives by pursing a monolithic economic policy, especially when that single product that generates most of the foreign exchange earnings of that country is subject to circumstance beyond the control of the country. This is sound economic reasoning. However, the missing link which that article did not supply was the question of why Nigeria has remained mostly a petrol-dollar economy, that is, having crude oil account for about 90% of its export earnings. This has been the case in decades since oil was first discovered in Nigeria and appeared on our export list in 1958. As oil gradually gained prominence in the international market, this country’s leaders had thought it wise to deviate from agriculture and other exportable products to rely solely on crude oil export. There were once petroleum refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna and today all of them have become moribund with turn-around maintenance as high as 4 billion dollars a year.
The question of why Nigeria has remained an economy dependent almost solely on crude oil export is not far-fetched. This dependence on crude oil is reason why the annual budget is usually based on earnings from this sector. when there is a short fall in crude earnings- and there is always this scenario-the option is always to resort to borrowing or printing of currency to finance the deficit. Both options are economically unhealthy and promote inflation. So, why has Nigeria remained in this situation? Are there no good economists in this country to advice our leaders on the need to diversify the economy? Alternatively, have the Economists done their job of advising on this but the political leaders failed to listen or implement their ideas? I think the later is the case here. Nigeria’s experts are among the best in the world. Needless to say, the problem has always been the lack of political will and moral courage to do the right thing. This is where the challenge of leadership comes in. Some distinguishing marks of a leader are that he must have a vision, see the future before others do, must have a listening ear, must be teachable, must be de-tribalized and see the entire country as his immediate constituency, and so on. Our leaders, over the years, have failed in all these and other basic principles of leadership. It doesn’t take experts to urge the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria to make our leaders realize the need for diversification. If a man has a single source of income which is no longer viable, it does not need anyone to urge him to diversify his income base so as to be able to take care of his family. So, it is with a country! Nigeria’s one and only problem is leadership and nothing more! When one takes a critical look at the policies pursued by various administrations at all levels, including the present Buhari administration and in other states, the lack of moral courage or political will to tackle issues of corruption shows a leadership that has failed to fulfill its moral obligations to the people. And the dimensions of leadership failure in Nigeria are of unimaginable proportions. Look at the trending corruption issues at NDDC involving our leaders at the National Assembly. This is very shameful. Look at how the Minister of Transport, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi has mortgaged Nigeria’s sovereignty to china all in the name of obtaining loans to construct railways. Imagine the supposed anti-corruption Czar, Mr. Ibrahim Magu being enmeshed in monumental corruption allegations. Funds for procurement of military equipment to combat terrorism are looted and terrorists frequently massacre Nigerian soldiers because they are ill-equipped. Former APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole once said that if one joins APC his sins (corruption charges) would be forgiven. This is because his (Oshiomhole’s) case file and several others were found in Magu’s house when the former EFCC Chairman’s house was searched. EFCC would never have treated their matters as long as Magu was chairman. This is how countless corruption charges and probe panels have been buried in this country and no one cares when funds are allocated to ministries and government agencies through the budget, the government officials deliberately refuse to implement their budgets and at the end of the budget year, these unspent budget funds are shared among the officials in the know.
So, I make bold to say that economic diversification can never work in Nigeria as long as it will require human beings to achieve. To achieve any meaningful progress in any setting requires a conscious effort to propound and implement real change programmes. The president must see himself as a president for all and not marginalize any section of the country. He must not promote the interest of any ethnic group at the detriment of others. Democratic institutions must become real and not only exit in the pages of newspapers. There must be no sacred cows.
In fact, the political landscape must be transformed. We cannot talk of diversification under the present circumstances. It just cannot work. There are entrenched interests in the culture of corruption in Nigeria and they will always fight back for their own selfish interests. Nigeria needs strong leaders like Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and Paul Kagame of Rwanda. These leaders have liberated their various countries from Nigeria-type culture of corruption and set them on the road to prosperity. When a football team is not performing well the tendency is usually to change the manager. The winning manager uses the same team to win. The difference is always leadership. Nigeria needs a new kind of leadership to make things work. No expert in any field can achieve much in Nigeria because the culture of corruption will inhibit whatever wonderful effect he might bring into the system. In fact, such expert might end up sacked because the corrupt politics of the system will frustrate him out.

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