• Says country not poverty capital seven years ago
• Asks political leaders to change their behaviour
Nigeria’s leading political economist and Co-convener, National Consultative Forum, Prof. Pat Utomi at the weekend rejected a claim by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration that Nigeria is better today than it met it more than five years ago.
Contrary to Buhari’s standpoint Wednesday, Utomi claimed that Nigeria was not the poverty capital of the world seven years ago, but currently had more people living in extreme poverty than any country worldwide.
He expressed these concerns on Friday during a phone conversation with THISDAY on the rising inflation rate and shrinking debt to revenue ratio, which was as high as 99% in Q1 2020 and 95% in Q3 2020.
Buhari had, in a self-assessment report Wednesday, claimed that Nigeria was better than he met it more than five years ago while hosting the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission, Revd Yakubu Pam.
While the dust raised by the president’s self-assessment report was yet to settle, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released its Consumer Price Index (CPI) with an indication that inflation rate increased to 15.75 per cent (year-on-year) in December 2020 compared to 14.48 per cent in November 2020.
Unlike the last six years, the year-on-year inflation rate was 13.74% in 2010, the year former President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office after the death of his predecessor, President Umaru Yar’Adua.
In 2011, the year-on-year inflation rate was 10.83%; 12.23% in 2012; 8.5% in 2013; 8.05% in 2014 and 9.01% in 2015, the year President Buhari assumed office. But the inflation rose to 15.7% in 2016 and 16.5% in 2017, though dropped to 12.09% in 2018; 11.4% in 2019 and 12.88% in 2020.
Under Jonathan, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $546.7 billion in 2014, the year before Buhari assumed office. It plunged to $486.8 billion in 2015; $404.7 billion 2016; $375.7 billion in 2017; then rose to $397.2 billion in 2018 and $448.1 billion in 2019.
The official data of the World Bank put Nigeria’s 2020 GDP at $250 billion, though the bank’s projection revealed that rate would be around $360 billion in 2021 and $450 billion in 2022.
Confronted with these stark realities under the Buhari administration, Utomi, founder/CEO, Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), said: “The truth of the matter is that Nigeria is not in a good shape. Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world today. But it was not seven years ago.”
He, also, said Nigeria “is more divided and tense today than it was seven years ago. Nigeria has been getting progressively worse. Every government has been worse than the one before it. That is the tragedy of Nigeria.”
Amid the worsening socio-economic indices under Buhari’s administration, the political economist warned that national disaster was looming if the country’s political leaders did not change their behaviour in public service.
Concerned about the future of the federation, Utomi said: “I have talked about this several times. National disaster is looming. The fact is that political actors do not understand the meaning of public service any more.”
In concept, the political economist argued that public service “is a place where people make sacrifices to build a greater tomorrow” contrary to the thinking of the present political leaders at virtually all levels.
He lamented that the country’s political actors “always want their rewards on earth and right now even if it destroys tomorrow,” which according to him, was the reason the federation was descending into deteriorating socio-economic and political conditions.
Utomi lamented: “If we look at the scramble to borrow and what it is being committed to, which is not in productive activities, we know tomorrow will be scary and perhaps most uncertain. There is no question about that.”
He, however, admitted that Nigeria could still be rescued out of the woods only if political actors, irrespective of their ethnic nationalities, political leanings and religious bias, could change their behaviour in public service.
To tame the country’s intractable debt crisis, the political economist observed that the policy option that the present government should consider “is to focus any borrowing on intense production concentration.
“When you produce enough to meet that concentration will not only amortize the debt, but also will also provide you more employment and expand the economy. General borrowing can only lead us to more trouble.”
In specific terms, Utomi recommended the need for all political actors across party lines “to change behaviour. There is no point in borrowing when no investor wants to invest in Nigeria because of the behaviour of our political leaders.
“Nigeria is considered an unsafe place to invest in because of the regulatory risks. The investors are more likely to fail in business because of the actions of the government than any market force. We spend so much in infrastructure and no person comes to invest. What is the point?”
Utomi, therefore, argued that the starting point to rescue Nigeria from descent into insolvency “must be the behaviour of political leaders in Nigeria. If they do not change it, we are finished. It does not matter what else we do. One business fails everyday because of the government.
“Most of the money spent on infrastructure is unnecessary. There is private money we can attract and spend on infrastructure. But that private money is scared of Nigeria because it does not know if the next governor will come in, he will continue or discontinue with the project.
“Nigerian political leaders, quote me, are irresponsible. Quote me ten times. They are ruining the future of their children and grandchildren because of unintelligent pursuit of money or reckless pursuit of personal aggrandizement,” he lamented during a short conversation with THISDAY.