It was endless back-slapping yesterday as Nigerians joined the rest of the world to wish one another a happy new year and general goodwill. But the good wishes of new songs would, to a large extent, depend on what the socio-economic and political firmament would look like; observers told BusinessDaySunday.
The out-gone year was hell for many citizens on all fronts.
If one considers the realities on the ground, especially the economic downturn, a new song might elude Nigerians this New Year, except things are consciously done differently by the government and the people.
As much as the country and her citizens, who were battered by intense hardship, escalating insecurity, and the lingering impact of the pandemic, yarn for respite from their agonies of 2021, it is only a concerned government, which is ready to walk its talk that can make a new song possible and louder in 2022.
Many concerned Nigerians and observers think that the country can bounce back in her economy, security, as well as, overcome other challenges if the leadership is determined to walk its talk, at least, for the first time.
Starting from the base, observers argue that if the government had given license to many investors to build refineries, given them deadlines, monitor the projects, and offer them other incentives, the fear of subsidy removal by the middle of this year and the consequent hike in prices would have been averted.
“Weather Nigerians will sing a new song or not depends on our government. Ordinarily, coming out of 2021 was a miracle because of the hardship that overstretched Nigerians. It was a year when prices of goods tripled in just one month, a year that more Nigerians fell under poverty threshold and a year that many will curse if allowed,” Paul Oghenkor, a lawyer and Lagos landlord, said.
Lamenting further, the landlord said: “Considering the debt pile, a sensitive government will not borrow again, rather manage and look for ways to stimulate the economy, get many entrepreneurs back on track and encourage companies rather than kill them with stifling policies.”
According to him, a new song is possible if government walks its talk on the diversification of the economy, recover the billions of Naira lost to gas flaring every day in the Niger Delta, open other seaports to importers of bulk goods to reduce the cost of transportation to final destinations, which impact prices, and encourage investors in technology companies and creative industry.
“We all know that oil prices have never been stable for a long time now and will not in the future. So, we need to consciously develop other sectors of the economy to boost revenue. If Hollywood is raking billions of dollars for the United States of America’s economy, Nollywood can do the same if encouraged and supported,” Oghenkor said.
Expressing his views on diversification of the economy as a means of salvaging the country this year, Nkereuwem Onung, president, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), insisted that tourism offers diverse opportunities, amid huge capacity for employment.
He also noted that the umbrella body of tourism practitioners in Nigeria has credible members who are willing to partner with others for sustainable development of tourism in a way that it will earn foreign exchange and huge revenue for the country like some destinations such as Dubai, South Africa, Kenya, France, and Spain.
The same view was shared by Patrick Utomi, founder, Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) and political economist, while as a keynote speaker at the annual general meeting of the National Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) in Calabar, recently.
Utomi disclosed that tourism was the lowest hanging fruit for economic diversification due to its easy entry, it does not require huge capital investment and grows profit easily.
For him, the government can identify credible stakeholders in the tourism industry to partner with for sustainable tourism development projects that can impact the economy within a short period, though long-term investment in the sector is also necessary.
The professor observed that in Nigerian tourism, there seems to be a missing link, especially in a diversified economy, hence the need to train and direct Nigerian tourism stakeholders on better ways of marketing Nigerian as a tourism destination.
Dimifa Alagha, an investment banker with StanbicIBTC, pointed out that the prevailing policies in the country do not support investments, especially foreign direct investments, and that the government needs to change such policies in order to attract investors this year, who will help stimulate the economy.
“In economies like Nigeria, it is the SMEs that are the backbone of the economy, but the policies and the business environment have not been favorable for them. If you want a better 2022, the government should consciously pull the SMEs out of the brick and the lingering impact of the pandemic. Again, the government should intervene with soft loans because high-interest rates, impossible collateral, and low purchasing power are challenging SMEs now more than before,” Alagha said.
The investment banker argued that the government cannot pressure SMEs with unfavorable policies, amid multiple taxations and still expect the economy to improve this year.
“Nigerians are tired of promises, the government should learn from other economies that pass through a similar experience and how they managed to stabilise their economies. It is not all about loans and obeying World Bank orders, it is about finding what works for us and implementing them, loans do not work for us, they mortgaged our future,” he said.
Hannah Irem, a mother of three and businesswoman, thinks that 2022 will be better if the government is sincere with the masses, and also avoid price hikes in fuel pump price, electricity tariff and other things that induce inflation.
“Do not promise what you cannot fulfill; do not increase something you cannot reduce, leave us to manage until when a messiah will come. You want to increase fuel price as if the masses are the reason the refineries are not working,” she said.
Lai Omotola, group managing director, Masters Reality International Concepts Limited (MRICL), and chancellor of E-Boot Camp Limited, said that for those in business, like himself, to sing a new song this year, the government must try to reduce the hassles associated with doing business in Nigeria.
According to him, “The economy remains very vital to our welfare and indeed affects all aspects of our lives. This is why everybody wants to know how the economy is doing. There are certain indices that people look at to know how the economy is doing. What are those indices for the economy? Number one is inflation, which has accelerated fast and it is now 15.99 percent. Inflation of double-digit means that we need to raise the serious alarm.
“Another one is the exchange rate which is at N575 to the dollar and you look at what was the exchange rate in 2015. Then, you look at the size of the economy in terms of the GDP which is at $440 billion. This for a giant of Africa is little. When you look at the budget size for 2022 is N16 trillion. The question is how are we going to spend the budget? The government is saying that there is going to be a deficit of N6.3 trillion out of the N16 trillion.
“What is the deficit? It means that we have a budget but we do not have enough money to cover it and we are going to borrow N6.3 trillion either from domestic or foreign. So, that begins to raise a flag. We are even budgeting beyond what we produce, which is a no from day one but they say we need to continue that way otherwise the economy will shut down.”
According to Omotola, “When one looks at the budget to find out what we are spending money on, you will find out that out of the N16 trillion, we are spending N6.8 trillion on recurrent expenditure, which is close to 30 percent of the budget. On personnel cost, we will be spending N4.11trillion. Then, the question is which government parastatal in Nigeria can one enjoy excellent customer care service. Can one have a good experience at General Hospital, Passport Office or Police despite the amount spent annually on personnel cost?
“Another question is- where is this money coming from? The budget says that 80 percent of the funding will come from oil. This means that for the past 60 years that we have been talking about diversification, we still remain in the same place.
“Nigerian oil still provides 95 percent of foreign exchange and 80 percent of budgetary revenue. This means that Nigeria still remains a mono-economy. So, 20 years of democracy plus 32 years of military dictatorship, have not shifted us forward but we have gone backward.”
Omotola, who is a real estate player, told BusinessDaySunday that unless Nigeria begins to implement her ideas and policies, the new song may not be possible for the country this year.
“For Nigeria to achieve a turnaround in her economy and record the desired change, the country must be looking not only for an ideas man but for an executioner that can say that the Niger Bridge, for instance, will be ready on October 1, 2022, and it will be so. An executioner will say that the three refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna will be ready by 2023, and it will be.
“Until Nigeria finds that executioner, our journey will still continue to manifest the way it has always been. It is now about executing ideas rather than giving talk shows, and seminars. We usually say that leadership is the problem of this country but we have now realised that human capital drain is totally on the increase and worse than leadership. This means that there is a vacuum of knowledge. Scarcity of knowledge is one of the reasons why we are where we are today.”
Humphrey Bamisebi Olumakaiye, diocesan bishop of Lagos and archbishop, Ecclesiastical Province of Lagos, urged both the leaders and the led to work positively for the good of the nation and the citizenry.
According to Olumakaiye, “Each New Year offers a blank sheet of rewriting history and changing the narrative. It is God’s benevolent gift of time to etch our footprints in the sand of history. Indeed, New Year is a new window of opportunity to be a better person in character, disposition, and attitude. With the arrival of another 365 days comes another door of hope to rise from the shadow and shine the light in an ever-increasingly dark world. Therefore, the desire of the Lord Almighty is that we should all seize the moment and embrace this gift of time with resolute determination. The chance to make the right impact is for all and on all; for leaders and followers; for men and women; for boys and girls – without discrimination and partiality.”