The economy - The Nation

By The Citizen
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• In spite of grim prospects, window of rescue beckons

Just as it is natural for citizens to entertain illusions about the coming of a new year and its promises of a new beginning, it is understandable that Nigerians are expectant about the 2014 economic outlook. Beyond the atmosphere of expectations, the natural question is whether the Jonathan administration can claim to have put in place the fundamental structures for hope in the current year.

Of course, Nigerians know what the indications are. Nothing in the economic firmament projects any cheery outlook. Rather, what is presented as cold comfort is the bizarre rate of growth said to have averaged 7.5 percent over a decade; and if it comes to anything, part of the scorecard of the administration is supposed to be the off-shore investment of $1 billion in the Sovereign Wealth Fund. Lost, perhaps, on the government is the paradox of increasing impoverishment of Nigerians and the criminal under-investment in infrastructure and other critical enablers of development at a time of sustained oil earnings.

The above is merely the background. The outlook would seem worse. The budget instrument of course remains a statement of grand intentions - which going by experience, may not be implemented. Like those before it, the recurrent trump the capital estimates in Budget 2014 by a ratio of 72.71 to 27.29 percent. If that is any threat to the well-being of the citizenry, it comes nowhere close to the menace of oil theft. Last year, the menace reached industrial scale, leading to an unprecedented shut-in of some 400,000 barrels of daily crude output. While it seems utterly unimaginable that the administration would surrender the artery of the economy to a cabal said to be responsible for denying the federation account of 20 percent of its revenue, worse is that the administration is even now unable to convince anyone of its readiness to do battle with the cabal.

The Main Street is of course where the depressing reality is firmly etched. Presently, unemployment stands at a frightening level of 23.9 per cent, with youth unemployment put at 50 per cent. With poverty rate also standing tall at 67 per cent, the situation is akin to a time-bomb waiting to explode.

Against the background, if we had expectation for 2014, it is for the Jonathan administration to lay out an ambitious programme to confront the terrible monster of non-inclusive growth -the phenomenon of growth without jobs. With the limited employment-generating potential of the enclave economy of oil now obvious to all, the challenge is to promote aggressively, rapid industrialisation and modernisation of agriculture, both to deliver value to Nigerians and to create jobs for the army of the unemployed.

We expect the Federal Government to focus on the medium and small scale industries sector not just for the reason of their proven potential to deliver on jobs, but also as a strategy to curb the humongous import bill. The same applies to agriculture. It is time to unlock the proven potential of the two sectors for national development.

Key to the realisation of the objective is massive investment in infrastructure to narrow the existing deficit; this is even more urgent in the energy, transportation and logistics sectors.  We also expect renewed focus on the problem of cost and access to funds which continues to pose stifling challenge to the small and medium scale business, rendering the prospects of competitiveness a daunting one. Rather than the current obsession with foreign portfolio investors, the Federal Government would do a far better job of paying attention to these issues which, aside offering far brighter prospects for the diversification of the economy, would go a long way to reduce the risk of its vulnerability.