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Understanding GDP as 'General Development Picture'

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By Constance Okechuku
Following the rebased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures for 2013, which showed an 89 percent increase in the estimated size of our economy, I had tried to explain to a teenage neighbour what GDP is, and what it means for us all.  I first told Adamu that GDP is the money value of the goods and services produced in the officially recognised sectors of a country's economy within a certain period, usually one year.  Adamu looked at me as if I'd just spoken Greek and then asked, “What about the sectors that are not officially recognised?” I knew then that I had a challenge to face.

What followed was thirty minutes or so of me explaining the little I know about GDP and Adamu always asking me more questions, until a light bulb flashed in my head and I said that GDP can also be seen as a 'General Development Picture' of a country.

The idea of understanding GDP as a 'General Development Picture' is not a frivolous one.  After all, GDP is often used as a factor in determining a country's standard of living.  And that is why I can't agree with the so-called experts who have been jumping from one media platform to the other proclaiming that the rebased GDP figures would have no effect on the life of ordinary Nigerians.  The truth runs much deeper than that because there is simply no way that the rebased GDP figures will not have a positive effect on all Nigerians, regardless of class or status.

In real terms, GDP (or Gross Domestic Product to give it its proper name) measures productivity within an economy. And it is an established fact that productivity in any workplace is affected by morale, which is defined as an individual's “psychological well-being based upon a sense of confidence and usefulness and purpose.”  It is equally well-known that psychological well-being can be affected by good news or bad news.  Good news is likely to raise a person's morale while bad news may do the opposite.  As such, the fact that Nigeria's economy is now the largest in Africa is already a major morale-booster to Nigerians in all walks of life.

The unwillingness by some people to ever concede that President Goodluck Jonathan is doing anything positive in the country may be behind the attempt to diminish the positive effects of the rebased GDP figures.  But the reality is that the general development picture—which my young neighbour Adamu said helped him to understand GDP—is that things are getting better in Nigeria's economy.

It is important to point out a few facts relating to the economy here lest they become lost in all the noise being made by some so-called experts who may seek to undermine the president's achievements in office.

In the first instance, to encourage young Nigerians to become entrepreneurs and employers of labour—rather than waiting to be employed by others—the Jonathan government awarded business start-up grants of between 1 to 10 million naira to thousands of young Nigerians under the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN) initiative.  This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of youths being employed and empowered across the country through the SURE-P Programme.

It is also worth mentioning that the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, showed in a presentation at an interactive session with the private sector that the Jonathan-led administration created 1.6 million jobs in the year 2013 alone.

Meanwhile, on April 7, 2014, BusinessDay newspaper reported that “the Ministry for Trade and Investment did not issue a single licence for the importation of cement in 2013, which has traditionally been a huge drain on Nigeria's foreign exchange.” In a story titled Breaking down Nigeria rebased $510 billion GDP, the newspaper also reported that: “In addition, the ministry has also designed the Nigerian Automobile Industry Development Plan to provide the environment for the orderly development of the sector.”

These are but just a few indicators of how the Nigerian economy is changing for the better and no so-called expert should try and convince Adamu and myself that the rebased GDP figures will have no positive effects on our lives.

President Jonathan himself, through a statement posted on his verified Facebook page, said: “I am glad to report to you that Nigeria is officially the largest economy in Africa with a Gross Domestic Product of $510 billion which also places us as the 26th largest economy in the world. This feat is a collective achievement of all Nigerians particularly when you take into account the fact that our Per Capita Income had increased by over 60% from $1091 in 2009 to $1700 in 2013, prior to the rebasing.”

As I said to Adamu, with this general development picture which shows how Nigeria's place in the world economy has changed for the better under President Jonathan, it is wrong for any so-called expert to go on a media platform and say unpatriotic things about our country.  Adamu still had one more question for me when I finished. He asked: “When will they bring out the figures for the sectors that are not officially recognised?”  I told my young neighbour that I had no idea, but that it is an open secret that Nigeria's informal economy is almost as large as, if not larger, than the formal economy.  Let the so-called experts reflect on the economic growth implications of that.

Okechukwu contributed this piece from Abuja.