Nigerian Rebasing And The Making Of A Phantom Economy


By Peter Claver Oparah

And so storm tossed and weather beaten Nigerians woke up on Saturday, 5 April to hear from the figure crunchers that people her so-called economic bureaucracy that it is the biggest economy in Africa, the 26th biggest in the whole wide world (as my little kids are wont to put it). They pinched themselves in expectation that just by the same stroke of miracle that transformed the shamble they have as an economy overnight, their worsening fortunes may take an upward review. They know that it is no mean issue to be the biggest economy in Africa and the 26th biggest in the world. So they were right in expecting that their plunging fortunes in the hands of rapacious share-reapers that pass off as Nigerian leaders, will improve. But their hopes for relief from the unending economic siege they have been going through were sealed by the same figure crunchers who told them not to expect anything new from the dreary and miserable lives they have been living even in the face of continued flow of oil resources.

Hear the guy that heralded this overnight miracle, Yemi Kale, the head of National Bureau of Statistics: “Rebasing does not change what was already there, it’s just about measuring better and more accurately, It does not mean that within 24 hours something miraculous has happened.” In other words, our economy achieved a miraculous 24 hours turn around while our fates will continue to dwindle? Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the leading figure cruncher and the Minister of Finance was to drive this truth further home when she told Nigerians not to expect any change in their pitiable standard of living but that the end of the fangled statistics was to make investors look Nigeria’s way. So all it needs any economy desiring foreign investment is to churn out huge figures and pronto, investors will come hurtling down? However, this optimism about investors suddenly reversing their negative outlook on Nigeria was quickly rebuffed by the World Bank, which, seeing through the phantom script from where this econometrick was drawn, told Nigerians that the bogus claim of being the biggest economy does not drive investment. The World Bank President was to drive the points home a few days later when he stated that Nigeria is the country with the third highest rate of poverty in the world, hosting 17 per cent of the total world’s poor after India and China. You can understand with China and India with over one billion people each but with Nigeria with just a bloated 170 million hosting a huge 17 per cent of the world’s poor? Let us remember that the same World Bank had reported earlier that over 100 million Nigerians are living on below N300 a day!

So how can’t the largest economy in Africa impact on the people so that they stop living the humiliating lives of world leading economic refugees who can do just anything to escape from a fabled fast growing economy, are so disrespected to the extent that Nigerians are perhaps the most abhorred people on earth? How can’t such a miraculous stroke of fortune translate to a more secured life for poverty-wracked Nigerians?

For me, I wanted to be sure of my facts before I question the ludicrous statistics that birthed this sham. I googled for the ten biggest banks in Africa and no bank in Nigeria came up. In fact, the first four biggest banks in Africa were South African Banks; Standard Bank Group, ABSA Group, First Rand, Nedbank. Yes, the same South Africa we have displaced through witchcraft and voodoo as the biggest economy in Africa? Something is wrong somewhere. The rest six richest banks were spread like this; two in Egypt, two in Morocco, one in South Africa and one in Algeria? Where was Nigeria? So where is its miraculous wealth domiciled?

I googled for the top ten biggest companies in Africa and lo and behold, none was Nigerian. Top on the list was an Algerian company, Sonatrach, followed by an Angolan company, Sonangol. The remaining eight, Sasol, MTN Group, The Bidvest Group, Eskom, Shoprite Holding, Sanlam, Vodacom Group, Imperial Holdings, are all South African! So what really drives the fabled growth of the Nigerian economy? Public stealing, corruption, kidnapping, armed robbery? The jury is still out but soon and very soon, the bubble will burst.

I googled the top ten universities in Africa for sound and quality education drives a healthy and strong economy. I found out that it is a two-legged race between South Africa and Egypt. Nigeria was clearly lost in the race. Egypt has four of the top ten Universities in Africa; Cairo University (1st), Ains Shams University (8th), Alexandria University (9th), Mansoura University (10th). South Africa has six of the ten best universities in Africa; University of Cape Town (2nd), University of Pretoria (3rd), Universiteit Stallenboach (4th), University of the Witwatersrand (5th), University of the Western Cape (6th). Nigeria only featured at the 26th spot (Obafemi Awolowo University), followed by University of Lagos (39th).

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I went to the power sector and lo and behold, the very South African economy we just displaced generates 47,700 megawatts of electricity while Nigeria has for the fifteen awful years of the PDP misrule been oscillating like a jinxed retard between 1,000 megawatts and 3,000 megawatts. Last year, we remember this government that is so much in love with crunching flattering figures, boasted that it will generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity by June and up it to 10,000 megawatts by December 2013. Today, we are in April and the current generation level of Nigeria hovers just above 2,000 megawatts which has thrown a greater part of the country to complete darkness for most of the year! So what drives the much hackneyed growth of the Nigerian economy? Darkness? Perhaps the only such case in the world!

For purposes of brevity, I am restricting myself to these certain, measurable and verifiable indices of wealth and economic growth in seeking answers, like millions of bemused Nigerians to the many loose ends trailing the so-called rebasing of the economy. Pray, what are the drivers of the fabled growth of the Nigerian economy? Poverty? Insecurity? Unemployment? Darkness? Corruption? Which driver is behind these miraculous developments? For a country that has no idea what its real population, the number of jobless citizens, the poor, those in and out of school are, a nation that does not know how much fuel it consumes, imports or even sells, how did it arrive at the present figure it is hurling so embarrassingly on a world that knows the huge sham contents of our national governance?

Coming to the real facts, are we now expecting that with Nigeria rated by the statisticians at National Bureau of Statistics as the largest economy in Africa, is it not right and proper for Nigerians to stop besieging the South African embassy and the embassies of just every country to escape from the hell hole thieving leaders have made of Nigeria? Who will dare leave a fast growing economy to endure humiliations, insults and embarrassments in other lands as Nigerians do just to survive?

Nigerians, especially those in government are funny people. They are the reasons why Collin Powell the former American Chief of Staff concluded sometime ago that Nigeria is a nation of scammers. They are upping their scamming game by the day. They are more interested in churning out funny and bogus statistics to cover their well known deficiencies. They cull patronizing statistics where governance has failed. Check out the type of statistics they keep throwing at all of us; ‘Nigerian economy (does Nigeria really have an economy in the real sense of it?) is growing in double digits; the third fastest growing in the world’, Inflation is coming down astronomically by the day’, ‘prices of goods and commodities are crashing by the day’, ‘the government creates millions of jobs every year’-the Nigerian Immigration recruitment tragedy was just a scam created by the opposition to rubbish this hard working government. ‘Nigeria will soon become the biggest economy in the world’, ‘standard of living is rising’, ‘unemployment will soon fizzle out’ and the scam and sham figures continue.

Their claims are always outlandish, bogus and specious, which all the more unravel them easily on contact with truth and facts. They have therefore created so much yawning paradoxes of a country growing on the stubble of total and overwhelming unemployment, embarrassing and record beating corruption, total and complete infrastructure rot, embarrassing governmental cluelessness, total power outage, mangled and corruption ridden energy sector, alarming general insecurity, near-total dearth of industries and other critical drivers of the economy. This must be the biggest parody in the world!

But all these come unstuck when juxtaposed with reality and facts. It is tragic that Nigerian economists and statistics merely cook figures and hope to bluff their ways through the doubts and skepticisms of Nigerians who are objects and victims of their wonky arts. Much of what they spew are just mere figures, stripped of logic, full of so many rough edges, inconsistences and quite parallel with facts. That is why the best of them are easily bested by a roadside mechanic on economic (I mean real economic) issues. That is why they exist on bluffing and hubris and not ready to engage anyone on debate. They manufacture figures only they and their patrons subscribe to. That is their tragedy for economics must align with facts and reality so as to convince and have any meaning with the people. It is not about juggling flattering figures and throwing it at every person’s face like a dullard given the liberty to write his own results in an examination. It must be ready to answer all puzzles and emerge from every doubt stronger, not merely on how it aligns with the facts but how it rubs off on the people. It must have a nexus, an interconnection and an interface. So there is no talk of a fast growing economy in the midst of astronomical unemployment, grinding mass poverty, non availability of power, dearth of infrastructure, absence of industries, country-wide insecurity. It is a sham and the world knows and that is why nothing will change even after these bogus claims.

•Oparah wrote from Ikeja, Lagos. Email: [email protected]