In declaring his presidential interest, Senior Pastor at Citadel Global Community Church Tunde Bakare anchored his declaration on tripling Nigerian Gross Domestic Product, GDP, to 1.5 trillion dollars by 2030. He remains the only politician to mention the holy grail of a Trillion Dollar Economy as a political target. Other presidential aspirants love to make do with platitudes and other generics employed to tickle the ears of the electorate including their intention to divert less monies into theirs and cronies pockets.
However, Pastor Tunde Bakare did not elaborate on the means to triple Nigerian GDP in eight years. I am not aware he has shared the ways and means of achieving this objective by way of writing or using his pulpit as a platform to educate Nigerians on steps to break the trillion dollar mark. His pronouncement also remain a platitude because we didn’t hear a word from him as his party led our economy further away from the trillion dollar milestone.
This article is not on Pastor Bakare tripling Nigerian GDP, it is about our failure to recognise the importance of GDP as a prime economic index. The closest we have got to setting up such a target was Nigeria becoming one of the twenty largest economies in the world by 2020. A vision actually extrapolated for us by Goldman Sachs on observing our growth profile early in the 21st century. This was lamely adopted by late President Musa Yaradua. There was never a document that specified for us how large our economy had to be to achieve this vision.
Rather, people posit that of what importance is GDP with hunger in the land. They rather we focus on our Human Development Index, GINI coefficient and the likes. For the last three decades we have focused on Millennial Development Goals, Sustainable Development Goals and HDI and lowering the misery index. As with infrastructure acquisition we have decided to put the cart ahead of the horse.
Growing GDP at a rate much higher than population growth translates to baking a bigger national cake that can then be shared to attain SDG or HDI goals. Any wonder we have not made any progress on these fronts as countries that prioritise GDP growth. This weakness was perceived in changing the earlier MDGs to a sustainable one, the new SDGs. However, the solution was poorly addressed in the SDG document. Rather accelerated economic growth being given a stand alone priority it was tucked in as one of the seventeen goals. Meanwhile combating Climate Change was given a stand alone priority.
In general discussions on the economy the closest link to the GDP concept is people positing that ‘our common wealth is being looted’. We conflate wealth of our commons, this being the proper order of the words, with GDP. In the latter part of 18th century French Physiocrats and Scottish philosopher Adam Smith wrote manuals on the creation of national wealth. Actually Adam Smith’s tome The Wealth Of Nations is not a manual but a Bible!
Karl Marx contributed to the discourse in his epic ‘Das kapital’, this being more about wealth redistribution than wealth creation. In between are many others like Joseph Schumpeter who postulated that wealth might be destroyed in order to be newly created in the oxymoron, Creative Destruction. Computations and compilation of GDP was a further attempt to measure and quantify economic activities that takes place in the building of of a nations wealth. This was introduced in 1934 by American economist Simon Kuznets.
In a recent article eminent economist Professor Sheriffdeen Tella called for rebooting of the Nigerian economy. The Punch Editorial Board also called for reseting of the economy in its opinion to mark democracy day. No doubt 2023 is perceived as another change’ opportunity hence the call for rebooting the economy. However, the politicians need help in achieving a veritable change this time around. In simple terms economic thinkers need to fashion out a manual on the ‘how to’ create societal wealth for achieving a multitrillion dollar economy.
Making soundbites or regular mantra as we begin campaign season is the easier part. Knowing how to deliver on campaign policies and targets is the difficult part. In the past we have been saddled with all types and hypes of visions, action plans, SDGs and recently a Medium Term National Development Plan, not a single one has been successful. These have remained mere wishlists without the know-how of actualising items on the wishlists. Hence my call for a how to, non-partisan work on national wealth creation. The how to bake the national cake before any other venture of sharing national cake. It is after we as a nation achieve this how to in a rapid and sustainable manner can we have a rapid decline in our misery index.
A corollary of attaining a multi trillion dollar economy is the pace at which it is achieved. We could crawl to the milestone or through double digit economic growth achieve it within time frame Pastor Tunde Bakare gave, eight years. Another corollary to the target is the nature and quality of the newly attained status. Is it to be a bloated one as the increased production of natural commodities or is it to be one that engages a large percentage of the population in higher skill manufacturing jobs. Would our manufacturing sector contribute over 20 per cent to GDP from its current 9 per cent? Would less of our people engage in farming as happens elsewhere with less than 5 per cent of their population into farming. This is the hallmark of a transforming economy.
It follows that as our GDP grows our per capita income also grows and life improves across board. Our current par capita income hovers around $2000 dollars. Anything higher than a trillion dollar gdp means a $5000 per capita income. This surpasses a known threshold that automatically delivers finer things of life to the general populace even after allowing for the theft of proceeds of our commons. These are reasons for gunning for these targets over anything else. It becomes easier to finance and pursue our HDI or SDG targets from proceeds of a performing economy.
It is obvious that some policies work for the Nigerian economy than others. For example most government driven aspirations hardly work, while the private sector trudges along in this harsh environment. So there is full support for the Punch Editorial call for private sector led growth over a government engineered one. Any politician who comes out saying ‘my government will do this my government will do that’ should be suspect to a discerning listener. The question for us is, whom would we believe? A Samad Rabiu or Dangote that says I will deliver 10,000 megawatts of electricity to your sockets or a politician who says it?
There is a need for each State to compute it’s annual GDP. Focus must move to regional GDP and each governor must be judged on how he or she impacts state’s GDP. Focusing on GDP performance eliminates cherry picking that dominates how we assess our state and national actors. After all for as long as the contractual nature of our polity remains there will always be a project to sink monies into and get celebrated.
To sum up this discussion I believe there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Apart from the works of the likes of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Schumpeter there are other pragmatic books on our quest for generating national wealth. As Erik Reinert said in his book, ‘How Countries got Rich….and some Nations stay Poor’, there is a tool box available for creating wealth of nations, and I add, for depleting wealth of nations. There are comparative works on what has worked for other nations in recent past and thus can be emulated.Ten years ago our very own, Prof. Moghalu published a seminal book ‘Emerging Africa’ that can match other books on this subject. As the saying goes, if you intend to hide information from Nigerians put in a book particularly one that is not a recommended text for passing exams. On this note I wonder what percentage of readers kept faith to the end.