By: Theo Ogbonna, founder, President/CEO
Ladies and gentlemen, you are all warmly welcome to this fifth edition of the Democracy and Political Participation Conference. My perspective and focus for this conference is the stimulation and sustenance of good governance supported by strong economic growth.
For Nigeria, according to the 2013/2014 growth rate statistics released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the services sector grew to around 50 percent of total GDP from 25 percent. Manufacturing, which used to account for 2 percent, now stands at 7 percent, the mining and construction sector accounts for around 20 percent, and agriculture declined to 20 percent from more than 30 percent.
Nigeria has leapfrogged South Africa to become the continent’s largest economy following the recent rebasing of her GDP. That is a heart-warming development. In spite of that, the South African economy still looks like the stronger of the two and is more appealing as an investment destination. In any case, moving up ten notches to become the world’s 26th largest economy, Nigeria has joined the burgeoning club of middle-income countries.
The new figures illustrate the diversification of the Nigerian economy which successive governments have pursued over the years; though her industrial and agricultural base still remains weak. The economy is still heavily dependent on receipts from the sale of fossil fuels and thus greatly susceptible to external shocks-like the one we are currently experiencing. The falling price of crude oil exports has once more exposed our overreliance on a single source of revenue.
In addition, the growth of Nigeria’s GDP, while impressive, has not rubbed off on the living standards of the majority of her people - which still remain abysmally low.
Nigeria, with a population of 170 million people, is an investment destination mainly due to the sheer size of its market. Infrastructure deficit has conspired with bad governance to ensure that it lags behind other African countries in terms of attraction of direct foreign investment.
The greatest barrier to increasing economic development in Nigeria and indeed the rest of Africa is corruption - ostensibly a challenge of governance. Corruption steals the initiative to excel from the people. It dampens the spirit of industry, discourages hard work and boosts inefficiency.
It is high time Nigeria strengthened her laws and legislation to stem the tide of corruption and also to stimulate and sustain politico-economic growth. To achieve this, Nigeria must:
· Institute a truly independent judiciary;
· Institute a truly independent electoral body;
· Review the electoral finance act and transparently enforce the
existing electoral laws;
· Partner with and provide training and support for community and youth
development initiatives aimed at capacity-building, peace-building and poverty
· Provide a free press and free access to information;
· Reinforce the bold policy measures that have seen inequality decline in
the past, while registering positive economic growth each year;
· Spend more on social protection and provide greater access to basic education;
(Education remains the cornerstone of democracy which itself drives
· Plug wastages from bogus contracts awarded to rogue companies which
have scant regard for international best practices, and avoid another regime of
debt overhang, improving the efficiency of the tax system;
· Deepen regional integration with other African countries to accelerate
development across the continent, set minimum wage standards, and
share scientific research and technology.
These are clear governance issues that must be addressed fast. Transparent, inclusive governance and real democratic culture, supported by rule of law, are necessary for sustainable economic growth.
Efforts to empower citizens, and build trust and legitimacy should be accompanied by local, state and federal mechanisms to ensure transparency, accountability and responsiveness. These could be complemented by the institution of a culture of checks and balances with the active involvement of civil society organizations.
"Rethinking and strengthening socio-economic development strategies in Nigeria, nay Africa, and the contemporary world" is challenging, but at the same time – it’s critical.