It’s the Stats, Stupid!

by Isidore Emeka Uzoatu

Back then in the USA, it was someone in Bill Clinton’s campaign team as they battled to trump Bush Snr’s presidency in 1992 that’s credited with coining the snowcone ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’

Ever since, it has become the catchphrase for whomsoever wanted to unseat every democratically elected leader the world over.

It has turned most so even here in Nigeria presently. But hindsight shows that it didn’t start today. Or just yesterday, as the case is. Indeed, keen observers of the country’s transitions have traced it farther back in time. More so given that, like most of the other nations of the continent, we have never been blessed with a rosy economy.

We can quickly flashback to the year 2015. When a certain reformed democrat wanted a return to the saddle he had been toppled from as a military despot by his then brothers in arms. Posted as the only possible candidate that could revive the nation’s perennially beleaguered economy, he soon achieved the cherished diadem. Though to an equivocal éclat, I must add.

Anyway, six years on in his ensuing turbulent tenure, enough water has passed under the bridge of his regime for the medicine he applied on his predecessor to be ‘force fed’ on him. Much to his chagrin, perhaps. But as much as he – and all his men – has tried to cover his tracks, the statistics are baffling, to say the least.

In the latest indices released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), annual inflation only eased for a 2nd month after a long spell of ascendance. Topping at 18.12% in April, it was only a 0.19% climb down from the 17.93% it managed in May.

Meanwhile, it’s food counterpart as showcased in the prices of bread, cereals, milk, egg and sundry beverages moved from 22.72% in April to 22.28% in May.

Like it stands, the earlier annual inflation rate posted earlier had been the highest ever in more than 3 years. Interestingly, the figure still stands off the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) target of keeping it within 6-9% by a wide margin. Also worth pointing out is the fact that the very lofty target has remained unattained for five uninterrupted years.

All things considered, it’s not as if the government has been resting on its oars. In its dream to keep the country’s economy solvent, they have, among other measures, expended much energy to shun foreign loans. Instead, they have targeted such other revenue sources as better taxation and harnessing the plethora of unclaimed dividends abounding in the country.

Of them later.

Yet, according to the Finance and Budget ministry, they have since exceeded their 2021 borrowing target in the struggle for funds to run the year’s budget. Originally, the aim had been to borrow no more than 3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But rather inexplicably the total has climbed to 4%.

Like broadcast before the winds of change assailed, the target was to boost government finances with a more favourable revenue-to-GDP outlay. However, all the effort to increase the ratio to 15% from the present 8% has all but hit the rocks. Developments tailing in from the repercussions of the Coronavirus lockdowns and its ancillary components, no doubt.

According to the minister in charge, Zainab Ahmed, following the most potent – lower receipts from oil and gas – they have been restrained to local and foreign borrowing. And with total public debt currently estimated to be topping 33 trillion Naira, some 84 billion US dollars, the handshake is gradually reaching the elbow. Already, a bill for another tranche is said to have been forwarded to the National Assembly, awaiting the usual speedy assent.

As it stands, the statistics are startling enough. With the unemployment and poverty rates currently at 33.3% and 40.1% respectively according to the NBS, there’s no denying the intensity of the fire on our national mountain. Worse still, it’s as though the personnel to fight it appear to be unequal to the daunting task.

And unless something drastic is done, it’s bound to hit the roof with the portended chaos. What with more than 2/3rd of the total being domestic. Compounded, as is, by the reality that up to 83% of revue has to be ploughed back to the servicing of outstanding loans.

And to make matters worse, most of these loans are spent on projects that circumvent a particular area of the country. In turn, this has caused more insecurity in otherwise peaceable areas of a country on the cusp being overrun by terrorists, bandits and ‘unknown gunmen’. Some of them even deprive farmers from their farms this farming season, thus, adumbrating a looming food shortage.

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