“Growth without development”, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Digital authoritarianism and the echoes of Decree 4, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

An ephemeral “5 per cent” growth rate with diminishing purchasing power parity, more people strapped in poverty, unemployment, mass underemployment, millions out of school etc. is a delusional make-believe world thats building a time bomb primed for the future. As the French revolutionist, Régis Debray warned…”a graduate of industrial chemistry without the prospect of a job is like manufacturing a mobile bomb”.

Economic data released last week by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed a 5.01 per cent growth in Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2021. On the surface, it signals recovery. Predictably, the government and its cheerleaders were ecstatic that Nigeria’s economic recovery is on the right track. They should be, because a 5 per cent quarterly jump in performance has been the best recorded since President Buhari assumed office over six years ago. However, a critical look at government’s own data is necessary, as it is very telling and in itself a rebuke of Buhari’s harmful policies. Hopefully, they will take a deep dive into the data, learn some lessons and institute and implement better economic policies. From the outlay, domestic trade grew by 22 per cent. Good! This is because trade boomed after the pandemic lockdown was lifted. This growth would have been higher if the border closure with Benin Republic for 16 months was not in place. Still, what has the border closure achieved so far? Have we achieved self-sufficiency in rice production by now?

It is instructive that the growth was in the non-oil sector, chiefly trade, transportation, telecommunication, electricity, agriculture and manufacturing. Transportation contributed a whooping 77 per cent year-on-year growth. Despite the government’s earlier ill-informed earlier ban on new telephone SIM card acquisition and Twitter, telecommunications managed to post a 5.9 per cent growth. What would have happened without the restriction on new SIM cards and the Twitter ban?

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As a country, we need to face our daunting, harsh reality. How can the proceeds of growth be used to improve living standards? Growth in GDP is nothing if people cannot put food on the table or have money in their pockets. A better measure of growth is the Human Development Index. The HDI uses GDP, as well as education and health care indices.

Nigerian have had more than their share of economic trauma. From President Shehu Shagari’s austerity measures, General Buhari’s triune of import licensing, counter-trade and price control, General Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), to the IMF loan, etc. What does growth in the GDP mean for the common man? We are seeing what the great German economist, Andre Gunder Frank, who reached his apogee in the 1970s, called; “the development of underdevelopment ” and “growth without development”. With widespread insecurity, hunger, inadequate health services, a poor infrastructural base, millions of out-of-school children, this 5 per cent economic growth is without development. We hear about an increase in GDP, but there are no improvements in the living standards of Nigerians.

Predictably, the government is basking in the headline grabbing “good news” about “growth” and screaming whoopee from a debatable methodology, including the convenient announcement of the sudden profit-making of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Added to all is the curious appointment of a new head of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). None of these will obscure the real issue, which is that: Nigeria is still the poverty capital of the universe. We had the same problem when Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was banging on about Nigeria as the largest economy in Africa. Side-by-side with the statistics were inconvenient issues relating to macroeconomic instability, a 17 per cent year-on-year inflation, a consumer Price Index (CPI) not looking good, which constantly eroded purchasing power parity, admist an abysmal health infrastructure and a pathetic health insurance coverage (less than that of Togo). GDP growth and its feel good effects on the country’s leadership is excitable but it does not tell the full story. As a country, we need to face our daunting, harsh reality. How can the proceeds of growth be used to improve living standards? Growth in GDP is nothing if people cannot put food on the table or have money in their pockets. A better measure of growth is the Human Development Index. The HDI uses GDP, as well as education and health care indices.

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Humoured by financial journalists to expatiate on the Hindustan double-digit growth rate achieved by his government, Singh’s response was sage like: “Let us concentrate not on ephemeral growth rates but on the amount of hospital beds added, increases in school enrollment and so forth, that is a better way to assess a government”. This is what we want.

When he was a game changing Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, a wise old bird who was remarkably prepared, having been governor of the Central Bank and Finance Minister was not easily taken by flattery. Humoured by financial journalists to expatiate on the Hindustan double-digit growth rate achieved by his government, Singh’s response was sage like: “Let us concentrate not on ephemeral growth rates but on the amount of hospital beds added, increases in school enrollment and so forth, that is a better way to assess a government”. This is what we want.

A positive benefit is to know this growth for what it is and work harder at sustainable development. With Nigeria’s economic circumstance, one has to appreciate the genius of Andre Gunder Frank and bring to the fore, in terms of a debate about “the development of underdevelopment” and “growth without development”. An ephemeral “5 per cent” growth rate with diminishing purchasing power parity, more people strapped in poverty, unemployment, mass underemployment, millions out of school etc. is a delusional make-believe world thats building a time bomb primed for the future. As the French revolutionist, Régis Debray warned in his sixties treatise, “Revolution in the revolution”, “a graduate of industrial chemistry without the prospect of a job is like manufacturing a mobile bomb”.

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Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú, an advocate, strategist and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Twitter: @BamideleUpfront; Facebook: facebook.com/Bamidele. BAO

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