GDP: Not Yet Uhuru,By Ali M Ali

okonjo-iweala newNigerians should be jumping for joy. But the shout of ecstasy has stuck in the throat. This is puzzling. Why the gloom among us, the hassled class of perpetual hewers of wood and fetchers of water, when the figures say there is a boom? This is, indeed, perplexing.
The news that our economy is the biggest on the continent should, inherently, engender a national merriment of gargantuan proportion. We, after all, are a people hopelessly hooked on size. We take pride in our bulk. How often we tell ourselves that we are the “giant of Africa”. Some cynics but no less patriotic, say it’s a giant on mosquitoes’ legs.
Some nations are addicted to enterprise. Some to industry. We are obsessed by sheer immensity. If you want to annoy us, under state our mass. Nothing short of stating “we are the giants of Africa” is good enough. God save the scholar or anyone for that matter, to do the inexcusable-understate our frame.
Everything about us bespeaks of volume. We have the ‘biggest’ population on the continent. One in every four blacks on the face of the earth is from among us. We are the continent’s largest oil producer. The richest Blackman is from our shores. He is the biggest cement producer on the continent. The ruling party fancies its self as a ‘behemoth’, the largest party on the continent. It has set for itself the task of ruling for 60 years. Its 15 year record has left us gnashing teeth in regret.
Our president has the largest presidential fleet of aircrafts. Our governments, past and present, plan the ‘biggest’ development plan. Our intellectuals have vast and countless degrees on the continent. Our bureaucracy is easily the largest and certainly, the most pampered on the continent. I could go on. The list is endless. And everything ‘Nigeriana’ is in the superlative.
So why the visible lack of cheer that our economy has grown so phenomenally in 24 years as to, literally, catapult past South Africa’s, easily the continent’s most sophisticated ? Why the long face? Why not dance ‘skelewu’ that our economy has, leapfrogged from Continental No3 to No1? There was a time, the economy of the giant had sluggishly sauntered behind South Africa and Egypt.
One or two educated guesses may help explain why Nigerians not in the category of men of timber and power, sneer at latest statistics that say our economy is ‘growing’ rapidly. I digress.
My knowledge of the economy is very native. In other words, it is untainted by such high sounding gobbledygook shamelessly borrowed from Bretton Wood institutions to flabberwhelm and overghast. Conventionally, you ‘flabbergast’ and ‘overwhelm’ ordinary folks with waffle and piffle to bamboozle. That is the story of this economic team “ably’ led by Okonjo-Iweala. They have been over generous in the bamboozling department.
The bunk ‘rebasing’ captures the spurt in the economy. It means that there has been frenetic economic activities not captured officially by monitors of the economy in the past nearly a quarter of a century. This is, indeed, true. From 1990 when the economy was fully “deregulated” by the junta of that time and politics minutely regulated, upright Nigerians, had ran from pillar to post to make ends meet. Among the products testifying to the undying spirits of all Nigerians not in the larcenous category, is Nollywood. It is the nation’s equivalent of Hollywood and Bollywood. For a nation passionate about size, Nollywood is a dream. It is the largest film industry on the continent. In sheer size, it is second only to Hindi’s Bollywood.
Flicks from Nollywood have become so popular continentally that some of its actors are better recognized in some countries than the President. Today, Nollywood is a mega movie industry providing jobs to hundreds of thousands of Nigerians and foreigners alike. More than half of Africa Magic’s featured movies are from Nollywood. This happy story is independent of any government intervention, past or present.
Since its dawn in 2001,the telecomm subsector has given the national economy a major boost. Until it happened, having a telephone line, fixed or wireless, was like drilling a borehole with a needle. For 70 years, NITEL,the lone telecoms service provided had behaved arrogantly. It provided only 500,000 lines. Even at that, it behaved as if it was dong a favour to its clients. Expectedly its monopoly of such a crucial sector gave rise to sundry corruption. Today there are well over 100 million lines almost one for every citizen.
These are majorly the fresh frontiers, the ‘rebasing’ was anchored. Still Nigerians disbelieve. My gumption tells me that the reason the celebration drums are deafeningly silent is the timing and the politicization of the news. Just two weeks ago, the World Bank listed Nigerian among the extremely poor countries of the world70 percent of the population subsists on one dollar per day. Two weeks later, our economy ‘is the biggest’ on the continent with a GDP of $509.9 billion.
In a one hundred metres dash, Nigeria’s economy is Usain Bolt to South Africa’s $384 billion GDP. Again, why the disconnect between the government and the people on this development?
We are a nation of extreme paradoxes. A nation of scabby poverty and gaudy luxury, of hard idealism and hard cynicism. A country that imports what it has and exports what it doesn’t have.
A country whose government plans big and delivers at the height of a pygmy. A country led, over time, by a coterie of bandits progressively more depraved than the departing group.
It is easy to see why Nigerians are unimpressed and unbelieving. Our economy simply defies logic. How can an economy that operates at the level of consumption “overtake’’ an economy that operates at the level of production?
It must be that the economy, like our current leaders, is voodoo operated. With fractured infrastructure, debilitating energy and incompetent manpower, it is a miracle that it has has not collapsed under this sustained assault and serial rape by the managers. It has shown incredible resilience. Even in utopia, these statistics are far from Uhuru.

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