Poverty of voodoo sta­tis­tics: Pol­i­tics and the con­tri­bu­tion of Nol­ly­wood

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

Yes­ter­day, our dear coun­try Nigeria leap-frogged South Africa and be­came Africa’s largest econ­omy. We did this by chang­ing the base line for cal­cu­lat­ing our GDP from 1990 to 2000. This re­bas­ing boosted our eco­nomic growth by about 75%. The econ­omy grew from $292 bil­lion dol­lars to $510 bil­lion in one day. By this sta­tis­ti­cal feat, we have pro­gressed from the 37th to the 26rd largest econ­omy in the world. The econ­omy of South Africa is a mere $384 bil­lion so let’s all feel good; we are the great­est in Africa. My very warm con­grat­u­la­tions to our Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, who made the an­nounce­ment yes­ter­day.

The South Africans have up­set our feel­ings by be­ing mem­bers of G20 thereby steal­ing our po­si­tion as the great­est African na­tion and now we can be­gin our re­venge. The most painful was when the BRIC quickly de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, namely Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia and China were to be ex­panded by one; we all ex­pected it would be­come BRINC with the ad­di­tion of Nigeria. In­stead, it be­came BRICS with the ad­di­tion of South Africa. Now it’s set­tled, we have the largest African econ­omy since 2 p.m. yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

Let me say up front that I do not think that we are fal­si­fy­ing facts, even if we are em­bel­lish­ing them a lit­tle bit. Most gov­ern­ments over­haul GDP cal­cu­la­tions ev­ery five years to re­flect changes in out­put and con­sump­tion and we have not done ours for over twenty years. When Ghana re­based its GDP in 2010, out­put jumped 60 per­cent and from one day to the next, Ghana be­came a mid­dle-in­come coun­try. For Nigeria, our govern­ment is hop­ing that be­ing the con­ti­nent’s num­ber one econ­omy could prove an ir­re­sistible mag­net for for­eign in­vestors. Un­der the lead­er­ship of Ngozi Okon­joIweala, what we did was to up­date the con­tri­bu­tions of new sec­tors of the econ­omy. Nol­ly­wood come in very use­ful as the es­ti­mate of its an­nual con­tri­bu­tion to the Nige­rian econ­omy jumped from $500 mil­lion to $7 bil­lion, an in­cred­i­ble jump maybe, but why not, it’s all about good fic­tion. Thanks to the rapid growth of the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sec­tor, Nigeria has be­come Africa’s big­gest mo­bile mar­ket with an es­ti­mated 167 mil­lion sub­scrip­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Nige­rian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion.

There is no doubt that Nigeria has been grow­ing as a des­ti­na­tion for for­eign in­vestors ow­ing to the size of its con­sumer mar­ket and the in­creas­ing re­cov­ery of the cap­i­tal mar­ket. Sho­prite and Wal-Mart are mov­ing in mas­sively into the coun­try pre­cisely be­cause of the growth of the con­sumer mar­ket. The con­sumer in­dus­tries such as Nes­tle, Heineken, Cad­bury and Unilever are do­ing very well. Our own Dan­gote Ce­ment has al­ready made the tran­si­tion from a Nige­rian to an African gi­ant. There is a cred­i­ble nar­ra­tive about the growth of the Nige­rian econ­omy. The prob­lem with sta­tis­tics how­ever is that they only tell part of the story. In re­al­ity, the 75% growth of our econ­omy that hap­pened yes­ter­day would not mean any change in the lives of or­di­nary Nige­ri­ans. We will con­tinue to live with­out elec­tric­ity sup­ply and potable wa­ter. The pot­holes on our roads will not dis­ap­pear. And the in­se­cu­rity in the land will con­tinue. Our econ­omy is to­day ap­par­ently larger than that of Aus­tria, Malaysia and Thai­land.

The real is­sue for me how­ever is what does it re­ally mean to say our econ­omy is the largest in Africa. Nigeria re­mains a very poor coun­try with al­most 70% of the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing be­low the poverty line. No Nige­rian city has potable wa­ter for up to 30% of in­hab­i­tants. South Africa has a pop­u­la­tion of 52 mil­lion people com­pared to Nigeria’s 170 mil­lion. South Africa’s GDP per capita is how­ever $7,508 com­pared to $1,555 for Nigeria ac­cord­ing to 2012 sta­tis­tics. South Africa’s elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion is 40,000 megawatts and will dou­ble by 2025 to con­tinue feed­ing its large in­dus­trial base while in Nigeria; we are cur­rently strug­gling to pro­duce 3,000 megawatts.

Just last week, the World Bank Pres­i­dent clas­si­fied Nigeria among the world’s five ex­treme poor coun­tries. In quick re­sponse, the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chal­lenged the clas­si­fi­ca­tion, which is based on the large num­ber of poor people liv­ing in the coun­try. She ar­gued that us­ing the num­ber of poor people in a coun­try, ir­re­spec­tive of the coun­try’s level of de­vel­op­ment as the pa­ram­e­ter to rate Nigeria among na­tions with high poverty lev­els was wrong. She added that the phe­nom­e­non of large num­ber of poor people was pe­cu­liar to mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, which Nigeria be­longed. Cit­ing the ex­am­ple of In­dia, a mid­dlein­come coun­try, which is one of the largest economies in the world like Nigeria, Dr Okon­joIweala said the largest num­ber of poor people in the world re­sides in In­dia, China and other places. Nigeria, she con­cluded, was no ex­cep­tion, as the re­al­ity to­day was that most mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, in­clud­ing Brazil, have large num­ber of poor people.

For 100 mil­lion Nige­ri­ans liv­ing be­low the poverty line, what is the com­fort of know­ing that there are also lots of poor people in other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries such as Brazil and In­dia? For Nige­ri­ans, the real prob­lem is that they do not see the ben­e­fits of the 15 years of con­stant eco­nomic growth that we have had. Yes, it’s true that they have seen more Nige­ri­ans join the Forbes list of the world’s rich­est people but the Nige­rian people know that their lives and liveli­hoods are wors­en­ing ev­ery day.

This is where I have a prob­lem with the pos­i­tive spin Dr Okon­joIweala is al­ways giv­ing the econ­omy. Again last week, she an­nounced with glee that “af­ter two months of method­olog­i­cal work, the statis­ti­cians have come up with the data that 1.8 mil­lion people in the coun­try en­ter the job mar­ket yearly. I am happy to tell you that last year we were able to cre­ate 1.6 mil­lion jobs. So we are get­ting close to the 1.8 mil­lion that en­ter the job mar­ket.” She must be the only per­son in Nigeria to be­lieve that we cre­ated 1.6 mil­lion jobs last year. What we do know is that the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics is un­der enor­mous pres­sure to pro­duce pos­i­tive eco­nomic spin. What we see with our eyes is the pa­thetic pho­to­graphs of hun­dreds of thou­sands of young people des­per­ately strug­gling for the Nige­rian Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vice jobs and be­ing killed in the process. She should take us se­ri­ously and show us where the jobs were cre­ated and who got them. In most coun­tries, job sta­tis­tics is not un­der the con­trol of govern­ment and is done by in­de­pen­dent bod­ies. Why do we have a sit­u­a­tion in which govern­ment of­fi­cials can tell us any­thing they want to on job cre­ation? The new sta­tis­tics may be true but voodoo too as all Africans know is a true sci­ence. Voodoo sta­tis­tics can make us feel good but it’s more im­por­tant to ad­dress the prob­lems of 100 mil­lion Nige­ri­ans liv­ing be­low the poverty line.

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