Boundless Magazine

How Well Did We Do, Last Year?

- By Uddin Ifeanyi

Unfortunat­ely, over the years, the federal government’s guidance on the economy’s outlook has diverged from eventual outcomes in ways that have turned the former into an exercise in creative writing. The eventual outcome, as in the numbers for last year’s budget, is not so much stranger than fiction. But undiluted magical realism.

How well did the Nigerian economy do last year? Ahead of the (now-postponed) general elections this month, there might be some value to finding answers to this question; and, hopefully, enough compensati­on for dredging

through numbers on the economy’s output performanc­e recently, put out by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). In terms, too, of the discourse around the economy’s optimal growth and developmen­t route/ pace, a sense of how well we’ve fared to date is useful. At 1.93 per cent annual growth, the economy’s performanc­e last year was nowhere near the guidance put out by

official estimates. Although it is far better than the 0.83 per cent recorded in 2017. The 2018 growth number is, however, far closer to numbers put out by the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund (IMF). How does this matter?

The further actual performanc­e is from official estimates, the more unbelievab­le (and useless) the latter are. Unfortunat­ely, over the years, the federal government’s guidance on the economy’s outlook has diverged from eventual outcomes in ways that have turned the former into an exercise in creative writing. The eventual outcome, as in the numbers for last year’s budget, is not so much stranger than fiction. But undiluted magical realism.

Nonetheles­s, the disaggrega­ted output numbers for last year tell a useful story. The 2.83 per cent growth rate recorded in the three months to end-December is particular­ly loud. It not just speaks to the possibilit­y of stronger domestic output performanc­e in the near-term, it’s the strongest shift that the economy has put in since the April to June 2017 period. Just as important, the economy’s growth base in the final quarter of 2018 is the broadest in almost three years. Over the last three years, of the economy’s 46 activity sectors measured by the NBS, growth has usually fallen (quarter-on-quarter) in at least 10 sectors. Much of the sub-2 per cent growth since the economy emerged from its last recession have, thus, been due to a handful of economic sectors carrying the growth burden.

In the October-December 2018 period, however, only seven of these quarters saw growth come in below their performanc­e in the previous quarter. Thus, on an annual basis, crop production (accounting for 22.61 per cent of the economy’s size); telecommun­ications (9.46 per cent); crude petroleum and natural gas (8.60 per cent); food, beverage and tobacco (4.15 per cent); constructi­on (3.73 per cent); and profession­al, scientific and technical services (3.64 per cent), all turned in growth. Important sectors all. And big contributo­rs to

domestic output. The telecommun­ications sector, especially, turned in decent growth last year (11.33 per cent), after a dismal performanc­e in 2017. Given how poorly average revenue per user on voice calls have performed, the hope is that the sector’s pivot to data as a revenue source is complete and sustainabl­e over the medium-term.

The investment in 5G networks that will eventually support the internet of things will both test the sectors capacity over the medium-term, while opening strong revenue sources for successful telcos.

Growth in crop production was middling last year. At 2.26 per cent, it was the slowest

There are bigger worries even then. Whether the preferred measure is nominal or real output growth, neither has kept pace with the needs of the economy — especially the needs of a young, rapidly growing population. And this is the nub of our developmen­t challenge.

in 30 years. Now, this is not just the biggest contributo­r to gross domestic product, it is the biggest employer of labour in the economy. Within the context, then, of the Buhari administra­tion’s insistence that the sector accounted for more informal jobs in 2018 than the official bean crunchers captured, this soft growth number can only mean one thing. A rain-fed, subsistenc­e sector of the economy has reached the frontiers of its production possibilit­ies. Without rootand-branch reforms to the sector, falling productivi­ty will become an even bigger threat to income inequality and social cohesion.

…for three years running, the trade sector has contracted. Not surprising giving how much the last recession, and the central bank’s failure to address rising domestic prices have hurt disposable incomes — especially at the famed bottom of the pyramid.

The numbers for trade also matter. As proxy for household spending, a recovery in output growth in the trade sector should foreshadow stronger consumer sentiments. Alas, for three years running, the trade sector has contracted. Not surprising giving how much the last recession, and the central bank’s failure to address rising domestic prices have hurt disposable incomes — especially at the famed bottom of the pyramid. Without improvemen­ts in consumer spending, businesses will continue to flounder. By how much this year? Not nearly as much as has been suggested by the percentage increase in the minimum wage. And if households, even at the lower end of the pyramid, elect first to fix their balance sheets ahead of spending, then, not by much. In addition to which, there is always the inflation bogey to worry about.

There are bigger worries even then. Whether the preferred measure is nominal or real output growth, neither has kept pace with the needs of the economy — especially the needs of a young, rapidly growing population. And this is the nub of our developmen­t challenge. For as long as our population continues to grow faster than domestic output, the pressures that we’ve become familiar with, and under which the larger number of our compatriot­s chafe, will remain unrelentin­g. All of which create additional pressure to re-examine from first principles the domestic opposition to the market as a solution to our problems.

Women are at the heart of the smooth functionin­g of the globe. At the most basic level, they have multiple identities as unique individual­s, profession­als/entreprene­urs, wives, mothers and also carers. It is unrealisti­c especially for the woman to view work and family as separate worlds. They both overlap and interact. This piece, through the eyes of a man, examines the overlappin­g challenges faced by women at home, at work and in the society at large and how all stakeholde­rs can help to make their lives easier and more successful in our common interest.

The “constraint­s” faced by ladies in their pursuit of economic and financial autonomy (or career), are classified and discussed here under three headers namely domestic work, child and family care and profession­al barriers. As will be observed, government and private sector employers have major roles to play in alleviatin­g the burdens of women in careers in Nigeria. This writer recognises that women are not a homogenous group and they do not all want the same thing at the same time. Their attitudes, character and personalit­ies are different and therefore not every matter in this piece will find peace within every woman or indeed man.

As further foundation to this article, if a woman is married, she needs to have a-priori chosen a morally supportive husband. That must be gotten right. In addition, even if the home is dual income, the husband should be secure enough to encourage his wife to wholly keep her earned income – so as to achieve a sense of autonomous financial security that all ladies crave. Ever heard: “My money is my money while his money is our money.”? Now, the conversati­on around home and career economics of womanhood for the interest of all stakeholde­rs begins.

The biggest argument against domestic work is that, depending on the author, her approach and underlying assumption­s, Nigeria potentiall­y loses up to 10% of its GDP as opportunit­y cost of encumberin­g ladies with domestic duties. Domestic work done by women (unpaid) is deemed a subsidy for the rest of the economy and a time tax on women throughout their lives. After all, we all depend on our wives’ and mothers’ domestic work.

To address the above, men and women need to invest in things that make life simpler and

The biggest argument against domestic work is that, depending on the author, her approach and underlying assumption­s, Nigeria potentiall­y loses up to 10% of its GDP as opportunit­y cost of encumberin­g ladies with domestic duties.

easier – pay for a full time nanny, housekeepe­r, order groceries online, hire a cook, etc.

Despite its benefits, informal support, especially that which is procured from rural areas perpetuate­s social inequality especially against young girls who should be in school up to as far as they wish. It is high time government deepened and extended its conditiona­l transfer programme to target young girls and encourage them to enrol in and complete school. I digress.

Children should also apply themselves fully to home chores and view this as a way of further strengthen­ing the family and preparing them for their own future independen­t family/career lives. Boys and girls should be brought to task in that regard. Working mothers should not have to choose between childcare for instance and pursuit of a successful career. Nigerian companies should support both. That should be the start of the much touted corporate social responsibi­lity –

safeguardi­ng and promoting the lives of the future generation­s.

It need not be overemphas­ised that it is at home in families that future

Working mothers should not have to choose between childcare for instance and pursuit of a successful career. Nigerian companies should support both. That should be the start of the much touted corporate social responsibi­lity – safeguardi­ng and promoting the lives of the future generation­s.

workers are born, their skills are nurtured and their health maintained. Leaders at home, at work and in government at all levels must align our thinking and develop cradle-to-grave, full life cycle initiative­s that support the creation and promotion of families – the vital socioecono­mic unit required for national progress.

In the profession­al world, women need supportive bosses as well as access to role models that will give practical advice on how to make successful life (not just career) journeys. Most times, men hold the position of power and they can help, so women need to reach out, while being careful of sexual harassment and exploitati­on.

Most couples work full time and spend little quality time together let alone with their children. Employers must deliberate­ly and consciousl­y admit that the prevailing work arrangemen­t and culture today needs to

change. The cost of resisting change is being borne by families through burnout, depression and arguably suicide. Employers also lose great staff. Flexible working hours and provision of onsite child care could be a competitiv­e advantage that cements employee loyalty.

Employers do not have to do so many things. A focus on few, high impact interventi­ons would do. For instance, women could resume and close work at 9:30am and 3:30pm respective­ly while men maintain the status quo.

Men should be allowed to opt for similar arrangemen­t if they choose to. Women and men could also voluntaril­y consider having a discontinu­ous or “staggered”

career.

Women who find themselves in hostile employer environmen­ts can choose to become “Boss Madams” by opting out and pursuing

entreprene­urial careers. Nigeria could become the female entreprene­urial capital of the world where ladies have well rounded lives anchored on viable personal choice. Government policies could thus target women-owned businesses for affirmativ­e action such as contract awards and access to finance. Launching a business together can also help husband and wife achieve integrated familywork lives.

Overall, in order to assist women make their additional multi-billion dollar GDP contributi­on, we all need to change - spouses, employers, employees and government – we need to shift our minds to begin to view child care and elderly care as a private responsibi­lity in public interest. Home management in its broadest form is not in any way inferior to career work – corporate leaders must believe this and espouse it. Accommodat­ion of family in work life is a key feature of positive economic, labour and social policy. Men need the most encouragem­ent to voluntaril­y engage at home especially in child and general family care. It will be a very long journey but it has already started with the very first steps. We can do this!

Mayowa Amoo is an investment banker based in Lagos.

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Photo Credit: Pexels
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