Re­vers­ing Nige­ria’s dis­ar­tic­u­lated econ­omy

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An ar­tic­u­lated ve­hi­cle has var­i­ous parts, joined with riv­ets, bolts, and knots: It has the cabin, housing for the driver and his mate, and a flatbed, that may bear a con­tainer for goods, all fash­ioned to func­tion as a unit.

That its com­po­nents are joined, and not com­pacted, like a car, ex­plains why such a ve­hi­cle is re­garded as ar­tic­u­lated. To un­join the compartmen­ts, all you have to do is find, say, a screw­driver, and sim­ply un­cou­ple.

On the other hand, dis­ar­tic­u­la­tion, if you would like to take it from the point of view of the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion, is the sep­a­ra­tion of two bones at their joint, or point of con­tact, ei­ther nat­u­rally by way of in­jury, or by a sur­geon, maybe dur­ing the process of am­pu­ta­tion.

The med­i­cal metaphor of dis­ar­tic­u­la­tion ver­ily ap­plies to the Nige­rian econ­omy that is no more than a patch­work of dis­jointed, but re­lated, parts that also do not func­tion as a sys­tem, said to be the sum of the whole parts. The var­i­ous parts are un­co­or­di­nated, some go­ing this way and the oth­ers, that way.

A work­ing def­i­ni­tion of a dis­ar­tic­u­lated econ­omy, as ob­tained in nige­ria, is one in which pro­duc­tive sec­tors pro­duce goods that the econ­omy does not con­sume, and the cit­i­zens con­sume prod­ucts that their econ­omy does not pro­duce. In other words, the pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity is not re­lated to the ca­pac­ity of con­sump­tion.

In a curve by M. Eubal, “Dis­ar­tic­u­la­tion oc­curs when the main ac­tiv­i­ties of the econ­omy are in­creas­ingly dis­so­ci­ated from the de­mands of the wage earn­ers.” What this is say­ing is that when your pro­duc­tive ca­pa­bil­ity is out of sync with your do­mes­tic con­sump­tion needs, your labour is sim­ply go­ing to have noth­ing to do very soon.

Well, if you want to check the ob­verse, an ar­tic­u­lated econ­omy is where the pro­duc­tive cap­i­tal (money, ma­chines, and ma­te­rial) is di­rectly re­lated to the ca­pac­ity of con­sump­tion, so that, to a large ex­tent, res­i­dents of such a na­tion con­sume what they pro­duce.

If you would quit the aca­demic nar­ra­tive, the dire re­al­ity of Nige­ria’s econ­omy can be de­scribed in the fol­low­ing words: There are three of four sub-sec­tors of the econ­omy that should func­tion like a unit, but they are not.

The agri­cul­tural sec­tor, which should pro­duce food crops and raw ma­te­ri­als in­put for the agro-al­lied in­dus­try, is barely pro­duc­ing enough. A lot of food items are im­ported to sup­ple­ment lo­cal pro­duc­tion.

A cot­ton farmer in north­ern nige­ria once ad­mit­ted that it was not prof­itable for him to sell his pro­duce lo­cally. He even won­dered who was in a po­si­tion to buy his pro­duce at the ap­pro­pri­ate price, and be able to use it as raw ma­te­rial.

No one needs to say too much be­fore you can recog­nise that the crude oil mined in Nige­ria is an up­stream busi­ness. Even the down­stream seg­ment of the oil in­dus­try im­ports pe­tro­leum prod­ucts be­cause the lo­cal pe­tro­leum re­fin­ing in­fra­struc­ture is co­matose.

Nige­ri­ans are anx­iously wait­ing, with bated breath, on bil­lion­aire Aliko Dan­gote to put his 650 bar­rels per day re­fin­ery to use. Nige­ria’s pe­tro­leum sec­tor is run es­sen­tially by for­eign cap­i­tal and technology.

The man­u­fac­tur­ing sub-sec­tor is on wounded knees, not be­ing able to op­er­ate be­cause of in­ap­pro­pri­ate, in­ad­e­quate, and di­lap­i­dated in­fra­struc­ture. There­fore, the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor is un­able to utilise the lit­tle raw ma­te­ri­als pro­duced by both the agri­cul­tural and mining sec­tors.

Just think of the fail­ure to de­liver agri­cul­tural in­put, like co­coa beans, from the far­m­gate, to the works of a choco­late or bev­er­age man­u­fac­turer.

Also, think of the fail­ure to de­liver grey tex­tile fabric from a weav­ing shed, to a process house, where it will be con­verted into fin­ished fabric be­fore be­ing turned into gar­ments.

A ma­jor miss­ing link in these cases is an ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient trans­port in­fra­struc­ture.

You could there­fore con­clude that the agri­cul­tural, mining, and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors, which should have a firm value chain flow, are func­tion­ing at tan­gent, if not com­pletely against, one an­other.

Mar­ket­ing, or to put it more ap­pro­pri­ately, buy­ing and sell­ing, is the only sec­tor that seems to be func­tional in Nige­ria. But the bad news is that it is al­most to­tally delinked to the other sub-sec­tors. Most of the com­modi­ties traded in Nige­ria, the ul­ti­mate trad­ing out­post, are im­ported.

And the trad­ing is funded by money got from sale of crude oil, turned into salaries of pub­lic ser­vants, con­trac­tors’ fees, and out­right fraud; Di­as­pora re­mit­tances; and a mix of pro­ceeds from sale of il­le­gal drugs and Ad­vance Fee fraud.

In an ar­ti­cle, “Struc­tural Dis­ar­tic­u­la­tion and Third World Hu­man Devel­op­ment,” pub­lished in In­ter­na­tional Journal of Com­par­a­tive So­ci­ety, Jie Huang sub­mits: “In­abil­ity (of a dis­ar­tic­u­lated econ­omy) to ab­sorb (mean­ing, to pro­vide jobs for) the ma­jor­ity of the labour force into pro­duc­tive ac­tiv­i­ties leads to weak pur­chas­ing power of the masses.”

He con­cludes, with a tone of res­ig­na­tion: “This lack of cor­re­spon­dence be­tween pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion sti­fles the driv­ing forces of eco­nomic growth, crip­pling over­all eco­nomic and so­cial progress.”

What this sug­gests is that the re­ces­sion that the cur­rent gov­ern­ment boasts to have over­come is caused by an eco­nomic sys­tem that doesn’t func­tion like a sys­tem, but com­mits its fi­nances into im­port­ing prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing, and also con­tin­ues to send its pro­duc­tive man­power re­sources away on eco­nomic mi­gra­tion. That is a recipe for eco­nomic down­turn and dol­drums.

Nige­ria’s Prof Claude Ake, fondly re­ferred to as ac­tivistscho­lar-the­o­rist, puts the blame for the state of things in nige­ria, and the rest of Africa, on the in­tran­si­gence and ma­nip­u­la­tive tactics of the metropoli­tan pow­ers of the West.

Ake avers: “The rigid­ity of the in­ter­na­tional divi­sion of labour has not al­lowed African (read also Nige­rian) economies to break out of the role of pri­mary (goods) pro­duc­ers, for rea­sons which in­clude lack of ac­cess to technology, the com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage of the in­dus­tri­alised na­tions in man­u­fac­tur­ing, and the con­straints of do­mes­tic mar­ket.”

It looks like he is sug­gest­ing that in­ter­na­tional mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal has per­ma­nently as­signed the roles of sup­plier of pri­mary goods, and con­sumer of fin­ished goods, to Nige­ria, the rest of Africa, and what re­mains of the Third World.

As if to grant the op­por­tu­nity for equal time to Nige­rian, or African, state ac­tors, Ake adds: “The na­tion­al­ist move­ment, in­vari­ably a coali­tion of eth­nic, pro­fes­sional, re­li­gious, and so­cial groups, tends to dis­in­te­grate with the elim­i­na­tion of im­pe­rial con­trol.

“... The (ini­tial) sol­i­dar­ity of the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers suf­fer be­cause of dif­fer­ences in ap­proach to (solv­ing) the prob­lems of ad­min­is­ter­ing and de­vel­op­ing the coun­try.” Ake is wear­ing a fit­ting shoe for the other foot.

But some crit­ics ac­tu­ally think the prob­lem is not just about the vi­cious­ness of in­ter­na­tional mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal, and that of ide­o­log­i­cal, even pri­mor­dial, dif­fer­ences of the stream of nige­ria’s state ac­tors.

They think the real prob­lem is that of ig­no­rance of the state ac­tors; they aver that this pack of pol­i­cy­mak­ers hardly un­der­stands the is­sues at stake, and so their pri­or­i­ties and choices hardly ad­dress the prob­lems at hand.

The re­cent ap­point­ment of the Pres­i­den­tial Eco­nomic Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee by the Pres­i­dent, Ma­jor Gen­eral Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), may just be an ad­mis­sion on the part of the po­lit­i­cal elite that they hardly have the so­lu­tions to nige­ria’s prob­lems.

What Nige­ria re­ally needs to do now is to in­ten­tion­ally en­gage its cap­i­tal and labour to meet the con­sump­tion, or “stom­ach in­fra­struc­ture” needs of its cit­i­zens.

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