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Rotimi Fawole: Nigeria’s misery index
by Rotimi Fawole
“Single digit inflation doesn’t mean the misery index is down…” – @AbdulMahmud1, 19:52, 27th Feb 2013
I saw that tweet and felt it articulated what was going through my mind when I first saw the federal government’s “emancipation proclamation”. The World Bank had apparently confirmed the hard work of the PDP over past few years, announcing a reduction in the official poverty rate by 2%.
Let us first of all forget that a 2% movement is what we lawyers like to refer to as de minimis – a trifle. Let us ignore the fact, for instance, that commodities brokers, when striking deals, order for quantities ±5%. The government took this as a sign that they are moving in the right direction.
Instead of 48% of the population living in poverty, thanks to the diligence of our leaders, now only 46% are. So, cue back-slapping and champagne glass-clinking. Government one-ups those dastardly, cowardly, twittering children of anger.
The vice president of the World Bank, who made this announcement in advance of the economic report to be released in March, also said that Nigeria’s GDP growth rate of 8% is not enough to reduce poverty in the country but the government’s people have chosen not to comment as loudly (if at all, that is) on this other detail. This sounds to me like the more important detail – that in spite of this reduction in poverty, which was de minimis anyway, we need our GDP to grow at a much faster rate.
For me, this has been the crux of the matter for the twittering children of anger – that the government rejoices at these negligible indicators because it has set its sights way too low. This government would be happy with a 2% reduction in corruption, for instance. After all, they expect us to be happy that a rail route that was inactive for a decade is now operational again (even though it only runs a weekly service and takes all of 30 hours to complete). Are they the first to build or operate a railway line?
They also brag about a 40% increase in power generation. We know that poor electricity is a huge factor in the demand for petrol, as we all run households with electricity generating sets, many owning more than one. Simple logic would dictate that such a significant increase in power generation would lead to a reduction in the demand for diesel and petrol. Why are we not being fed information on the effects of the increase in electricity generation? Is it because there are none (you know the media team and their penchant for brandishing whatever seems to be progress)? If there are none, then what exactly is the government celebrating?
Today, the joy is at achieving single-digit inflation. Congrats to them (or us) and long may it continue. Will it make business loans more accessible to those who really need them? Will it bring down the cost of borrowing in the country? Probably not, at least not until other factors that promote stability, such as enforceability of contracts, relative speed and predictability of the judicial process, increased effectiveness of the organs of law and order, coherence and continuity of government policy, increased literacy and employment, vastly reduced corruption, etc are also in place. How is the government doing on these counts?
Does this mean that we should dismiss whatever gains government is making? Of course not. But the government cannot continue to celebrate piecemeal gains as if significant progress is being achieved.
Real progress can only be measured, in my opinion, relative to reasonably achievable goals over the long and short term. If what we actually need is a 500% increase in electricity generation over a 4-year period, should 40% be cause for a victory song? If we are still struggling to put subsidy and pension thieves and other pilferers of our common wealth in prison, how can the government preface any public release with the statement “In line with our commitment to combat corruption…”?
The people in government need to realise that we WANT them to succeed. Their success would make us all very happy. Nigerians will venerate whoever makes our lives better. But you can’t piss on our legs and tell us it’s raining, not anymore. You don’t get to tell us that we’re better off while we’re living a different reality every single day.
So, government people, keep giving us figures from a performance index and we keep reeling the figures from our misery index. Eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, touch wood, they will tally.