MDG and 2020 Goals – Nigeria’s Hidden Potential

This is an excerpt of UNDP comments on Nigeria on the progress of its Millennium Development Goals following a 2006 status report. Of the eight goals, UNDP foresaw only the achievement of universal primary education, environmental sustainability and global development partnerships. UNDP, which is official monitor of the UN declaration, goes on to say that availability of current data and limited funding for further data generation are critical barriers in the programme. Bad news for a country that has more that just the MDGs to meet!

Former president OJ Obsanjo initiated the ambitious 2020 plan – of taking Nigeria to the top 20 world economies by that year – after being democratically elected to power in 1999 following decades of political uncertainty and civil unrest. If the MDG targets are hard, considering both Nigeria’s current and projected fortunes, the 2020 goals are much tougher.

The extreme contradictions of Nigeria’s economy are part of academic lore. The second largest economy in the African continent earns an estimated $2.2 million every day from oil exports alone, yet its GDP per capita at just over $1,400 is comparable to some of the poorest nations. As of 2007, it has proven reserves of over 36 billion barrels in oil and 5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, yet more than 54% of its population continues to live in extreme poverty without access to fundamental necessities. Added to these are far less than optimistic human development indices and the latest threat of growing Islamic militancy in the Niger Delta region.

The MDGs that Nigeria is unlikely to achieve, according to the UNDP, are:

* Eradicating extreme hunger and poverty
* Promoting gender equality and empowering women
* Reducing child mortality
* Improving maternal health
* Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

The goals are part of the UN Millennial Declaration of 2000 that sets out to achieve universal basic human rights concerning health, education, shelter and security in a time bound manner by 2015. They call for genuine progress and reflect holistic development from the bottom up. For Nigeria, they present gargantuan challenges in terms of innovative strategy and effective execution.

At the very basic level, Nigeria’s goals presume a paradigm shift and large-scale overhaul of its legal, financial, energy and educational institutions. This will require overriding commitment on two critical aspects: effecting a mindset change at the grassroots level and working out radical policy changes for accountability and effective implementation. For a country riddled with ingrained corruption and administrative ineptitude, these can be defeating challenges.

For Nigeria to have a realistic shot at meeting its twin objectives, history holds the strongest argument in favour of entrepreneurship development. Enterprises have been the backbone of rapid but durable economic growth the world over, starting with the UK in the ’70s and spreading across to US, Europe and large sections of Asia. Entrepreneurship is a cornerstone for economies that have triumphed by successfully capitalising on their natural and human resources. For a country like Nigeria, richly endowed in both land and people, it offers the unmistakable opportunity of viable accelerated development.

In the context of its goals, entrepreneurship development also offers Nigeria a chance at turning weakness into strength. Africa’s most populous nation with a headcount of 148 million is a latent powerhouse in terms of the workforce necessary to take its economy into overdrive. Rural Nigeria in fact has uncharted capacity in terms of small and medium enterprise development, together with massive agriculture potential due to its tropical climate. Earlier this year, the government actually admitted that over 90% of all new jobs in the country were being accounted for by the informal economy.

Nigeria’s mammoth unorganised sector is its veritable backbone and makes up, according to some estimates, as much as 65% of the formal economy. A plethora of activities in this sector has been the traditional provider of incomes and livelihoods to much of Nigeria’s poverty-ridden population. Successive decades of non-inclusive growth have left this vast majority fending for itself and surviving on cottage-level, backyard employment in small-scale enterprises. Over the years, this economy has multiplied in both scope and dynamism, and currently provides 80% of rural employment opportunities and 60% of all urban jobs. The crux of the matter is that Nigeria has an available and sizeable manpower that has hands-on entrepreneurial experience and is ready to be mobilised in government-guided venture schemes. This is a substantial, if hidden potential for the country.

Historically, the bulk of Nigeria’s current economic problems grew out of a traditional over-dependence on the oil industry to the detriment of almost all other sectors. The reforms process initiated after 1999 focussed on undoing this and achieved a healthy 7% growth rate in the non-oil sector between 2003 and 2006, comparable to average growth rates for the entire economy. Further, Abuja initiated first steps in the right direction by deregulating oil prices, disinvesting oil refining and marketing entities and successfully negotiating with the London and Paris clubs for conditional waiver of outstanding debts. The Virtual Poverty Fund was initiated soon after the debt relief in 2005 to divert finances toward poverty eradication. Nigeria has been allocating an estimated $1 billion annually to support revamp operations in health, education, sanitation and energy and related sectors since 20062. Additional legislative measures have been brought about to promote micro-financing and the growth of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Significant progress has been made the world over in achieving many of the Millennium Goals. According to UN data, average global incomes rose by 21% in the decade since 19003. Positive figures are also being reported in the areas of child mortality, life expectancy and access to drinking water, together with a fall of over 130 million in the number of people living in extreme poverty for the same period. However, the progress has been far from uniform and sub-Saharan Africa remains the acknowledged epicentre of the crisis. Due to its sizeable economy and population, as also its strategic influences, Nigerian progress in the MDS and 2020 goals are often reflective of the entire region.

Practical lessons come from Asia, which has seen rapid and significant development despite problems that are fundamentally not unlike Nigeria’s. An especial reason behind this variable difference in progress is the difference between policy and execution. Beyond a dedicated commitment to achieve its targets, Nigeria faces the ubiquitous challenge of effective implementation of its reform and regulation measures.

In 2007, the IMF listed Nigeria 41st in its ranking of global economies, based on a combination of indicators including GDP, Gross National Product and per capita income. Meeting both its MDG and 2020 goals will require Nigeria to compete against economic powerhouses like the US, Japan, Germany, China and the UK. Clearly, how it fares in the final analysis will depend as much on the intensity of its efforts, as on the amount of innovation and ingenuity it brings to the process.