Nigerians re-elected President Buhari for another four years in what many have termed – a chance to make amends. In what could be called his third stint at the helm of affairs in Africa’s most populous country (Buhari 3.0), questions about a coherent economic strategy are already being asked. In the last dispensation, protectionist posturing was worsened by a management style perceived to be distant while crucial decisions were delayed.
The economy is set to continue its recovery from the worst recession in its history. Nonetheless, the forecast is for economic growth to remain well below historical averages in the next five years. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is set to reach $473.5bn in 2019 and rise to $680.9bn by 2022. This prediction will hinge, for the most part, on the current intensity of economic reforms and the current rate of investment is sustained.
Declining Income per Capita
It is important to note that Nigeria has a huge population of 180,000,000 and a population growth rate of 2.6% – higher than the 2018 GDP growth of 1.9%. GDP growth is projected to reach 2.0% and 2.2% in 2019 and 2020 respectively before rising to 3.2% by 2021. This means Nigeria would have had five consecutive years of declining income per capita – from 2016 to 2020. A burgeoning youth population is also unlikely to be matched by job growth, meaning unemployment – at over 40% – is likely to rise even further.
A breakdown of the GDP components shows that Nigeria’s gross fixed investment, at $66.5bn, will account for just 14.0% of GDP in 2019. This pales in comparison to that of other notable emerging economies – Brazil (19%), India (27.12%), China (42.86%), and South Africa (18.7%). Majority of countries in the world have a gross fixed investment of 18-22%. The EIU goes further to forecast that gross fixed investment in Nigeria will rise by just one basis points to 14.1% ($86.2bn) by 2022.
Why does this matter?
The importance of this component of GDP is that it is a clear indicator of the future productive capacity of the economy. The aforementioned basically means that the current and projected rate of investment is simply suboptimal and far below the level required to propel Nigeria to an accelerated growth path. It is incapable of providing Nigeria with the investment impetus that will have the desired multiplier effect on output. Nigeria has also grossly underinvested in its infrastructure. The existing infrastructure gap is estimated at over $300bn and requires 10% of GDP ($37.6bn)/annum over the next 10 years to bridge – an unlikely feat given that current infrastructure needs are far in excess of current
cash flows. Nigeria’s capital budget in 2018 was $7.98bn – 26.6% of the total budget and 2.2% of GDP. This compares to 6% of the combined GDP of emerging market economies. Nigeria’s share of emerging markets total spend on infrastructure is currently less than 1%.
Few options, Tough Choices
Nigeria’s high population growth rate means it must be much more efficient with economic policy. Putting Nigeria on an accelerated path to a free and market-driven economy requires making tough game-changing decisions now. It will begin by figuring out how to raise the level of gross fixed investment to levels above and beyond the global average of 18-22%. Investment in the next 3-5 years will depend on policies and incentives.
Galvanizing domestic and international investment will be crucial. This will require a structure that incentivises private investment considerably more than what is currently obtainable. Achieving this will require significant increases in public investment in infrastructure, in addition to more comprehensive and deep-seated market-oriented structural reforms.
Our Suggestions: Game-changing Formula
Raising the level of investment in infrastructure given the government’s current revenue and borrowing constraints requires rethinking ways to attract private sector funding in the form of Public Private Partnerships (PPP). Outright sale and concessions of government assets – airports, seaports, inner-city highways and trunk roads – should be a key consideration for policymakers.
Airports concession has the potential to lower the average cost for aviation operators by 50%. The government’s stake in the power distribution companies should be sold to the private sector while the power sector forbearance needs to be dealt with. The rail investment program needs to be accelerated while the road networks to major seaports need to improve. Another item that is top on the list of reforms is the foreign exchange policy where a movement to currency convertibility with minimal intervention is paramount. Fears of a wild depreciation if the Central Bank of
Nigeria lets go of its current policy of a managed float, are greatly exaggerated. The almost insignificant deviation between the parallel and the Investor Exporter Foreign Exchange (IEFX) window – which is closer to market equilibrium than the official rate – supports this fact. There is also the issue of fuel subsidy which has now taken the form of undercover as the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) now fully bears the brunt of the subsidy as the sole importer of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS). Deregulating the downstream sector of the petroleum industry requires the removal of subsidies, which will spur competition, bring about efficiency and increased investment in domestic refining – the lack of which has been a huge drain on Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings over the years. Not only is a game changing the formula now imperative, it has become inevitable. Nigeria can continue at its current pace of reforms and investment – a recipe for chaos, social and political disintegration; or take drastic measures to raise public and private sector investment to levels that will accelerate productivity and economic growth.
The following is an excerpt from Financial Derivatives Limited, titled Economic Bimonthly Update…