By Isaac Asabor
As gathered, the steps taken cut across operating the machineries of governance toward ensuring a resilient and more diversified economy, improved competitiveness and fiscal consolidation and better social outcomes.
It is no more news that the first decade of the 21st century ended with an unwelcoming world economic outlook following the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, featuring the collapse of American Investment Bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008. By the third quarter of 2008, the banking crisis in the United States (US) and its domino effects had greatly stressed the Singapore economy, causing it to be the first country in East Asia to succumb to recession. It was hailed as Singapore’s nastiest ever economic slump.
It will be recalled in this context that the era was characterized by news of massive losses incurred by the country’s sovereign wealth funds, culminating in public furore, particularly as Government Investment Corporation of Singapore and Temasek Holdings, were exposed to US “toxic assets”
The furore resonated as ordinary citizens, so to say, who had poured their life savings into financial products such as Lehman’s Minibonds, DBS High Notes 5 and Merrill Lynch Jubilee Series 3 Link Earner Notes became infuriated when their investments turned to “One chance” as a street patois says, and they publicly cried out for redress from banks and brokerages that had sold them the products.
At the heart of the minibond debacle was the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS), taking drastic step of retrenching 900 staff in November 2008 to cut costs. The move was criticized as being sudden and pre-emptive by the then Labour Chief Lim Swee Say. Still from the same context of backlash, other local companies and businesses resorted to wage cuts, wage freeze, hiring freeze, shorter working hours, and even compulsory leave to wriggle out from the economic quagmire.
In fact, to help Singapore businesses and workers cope with the economic downturn, the government pledged S$2.9 billion in November 2008 and a further S$20.5 billion resilience package in January 2009.
Notwithstanding the retrogressive scenario that played out to the detriment of Singapore’s economy, the leaders, who are no doubt patriotic, weathered the financial storm better than feared with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announcing in August 2009 that “The worst is over for the Singapore economy” and that “The eye of the storm has passed”.
In November, 2009, the Ministry of Trade and Industry declared that the recession was over, and therefrom projected a growth forecast of between three and five percent in 2010. Gladly enough, the economic figures achieved in 2010 defied gloomy predictions made the year before when the recession was in full steam.
Being abreast of the foregoing statistics at my disposal, I was not in any way rattled when an invitation was last week extended to me to cover the reportage of the public presentation of a Report themed “Back To Growth: Priority Agenda For The Economic Revival Of Nigeria”, by virtue of my profession.
Mr. Amit Jain, Director, NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies and Nanyang Business School, Singapore, alongside some economic experts at the event suggested some actionable recommendations to engender Nigeria’s economic revival that could spur growth and development. The event which was held on Monday, November 27, 2023, had Jain and other stakeholders deliberating on how Nigeria’s economy can be revived and stabilized even as it was advocated that it should be positioned on a sustainable growth.
I must confessed that I was throughout the event enraptured by Jain’s presentation immediately he mounted the soapbox as he unarguably has an oratorical prowess that is capable of arresting the attention of any of his listeners.
While making his presentation, he said the roadmap that is inherent in the Report aims to put Nigeria back on the path of sustainable growth, and noted that adhering to its recommendations will put Nigeria among the top 20 economies of the world by 2030, and that if the country could fix its structural problems in key sectors and global conditions permitting, the economy could start to grow beyond the current pace.
While he said the recommendations were achievable, he in the same vein urged Nigeria’s political elites and leaders in the corporate sector of the economy to always bring patriotic will to play while holding leadership positions that have bearings on the lives of Nigerians, noting that it is appalling enough when average Nigerians spend close to 60% alone on food, and stressed that interlinked factors limiting economic growth and development must be addressed.
He said, “Irrespective of business terrain, you cannot afford to overlook Nigeria as what happens here affects everyone.
“Given the country’s strength of population, fertile soil, enough water, sunshine, large coastline, vibrant democracy and a vibrant youthful population even as some weaknesses such as debt, limited fiscal space, poverty, and infrastructure challenges exist.
“However, while there’s the threats of insecurity, corruption, unemployment, inequality and climate change, in the face of opportunities in agriculture, technology, services and its massive consumer demand, Nigeria needs to take steps to put country on the path of growth.
“And in the next two years, if Nigeria takes these steps, particularly to bring down inflation, growth can then occur,” he said.
Jain urged Nigerian leaders to be patriotic enough, and eschew corrupt tendencies while in offices as such moves will fastrack the production of crude oil, and create the fiscal window that Nigeria needs, particularly under the nascent presidency of Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
He stated that the country in the next two years must focus on economic stabilization, structural reforms to revive growth, prioritize investment in health, education and social protection and avert negative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth to arrest poverty. He added that within the next five years, Nigeria should prioritize reviving growth, enhancing investment climate, improving business confidence, targeting four per cent GDP growth rate and reviving employment.
“Within the next ten years, what the country can do is sustain growth with focus on governance, deliver public goods and aim for seven per cent GDP growth rate while expanding employment opportunities.
“What government can do to revert the current economic trend line and improve business climate is to really curb inflation, reduce trade barriers, curb oil theft and insecurity and vamp up agro processing,” he said.
Dr. Adedoyin Salami, Nigerian Economist, in his own contributions as one the speakers at the even said Nigeria needs to consider how she begins to lay in the short term the foundation for middle term through re-establishing economic stabilization over the next 12 months, and stressed that education was where the country’s biggest investment must lie.
He said, “The country’s future prosperity is also dependent on her ability to build and sustain an agro economy which education can help achieve.
“If education is sorted, the speed at which our population is growing would come down and we can be more balanced to pursue the skill and enlightenment the country needs to grow,” he said.
Mrs. Funke Opeke, the Chief Executive Officer of Main One Cable Company, who also graced the event as one of the key speakers urged the government to exhibit commitment towards driving economic growth, and in the same vein advocated for concerted efforts to incentivise the private sector to deploy the infrastructure that drives digital technology growth in the country.
Also speaking from the same platform of a speaker at the event, Mr. Farouk Gumel, the Group Executive Director and Executive Vice Chairman (Africa) of Tropical General Investments (TGI) Group, stressed that every solution for Nigeria to be uplifted from economic doldrums must have a humanitarian aspect to its implementation, and stated that the needful must be done regardless of the party or political dispensation in power.
He said, “Infrastructure in rural areas is weak and we must begin infrastructure inclusion to get to the grassroots by starting to implement actionable plans right from the local government.”
Mr. Amit Jain, Director, NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies and Nanyang Business School, Singapore, warned that if the scenarios are not upturned that Nigeria and Nigerians are in for trouble, particularly as he said that Nigeria is undeniably facing economic crisis with erosion of market attractiveness, deterioration of infrastructure and human capital loss.
In his undeniably strong warnings, he noted that the economic deterioration that currently characterizes Nigeria as a state could push it into political turmoil and even violence, saying that years of dashed hopes and poor governance have sullied the collective mood of voters across the country. He added that many no longer have confidence in the ability of their political leaders to deliver the promised jobs, health, security, and education they crave. He said, “If business as usual continues, and the economy deteriorates, the threat of widespread violence could take Nigeria into a tailspin of chaos.”
On the way forward, and which is invariably the step taken by Singapore in its days of economic woes, Jain recommended that Nigeria should take the road less travelled, and in doing that introduce reforms to set Nigeria back on the path to growth.
Isaac Asabor is a Public Policy Analyst.