Why do governments exist? The general notion is that they provide the parameters of everyday behavior for citizens, protect them from outside interference, and often provide for their well-being and happiness. Over time, government responsibilities have also extended to the economy and public service.
Nigeria, like every other country in the world, has a government. Thanks to this government, however, the nation now endures a bruised and beleaguered economy plagued by all sorts of issues ranging from elevated poverty levels, low/stagnant incomes and inequality to high inflation. Years of mismanagement and poor policy choices have led to economic insecurity and financial instability
Perhaps the government badly underperforming in these last years is not the entire reason behind Nigeria’s little growth dynamism as regards the economy and every other thing really. However, there is no denying that certain fundamental issues need to be addressed by the government in other to reinvigorate the state of the nation.
We are going into the New Year and it is a chance to hope again; so, we have come up with five basic issues that the governments can actually step up and fix to ensure Nigerians enjoy a better 2018.
Stabilize the currency
The currency crisis being endured by Nigeria has had the most damaging to the naira, the economy, and the psyche of our people. The continuous fall in the price of crude oil has resulted in a consistent decline in our foreign exchange reserves. The value of our national currency against the dollar is dipping on a daily basis, causing an inflation-depreciation spiral. The rising black market rate increases inflation, which then feeds back into the price of the black market dollar, in a continuing vicious circle. The government needs to step up and find measures to stabilize our currency and prevent further damage to our fragile economy.
In June 2015, the Central Bank of Nigeria proposed some measures to introduce stability in the nation’s currency, but the measures have failed. Many experts believe that the naira should be devalued, but that would only be a temporary measure… which does not fix the fundamentals. The CBN and the Federal Government need to find a way to unify the exchange rate at a realistic level and break the inflation-depreciation spiral. This will put an end to the chronic balance of payments crises, as well as most of the corruption that stems from the overvalued official exchange rates
The employment-to-population ratio in Nigeria at the moment is lower than at any time in the last 20 years. To get back to pre-recession employment levels, the Nigerian government needs to must create millions of new jobs. To kick-start this, the federal government should adopt and invest in job-creation strategies including the reconstruction of infrastructure; developing renewable energy sources; and making other rational investments that create jobs, revitalize communities, and boost our national economy. The government should consider building on certified models of subsidized employment to assist long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged workers to re-enter the labor force. In addition, the government need to promulgate labour laws that favor local organizations and curb the importation of foreign expertise.
Raise the minimum wage
Perhaps in the late 1990s, a full-time worker earning the minimum wage of N18,000 (which is what exists today) could lift a family of three out of poverty. Had the minimum wage been indexed to inflation, it would be much a much higher figure compared to the current federal minimum wage.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari has approved and inaugurated a 30-member minimum wage committee to review of the National Minimum Wage, all the committee has done so far is deliberate over the issue and stall. It is no surprise, as the has membership drawn from the government, the private sector and the Organised Labour… including governors who have not been able to pay the N18,000 minimum wage. No decisions have been made, the minimum wage is still N18,000 per month and Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, that two years ago, demanded for a N56,000 new minimum wage are now dishing out threats. The Government needs to step up and actually amend the minimum wage. Boosting the minimum wage will reduce poverty and increases wages.
Bridge inequality and redistribute wealth
Low- and middle-income workers have seen little to no income growth over the past decade, as the gains from economic growth have gone largely to the wealthiest Nigerians. The gap between the low class and the higher class is very wide. This kind of inequality is destabilizing for the country. When the vast majority of people feel as though they’re getting shafted at the hands of a privileged few, they tend to rise up and rebel.
This can lead to the election of radical leaders, or, worse, violent insurgencies. The government needs to step up and do something to ensure wealth redistribution and restore balance to a system that has become very imbalanced. The richest Nigerians and companies cannot keep getting richer while the rest of the country gets poorer without the entire system eventually collapsing.
A way to fix the economy could be to increase taxes on the rich and companies and redistribute this wealth to Nigerian consumers. The government should persuade corporations, both foreign and local, to hire more Nigerians and pay them more. Paying Nigerians more will not just lead to a reduction in near-term profits, it will also lead to faster revenue growth.
Improve the criminal justice system and make policies that encourage successful re-entry
A large number of Nigerians are incarcerated in state and federal prisons. Some of them are picked up randomly by corrupt government officials and forced to write incriminating statements that eventually land them in prison. It may not instantly obvious, but extra-judicial incarceration is a key driver of poverty. When a parent is incarcerated, his or her family must find a way to make ends meet without a necessary source of income. Additionally, a criminal record (even when minor) comes with collateral consequences that now become lifelong barriers to climbing out of poverty. For instance, people with criminal records face substantial barriers to employment, housing, education, and public assistance. Most employers now use background checks in hiring, and even an arrest without a conviction can prevent an individual from getting a job. The government needs to ensure that the units formed for administering justice is adequately checked and their power limited.
Also, there should be an effective sentencing reform to ensure that the nation’s prisons are not filled with non-violent, low-level offenders.
Finally, barriers to employment, housing, education, and public assistance for criminal record holders should be removed or softened.
There are other issues to be addressed; including power, healthcare, education, basic sanitation, payment of government employees and civil servants, elimination of ghost workers/ reduction in ‘government aide’ workforce (too many special assistant and aides doing nothing). Also, there’s a need for the creation of stronger economic policies that African countries can benefit from, opening up of the economy for private investment (especially targeting people of African descent in the diaspora), mutilated currency in circulation, e.t.c.
What are your ideas on how the government can step up and fix these issues? Also, if you work for a government parastatal, or you’re part of the government, please share some information about the things your office are doing to show that you can hear the cry of the people.
Photo Credit: Zdenka Darula | Dreamstime