In the recently released 2005 report by Transparency International, Nigeria has moved up from being second most corrupt country on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in year 2000 to sixth position from bottom. This would make very little impression on the Nigerian populace that is hardly impressed with the impact of government in the last seven years. On the other hand, government has criticized the report, arguing that it under-represents the achievements the current administration has made since 1999. Whereas many citizens will not even entertain any debate as to what the value delivery of the on-going reforms has been, government officials continue to ascribe "extravagant" success to its economic programmes. These extreme positions require bridging as both the government and the citizens are joint stakeholders in the fortune of the country. Increasingly, independent evaluations have played a crucial role in helping stakeholders converge viewpoints on policy issues through unbiased assessment and analysis of concerned policies or programmes and their impact. In this report, Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor of Financialnigeria.com, aggregates expert viewpoints and comments from focus group discussions on impact of President Obasanjo administrations economic reform programme.
An opinion volunteer joked that the real positive impact of the reforms is best viewed by most Nigerians with a periscope. He refers to economic stratification of the populace, whereby the gulf between the (super) rich and the poor has heightened in the past seven years. In the main, he maintained that the reforms, seemingly, are not addressed to re-structuring access to wealth. They have accentuated the status quo ante in which access to government has defined distribution of the countrys wealth with official corruption featuring as the hallmark of the process.
Except that government officials have continued to insist that the reforms are impacting positively on the poor, it is discernible that the policy focus of the government is to have the private sector as the driver of the economy, where value delivery is the major recognized means of economic reward. In this respect, majority of the people without access to economic factors are left behind. The privatization programme and deregulation policy have intrinsic advantages which only established concerns and private individuals with means can tap in to. Improved process efficiency and marketplace competition are expected to systematically impact positively on the people in the medium to long term.
Meanwhile, Consumer Price Index has soared considerably in the past few years. Some of the price increases are cost pushed, arising from poor infrastructure, epileptic power supply and petroleum product pricing. The improvement in agriculture over the last three years is still inadequate for the countrys rising population, as the recent national census will show. Thus basic consumer produce like yam, processed cassava and rice, to mention a few, are priced higher than what the teeming populace can afford.
Media reports have continued to point out that the reforms have not had an all round salutary effect in the private sector. While the reforms have driven investment to the oil and gas sector, banking and telecommunication, the manufacturing sector has not been significantly impacted. Critical views are being expressed by the countrys manufacturing and trade bodies - MAN and NACCIMA, highlighting low capacity utilization, consumer low purchasing power and escalating production cost as areas where government reforms have not been addressed to their plight, or are negative consequences of government policies.
It befuddles how growth of the economy can be alienated from increased domestic consumption, especially when products manufactured in the country still lack in quality to compete abroad. This is why another commentator believes that the reforms are misdirected. Uche wonders at the level of efficiency that can be achieved by a mega bank, for instance, if it operates in an environment of insecurity where poverty inhibits savings and also drive people to criminal activities. Perhaps this factor has some bearing on increased rate of armed robbery in the banks in recent times
He also pointed out that the consolidation of the banking industry has been at the expense of jobs. Like many, he believes new investments in the oil and gas sector have been achieved through a policy framework that is inflationary and have seen cost of petroleum product pump price increased by nearly 195 per cent in seven years.
Some development analysts have said the economic policies of the government are elitist. They said the reforms promote a top-down development paradigm. May be it is necessarily so, considering that globalization has foisted both internal and international business competition. Nevertheless, most analysts maintained that there is a need for a strong welfare system in the country to take care of poor citizens, old people and the temporarily unemployed. In spite of global capitalism, they argue, most western countries have social welfare system for their citizens.
Furthermore, it has been seen that while government has shown great commitment to pushing through the reforms, which many say have the tendency to further impoverish the poor, government has been very unfaithful to some of its programmes that are designed to help the low income people benefit from some of the reform programmes or cushion their negative effects. For instance, the share purchase loan fund that is setup to help low income earners buy shares of privatized erstwhile SOEs is unknown to the intended beneficiaries. Also, the ad hoc programme designed to alleviate the effect of deregulation of petroleum products prices have been abandoned. These, according to Seyi Fatoyinbo, an intern in a technology company, convey the impression that government is very insincere with the people.
The veracity of this claim is hardly in doubt. On the other hand, the policy environment in Nigeria is changing rapidly, and there are noticeable shifts in government policy focus as one policy measure tends to relegate the other. For instance, the emerging Microfinance Policy is accentuating a new approach in financing development at the grassroots. It co-opts the private sector into a system that closely links up beneficiaries of micro credit with community based providers who are channels for administering the fund. This differs significantly from the highly politicized poverty eradication programme.
Outcomes of some of the reform programmes are less controvertible. For instance, there is commonality in opinion about the impact of governance on Nigerias foreign image in the past seven years. It is the same reason why it is generally an oddity that some foreign media have not re-addressed their reportage from the stereotype of old. But there are very obvious grounds that the reforms have not covered.
Experts are almost dismissive of the anti-corruption campaigns of the government, citing its weak and inadequate implementation structure. According to TI's country report on Nigeria, the anti-corruption initiatives are disjointed and lack a holistic approach, while there is also absence of two major components in the legal framework, namely, access to information and whistle blowers protection laws.
These are rigorous democratic norms which the government has not been able to imbibe in the practice of democracy in the country so far.