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Memoirs of a generation (I)

By Huzaifa jega The latter part of the 2000s was eventful, as far as I can remember it. The opening part was a blur. It…

By Huzaifa jega

The latter part of the 2000s was eventful, as far as I can remember it. The opening part was a blur. It couldn’t be any better really. The pivot to civilian rule and new beginning had gotten off to a great start as Nigeria became the new darling of the world press, with everything going dandy great. Nigeria had its whole future ahead of it – we knew it, and we made sure the whole world knew it as well.  

In that time, Nigeria witnessed a much welcome economic recovery just like many other sub-Saharan African countries, after a sustained spiral that started from the 70s and interspersed by a number of military-political adventures.   

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Growth in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) averaged over seven per cent annually over much of the decade compared to the dismal four per cent growth had averaged over much of the preceding decade. Since then, there has also been significant improvement in containing the rate of inflation and the current account deficit of the balance of payments. Importantly, this overall recovery has not been systematically aided by exogenous factors like terms of trade gains or changes in weather. I remember learning much of this around 2006 trying to understand what the term “Asian Tigers” really connotes. And because I transitioned into secondary school around that whole Y2K blitz, I was conditioned to believe that we are about to be “African Mambas”, that the vaunted MDGs and even Everest are just a matter of the allotted time. By the year 2020, Nigeria was going to be among the first 20 countries on earth – either that or your money back! 

African efforts to increase economic integration helped in strengthening regional growth as well.  Economic and trade integration across Africa made it easier for foreign investors to access larger markets and reduce transaction costs, including costs associated with regional infrastructure projects. African countries had made a lot of progress in trying to strengthen regional integration through regional economic communities such as ECOWAS and have negotiated free trade agreements and I think a customs union is also in the pipeline, with the goal of ultimately having common currencies. Clearly, we are still far from a common African or even West African currency but it is worth mentioning that we have taken some steps in that direction.  

In explaining all this, individual analysts and institutions usually associate this performance in Nigeria with the various macro-economic and structural policies that have been implemented relatively successfully over the last  two decades. These policy measures, including the control of fiscal deficits, and price and trade liberalisation, and also privatisation of public enterprises have been associated with improved growth and micro-financial performance in Nigeria as well as in a number of other Sub-Saharan African countries. Countries such as Rwanda that have implemented these policies more rigorously have, on the whole, registered stronger performance-although the outcome in some cases reflects special factors such as recovery from armed conflicts and the discovery and exploitation of natural resources, like oil in Ghana for instance. 

In the last 10 years, the extent to which overall growth is shared by the 54 countries in Africa is quite impressive but when taken from a singular perspective, Nigeria has had a pitiful run. This included an actual recession. This being said, some trouble spots remain. While some fragile countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and especially Rwanda have been able to move forward from unfortunate legacies of violence and in some cases even genocide, the situation in other countries is worsening, particularly in the Central African Republic and South Sudan which is oil-rich like the Niger Delta.

In spite of recent progress, the situation also remains fragile in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Mali, and press reports often remind us of the piracy situation in Somalia’s Gulf of Aden and acts of terror there by al-Shabab. In the north of Nigeria, hell was let loose for a while by Boko Haram, then by rural bandits and off Nigeria’s southern coast, the Gulf of Guinea in particular, piracy was rife. All of these make a great argument for an African-owned framework and response mechanism to prevent and resolve violent conflict and crises on the continent. 

So, the question is, if the 2000s were known for at least idealistic hope, what will the 2010s be remembered for? As already seen, from an African perspective the picture is not so glum, but from the singular perspective of Nigeria – well, many are disillusioned. Many are actively looking for a way out.  

I am one of those who trace this current political downturn and the climate of despair to the faulty transfer of power from one civilian government to another civilian government presided over by ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo. That was a very significant first in the history of this country and it was bungled for selfish reasons. There is a whole colony of almighty wahalas we have to deal with today that began with that. Some analysts argue that we would have sidestepped everything from Boko Haram to masu gudu su gudu if the democratic process had not been subverted in 2007. It was Yar’adua’s ineptitude that transformed the Borno hermits into monsters, and it was by and large those monsters that set the stage for the emergence of PMB. I have read about and heard about economic recessions before but we saw one in practice starting from 2016. 

A generation into the New Millennium, things could definitely be better. There is a lot more that is worth hearing to be said about the first decade but it gets a bit harder to stomach after turning the corner into the second decade. I have heard of “lost generations” before, and to many, this would count as one.  

Nevertheless, a lot has happened, a lot of quality groundwork that is still useful has been laid. We are well into the 2020s now, so maybe it is too late chronologically. But then, that only means we have lost time, not the initiative.