By Arthur Kendall
With Nigeria's complex geography and socio-demographics, along with a distrust of government, measuring GDP has always been difficult, especially with the minuscule budget of the National Bureau of Statistics. With that budget now six times what it was, its chief, Yemi Kale, is confident of finally finishing the first rebasing since 1990.
This is expected to increase GDP output by 40%, to around $361bn, challenging South Africa’s $385bn estimated figure and so bringing it close to achieving its ambition to become the continent’s largest economy and its prime investment and trade gateway.
But the higher per capita GDP figure will also emphasise Nigeria’s failure to use the increased output to lift her population out of poverty. With a Human Development Index (HDI) ranking of 153 out of 187 countries and a life expectancy of just 52, the ambitious nation clearly has her work cut out to match headline figures to improved reality on the ground.
Personally I am optimistic. Without ambition, nothing can be achieved. And as American General Wesley Clark has said, “it doesn’t take any more energy to create a big dream than it does to create a small one”. While in this case it may take more energy to realise it, I believe such a lofty goal only generates more energy and motivation to do so. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about a mediocre or less specific goal, such as “we want to be among the top economies in Africa”. Big, specific goals generate big, specific actions.
What it therefore represents is a determination to change, to put the difficulties - and reputation - of the past behind and focus on making the country attractive and ready for a diverse range of investment, while serving as an example for the rest of the region.
With its rich natural resources, it also has the wherewithal to do it. One of the key uncertainties, other than the more obvious questions surrounding its regional governors and civil servants, is how incoming investors will behave. International oil companies do not have the best record in ensuring the high international standards of governance are adhered to. I find huge inconsistency in the calls by international investors for better governance and reduction in corruption when their objectives are often purely profit focussed and ignore the needs of the population whose assets they wish to benefit from.
This is one of the reasons I have launched a campaign, For the Fair and Transparent Development of Natural Resources, with a particular focus on Africa. The first action in the campaign (on causes.com which currently requires Facebook - this will change) is to call for the G8, meeting next month, to look beyond nationalist tax interests to ensuring a fair deal for host countries of multinationals.
I look forward to seeing the fruits of Nigeria’s ambitious plans. Having had a glimpse of a microcosm of Africa’s challenges while visiting Lagos and the surrounding area in the early 1990s, I plan to return to see first hand.