In most developing countries, including Nigeria, while economic growth rates – Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Gross National Income (GNI), income per capita, etc – are increasing, the rate of misery, poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, corruption, unemployment, poor infrastructure, and other socio-economic
deprivations are also paradoxically on the rise. Some economic experts tend to equate – and even misconstrue – development with quantitative economic growth and rapid industrialization. I beg to differ.
I agree that in order to achieve a meaningful and realistic economic transformation, there is need for policy complementarity between growth and development. However, it will not only amount to a misnomer, but also too myopic to equate growth with development. While both are interrelated and at times used – even if wrongly – interchangeably, it must be made clear that growth is different from development. Growth is about numbers – intangible, quantitative macro-economic development in terms of economic indices. On the other hand, development is about tangible, qualitative, visible and real material improvement (value addition) in the living conditions of the citizenry in terms of basic human needs which make life comfortable for the people and enhance their standard of living.
Among the key drivers of development (the human development index) include food, water, shelter, healthcare, public sanitation, education, job creation, public utilities and infrastructures. Also, in tandem with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), its feel-good factors include such fundamental issues as happiness, liberty, freedom of expression, stable democracy, good governance, peace, security, prosperity, dignity of human life, respect for the rule of law, human rights, equity, fair play and justice. These are the real barometers for measuring meaningful development.
According to a World Bank world development report, economic development is defined as “a sustainable increase in living standards that encompass material consumption, education, health and environmental protection”. The report went on to state that development, in a broader sense, includes other important and related attributes, notably equality of opportunity, political freedom and civil liberties. “The overall goal of development,” according to the report, “is, therefore, to increase the economic, political and civil rights of all people across gender, ethnic groups, religions, races, regions and countries.”
In Nigeria, what we have witnessed over the years can best be described as ‘placebo’ growth without real development. In other words, the economy, on paper, seems to be growing but, ironically and unfortunately, in reality, it is progressively deteriorating or, at best, depressingly stagnating – a situation Governor Fashola of Lagos State describes as “paper growth”. This explains why every now and then, year after year, the CBN reels out peculiar figures and statistics of growth indices such as increases in GDP, income per capita, foreign/external reserves, etc., without a commensurate visible impact or direct positive bearing on the well-being, quality of life and standard of living of ordinary Nigerians, majority of who live below poverty level of $1 per day. In spite of our endowed riches, we are one of the poorest countries in the world. What a paradox!
In his 2012 budget speech to a joint session of the National Assembly, President Jonathan stated, inter alia: “The robust growth recorded in the first half of 2011 underscores the resilience of the Nigerian economy and the prudence of our economic policies. Our growth in the 2010-2011 period has been broad-based. The economy recorded impressive growth of 7.85 percent in 2010 and 7.72 percent as of the second quarter of 2011, compared to 5.2 percent forecast for sub-Saharan Africa. Medium term prospects are also bright, with real gross domestic product growth projected to remain strong over the period.”
Statements like the above make no meaning to the ordinary Nigerian. On the surface, these figures present a rosy picture of economic development, but deep down is a story of misery and underdevelopment. If our policy makers must know, an average Nigerian is not interested in the exegesis of budget figures, numbers, statistics or percentage increases in growth; neither is he fascinated by elegant speeches and economic jargons like GDP, inclusive growth, fiscal consolidation, macro-economic growth indices, market forces, commercialization, liberalization, deregulation, etc. Rather, the ordinary Nigerian wants just the essentials of life: a roof over his head, food on his table, education for his children, affordable housing/healthcare, security, and other social amenities that make life meaningful.
Sustainable socio-economic development can never be achieved without paying due attention to the basic needs of the people for whom development is sought in the first instance. In practical terms, the true essence of real and meaningful development is to add value to the people by satisfying their basic requirements. Any process of development that does not take cognizance of this is not only illusory and dysfunctional but also a travesty of development.
It is therefore encouraging that there is now a growing awareness amongst policy makers and top government functionaries in Nigeria about the whole essence of real development. For instance, Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, recently stated that “economies that grow at the expense of real needs of the people are prone to upheavals and turbulence. In my view, the progress of a society and the health of its economy are best measured in terms of the quality of lives of the people”. Similarly, President Jonathan, in his 2012 budget speech, stated: “We are conscious of the need to avoid the trap of focusing on economic growth as an end in itself, but rather a means to improved human development through ensuring better healthcare, education and wealth creation.”
The above words are heartwarming. We only hope they will not remain mere words but that the president, the state governors, and indeed all managers of the Nigerian economy would work harder towards the achievement of true and lasting development by establishing a more balanced, visible socio-economic structure through enhancing the creation and equitable distribution of wealth to minimize income inequalities and social disparities in the society.