The economy contracted 1.5% consistently quarterly in 2016, based on the latest economic revision, Nigeria is no longer recessing, and is actually on the way to recovery and growth. However, as we know, a number of temporary factors including the CBN’s manual intervention of the FX have seen the Naira gain againt the dollar, in the last five weeks. The question of whether or not such intervention is a good idea or sustainable is a completely different subject.
With FX unavailability concerns somewhat out of the way, many leading indicators are signalling that Nigeria is out of recession and on the way to progressive growth as it were just before the recession.
Anecdotal shreds of evidence support the assumptions that consumer spending is rising, projects previously put on hold are picking up and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) slowly recovering from a decline of $4.5bn in 2016.
First, these assumptions do not take inflation into account. They are also not adjusted for population growth, unemployment rate and the number of businesses downsizing daily. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the wealth gap in Nigeria is also near record levels of high, perhaps this is the most important factor; as steep inequality often bears the appearances of never-ending recession.
The wealth gap presents a very real danger moving forward. It makes moving up the income ladder more difficult, and it reduces the operational flow of the economy since the wealthy shield most of their income from taxes, while, those at the lower end of the spectrum can barely afford ongoing living expenses.
In my experience, the severe wealth gap underpins a critical misinterpretation of the Nigerian economy. On the one hand, it can misconstrue the reality of growth and expansion, on the other hand, it negates the fact that such growth is failing to carry the majority along.
I hear many economic experts claim that Nigeria is still in a recession, while indicators reflect the opposition; a recovery and on the way to growth. An individual’s view of the economy is primarily driven by their own unique circumstances, wealth, and prosperity, and that of their family and close friends. We generally take the microcosm of our own lives and deduce this out to the condition of the broader economy. It’s completely natural for many who are earning low wages or still contemplating reentering the workforce to believe the economy is in recession. I understand this and have harboured similar feelings at times.
However, from an economic and economic activities perspective, it’s very difficult for me to substantiate this assumption. Howbeit, in the next couple of weeks when the new window trades a bit and stability, is observed for a while, more concrete evidence will emerge based on the type of liquidity and pricing observed.
I believe that if we look at the data, the cause of the plight of many Nigerians is not the result of an economy in recession, but of the tremendous wealth gap, inequality and the fact that all government projects and investments are not geared towards the poor and “vulnerable middle class“.
It is basic economics that in an economic recession, the middle class and poor are the most vulnerable, hence, should be the major beneficiaries of government interventions in restructuring the economy. The reversed is the case in Nigeria’s current economic recovery plans and interventions.
There is tremendous wealth in Nigeria, it’s just held by a select few, and not productively distributed across the population and there is no evidence pointing to the government’s plans to reduce inequality and make growth more visible in the lives of the majority. This is a very different problem, with very different solutions than having an economy that’s in recession.
If an individual doesn’t personally benefit from economic growth, such an individual is likely to think that economic growth doesn’t exist, especially if they are not in-tune with ongoing economic performances and growth indicators.
Nigeria’s economy has problems, lots of them. But are we still in a recession? The answer is NO. The unfortunate reality is that for many, this period of mild economic expansion feels very much like a period of economic contraction because they are not participating in meaningful employment, still struggling to gain employment or participate in the wealth creation.
Rising income inequality can also be detrimental to overall economic growth. The OECD suggested that “High and often growing inequality raises major economic concerns, not just for the low earners themselves but for the wider health and sustainability of economies. In other words, “rising inequality is bad for long-term growth”
Nigerian economic team and experts must become better at distinguishing what plagues our economy and differentiating the impacts of these challenges on various groups. For example, it is important to understand how the economic contraction of 2015/16- first quarter in 2017 affected and continues to affect small business owners, working high/low income middle-class and the very poor. These challenges should not be grouped together and treated as the same thing, as that is the reason why out-of-recession indicators are failing to reflect the realities of the majority in Nigeria. To mistake the symptoms of a serious wealth gap for economic recession is to misallocate our frustration, energy and solutions.
These challenges should not be grouped together and treated as the same thing, as that is the reason why out-of-recession indicators are failing to reflect the realities of the majority in Nigeria. To mistake the symptoms of a serious wealth gap for economic recession is to misallocate our frustration, energy and most likely leads to inappropriate solutions.
I don’t know what the answer to sustainable growth and redistribution for Nigeria is right now, but what I know for sure is that a better widespread understanding of the situation is the first step in the right direction.