Objectively, there isn’t much difference, here, between this conceit of wishing positive outcomes into play and the more familiar cop-out known as “playing the ostrich”. Either way, the problem doesn’t go away. I’d wager that in nearly all cases, the vulnerabilities are exacerbated by being ignored in this way.


Infrequently, I get invited to speak to a diverse audience on the outlook for the Nigerian economy. Nearly always, at the end of these exercises, I disagree with significant members of the different programmes. These disagreements are not so much on the data that informs my presentations. Rather, my colleagues think my take on the country’s prospects is not always positive enough. Then, again, these dissensions are often more intense when the pitch has non-resident interests across the table.

Then the argument is that, as Nigerians, we are duty-bound (it’s a patriotic thing, it seems) always to speak positively about our country. There may be a strong case to make for this perspective; and we will return to this later. But I know that most foreigners who do business with Nigeria are far from uninformed about the country’s prospects, when they enquire about domestic business conditions. Where they are not privy to robust private research and intelligence work on the country, they subscribe to leading financial newspapers ― none of which is known to pull its punches on the country.

Inevitably, then, methinks there is an idiot quotient to standing before folks who have access to more detailed data on the economy (our public functionaries would rather speak to foreigners than to local analysts), and a welter of expert analysts, and proceed to put a spin on one’s perception of these numbers. Each time this happens, I can imagine what goes on in the heads in the audience. Basically, it’s either of two things: the person presenting is ignorant ― and, hence, completely unfit for purpose; or deceitful and duplicitous ― in which case, his/her submissions wouldn’t be worth the PowerPoint deck on which they are put together.

But to the question, “How can you continue to make the country look bad in your presentations?”, is there an answer that makes sense? Irrespective of the preferred timeline, the Nigerian narrative has not been a positive one. Even after 1972, when a spike in global oil prices meant that “money was not our problem, but how to spend it”, the outlook brightened only briefly. Since then the outcomes for our economy have been as predictable as the trajectory of the global oil market.

Again, this is not surprising. For our story has remained an oil play since 1959. In the same period, successive governments have pledged themselves to diversifying the economy away from its dependence on oil export earnings. This latter (and very basic) description of the main performance indicator for the economy makes the computation of the nation’s scorecard very easy. Aside this, though, there are very few measures of welfare on which the country has done well — education, provision of health facilities, provision of work, both external and internal security, etc.

A big advantage of fessing up to problems as soon as they occur, or of being able to anticipate them before the damage they wreck are irreversible, is the chance to design strategies for containing and reversing such problems. I still believe that you fix a problem by acknowledging it in all its dimensions, especially its severity.


So, what’s with the obsession with looking for roseate narratives on the economy. Partly, this impulse follows from pagan (pre-industrial, if you will) sentiments. The whole point, it would seem, is to look on the bright side in the hope that the bad tidings, unable any more to bear been ignored this way, will slink away. Indeed, not just look on the bright side. But as in the common response to enquiries about people’s welfare, where the preferred response is to claim the exact opposite of how one feels, our pre-industrial mindset is persuaded that by declaring a positive outcome, the gods, listening, and probably sympathetic, would endorse this.

Objectively, there isn’t much difference, here, between this conceit of wishing positive outcomes into play and the more familiar cop-out known as “playing the ostrich”. Either way, the problem doesn’t go away. I’d wager that in nearly all cases, the vulnerabilities are exacerbated by being ignored in this way.

foraminifera

A big advantage of fessing up to problems as soon as they occur, or of being able to anticipate them before the damage they wreck are irreversible, is the chance to design strategies for containing and reversing such problems. I still believe that you fix a problem by acknowledging it in all its dimensions, especially its severity. I’m persuaded that as Nigeria is today, its flight path is not sustainable. Neither can (nor should) we continue to run it in the understanding that we have invariably been spared disastrous train-wrecks in the past ― and hopefully should continue to be this lucky.

Problem is, not enough of my compatriots agree with this way of looking at things. And many of this ilk are senior policy makers in the public and private sectors.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.