Put simply, under the incumbent administration, the odds of economic reforms being implemented that lift significant numbers of our poor out of poverty as did Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 reforms in China are considerably shorter than the chances of policies of dekulakisation that were implemented under Chairman Mao in the forty years to Deng’s opening.


That the Buhari government’s economic policies may be entirely comprised of moonshots in the dark doesn’t necessarily betoken the absence of strategic coherence. True, a raft of new taxes, all especially on consumption, may depress domestic household spending even more than it raises government revenue. Just as possible is the fact that because consumption spending is regressive, these policies may fail the test of narrowing the widening gap between the haves and the dirt poor. According to the same logic, the ongoing border closure may simply have reallocated resources amongst domestic economic entities – from businesses to the customs services, for example, and from exporters (which we turned out to have) to domestic producers (which we don’t have in sufficient quantities) – without improving the general efficiency of the economy.

None of these, though, takes away from the underlying logic of these policies – a sense that wealth creation is a zero-sum game. Hobbling the wealthy and the profitable in the economy, by extension, can only mean gain for the poor and vulnerable. Several commentators on the current state of the economy miss the fact that this “gain” may even be constructed negatively. In which case, the benefit to those social and economic sectors that government seeks to protect need not be absolute. It is instead enough that this gain is relative, i.e. defined in terms of the loss(es) to those sectors considered economically predatory a priori by government.

Question is: “Within this context, what does the government mean, when it pledged to take ten million Nigerians out of poverty each year?” We could quibble about how high (or low) the earnings threshold of a household of four needs to be in order to qualify as “poor”. We will, no doubt, disagree on how many of our compatriots currently fall within this bracket – however defined. But seated across the table last week from one of our numerous eggheads, she had no doubt that in terms of the policy universe of any government in Nigeria, the options on the table, today, are easily distilled into two.

…just to lift one million people out of poverty annually, domestic output will need to grow by 7 per cent every year.. And the investment needed to bring this about – in education, health, public infrastructure…and sundry reforms to the state (especially of the criminal justice system and the public expenditure management framework) will reach the equivalent of US$50 billion annually.


In other words, we may continue down our current trajectory – what she describes as the “Business as usual” option. In this scenario, we will constantly look over the Saudis’ shoulders, worried about the meaning for global oil production and prices of the Aramco stock market floatation. We will, equally, suffer insomnia induced by worries over both the meaning of trade negotiations between the U.S. and China for global demand, especially for commodities; and each new fact confirming advances in the production of electric vehicles and renewable energy, which makes these cheaper daily.

Or, we may reform the economy. Now, the way she sees it, irrespective of how we rationalise the reform drive, it must necessarily answer only two questions. First, is the role we intend for markets (demand and supply signals, the price mechanism, call it whatever you will) in the allocation of scarce resources. Second, is how much room we will permit private capital (the provenance of this will not matter at any point) in the economy.

Pose these questions properly, my interlocutor argued, and the goal of lifting ten million people out of poverty takes on a life all of its own. For example, she estimates that just to lift one million people out of poverty annually, domestic output will need to grow by 7 per cent every year – i.e 400 basis points above the current rate at which our population is growing. And the investment needed to bring this about – in education, health, public infrastructure (including broadband access), and sundry reforms to the state (especially of the criminal justice system and the public expenditure management framework) will reach the equivalent of US$50 billion annually.

What, then, did this expert make of the federal government’s policy pivot? Stripped of its bells and whistles, it resolves the private capital question in terms of raising government revenue. The non-state sector is not, in this sense, a source of domestic growth. Rather it is another goose that might…lay golden eggs to feed the state’s incurable binge-eating syndrome.


What, then, did this expert make of the federal government’s policy pivot? Stripped of its bells and whistles, it resolves the private capital question in terms of raising government revenue. The non-state sector is not, in this sense, a source of domestic growth. Rather it is another goose that might (as has the oil sector over the years) lay golden eggs to feed the state’s incurable binge-eating syndrome. And with the state deeply committed to authoritatively allocating scarce resources, in order that “privateers” may not fleece the “people”, there’s evidently a very limited role for the price mechanism in the allocation of domestic resources.

Put simply, under the incumbent administration, the odds of economic reforms being implemented that lift significant numbers of our poor out of poverty as did Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 reforms in China are considerably shorter than the chances of policies of dekulakisation that were implemented under Chairman Mao in the forty years to Deng’s opening. The aim of the latter, as with our current government’s policies is the elimination of the “rent-seeking urban petty bourgeoisie”.

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