The new blue economy and the reality of Nigeria’s economic failures
By Umar Ardo, Ph.D
I had watched a television program on Channels’ Sunrise show where a gentleman discussed the concept of the Blue Economy and its economic opportunities for the country. As a researcher, he obviously had a good grasp of the subject matter and he well articulated the points clearly and logically. I have no doubt that if given the required commitments, it holds vast opportunities for the Nigerian economy.
In its barest essentials, Blue Economy is simply the deriving of economic value from the ocean and its resources. With a long coastline of expansive aquatic livestream, the sea holds a strong promise for realizing our country’s age-long quest to participate in the global economic order as a powerful international actor, fulfilling the desires and aspirations of our peoples in going beyond the threshold of poverty, hunger and underdevelopment.
And within the context of modern emerging economies the necessity to focus on the ocean for economic self-reliance is even more ardent; whether or not we live up to it, is nonetheless a defining desideratum for our country. I therefore commend President Bola Tinubu for the foresight to embark in this direction.
In spite of this necessity, however, operating the concept of the blue economy within the context of the Nigerian system holds very little chance of turning around the national economy; thus the hopes and excitement it elicited within government circles may well be misplaced.
In other words, the seemingly enormous opportunities therein would at best translate into opportunities only for the operators of the sector and not necessarily opportunities for the national economy. This point is made against the backdrop of failed attempts in the past to develop other economic opportunities abounding in the country. It is indisputable that Nigeria is enormously endowed with both human and material resources, but the ability and capacity to turn them into veritable national economic growth have been lacking.
Just like the current emerging vogue on blue economy, we lately had one on digital economy which not surprisingly failed to operate on account of lack of a comprehensive national addressing scheme. Hence, notwithstanding, all the noise made on it and claims of its success, it had very little visible impact on the economy.
Before the digital economy, we also had ‘the green economy’, which is agricultural economy. Nigeria has a huge fertile arable land with good ecology and enough rainfall that can support virtually all kinds of animal husbandry, such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, etc. and also get every farm product grow and flourish, both cash and food crops; such as timber, tin, cocoa, palm kernel, cotton, rice, millet, sorghum, corn, cassava, yams, potatoes, groundnut, sugarcane, etc.; various fruits and vegetables of all tropical species; and such economic trees like shear-butter, locus-beans, gum-arabic tangerine and a lot more.
The country also harbors two of the four largest rivers in Africa, the Niger and Benue. In order to harness the great opportunities abounding in the green economy, various agricultural programs were conceived and implemented. Yet, till date, Nigeria has not attained any visible milestones beyond a subsistent level in both cash and food crops productions. In fact, only a few years ago, Nigeria was pronounced as the poverty capital of the world, with threats of starvation to millions of her citizens.
Furthermore, Nigeria has huge game reserves and water falls in various parts of the country with variety of wildlife and birds of the air that are capable of attracting the world’s tourists attention, thus offering huge economic opportunities for the nation. To this end, several national parks and reserves were conceived, undertaken and implemented, such as those of Yankari, Gashaka, Obudu, etc. Today, all of them are not worth the papers they were written on – the economic opportunities in this sector is also lost!
As for solid and mineral resources, the country has huge reserves of them all – uranium, magnesium, bitumen, gold, diamond, silver, iron, steel, etc. – name it and it is there! Here too, like in the blue economy, there have been for decades huge opportunities to be explored. Yet, all through the years these are frittered away with little or no benefits to the national purse.
Only recently, our legal luminary, Chief Femi Falana, SAN, stated that the country loses more than $9 billion from illegal mining of gold alone annually. The country has large deposits of oil and gas. Even though we have been an oil exporting country for 66 years, Nigeria does not have a functional refinery to refine its crude products; while the gas is still unexplored.
In terms of human population also, Nigeria is the 6th most populous country in the world, with a population of over 200 million, nearly two third of which are young vibrant citizens. Even the sheer physical energy of such a huge population alone, if considerably harnessed, can build and grow the national economy to the highest standards possible.
In addition, we have our fellow countrymen and women excelling at home and across the world in all kinds of human endeavor; in education, medicine, engineering, computer science, aeronautics, aerobics, history, mathematics, philosophy, economics, banking, military, diplomacy, etc.
With such rich aptitudes and talents of large populations, huge physical energy reserve, and abundant untapped natural resources, still Nigeria failed to seize the positives of good governance to overcome its challenges and get these talents expressed, the energy released and those resources harnessed to attain rapid physical and material development of the country and her people.
This failure is the bane of Nigeria’s problem. That is why such fancy phrase of the blue economy and the risen hopes built around it with a new ministry within the context of the Nigerian scheme, may beguile the gullible, but I do not share the elicited exciting optimism in the scheme.
Because the basic problem is not in the opportunities but in the lack of the ability to optimally harness the available opportunities for public good. And until the needful is done to this end, I will hold onto my position; which is that the concept of the blue economy, its ministry and operations will very well end up, like the previous economic opportunities and models, as some sort of meal tickets for the boys and girls of the system, but not for the national economy and the people.
Ardo a chieftain of SDP writes from Abuja.