Only days after he began his second term in office as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele dropped a bombshell which the Presidency and its top economic planners must sit up and listen. Speaking at a lecture on the topic ‘Beyond the Global Financial Crisis: Monetary Policy Under Global Uncertainty’ at the University of Benin, Emefiele bemoaned the country’s vulnerability to external economic shocks. He called for adequate preparations to contain future turbulence through increased productivity as well as reduction of unemployment. While commending the country for exiting the recent recession with the indices dropping from 18.72% in 2017 to 11.37% presently and indicating a modest progress in the past year, Emefiele said more efforts should be made to reduce the country’s unemployment rate if a relapse into crisis is to be averted.
The CBN governor appraised the efforts of CBN in respect of shoring up the country’s economic fortunes. He mentioned several initiatives including the introduction of the Investors and Exporters Window which has so far exceeded $48 billion in aggregation, with the nation’s foreign exchange reserve rising from $23 billion in October 2016 to $45 billion April 2019. This level of reserves can finance nine months of current import commitments. These modest achievements and others he attributed to the CBN’s adoption of agriculture and manufacturing as pilot sectors for its intervention agenda.
Emefiele also said the country has enough potentials to lift it into sustainable growth, as has been done by several other countries that were its peers at independence. He therefore urged Nigerians to look inwards and locate the areas they can easily exploit for their personal economic upliftment and the progress of the country.
Even before Emefiele sounded this warning, the issue of rising unemployment and the threat it poses to the country’s economy and society has been on the front burner of public discourse for years now. Already, the current wave of insecurity including the insurgency in the North East, kidnapping and banditry in other parts of the country have been linked by observers to the very high level of youth unemployment in the country. The modest growth rate achieved since the economy exited from recession has hardly impacted on the unemployed, hence Emefiele’s warning.
Apart from the sluggish growth rate, matters are compounded by this country’s rapidly growing population. Clearly, a snail-slow economic growth rate is dangerous for Nigeria. The chance that the economy could slip back into recession is doubly dangerous and it must be averted at all costs. While it is true that the country is dangerously dependent on external factors for its economic health, many experts have pointed out that the government’s own policy choices are extremely important. Even falling international oil prices do not automatically mean a recession in Nigeria, if we make the right policy choices.
As President Buhari’s Administration enters its second term this week, it must lunge for a policy basket that ensures rapid expansion of the economy. We urge the president to appoint a highly visible and very able Economic Adviser to pilot this program. The government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Programme (ERGP) must move off the shelf and achieve a big dip in unemployment. Time is not on our side. If the economy were to slide again into recession, it could generate social unrest that could throw the administration completely off balance. Godwin Emefiele cautiously waited until he got his second term before sounding this warning. We will ignore it at our peril.