By Joel Popoola
Latest loans can turn an unprecedented crisis into an unprecedented opportunity, and this is if we make sure the money goes to the right place.
We all know the challenges facing Nigeria. But seeing those challenges laid out in black and white still has the power to shock.
This week a report from the International Monetary Fund pulled no punches in its assessment of our nation.
“Half of the student-age population is enrolled in schools.
“Healthy life expectancy is 49 years, placing Nigeria among the bottom six countries in the world.
“Some 54% of the population is connected to an electricity grid that collapses about once a month.
“Roads are in precarious condition.
“Less than four per cent of the population have access to safely managed water.
“Overall, Nigeria’s indicators of human and physical capital are worse than countries with lower GDP per capita.”
The IMF estimates public spending will need to go up by 18% to fix these problems.
As William Shakespeare put it; ‘when troubles come, they come not as single spies but whole battalions’. And these troubles have been compounded by the COVID-19 crisis, which has crippled Nigeria’s economy while demanding extraordinary increases in public spending.
But this crisis has brought with it unparalleled financial assistance too, and not a penny of that assistance should be wasted.
In April, the IMF approved a $3.4 billion package of emergency financial assistance for Nigeria to support the government’s efforts to stabilise our economy in particular in the face of the dramatic slump in world oil prices.
This is likely to be followed by an additional $3 billion dollar loan from the World Bank, which will be used to fund to restart and re-energise our economy.
As I write, the World Bank has also agreed a $750m package of investment aimed at ending power cuts across Nigeria, which are estimated to cost our economy $2.8 billion a year and reduce economic growth by at least 2%.
This is exactly the kind of infrastructural investment I have repeatedly called for. But that investment can only be delivered with transparency and accountability.
It is something of a cliché to say that the Chinese use the same word for ‘crisis’ as ‘opportunity’. But this unprecedented crisis has created an unprecedented opportunity to put Nigerian on the path to a better future.
But based on bitter experiences, many Nigerians may worry that some of these funds will never be used for their intended purposes. Cronyism. Misappropriation. Downright theft. Many of us have a depressing story to tell.
This time things could be different.
The IMF’s mission chief for Nigeria, Amine Mati, has already highlighted what measures the government is taking to enhance transparency and governance of the emergency financing.
These include independent oversight of the spending of the loans and the procurement processes related to that spending, and the publication of procurement plans and notices for all emergency response activities including the names of companies awarded contracts and the owners of those companies.
And most important of all, these reports will be published daily on Nigeria’s treasury website for everyone to see.
Every penny must be accounted for.
As the head of the Digital Democracy campaign, created to use technology to bring people and politics closer together, I welcome these announcements. But we need to go a little further.
Our politicians need to be as transparent and as accountable as these accounts. That’s why we created the free Rate Your Leader app.
The free app puts registered voters in direct person-to-person contact with their local decision makers, forcing them to justify every decision they make and every penny they spend, and making them truly accountable to the people they serve.
And if their voters don’t like the answers they get, they can rate their politicians appropriately for everyone to see.
Generations of underwhelming and underperforming government has brought Nigeria to where we are today. Many Nigerians do not trust their leaders. To many, they are self-interested and self-serving. This is not true in my experience, but like it or not, many think this way.
The first step to addressing that lack of trust is to build better relationships between electors and elected and using the technology you might be reading this on – that can very easily be achieved.
Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and is creator of the free Rate Your Leader app. You can reach him via Joel@rateyourleader.com or @JOPOPOOLA