Nigeria: Rumour-factualisation

19Sep 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Nigeria: Rumour-factualisation

"If you tell a lie big enough and been repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it". This was one of the quotes attributed to Joseph Goebbels,

Hitler's propaganda chief, though versions of this were also attributed to Lenin and Hitler.

IN our country, there are so many lies that have acquired the toga of truth simply because they were repeated often enough. I have called this process 'rumour factualization', One of these lies or myths (I believe 'myth' sounds more respectable) in the run-up to the 2015 elections in the country was that America predicted that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015.

In an article entitled 'Did America really predict Nigeria will break-up in 2015?', published in the Daily Trust on September 5 2013, I challenged this myth and argued that no such document existed anywhere - even though several people claimed to have read it.

I argued that the closest to such prediction was a 17-page report, which was the summary of the outcome of a one-day conference of 'US experts on Africa' convened in January 2005 and sponsored by the country's National Intelligence Council to discuss likely trends in Sub-Saharan Africa over the next 15 years.

Though participants in the one-day scenario mapping conference were obviously downbeat about Africa's possibilities within the period under focus, they also discussed what they called 'upside surprises'.

I believe that the rumour that America predicted the disintegration of the country in 2015 probably originated from that conference, which was more like futures studies. But the lie that America predicted that the country would disintegrate in 2015 was repeated so often that it acquired the toga of truth - or became 'rumour- factualized'.

Today I will like to interrogate two popular myths that are repeated so often that they are acquiring the toga of facts. Previous governments made no efforts to diversify the economy.Going back to farm is the solution to unemployment and youth restiveness.

I am aware that choosing to interrogate the above myths may make me susceptible to accusations of defending the PDP since the above coincidentally are part of the mantras of the government of the day. My honest aim is not to defend or indict any party but to provide contrarian narratives to current discourses.

That has been my pattern. In free speech jurisprudence, it is believed that it is only through unfettered and robust exchanges in the marketplace of ideas that the truth will be discovered. In any case, I have always set for myself three rules of responsible column writing:

Have I done my research? Am I expressing an opinion earnestly held? Am I using respectful and sensitive language? Since I have ticked the three boxes, I feel I should interrogate these myths despite the risks of being labelled.

Previous governments made no efforts to diversify the economy A very common mantra these days is that Nigeria is a monocultural economy and that past governments made no efforts to diversify the economy, which made the country susceptible to the vagaries of oil fortune in the global oil market. I believe this is only partially true.

A lot of information about the structure of the Nigerian economy came out in 2013 when the country re-based its GDP. After the rebasing, the revised GDP for 2013, became N80.2 trillion (or US$509.9 billion) - an increase of about 89 per cent based on the old GDP estimates for 2013 which was N42.4 trillion (or US$269.5 billion). True the new GDP numbers did not mean that we became rich overnight but that we were measuring our economic activity better.

But the rebasing clearly showed that the country's economy is more diversified than previously reported and that the structure of the Nigerian economy has also changed significantly.

For instance while previously agriculture accounted for 33% of GDP and services accounted for 26 per cent, with the rebasing, it was found that agriculture accounted for only 22 per cent of GDP while the services sector increased to 51 per cent of GDP.

The services sector covers activities such as transportation, information and communications, arts and entertainment, financial and insurance services, real estate, public administration, education and health services. The rebased figures also showed that oil & gas accounted for 15.9 per cent, manufacturing 6.7 per cent, telecoms 8.7 per cent and Nollywood 1.2 per cent.

Prior to the rebasing, the contribution of crude oil and natural gas to the nominal GDP was 40.86 per cent in 2011, 37.01 per cent in 2012 and 32.43 per cent in 2013. The entertainment industry, as typified by Nollywood, was not previously seen as a significant contributor to the GDP.

Based on the above, though oil remains the country's main source of revenue and chief foreign exchange earner, it is not actually correct to argue that the economy has not diversified or that no effort has been made in the past to diversify the economy. In Saudi Arabia, OPEC's largest producer, the oil and gas sector accounts for 48 per cent of the GDP.

Qatar's oil and natural gas account for about 55 per cent of the GDP Again, in the discussion of the diversification of the country's economy, there is often a tendency to narrow diversification to agriculture and solid minerals.

It is often said that the country is blessed with 44 solid minerals in commercial quantities across the length and breadth of the country. I believe it is important to look at diversification beyond replacing one natural resource with another or even increasing the number of the resources in the basket.

Just like oil is said to be the devil's excrement, so is the fortune of any commodity, including agricultural products, unpredictable. In fact unlike oil which has the OPEC cartel, several commodities do not even have a cartel to help them shore up prices in periods of low demands.

Based on the above, it is not exactly true to say previous governments have not made any efforts at diversification when the success of the banking, telecoms and entertainment sectors are all too glaring. Going back to farm is the solution to unemployment and youth restiveness.

It is common these days to read repeated mantras urging the youth and unemployed people to go back to agriculture. Agriculture is also held up as a potential source of huge foreign exchange earnings - especially with the current weak earnings from oil.

I have issues with this. For instance the assumption that agriculture will boost our foreign exchange earnings seems exaggerated because before you can earn foreign currency, you must have exported something.

Though we have exportable crops like cocoa, cashew nuts and palm fruits, many of these are not easily exportable because of the existence of non-tariff barriers in the potentially importing countries.

Besides, these crops are at the mercy of the buyers who determine the prices at which they want to buy. Agricultural produce face the same, if not worse, boom and bust cycles as oil.

In the same vein, asking all young and unemployed people to go into farming (actually peasant farming) is to wrongly suggest that these young people do not have their own dreams.

It could be argued that a big part of the crisis among young and unemployed people is what the American political scientist Ted Gurr would call 'Relative Deprivation'.

This is the tension between your actual state and what you feel you should be able to achieve.

It is, as Gurr would put it, the "perceived discrepancy between value expectations and value capabilities." Following from this, I am not sure it would work asking a young man who dreams of being a computer programmer to embrace farming that he absolutely has no interest in.

In any case how many of the return-to-farm advocates are preaching the same to their own children?

My other issue with the current glorification of farming is that it seems to represent forward to the past. The truth is that as countries develop, the share of the population working in agriculture starts to decline.

This explains why less than 5 per cent of the population in the rich countries are engaged in agriculture while more than 60 per cent of the population in poor countries are in agriculture. Remarkably through technological advances, the small percentage in agriculture in developed countries produces more than enough for their country's population.

The target in agriculture should therefore be how to achieve huge productivity increase through mechanised farming, not for everyone to return to agriculture, regardless of whether they are interested in farming or not.