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Much ado about GDP rebasing

16 April 2014, 14:37 Tque Majolagbe

Over the years, successive governments in Nigeria have always bamboozled us with great terminologies such as GDP, per capita and other macroeconomic indices which they have always used as a 'good' scorecard for their stewardship in spite of the terrible spate of misgovernance.

Not minding the obvious abject poverty and hunger, the lack of power to do as little as lighting a bulb; the spin doctors of the government still utilize these economic jargons as a justification for their time in office.

The recent pronouncement by the World Bank of Nigeria’s economic fortune as judged by the rebased GDP figure has been met with a lot of excitement especially or perhaps exclusively amongst those in government quarters; and of course the fact that Nigeria is now the biggest economy in Africa, and number 26th in the world has popped more bottle caps.

I have entered into various discussions of the relevance of the recent pronouncement and most people seem to be at best cynical while a few still feel sympathetic to the government.

The cynicism is not unexpected, given the frustration that is rife in our society these days. Is it not enough that the government fails to provide electricity for domestic and business use, also fails to make gasoline available for purchase, yet it becomes inappropriate or sometimes illegal for someone to buy the commodity into Geri cans. It Is as though the government is trying to force us into darkness.  But that is the subject of another discussion for another day. Now we would try to X-ray what the GDP rebasing is all about and its relevance to our daily life.

According to Investopedia (financial encyclopedia) GDP is defined as the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period. It includes all of private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports less imports that occur within a defined territory.

GDP  =   C  + G + I + NX


“C” is equal to all private consumption, or consumer spending, in a nation’s economy
“G” is the sum of government spending
“I” is the sum of all the country’s businesses spending on capital
“NX” is the nation’s total net exports, calculated as total exports minus total imports. (NX = Exports – Imports)

The simple explanation of the above Arithmetic jargon is that GDP sums up all the money exchanging hands in Nigeria due to payment of goods and services.

It is expected that as the GDP grows the economy grows and so is the standard of living because another calculation from the GDP is what is called the per capita GDP which is the GDP divided by the population of the country. This however is based on the assumption that the wealth of the country is evenly distributed, but we all know the situation with wealth distribution in Nigeria.

GDP was first developed by Simon Kuznets for a US Congress report in 1934. Kuznets however warned against its use as a measure of welfare.

While the GDP tends to give an impression of growth, it doesn’t clearly tell the whole story. Just looking at the GDP alone tells a part, but other indices are also part of the financial report. The per capita income for instance is a fair idea of the resources available to the citizens because it divides the GDP by the total population of the country. Therefore even though Nigeria has overtaken South Africa in nominal GDP, with a population of 150 million and South Africa with population of 51 million, one can imagine that the per capita GDP of south Africa is about three times that of Nigeria.

Besides all these the component of the GDP shows that summing up the GPD can definitely not be a good representative of what is happening to the economy. A closer look may reveal a number of things. For instance, from the above calculation “G” which represents government spending is a very contentious issue in this country. Year in year out, government continues to pass huge budgets without a complementary improvement, be it in infrastructure or otherwise. Adding that figure to GDP is definitely going to be a confounder.

A sector by sector look at the GDP also shows a lot going on or not going on with the economy. For instance,  the manufacturing sector of the economy contributed 6.81 percent to the new GDP data equivalent to N5.47 trillion ($34.8 billion) out of the total 2013 GDP rebased estimate of N80.22 trillion ($510 billion).

In spite of the various strivings by government to boost the manufacturing sector it stills underperforms compared to other countries. World Bank data shows contribution of manufacturing sector to the GDP in Austria is 19 percent, while that of Thailand remains 34 percent. For South Africa, it is 12 percent, while it is 13 percent for Iran.

Crude petroleum and natural gas which comes under the mining and quarrying sector contributed 14.4 percent or N11.55 trillion ($73.56 billion) to the total 2013 rebased GDP. Considering the fact that this sector contributes about 75% of our present earning, it therefore shows untapped potentials due to failure to develop the sector which has largely existed as rent seeking.

In 1962, Kuznets stated “Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between costs and returns, and between the short and long run. Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what“.

It is therefore instructive for the government to wary on the full implication of GDP when indeed the standard of leaving of the general populace cannot be said to have improved.

The same world bank that has given the rebased figure for Nigerian GDP, just last week published a report which showed that Nigeria is one of the poorest countries in the world. While this may seem like double speak,. what it reflects is the reality of what is going on in the country. In spite of the huge spending, the lives of the common Nigerian (now so many) has not being improved. Indeed people seems to be getting poorer.

The reasons for these cannot be far fetched. A country that finds it difficult to pay decent living wage for its civil servants, fails to provide an effective transportation system, fails to provide power to her people, yet goes ahead to increase the price of petrol. We all know where the money goes.

I believe that governance is a social responsibility and the works of the government cannot be measured by how much figures is brandished but how the lives of the people are affected. Other figures that may be of interest are: poverty line in the country, food availability, rate of inflation, infant and maternal mortality. The number of people with access to health care. Number of people with access to electricity or access to portable water. Number of houses per Nigerian, youth unemployment figure. These are figures closer to the people which reflect the true picture of what is going on in the country.

The government needs to embrace these figures and work by it. Nigerians cannot be moved anymore by the cosmetic figures that have little bearing on the lives of the people and usually comes just before some global institutions are trying to lure us into one financial policy or another. The government can no longer pull wool over our eyes. The reality of the economy continues to stare at us and evoke the necessary responses, actions and reactions from us that will actually deliver us from this quandary. Nigerians are truly in pain.

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