Inertia is one word which students of development studies would be familiar with. The origin of this word is inherent among the principles of Physics. Succinctly put, inertia means resistance to change. The reason development enthusiasts are familiar with this word is because they understand that in bringing reforms and changes to different economies certain forces would always pose as a ‘resistance’ to these changes.

Nigerian reformers in no little way have witnessed these resistances and have tried to make the best out of the situation which they find themselves. Such resistance to reforms has either been demonstrated by Nigerians themselves or a selected few who hold the notion that a change in the status quo would no longer be profitable to their interests thus they seek to hold the Nigerian government to ransom. Whatever the case is, some remarkable achievements have been made by these Nigerian reformers who have continually championed the desired change in Nigeria amidst resistance.

The Minister of Finance initiated sweeping reforms in different sectors of the Nigerian economy, specifically within the Nigerian oil and gas sector. By calling for the removal on subsidy payment for petroleum marketers and subsequently its partial implementation, Iweala succeeded in freeing up monies for re-investment in ‘sensitive sectors’ of Nigeria’s economy. The finance minister understood that since Nigeria’s recurrent expenditure stood at an embarrassing 74 per cent of the total budget, it was difficult for any government in Nigeria to implement sweeping reforms which would impact directly on the lives of Nigerian people via capital projects. Her reforms thus brought about a reduction in recurrent expenditure to 68.66 per cent for the 2013 budget. Resistance to these reforms in form of mass protests on January 2012 was not because Nigerians did not ‘love’ her reforms, but a significant part of them felt these subsidies “were the only benefits they could get belonging to Nigeria as a nation –mostly as every means of survival depended on the price of petroleum products;” More so the money freed up from payment of subsidies claims would not find its way back for re-investment, rather would fall magicallyinto the pockets of those same corrupt persons orchestrating high payment of petroleum importation claims. Therefore depriving Nigerians of this would always be met with resistance.

However, the CME argued and pushed for the implementation of this reform to correct imbalances in Nigeria’s fiscal implementation. A feat achieved without lying off workers and a significant reduction in personnel cost (possibly she found all those ghost workers on government payroll). With the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and YouWIN, she has been able to address the quagmire of unemployment among teeming Nigerian youths (although skeptics say these programmes have not changed anything).

Another area where the CME reforms have recorded significant progress is in the area of budget implementation. Under her supervision, a “due diligence process whereby all funds expended by MDAs have to be acknowledged and accounted for before further funds are released to them” was instituted; thereby linking disbursement to performance, thus ensuring MDAs are up on their toes to deliver on promises to Nigeria tax payers. Perhaps resistance to this reform led to the CME being called by the National Assembly around August last year to account for reasons why MDAs had not started implementing their budget due to lack of funds. Possibly, money for stock-piling in high-interest yielding accounts was no longer available to them. However the case, the CME reaffirmed Nigerians that “the issue at stake is more than MDAs getting money. MDAs should get money, but only when the purpose for which they are released are accomplished and properly accounted for; Nigerians deserve no less!” Could it be that inertia to the CME’s reforms have fueled the embers of repeated calls for her resignation?

Within the agricultural sector, if you asked anyone what is an evidence of agricultural reform in Nigeria, they will be quick to mention the ‘Nigerian Cassava Bread’ initiative. The origin of this reform is traceable to the visionary leadership of former Nigerian President –Olusegun Obasanjo, who had encouraged indigenous production and supply of cassava as Nigeria ranks among the major producers. Dr. Adesina with his ATAP –Agricultural Transformation Action Plan spearheads an agricultural reform which encourages the production of high quality cassava flour and its subsequent 40 per cent substitution for wheat flour. This reform comes along side renewed financial support for the private sector “to acquire 18 industrial scale plants with the capacity of producing 1.3 million metric tons of high quality cassava flour.” Once again, resistance to the adequate implementation of this policy reform might be from those who have profited from Nigeria’s import economy and those who have the political clout to force the hand of President Jonathan (mostly as the 2015 election draws nearer).

Nigeria’s agriculture development economists have also lauded the bold reforms introduced by the sector’s minister within the area of fertilizer production and distribution. Specifically, his policy reform for efficient fertilizer distribution was hinged on the fact that for so long rural farmers were not getting adequate amounts of fertilizer already allocated to them. The system had been so corrupt that in most cases it was reported that they get as low as 11 per cent of Federal Government fertilizer allocation. To solve this distribution palava, Adesina introduced the ‘Electronic Wallet’ system which has ensured better targeting of farmers in their reception of fertilizers. This system allows for farmers to receive their allocation for fertilizers and subsidized seeds via their mobile phones which was introduced from the 2012 agricultural season. Concern for this policy reform is demonstrated in the efficiency of mobile networks mostly in rural areas where most of these farmers are located. (I totally understand such reservations, where in some rural areas people have to literally hang their phones on trees to get mobile signals). In addition to this, how efficient is the data base of the Ministry of Agriculture to adequately carter for Nigerian farmers? I guess the ‘agriculture doctor’ has a lot to do in terms of instilling confidence among the Nigeria populace, if he really wants his policy reforms to gain further acceptance.

One common ground where the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Minister for Trade, Productivity and Investment (Olusegun Aganga) have also agreed on in their policy reform might be in terms of attracting investment to the agricultural sector. Specifically, investment into rice production has seen tremendous increase occasioned by efforts of both ministers. In lieu of the Federal Government’s decision to halt the importation of Rice by 2014, the Minister for Trade and Investment introduced reforms which attracted foreign investors (some of them from China) towards rice production. Consequently with such investments, “three new integrated rice mills with a total capacity of 90,000 metric tons per year” have been built in states like Ebonyi and Taraba among others. Specifically according to the Minister of Agriculture, in Ebonyi State, with the introduction of the Ebonyi Agro Mill, “Nigerian rice mills are now producing long grained, parboiled rice of very good quality that is competitive with imported rice from Thailand or India.” Demonstratively, demand for Ofada rice is rising due to initiated reforms within this sector.

One of the accolades of the Minister of Trade and Investment is the increase of investment inflow to Nigeria. According to official records, in spite of security challenges besetting Nigeria, policy reforms have attracted 8.9 billion USD new investments into Nigeria, making her the number one foreign investment destination in Africa. With reforms introduced by Aganga in the defunct Ministry of Commerce, Nigeria has done better than the rest of West Africa in terms of foreign investment. This in the long run would translate to job creation and resuscitation of align industries in Nigeria.

Aganga’s desire for reforms has also ensured a boost in local industrial production capacity (a prerequisite for sustained industrial development); little wonder the numerous bans to discourage Nigeria’s import-oriented economy. Apart from the soon to be effected ban place on rice importation, he has ensured another ban on the importation of raw sugar. This is in tandem with the National Sugar Master Plan which aims to encourage local production of sugar and support Nigerian investment in this sector (The Dangote and Bua Sugar refineries), create jobs and contribute to the production of ethanol for electricity generation. So importation of brown sugar from Brazil might reduce soon (BRICS are you paying attention?) with the creation of the National Sugar Development Council to set benchmark and necessary tariffs for sugar importation. Other reforms which could be designated as WIP (Work in Progress) are the policies and mechanisms to resuscitate Nigeria’s local automotive and cotton industries; and the Weight and Measures policy which would save Nigeria about 474 billion NGN among many others.

Like I noted earlier, inertia is one factor which these Nigeria reform champions will continue battling with. Mostly as politics and reforming policies can never be divorced, can these Nigeria reform champions maintain the momentum ad mist the intrigues of Nigerian politics which historically (for more than 50 years) has continue to halt the progress of this self-acclaimed ‘Great Nation?’

Austine Okere (FF @Wales_C) lectures in the Department of History and International Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Anambra State, Nigeria. His research interest boarders on International Economic Relations and Sustainable Development; and he has presented numerous papers on these areas. Austine also is a research fellow at the Center for Policy Research and Development Solutions (CPRDS), a think-tank established to address policy gaps in Nigeria.