irst, it was Vision 2000, then it was Vision 2010, and now it is Vision 2020, 20. Otio! I could probably sit in my private study and within two days of solitude draft a program which if followed and implemented, could within ten years put Nigeria where she should be. But there are many Nigerians, men and women, who are far more intelligent than I am, with bags of advance degrees from fancy colleges that include all the Ivy Leagues, Oxford, and Cambridge. There are many with far greater wisdom than I can ever dream of acquiring. And many of these accomplished men and women serve at various levels of our government today. Well, if this is the case, why do we keep getting it wrong.
I believe that our problem in Nigeria is not lack of vision, but a lack of willingness on the part of the advisers and the advised. Often, those in power in Abuja and in various state capitals live in a bubble. Within these bubble, what predominates are issues like how to constrain the opposition, how to consolidate power, how to amass wealth, how to stay ahead of the EFCC, ahead of the media, and most of all...little talks about and indulgence in women, Champaign, allegiance to cults, etc. No wonder, not much is accomplished. Who in a kitchen Cabinet could raise vital and critical policy points worthy of serious thoughts and discussion when young fine things and bubblies abound. We learnt from Mrs. Thatcher that her most productive periods as Prime Minister were during the informal gatherings of the so called kitchen Cabinet. I cannot imagine a Nigerian politician going against the president or governor at a Cabinet meeting. Such an opportunity for intellectual back-and-forth debate can only be accomplished during informal meetings. Sadly, today in Nigeria, most Cabinet members at state and federal levels use their informal meetings with their boss to reassure the oga about their loyalty. "I remain loyal, sir." "Your Excellency, I remain humble." Lord have mercy! You might as well tell the man that you remain a sycophant.
Since great ideas cannot be hatched formally or informally within the Cabinet we are forced to set up a panel of experts to study and formulate policies that will help the country accomplish her visions. The only problem is that for nearly twenty years we have set up one panel after another panel, and after yet another panel without any measurable results. Often a handful of political appointees are assembled in the guise of a catch phrase such as Vision 2010. These men and women are kept in the best of hotels and given opportunities to travel all over the world to collect ideas, which presumably will be used to formulate our own vision, our own goals. Most of these people mean well but their palava begins once they've tested Abuja water. Just like pain in a fatal disease that always return when the medications wear off, they begin to settle, to mingle along the corridors of power, to chase contracts, and suddenly those dreams and goals and visions become our collective nightmare.
One may argue that we are doing the right thing finally, growing at the right pace, etc. I beg to disagree. Even a broken clock is right twice in a day. There is nothing we are doing that is extraordinary. An annual growth of between 6 and 7% may be wishful thinking to the developed economies of USA, Europe, and Japan. But we have to put things in perspective...except for a few North African countries with recent political turmoil most economies in Africa and Asia are growing at above 5% annually. To do something extraordinary would be to generate and sustain a double-digit growth for more than 3 decades, as China did, or Japan before them. All the other Asian tigers each sustained a double-digit growth for at least a decade, some for two decades.
There is one vital mistake we have continued to make in this country. Our leaders see South Africa regularly attend the G20 meetings, and they have now set their target at overtaking South Africa, which hopefully will put us in the G20. The reality is that South Africa's economy does not qualify them to be in the G20. They are always invited only to give an African country a seat at the G20 table, just the way Russia was for long invited to join the G7 even when their economy (GDP) falls considerably below the other 7 economies. Russia has made great strides since (thanks to oil and gas) and may well find herself among the 7 richest countries within 5 years. It is quite the contrary with the case of South Africa. About 17 or 18 of the G20 countries now each has a GDP of over 1 trillion dollars. The other two countries are hovering just below that threshold. Now, South Africa's GDP is somewhere around 400 billion dollars, so even if we overtake them and become the biggest economy in Africa we will still be way out of the top 20. We are currently ranked between 36 and 41 depending on which list you look at.
We have failed to diversify our economy despite all the cheap talks I hear regularly from our ministers. Oil still accounts for about 90% of our export revenue. We have failed to empower the small business sector to take advantage of the vast opportunities that exist in today's global market. But how can we empower them when we have failed to provide them the most basic of infrastructures. It makes no difference that our cost of labour is much cheaper than pretty much all the G20 countries, but by the time you add the cost of fuel/diesel, cost of providing security, transportation nightmares, cost of bureaucracy and corruption, you might as well import your stuff from China. And if you think that a well formulated government vision/policy does not matter, then you need to hear this. This time last year I visited South Asia and one of the countries I visited was Bangladesh. A country about the same population as Nigeria, but with GDP only a third that of Nigeria. In fact, Bangladesh has always been one of the poorest countries in that hemisphere. I spent about a week in their capital Dhaka, and not once did I observe or hear of power outage. They used to be as bad as it is in Nigeria until their government put together massive amount of generators on the outskirts of Dhaka at a huge cost in diesel to power all the enterprises in the city. Less than 20 years ago their government came up with a vision to make Bangladesh a world power in textiles. They built 4 universities dedicated to all things textile and used all sorts of subsidies to encourage indigenes to enter the industry. I found all levels of factories, from the tiny backyard operations with 4 or 5 sewing machines to some humongous, state of the art factories that can rival any in China. Today, as a direct result of that singular vision by someone or some people in their previous government Bangladesh is now the third largest textile manufacturer in the world. I dare not predict where they could be in 20 years.
Remember that as at 1970 Nigeria's economy was far bigger than that of Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia put together. Today, they have passed us with Indonesia alone about three times the GDP of Nigeria. Visions matter, not the endless gimmicks and catch phrases we find ourselves with in Nigeria. But a well thought out, specific, long term, sustainable goals with the resolve to see them through. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has lately been enslaving herself for this country, trying to restructure our fundamentals, to hopefully put this country back on solid footing. The President has been smart enough to empower her, but what do we do to help her; the house and the senate periodically drag her in to throw stones and belittle her. She had endured the kidnapping of her mother and lately a letter bomb. She had been used and dumped before by Obasanjo the first time she offered to help her country. I wonder how much more the poor woman can take before she washes her hand off this mess and return to greener pastures and tranquillity in Washington DC.
Finally, I must admit that the potential for this country is boundless. Our leaders only need to get their acts together and formulate clear goals and visions, which they must fully fund and implement and allow ordinary Nigerians to run with it. Thousands of our young men are constantly busy chasing containers across the globe to fuel the appetite of a consumer nation. Many of these guys would gladly return to their villages to set up small scale factories if there is enough financial incentive for them to do so. Nothing succeeds like success. If a number of people become successful it will quickly be replicated across the country. The Dangotes of this world should be encouraged for their vision but their efforts alone cannot even begin to make a dent in this country. With a clear vision and enough financial incentive, many of those PhD holders applying to be Dangote's drivers could find themselves as small scale entrepreneurs. Sadly, I hate to think of where this country would be in 20 years without a clear vision. If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we always got, which is to drift backwards. If we don't know where we are going, surely we'd probably end up somewhere, but we may not like where we find ourselves. And based on what is going on in Nigeria today, anyway you hold the candle, the picture does not look good. And who knows, perhaps in a couple of years we will inaugurate yet another vision panel. Maybe Vision 2030 or Vision 2040, even as the world around us passes us by...Olonwu mamu wa!