…Never too late
ifty years is long enough time to know what you want in life, yet you are not too old to accomplish it”. That is an astute adage I learnt from a speaker in a recent forum hosted by African Policy Institute here in New York City. That aphorism is very apt for Nigeria given the current state of affairs as it celebrates golden jubilee.
Depending on whom you ask, opinion varies as to how the country has fared this last five decades. Whereas some senior public office holders and beneficiaries of the skewed political and economic structure will prefer to browbeat anyone who attempts to pinpoint the shortcomings of the past decades, always maintaining that the country hasn’t done badly after all.
Majority however do concur that Nigeria has generally performed below par. To be fair, according to recent news report by BBC News online, the fact that the country has remained intact as a nation despite the internecine civil war and intermittent violent outburst fifty years later is maybe the biggest achievement.
…Fifty Years of What?
Yes you might be persuaded to agree but rather than be sentimental about it let me for a moment outline realistic issues that have characterized Nigeria’s existence thus far:
- Uncanny resilience of the people to withstand hardship and wither re-occurring civil unrest and rising criminality (whether militancy in Niger Delta, religious violence in the North or growing case of kidnapping in the East). Containment of near breakdown in law and order despite dire predictions by pundits and categorization of Nigeria as a failed state is indeed a worthy feat.
- Population has soared from 45 million at independence to 150 million and growing, with the younger generation accounting for a hefty chunk of inhabitants, (Already 40 percent are still under 15 years according to recent report by the British Council).
- Unabated interruption of the military in governance with coups and counter-coups that culminated in emergence of civilian rule in 1999, after two previous attempts at democratic rule. That will remain fresh in our psyche.
- Inability to diversify from mono-product focus, whether agricultural produce in 1960s or crude oil and gas in the post-civil war period, resulting in excessive dependence on raw material export as primary income-earner (currently accounting for over 85 percent of budget revenue). That’s indeed the bane of Nigeria’s economic existence.
- Prevalence of chronic poverty with at least 50-70 percent of population still living below the poverty threshold. In the face of declining quality of healthcare (reflected in lower life-expectancy of 45-47 years today). Falling educational standard and general wellbeing on the backdrop of dramatic improvement in science/technology, productivity and living conditions in other countries (notably in Asia and Middle East). That is a shameful legacy of Nigeria’s post-colonial history. Recent case comparison between Nigeria and Indonesia written by a journalist named Peter Cunliffe-Jones and published in BBC News online shed light on this and calls for some sober reflection.
- Weak or declining infrastructural-base in the face of exorbitant cost of doing business and hostile operating environment has lead to appalling economic competitiveness and poor rating even compared with other African countries. Nigeria is ranked 13th in Africa and 127th worldwide according to 2010 Global Competitiveness Report.
- Over-bearing influence of the public sector and high cost of public service/utilities without commensurate level of efficiency and viability despite repeated efforts to transform and streamline operating structure.
…The Race Against Time
These stark anomalies have given rise to high incidence of poverty and grim job prospects for most able-bodied citizens. Economic policies at the macro-scale especially by the federal government hasn’t kept pace with population growth and changing times, hence woefully failed to spur desired level of progress despite enormous opportunities provided by huge export-earnings and abundant human capital.
Not until the last seven years did we begin to see some conscious effort to understand the problems better and address profligacy, while easing the chokehold of public sector on the economy. That stride unfortunately was short-lived in the post-2007 years and remains practically stalled.
Nigeria is virtually in a race against time. The burning question is whether it can out-run mounting burdens (nay, inherently faulty and inequitable wealth distribution pattern, institutionalized corruption, ceaseless political bickering along regional, ethnic or religious divide and dilapidated infrastructure base). Can the leaders demonstrate in coming decades that amalgamation of Southern and Northern segments concocted in 1914 by the British colonialists was worthwhile? That secession of Eastern region quelled forty years ago was for a worthy cause? Or that democratic dividend will permeate all strata of society without exception?
At this point in history as general election looms, in addressing those posers there is quite a lot at stake that could redefine the complex body polity of Nigeria during the second half-century of its existence. Not the least because forthcoming election portends make-or-brake situation. It is hoped that there could possibly be a new direction that will emerge from the voting results and ensuing policy-making process.
The political direction that Nigeria takes in coming months, more than anything else will be a determining factor for social and economic change over the next 50 years. If hypothetically the incumbent, President Jonathan succeeds in getting elected through a voting devoid of rigging and intimidation, it could demystify long-held belief that you must be from certain section of the country to aspire and win the highest office. Maybe symbolizing that fifty years later, North-South dichotomy is now more a man-made-myth driven by selfish political aspirations than physical reality.
…Could 2011 Mark a Watershed?
The bump heralded by such power shift will mark a true turning point in the annals of Nigeria and subsequently the country could forge ahead in a different direction. If on the contrary any of the opposing presidential candidates triumph in a credible and transparent election, it will also mean a landmark - that despite the power of incumbency, Nigerians can boldly elect a candidate of their choice if/when offered the free-hands to do so. Only then can they hold such candidates accountable when the need arise.
Either of this scenario could possibly support real democratic culture to take root, but to expect that ethnic or regional differences will evaporate suddenly, or that vestiges of age-long mismanagement by successive military and civilian administrations will be erased through a magic wand (even with the best effort of any well-meaning leader) might be asking for too much, too soon. By being increasingly accountable to the electorate it is possible that the stage can be set for far-reaching change to take shape.
My fervent wish therefore for Nigeria based on current unfolding events and global circumstance is that the leaders can imbibe some hard lessons from the five “lost decades” and rise to the challenges ahead. Somehow that could help the country live up to its true potential. Already an analytical report published by investment bank Goldman Sachs few years ago listed Nigeria as one of so-called “Next-11” in terms of growth prospects and economic size by the year 2050 – whether that shall come to pass remains to be seen.
Everywhere you look today, a new generation of leaders is taking charge in countries across the world, implementing ideas and technological innovations, deploying financial resources more judiciously and mobilizing human capital for the advancement of its people. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Nigeria.
…Which Nigeria The Next 50 Years?
In my view some of the fundamental questions Nigeria must contend with and tackle squarely if it can escape another fifty years of precarious existence are the following:
- In another 50 years, Nigeria will be one of the 5th most populous countries on earth with over 200 million people according to demographic forecast. One of the main issues that will confront it is the “youth-bulge” whereby younger citizens will constitute a disproportionately high ratio of total inhabitants. This according to experts will portend both imminent benefits as well as unthinkable consequences assuming the rapidity of economic expansion does not accelerate fast enough to create new opportunities and if the country fails to productively channel the creative energy and irrepressible drive of these youngsters both at home and in the Diaspora.
- Forging a single national “Nigerian identity” is not only a critical imperative but also a sine-qua-non for peace and prosperity during the next 50 years. With over 250 dialects co-existing in the country it is indeed magical that Nigeria has been able to maintain its integrity since despite frequent squabbles between tribes trying to assert claim to land and resources. The indigene-settler syndrome is so rampant and archaic, that it leads to frequent violent clashes as we have seen repeatedly in Jos. Even when a child is born in a particular area the law doesn’t necessarily permit that child to claim such locale as place of origin. Unless an encompassing legislation is enacted to resolve this, Nigerians may never know lasting peace or advance in unison toward a common goal.
- The ethnic configuration of respective regions in Nigeria is constantly transforming through migration, inter-ethnic marriages, job mobility and commercial activities resulting in diversity around every corner of the country. That trend is natural, continuous and irreversible, hence ought to be fostered by according every citizen equal right wherever they are born or reside long enough, notwithstanding their gender, age, ethnic origin or parental background. If most people can register and vote where they reside, why can’t they vie for or hold public office there? There is power in numbers and diversity can often be advantageous if well nurtured. United States of America with all its imperfections offers the best analogy for leveraging ethnic-diversity in Nigeria.
- Strengthening, modernizing and expanding infrastructure, healthcare-delivery, educational system and electricity generation/transmission capacity must remain very high priority. On those planks will rest the transition from low to middle-income country and re-affirm the capability to transform the economy, provide more jobs, prolong life and gain global competitive edge.
- Accountability, rule of law, merit-based and issue-oriented politics plus law and order whether in governance or economic arena must inevitably improve to align with normal practices in civilized world. That will be added impetus for higher productivity and predictable business climate that will energize growth.
- First, achieving consistent double-digit GDP growth is a tall order that needs to be reached, then translating high economic growth rate to qualitative improvement in human development is a whole different story. Unless Nigeria is up to that task, it may well be toying with its future.
- End of oil as we know it is without a doubt one of the bitter pills Nigeria might swallow in not too distant future. Based on NNPC data, if current total proven reserves (30-40 billion barrels) weighed against daily production capacity of 2-2,5 million barrels is any indication then we might see an end to large-scale crude oil production and export in less than four decades. Natural gas reserves will remain abundant and hopefully enjoy strong domestic and global demand.
- Assuming new crude oil discoveries are made and reserves surge, ongoing concerted drive by major fossil fuel consumers (mainly US, Canada, Western Europe and Japan) to exploit alternative energy-sources and stem global warning will still pose intractable challenges for Nigeria’s oil industry. Banking on industrial prowess and soaring demand by China and India will be a big miscalculation that could spell trouble. So taking precautionary measures now is the only wise choice (and that doesn’t entail rocket science) to forestall dire repercussions of prolonged “petro-mania”.
- If policy-makers expect to divert and explore other solid minerals, natural gas or bolster agricultural production as alternative sources of export revenue, fine for them, but also fraught with unpalatable experience similar to the last five decades, when the economy was characterized by boom-burst cycles while government revenue remained unstable due to over-reliance on raw material export.
- During the next 50 years there will be a lot more mouths to feed with meager national income (if aggressive steps are not taken). Consequently, the imperative is not simply to diversify but acquire the capacity to process and add value to raw materials domestically both for local consumption and export. This will stave off drain of foreign exchange earnings for importation of basic commodities.
The often-heard refrain from citizens who ought to know better that – after all they will not be around in the next 50 years or “lets take care of today and tomorrow will take care of itself” is dubious to say the least and inherently myopic at best. The cream of Nigeria’s society should either step up and take action toward the right direction or brace for a bleak future for their descendants – that is if there will be Nigeria for them to inherit.