Nigeria’s problems have been extensively analysed over the years by a plethora of intelligent people. In fact, lack of ideas or solutions to our teeming problems isn’t our biggest challenge. The political, visionary and leadership will to do the hard but necessary work to move our nation forward is what, in my opinion, we are most deficient in. The socio political and economic history of the world is littered with examples of the policies and strategies that work in moving a nation forward and firmly establishing it as a developed nation or at least lead it on the right path of development. Whilst right now, global politics is battling with social and income inequality that has led to the rising popularity of extreme political movements; this was not always the case with the global economy experiencing unprecedented wealth creation and transfer in the 40years to the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. To stem the rising popularity of extremism, global politics needs to come up with a new economic and political (democratic) transmission mechanism that efficiently deals with post-crisis income inequality and social mobility.
Sadly for Nigeria, our problem isn’t the same as the global world’s although some will argue its similarity. The number of Nigerians living, sorry existing below the poverty line is such that we need to first solve how these tens of millions of Nigerians can earn any income (sufficient to at least feed a small family thrice daily) at all before we even consider first world problems like those of the developed world of reducing income inequality. The good news however is that we have the economic system that delivered the biggest wealth transfer in global history to observe and copy verbatim. We don’t need to come up with new economic ideas, we don’t need to discover electricity, we don’t need to design new technology and neither do we need to come up with new ways of constructing road, rail or housing in order to move ourselves along the right developmental path. And with respect to politics and or governance, there are tons of countries whose struggles we can observe and learn from to avoid foolish and unnecessary mistakes. There are so many books on nation building that we can read, so many great leaders still living we can learn from, or even autobiographies of great leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, Nelson Mandela etc. Besides, we can also learn from our own history of what doesn’t work.
At the risk of rehashing what others have already stated, I will summarise what I believe are changes to attitudes and mentality that our nation needs to move forward:
1. Our history tells us that having an overbearing federal government with outsized powers isn’t supportive of developing Nigeria. It has so far been a burden and a headwind to political and economic development. Therefore, we need to urgently rethink, redesign and agree a new governance structure that reflects our sophistication as a society.
2. We know that true federalism works. It works in the USA, Germany, Canada, Australia and in other places. Most of these countries like ours have a history of similar inter ethnic tensions; some even fought civil wars like us, but have moved past this and are now developed nations economically and politically. So we need not fear true federalism, it will not lead to ethnic domination. Transferring majority of constitutional power to the governments that are closer to the people is one way of minimising our debilitating fear of ethnic domination and developmental bypass.
3. The role of government needs to be clarified especially in relation to the economy. We are at a developmental stage where we need all of our resources to be allocated and managed efficiently. The history of the world with economic systems shows us that a market based economy has been the most efficient at allocating resources – natural, capital, human and goods/services. This economic system was responsible for lifting the greatest number of people out of poverty the world has ever seen. History also tells us that this economic system is most efficient where government intervention is limited, interference (intervention and interference are two different things) a no-no and regulations are designed such that the proper and orderly functioning of markets is of utmost importance. There’s hardly a sector within Nigeria that the federal government does not heavily and unduly interfere in. Government intervention is certainly needed or even required in certain sectors. Such interventions must however be strategic and time pressured. It can never be open-ended as it has become in our case – a near obsession even.
4. Our history as well as those of most members of OECD countries suggests that government doesn’t always know best and interventions need a specific purpose that is measurable and achievable within a reasonable timeframe. For example, affirmative action to get more of our brothers and sisters in the North educated or into schools may be necessary, but the lowered threshold for admission can’t stay low permanently. If for example admission requirement is 20% cut-off in year 2000 for entry into federal secondary schools, the government must draft affirmative action policy that aims to get that threshold to say 40% in a decade and on par with the highest in the country in two decades. Right now, what we have in the north re education is interference rather than intervention, an interference that has failed and is failing.
5. Our educational reforms need to match and reflect our developmental needs. Everyone needs to be educated at least up to a basic level (JSS) but not everyone needs to go to a university. Adult education needs to be encouraged especially with respect to health and hygiene, civic rights and obligations, role of government and how society should function and basic financial education.
6. We’ve attached so much value to a university degree that everyone wants one, yet our universities are under resourced to cope. We need to reset our value system such that qualifications from educational institutions that are not universities are as valuable. Wages have to reflect living standards and actual value add from economic activities rather than just qualifications. We have to get to a point where not having a university degree does not automatically mean a decent living standard is unachievable.
7. Whilst it is important that we manage corruption better with stricter consequences and prosecutions that meet international standards, it is equally as important that we emphasise a value system that reinforces the idea that it is more rewarding to do good or right than to circumvent societal systems. We need to evolve our culture irrespective of ethnicity in a manner that makes doing good or doing right more economically rewarding and psychologically satisfying. The shame from proceeds of corruption must be elevated and harsher than even the consequence or punishment for corruption. Our threshold for corruption or corrupt people must be so low that those that perpetrate wrongs against society must prefer to commit suicide than face the shame of being proven to be corrupt. We need to get to a value and ethical place where you must be the low of the low or absolute dregs of society to contemplate let alone carry out acts of corruption.
8. Linked to improving our ethical and value system against corruption above is elevating meritocracy and competence as value systems. We must as a society abhor incompetence especially from public and civil servants. Incompetence must be fought like a plague and not tolerated. That President Buhari is comfortable with the incompetence displayed by some of his Ministers so far is disappointing and telling, even confirming the fears some of us have had all along. The Nigerian attitude that ‘lets get there first and worry about what should have been prior preparation and proper planning afterwards’ must be eschewed from our society. The mnemonic Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance that was drummed into us as kids needs to be brought back into our consciousness and imbibed across board.
9. Over the last two decades, the United Nations has published reports (UNHR Report) on an annual basis that supports the idea that diversity is contributory to economic development. The most developed nations, the most successful businesses typically have and aim to have a diverse nation or employee pool. These countries and successful businesses know that diversity isn’t the problem rather inclusion is. They realise that their success and development is linked to how inclusive they can make their diverse citizens or employees be. I am not suggesting that discrimination or racism doesn’t exist in these countries or companies, it does but steps have been taken to ensure it doesn’t compromise development, growth or profitability. So our urgent task is to infuse inclusion in every area of our societal life, systems and institutions. Our diversity should be the weapon that enriches our lives.
10. Finally we need a sincere political and economic elite class. Our current crop of elites must be ashamed of their mental laziness. Their current attitude and behaviour seems to suggest that their continued enrichment is impossible or will be compromised if Nigeria was a developing or developed nation. We know there are some members of the political elite that if not for a corrupt structure; their very limited skill would prevent them from having access to the wealth and power they currently enjoy. There are also others, some foreign born and trained, that do have skill or exposure that should be well compensated if Nigeria were a developed nation yet their behaviour is such that they just can’t imagine themselves being well to do in a developed Nigeria. This insincerity of our elites is what I find most befuddling about Nigeria. A cursory look at the most developed countries in the world or countries that are at the top of the developing list, shows us that it is possible to have billionaires in all works of life of a country whilst not sacrificing the socio-economic development of that same country. The individual and collective ambitions for a better tomorrow are not at odds with each other. Both can and have been achieved simultaneously in other countries. Examples abound around us. Steve Jobs was not born a billionaire, but he died as one. He did not need to sacrifice America’s development for his ambition. Donald Trump, as bigoted as he is and although he got $1m leg up from his dad, his current billionaire status has not stopped the US from remaining a developed nation. Across the Atlantic in UK and Europe, there are lots of millionaires and billionaires that successfully attained and continue to maintain their wealth status without the development of their nation being compromised.
11. So our elites need to stop being mentally lazy and stop perpetrating the depraved culture and structure that sacrifices development for wealth when both can be achieved simultaneously. More importantly though, the youth of Nigeria especially those between the ages of 25 and 40 need to come together en-masse and in sufficient quantity to demand almost militantly for a change in values and attitudes that will stem the hopeless spiral their parents generation seems to have anchored Nigeria to.