At independence, in 1960, Nigeria was at the brink of greatness. Three strong regions: North, West and East existed. Individually, they were strong corporate entities; collectively they held the promise as a symbol of pride and greatness for the black race, for Africa. Fifty-two years after independence we are still playing catch-up. Permit me to proffer some reasons and solutions…
1. LACK OF PATRIOTISM
A lot of steam has been lost from the patriotic zeal of most Nigerians. The ruling elite right from independence with the exception of a few have conducted themselves in a manner that promoted personal and/or sectional interests above national interests. The net effect is that their immediate followers and ordinary citizens have taken a cue and followed suit.
This state of affairs has led to a civil war, inter-ethnic strife, endemic corruption and self immolation by the generality of Nigerians. I doubt if any other group of citizens deride, condemn and abuse their nation-brand amongst themselves and in the midst of foreigners like Nigerian citizens. This has led to probably the worst manifestations of selfishness, nepotism and corruption. Leaders who fail to establish relevance at the national level withdraw into ethnic cleavages and become ‘champions’ of narrow ethnic or regional interests. But the real interests they champion are very personal and they will be ready to dump the sectional agenda if they are able to negotiate their way into the national platform, again for personal gratification. In truth the national and sectional interests remain subsumed in the personal agenda. Wahala dey…
SOLUTION: Leaders at all levels must begin to reinvent their attitudes and lingo because other categories of Nigeria’s are merely followers. This means that they will follow them in whichever direction they see them go and not where they purport to be going. The days of: ‘Do as I say and not what I do” are gone for good. We cannot achieve greatness unless there is inherent patriotic zeal in the majority of Nigerians. When the leaders have reinvented their attitudes there should be a Recommitment Campaign for the ordinary Nigerians who for so many years have been regaled with scenarios and actions of leaders that literally communicates that it does not pay to be patriotic. Ask our sports men and scientists for details.
2. BLURRY VISION:
In the 1980s, the air was filled ‘Food for all by the year 2000’, ‘Water for all by year 2000’, ‘Health for all by the year 2000’. I was worried. I saw it as an unnecessary postponement of the good life for the average Nigerian. Nothing, however, prepared me at that time that 12 years after the magical year 2000 we would still be grappling with even more basic issues. Na wa…
Our national programmes have been obfuscated in grammar and politics. What the political leadership fails to understand is that at all times their focus should be on developing and executing policies and programmes that will catalyze a positive chain of activities which can have a trickle down effect on the economy down to the man on the street.
President Jonathan’s clearly determined attempt to overwhelm and cage the devil in the power sector is commendable in this regard but there must also be a concurrent build up towards industrialization. This means that policies that promote manufacturing and local production in the long term must be put in place now and major importers of finished goods be given a time-frame to begin to invest in productive activities.
Key persons in government know what the Millennium Development Goals MDGs, Vision 20-20-20 and President Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda are about but how many civil servants understand it least of all the ordinary citizenry.
SOLUTION: You cannot support what you do not understand or worse-still do not know. Strategic Development Programmes must be well communicated down the line. This will engender a buy-in by key stake-holders who should in turn be made to sell it to their constituencies at the political, economic or professional level. A vision well communicated and sold is half realized.
3. FATHER CHRISTMAS FEDERALISM
Our current quasi-federating structure is a panacea for eventual failure of the many federating states. Most are not viable economically. The unwieldy number of political appointees whose emoluments alongside those of career civil servants leave precious little for any meaningful infrastructural and development activity. We cannot go very far with this untenable scenario. A proper federation entails that local and state governments should enjoy a basic control over assets embedded in or on their land and fully exploiting their resources towards their economic viability under federal supervision.
It is perplexing that while the Land Use Act vests ownership of land in the states, the constitution appropriates minerals and key land resources into the Exclusive List. Mining and exploitation of such resources is thus left to the federal government who is too busy with so many contending issues.
SOLUTION: Even in simple traditional societies, the centre (palace) received taxes, royalties and levies from subjects but the subjects were allowed to keep the rest of their produce (wealth) thereafter. A monarch cannot begin to go to every man’s farm and try to till each one successfully. Few states like Lagos that decided to take their own destiny in their hands by leveraging their competitive advantage have since shown that a state can achieve a lot if they look inwards. For Lagos, it is the huge taxable individual and corporation’s resource; for others it could be developing proper industrial policies and programmes based on agriculture or tourism (like Cross River) and sports (Like old Bendel State ) ICT.
4. THE ILLUSION OF FOREIGN INVESTORS AS MESSIAHS
Key ministers of the present administration and virtually all the state governments have made a fetish of chasing foreign investors. But similar efforts must be made to galvanise Nigerian investors. Allaji, Aliko , Dangote, himself a Forbes- rated billionaire investor said it loud recently that no foreign investor would like to come into an environment where there is no preponderance of local investors. He thus encouraged Nigerians to invest in the real sector in order to create jobs, reduce inflation and… yes attract foreign investments.
SOLUTION: Need I say more? The best advertisement to foreign investors is the existence of a healthy number of local investors. Nigerians must be encouraged to repatriate their funds to invest in Nigeria. The incentives usually offered to foreigners such as tax breaks; land guarantees and favorable policies should be actively sold to Nigerians who the whole world knows have billions of dollars stashed in foreign vaults. They must be made to know that they do not need proxies in their own land to benefit fully from their investments. Naturally, transparent processes and a fast and fair justice system will equally help in the drive for investments in the real sector. We must also make the stock market attractive once again.
5: POLICY FLIP FLOPS
This is the nightmare of local manufacturers. The introduction of polices meant to encourage local production are ever so often summarily reversed for fickle reasons. Clearly, for reasons of incessant changes in tariff structure in favour of importation (dumping) of tyre products, 2 major tyre companies (Michelin and Dunlop) had to hurriedly shut down their factories and wind down the production lines. Thousands of Nigerians lost their livelihood directly or indirectly as a result.
Today both companies are operating with much less than 10 percent of their previous staff strength. They are now fully into the business of importing and marketing tyre products and are naturally making much more money. Most likely, they are also exploiting and exporting our precious rubber resources for a song to keep their other factories outside Nigeria running. The Dunlop and Michelin story is replicated across many sectors, from vegetable oil to tomato paste and newsprint. Industries that thrived and employed tens of thousands in the past are now grave yards for obsolete and decayed equipment or have been converted to worship centres. One does not need to look too far the reason. The same rent seeking has trickled down to individuals. It makes so much more sense to convince relevant government officials to relax import duties or out rightly remove it so that a friend of the government can import excessive shiploads of the same commodity which though may serve a temporary purpose of crashing prices ultimately leads to collapse of industries, loss of jobs, loss of taxes and an explosion of an army of unemployed youth who become easy game for criminal syndicates.
SOLUTION: Nothing good comes easy. What the Koreans and Chinese enjoy today took years of planning, toiling and self denial to get there. The ruling class must negotiate and institute enduring policies and ward off pressures to compromise the defined common good. We should have Strategic National Plans (SNP) that will involve not only the party in power but all stakeholders. Each SNP should have a minimum of 10 years span and should be protected by all. Once an SNP is approved every succeeding government is bound to execute it. Changes should come through the same process. The drivers may change but the destination should remain same. A democratic government brand is, after all, for the people and by the people. To be continued…