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Nigeria: Before we hit diamond

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

By Idowu Omisore

Malaysia’s 60th independence anniversary celebration last Friday (August 31, 2018) set me thinking vigorously about the future of the world’s most populous black nation, my fatherland - Nigeria. On Thursday October 1 2020, our dear nation will hit the diamond age. Will it be a time to roll out drums, dance freely, pop champagne, wine and dine? Expectedly, there will be a special presidential address on D-Day and millions of naira will be disbursed for a rich variety of events after which everything will go back to ‘normal’. A sage once said that the best way to create the future is to invent it. We cannot continue to pray and wish that things get better without taking steps critical to progress and doing things differently.  Are there lessons we can learn from Malaysia before we turn sixty?

First of all, we have to clearly define our national vision and values, otherwise we will continue to move without a sense of direction. Each government that comes to power will come with its own plans and policies which may not be consistent with those of the previous. There is no clear vision we have consistently pursued since we became politically independent. With respect to values, our national anthem powerfully sets forth values such as service to fatherland, love, honesty, patriotism, truth, unity, peace and justice. Until we intentionally adopt and practise these values, the future will continue to hang in the balance. Our mindset must change positively if we are going to be able to challenge the status quo. We just have to change the way we think individually. Our leaders need to think beyond winning elections and actualizing their selfish dreams. It has been said that everything rises and falls on leadership, meaning that, we are where we are today because of the actions and inactions of our past and present leaders. How can we ever exonerate them from blame? This is why we have to carefully choose our next set of leaders in the forthcoming elections. Get your permanent voter’s card (PVC) and ensure you vote, don’t join the group of those who do nothing but complain and complain. We are massively endowed with both human and mineral resources yet we are trapped in this chrysalis of poverty.  We need visionary leaders who can take us from where we are, as a nation, to where we ought to be. Speaking of the essence of envisioning, Malaysia’s leaders are currently running with the vision called National Transformation 2050 (TN50), which is a fresh 30-year transformation plan aimed at transforming Malaysia into a top 20 country in the world by the year 2050. Nigeria’s vision 2020 which is “By 2020 Nigeria will be one of the 20 largest economies in the world, able to consolidate its leadership role in Africa and establish itself as a significant player in the global economic and political arena” is laudable but the handwriting of failure is written over the vision because we are yet to create the right conditions necessary for its actualization.

Since we gained independence, we have not been able to stamp out epileptic power supply neither have we built systems to consistently boost the standard of living of citizens. Policy instability, corruption and lack of political have kept us down, at low ebb yet we have the potential to rise and become Africa’s economic superpower.  Unlike us, Malaysia prides herself on having a relatively stable economy with its parade of notably successful export-focused manufacturing industries dealing in electrical and electronic goods, timber, textiles, rubber products, palm oil and tin, to mention a few. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017 attested to the fact that Malaysia is “continuing its upward trend”.

Following this further, the basics must be strategically addressed. Food is crucial. As a country, have we been able to harness our agricultural potential to the extent of growing food sufficient to feed 200 million mouths let alone exporting to other countries? Admittedly, Malaysia became politically independent thirty six months before us but we share certain similarities such as colonial heritage and stage of development in the 1960s with agriculture as the major economic driver. Seduced by the oil boom, we paid less attention to agriculture while Malaysia went on to become a top supplier of primary products to the advanced nations of the world. Today, Nigeria is not in the same class with Malaysia, which is now a dynamic, global economic force. With the different alternatives coming up to drastically reduce the demand for oil and the consequent fall in its prices in the international market, every oil-producing nation needs to think ahead and diversify. When the matter of food security is dealt with, the problem of poverty is half-solved. Imagine a situation, where we still have states civil servants are being owed salaries for months. Consider the ripple effects. How will the affected families feed, cater for the needs of their children and loved ones? Unless basics of food, water, housing, health, education, transport and power are effectively addressed by our leaders, it might be difficult for us to get out of the list of poor countries in the world.

What is more, corruption must be aggressively dealt with. The anti-graft agencies must be empowered to fight corruption without fear or favour. Unless corruption is ruthlessly dealt with, we have no future. Corruption deepened poverty; the monies that are supposed to be used to provide basic social and welfare amenities are embezzled.  There are too many cases of corruption that are yet to be resolved due to our sluggish judicial process. The complicated part is that the society itself overtly and subtly encourages corruption understandably because of the entrenched poverty and the vehement desire to escape from its grip. There are many problems that are with us today because of the corrupt leaders that ruled this country since independence.

All in all, we need to have a clear vision; adopt the right values; provide basics for the people; sincerely fight corruption and overhaul the different sectors of the economy. Interestingly, it was in 1960, that we gained our independence that the Asian tigers - Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan - started taking their quantum leaps. Many countries that we started the race with have left us behind. All hope is not lost but we have to wake up and start moving. It is true that Rome was not built in a day but at least, there was a blueprint for its construction and a determination to build it to finish. Presently, we are living below our potential as a country but we can change this negative narrative by doing the right things that can move us ahead. 

Idowu Omisore, an inspirational author, writes from Lagos.

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