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On Nigeria at 50

As Nigeria marks its 50th anniversary, the prognosis is not very encouraging. Many youths remain jobless while 70 percent or our population, nostly in the rural areas, live in abject povertyTwenty-six years ago, the late Sonny Okosuns in one of his hit songs asked rhetorically– “Which Way Nigeria?”

Apparently perplexed by slow pace of the country’s development efforts, the music maestro expressed his worry over the myriad of socio-economic, religious and political problems stopping Nigeria from reaching the promised land.

With Nigeria four months away from celebrating its 50th independence anniversary, Okosuns’ pertinent question is still valid. Which way is Nigeria going with its socio-political, economic, and infrastructural development? What concrete actions have Nigerian leaders taken to actualise Vision 2020 which will make Nigeria an El Dorado?

Why is the country unable to find lasting solutions to its problems despite its huge human and natural resources? Why is it that at 50, the country is still struggling to provide its citizens with the basic necessities of life? There is inadequate infrastructure and social amenities are practically non-existent because the economy is comatose. Consequently, our political future is still very uncertain.

As Nigeria marks its 50th anniversary, the prognosis is not very encouraging. Many youths remain jobless while 70 percent of our population, mostly in the rural areas live in abject poverty. The health sector is in chaos and whatever services are left would soon be crippled if resident doctors carry out their threat to embark on strike.

The education sector is a metaphor for decay. Suffice it to say that Nigeria’s growth has remained retarded because of its leaders’ pursuit of pecuniary interests. In the event, myopic leadership, nepotism, mediocrity, hydra-headed corruption,  have all combined to negate the country’s development agenda over the years.

Largely because of selfish interest, successive governments have been in the habit of torpedoing policies initiated by their predecessors, to score cheap political points in order to gain public acceptance. These policy somersaults with their attendant instability and the wrong signals they send to the investing public, explain why the economic sector is still very wobbly.

In some of the sectors like banking, oil and gas, agriculture, good old policies have been upturned in the name of ill-thought out reforms. Now, the universal banking, which has been in existence since 2000 is being no more. The policy on fertiliser has gone through several reversals making it almost impossible for farmers to get the much-needed farming input to enhance productivity.

The instability in the oil and gas sector, which yields 80 percent of Nigeria’s revenue is also a product of bad leadership. In the past five years, five different group managing directors have been appointed to run the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. The removal of Shehu Ladan, the last group managing director of NNPC, who was in office for about a month and three weeks while he was on official business in London, sends a wrong signal about the seriousness of the country to reform the sector.

There has been much talk about repositioning the Corporation to compete effectively with the other world oil companies and moving the country to join the league of most developed economies by 2020. The Petroleum Industry Bill which is the bedrock of achieving this objective right now is in limbo particularly because the international oil companies are contesting the fiscal regime it will introduce. Who wants to put his investment in a fragile, unstable economy where the cost of doing business is outrageously high?

Little wonder then that capital flight from the economy hit $20 billion in 2009, according to Central Bank of Nigeria.  Surprisingly, the Nigerian government and the country’s economic managers are not losing sleep over this. Neither are they putting proper structures in place to actualise the lofty ambition of joining the league of developed economies by 2020.

Perhaps, Nigeria should take a cue from Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s actions to restore the glory of his country through innovations in science and technology. Russia and Nigeria have many things in common. Both countries rely heavily on revenue from oil and gas. Both have chronic cases of corruption and the brutalisation of journalists who write about official corruption.

But through the “Strategy 2020” and the Skolkovo project, Medvedev aims to liberate Russia from its heavy reliance on oil and gas by reviving the greatness of a nation once known for scientific and technological achievements. He is also working hard to curb official corruption.  With Skolkovo, Russia is trying to create a new economy by starting an enclave for Russia’s leading business school, which is private, but which receives some state grant for research.

The enclave will mirror the relationship between Stanford University and Silicon Valley in United States of America. The important difference with the Nigerian situation is that the Russian president is not just mouthing Strategy 2020 as our government officials do with Vision 2020.

Rather, he has concrete plans and objectives which he is pursuing with vigour. With the Strategy 2020, Russia plans that the technology sector will make up 15 percent of exports or about 10 percent of GDP by 2020. Currently, it’s about 1.1 percent of GDP. According to “Smart Russia” an article published in Newsweek, Medvedev is pumping billions of state funds into projects including Skolkovo, the world’s biggest nanotechnology-investment fund and a programme designed to lure Russian émigrés and their companies back to the homeland.

As Nigerians plan to celebrate  50 years of independence, the lesson from the Russian experience is that our leaders should embark on projects that will harness the best Nigerian brains both within and in the diaspora and hasten the country’s move to attain Vision 2020. It is the only way to ensure that we know where we are going in the years to come.