Securing The Nigerian Future

It’s fifty years of independence already. I recant the grey footage of hope that kept our fathers and mothers lined across the streets . As the moment appeared, it  presented us an open goal.  All we needed was to start shooting- putting the nets in a rhythm. Did we shoot or we shot amiss? Because till date a cloud of doubt hangs in air if  Nigeria deserves a trophy.  Or as a people we should take a backseat, sulk in shock with our African peers who proclaimed freedom  in 1960!

Fifty years is really a long time to appraise a nation and wonder what it will become.  As years rolled by we began to show that we existed of a patchwork of the colonial fantasy. That we were a geographical accident, a collection of forced marriages more so in just seven years , an eastern family  wanted to severe our divine ropes of kinship.  The name Nigeria became a mere permutation exercise of a British lady.

This is no time to clink glasses and wear gleaming smiles for the photograph unless we take our standard from worse African brethren. If we ever had time to behold the fortress of greatness , we should  sit down with long faces wondering why this giant talent crawls with skinny legs? With vast arable land, we  cannot feed ourselves, competitively educate people, give appropriate healthcare, create safety nets and give employment to the every deserving Nigerian.

To whom much is given, much is expected.  The huge size of our map, lush green vegetation of the savanna, dark oil in the creeks, mineral deposits and superlative human resource has not taken us to great heights. One expects the right leadership to just organize these resources for communal benefit. Our civilian leaders killed hope as they bequeathed royalty to the soldiers for over years. The civilian governments have not also fared better with rampant cases of corruption. Here we are after fifty years  our wealth resides in few pockets opening gaps of inequalities. We can keep recounting the missteps, slips and lost opportunities that has taken us this far.

Nigeria according to Goldman Sachs has been  identified in next 11 economies with potential to bloom after the BRIC. We know potential remains static until a kinetic force pushes it. The question is where is Nigeria’s kinetic force? We are blessed no doubt with a thriving population, a worry presently to Germany and Japan. We own natural resources chiefly oil, China would wish it had that. We now have an amazing statistics that 70 percent of the population is under 40, the greatest of all.

Independent Nigeria at fifty still suffers from the crisis of identity.  Countries of the world are creating jobs  using a mixed approach of capitalism and government intervention. Nigeria cannot continue to keep other  developing countries  jobs as it import all sorts to our chronic consuming population. Every country in this globalised world is looking for competitive ways to remain an export engine or an outpost of global trade. The BRIC (Brazil, India, China, Russia) are using internal fiscal and trade policies to empower their people, tapping into their population strength and produce competitively. The oil rich emirates (Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman) are carving a liberal niche, building the biggest structures and developing strategies to make themselves an avenue of global trade and tourism.  Nigeria needs to come to maturity – a state of self consciousness where we independently decide our choices for national growth. It also needs to assess its strength, build giant industries through support mechanisms for  local entrepreneurs, seek every opportunity to transfer technology  and scale up our infrastructure. We must seek to be bold and build our own engines of innovation.

The new global economy is driven by clear policy mechanisms, technology and human capital and we need to urgently diversify the economy through agriculture, solid minerals, tourism, real sector. Nigeria needs some basic fundamentals to leap into the great economies of the years ahead. 80% of Nigerian graduates in the last four years are presently unemployed. This growing index  is my greatest source of disaster  unless  we want to ignore the social cost  of an unemployed population.  Unless we want  to discount possibilities of increased crime, prostitution, cyber crime, militancy, armed robbery, kidnapping and other social vices, we can ignore our unemployment statistics.

Nigeria cannot innovate and do meaningful research from the present curricula in universities and higher institutions. The Nigerian education needs huge reform  to cut billions of capital flight by students  into foreign schools who seek world class education. We need to get our best to teach and take a review of doctoral research that incubates  from our higher institutions. The country needs to seek partnership with foreign universities , give competitive remuneration to lecturers  and enable research mechanisms.  

 Nigeria needs to evaluate public and private sector divide. The country need to sustain present forums concerning the challenges of private sector.  We need to own the big industries of the world, attractive financial industry and most importantly tap into the creative energies of their people. We need an economic  ideology that guards  our local investors interests to remain competitive through job and value creation.

Nigeria needs to develop a strong labour policy that values its workforce . It needs to take analysis of its wage structure of firms in this country who are daily taking advantage of our surplus labour. Nigeria needs a minimum peg in terms of wage structure for private firms. It needs to critical into crops that oiled our  independence engines until we began exploring oil. Agriculture sprouting form rich soils was thrown into irrelevance with the sudden enormous oil wealth, now its time to bring it back. Government using a private sector mechanism can allocate loans to unemployed  graduate groups and ensure proper monitoring.

It goes beyond statistics of economy shown in GDP growth, we need a measure of improved livelihood in per capita income. We need indices that benchmark  poverty alleviation, socio economic conditions, right infrastructure, trade and fiscal policies. We need a silicon valley full of venture capitalists that support budding ideas and bring it to fruition. We need to source for our golden minds in Diaspora and creatively engage them for transfer of knowledge and technology.

The tragic risk of a nation that put its economic balance in a volatile resource such as oil will not take us far in years to come. Low carbon economy and green investment, alternative power are the new pathway to create thousands of jobs.  We should shift attention from oil and allow each region/state to competitively develop its own growth strategy.

 We can keep counting the cost for such  economy that empowers it people. But with petty talk of politics such as zoning, bureaucracy, national quota system, recycling of  leaders and other multiple woes such corruption, hope looks forlorn. We need to find the right leadership to bridge the gap between potential and achievement. We need humane and honest  leadership that seeks the benefit of populace and pursue it with restless vigor. Bad leadership to efficiently organize resources was our disaster in the last fifty years, 2011 elections is the time to fix it. Lets Register, Vote, Select and Protect our Votes – the first step to fix Project Nigeria.

This article has been published by the Nigerian Abroad Magazine in its independence issue

Let there Be Light

I grew up in a neighborhood where within an instant the incandescent bulb comes to live, the kids shout – Up NEPA. It was a chorus of relief with our eyes dilating at the electric bulb praying the power monopoly doesn’t kill our ecstasy. I remember running home to meet a television programme only to get to the doorstep, suddenly the lights go off. It can also be watching a drama at the edge of suspense; NEPA puts off its switch.  As a right thinking Nigerian who highly understands the multiplied effect on an inefficient and pipe drain power monopoly known as PHCN on the economy, foreign investment, real sector, SME, competitiveness and so on, I have always cogitated about why the giant of Africa still revels in darkness despite abundance of all sources of power generation – coal, oil, gas, water, wind, biomass and so on.  It is sad that lesser economies on the continent and power sources bereft nations are leading in power infrastructure hurdle.

 I once visited the Oshogbo Power Center as a student. On arrival, I was moved at the metallic structural height and array of electrical trusses made up of transmission lines, reactors, isolators, transformers, communication lines and so on. I was too anxious to know why and why Nigeria still faces this malignant albatross even though the known ulterior motive of the visit was to gain practical knowledge. After few speeches by the power monopoly officials  on areas of operations and organogram which were of little concern to me, I wanted answers gravitating my mind. A dozen of questions were asked by the eager students either as a reflection of their naivety or unpolished knowledge.  I quickly learnt that for over last ten years, military government never spent a kobo to develop the power infrastructure and its future demand despite the increasing population.

It is obvious that since 1999, a lot of noise has been made on the urgent need to improve the power sector and I was told that an overnight magic is impossible. It is known by hindsight that power sector reforms mantra were not more than a swearing-in speech. The Ndidi Elumelu panel has shown that power sector fund shown the crass ineptitude, poor planning and a heap of corruption in the sector. It is hereby pathetic to find the Ndudi Elumelu Panel still being put under the searchlight for corruption charges. The conflicting figures, contractors’ profiles, inexistent, scandals or unregistered companies explains why we still grope in darkness.

At my trip to Osogbo, I found out that the transmission monopoly and the unbundled distribution zones do not have the necessary capacity to transmit the maximum power demand which is put at 10000MW. So my wonder still continued that despite the amount of money spent on the NIPP in 2005 and unforgettable boast of Frank Nweke Jnr at every forum, power is still a shot in the dark? It is so easy to point accusing fingers to economic saboteurs who aided massive importation of diesel and generators. Why has government given a body language that it had been  coalescing with  a clique of business cabals  to secretly frustrate the power sector reform through pipeline vandalism, bureaucracy, improper contract award, inchoate planning and other disgusting overtures?

After so much analysis about the irritating state of power sector, we need to find an amicable solution. President Jonathan seems to have gone beyond the rhetoric and readily has a clear roadmap to reverse power paralysis. He has kept the power portfolio to himself and in a power reform sector roundtable held in Lagos, he promised in late August to fully privatize of Power Holding Company. The new power sector reform allows for independent generation, bulk purchase agreement, competitive pricing and privatized distribution companies. This are not new issues in the Power Sector. Previous governments have promised whole scale reform in the past, but all have faltered making power an impossible chore. Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, started the unbundling of the monopolistic state owned power company and spent close to $10bn on the entire power project. Goodluck seems to be on the march for much needed reform in adequate power supply with continuous engagement with private sector, international corporations and multilateral agencies.

 My own view is that we have waited for centralized grid for too long. The large number of gas fired station represents have only remained in potential and has not been turned into distributed wattage. Beyond the present power reforms pursued, we need to decentralize power generation by trying out micro generation units to every home and every state to find means to offset its energy problems. Solar power, wind, biomass power for small communities and homes backed with back up from centralized monopoly at peak /low intensity periods will be advisable while the new power company under a centralized grid provides power to industries, real sector and businesses communities at their own peak periods. The truth is that a government backed renewable power initiative will be affordable by average Nigerians.

Nigeria spends $13bn yearly to run generators and with a 129 kilowatt hours per capita compared to 239 in Ghana, 491 in India and 12,607 in the United States. All Nigeria need is clear competitive public policy  that blocks systemic opportunities for corruption and capital loss. I am tired of the vuvuzela hum of neighbourhood generators and the crippled real sector that can employ my jobless peers. As I conclude this piece I remember the opening lines of the Bible. I see a country still finding form with a darkness hovering over it. It’s time for a talismanic fix. Let there be Light. Nigerians don’t  deserve a den of darkness.