Recession: Beyond the Tragedy and Pain


Stephen Lawani writes on some of the steps government should take to make the Nigerian economy work again

In the 1960s, thinkers coined the word “Knowledge Economy” to announce a radical shift from traditional economies. It was an extraordinary gift by intellectuals of that era to a world that some people thought had become sluggish, uncreative and desperately in need of ideas.

Today, more than 50 years after that intellectual uprising, many countries still drive their economic policies with huge emphasis on the power of knowledge and human imagination. For these countries, there is a strong belief that any system of production and consumption that is not based on intellectual capital will fail.

I decided to present this background because Nigeria at present reminds one of the pre 1960s knowledge revolution and the deficit of awareness.

Nothing captures our nation’s knowledge paucity of ideas today like the controversial debate on the sale of our nation’s physical assets. But the question is: what exactly are we really selling? Where is the place of fixed and physical assets in today’s changing world that is governed by ideas and brainpower? And why would the sale of physical assets that are here today and gone tomorrow determine our economic direction? And if we sell now and recession continues, what happens?

What I enjoyed most about the debate was the cacophony of voices that argued endlessly. Again, the arguments reinforced the benefits of public discourse which everybody agrees is missing in our country today.

But this piece is not about public dialogue and its benefits. It is essentially about wealth from knowledge and intellectual property, which to my mind is the ultimate asset. There is no doubt that the world is undergoing tremendous change. And we are already witnesses to the transformation affecting production, distribution, trade, employment and life generally.

Once upon a time, that was during the agricultural economy, land was everything. Also, during the industrial era, natural resource like coal and labour were the main issues. Today, all that has changed because in a knowledge economy, knowledge is the resource and not oil or solid minerals. But I hasten to add that from time immemorial, knowledge has always played a part, no matter how small in every economic activity. What is new today however is that there is now a phenomenal dose of knowledge and information that is fused into economic activity by individuals and governments.

So when we make sale of national assets a talking point in a recession, we highlight our confusion, pain and misery. It also shows that not much of good thinking is going on at the right places. But we must not despair or even give a thought to the falsehood that the sale of national assets essentially brings about boom. Nigerians must look inwards and face squarely, this demon called recession.

Anytime I remember Steve Jobs, Apple Computer’s famous co-founder, I also remember the hundred hopeless Nigerian versions of this great American inventor roaming our streets. The difference between Jobs and these hapless Nigerians is essentially environment.

Therefore in this season of economic decline, everything must be deployed into saving our country and its future. And for me, young people should be the starting point. In line with our case for a knowledge economy, Nigeria must urgently take steps towards revamping education. Our schools must return to centres of excellence in learning and research. Technical and vocational studies should be reintroduced and strengthened for optimum results. And we must encourage and remind the youth once more on the virtues of hard work, fair play, principles and patriotism.

I think it is imperative for Nigeria as a country to learn from the tragedies of other nations. But as I said earlier, there is hope. Recently, I watched with keen interest in Lagos, an event on October 1 as speaker after speaker, spoke on the colossal waste recurrent in running government. The optimism for me is that young people were enjoined at that event driven by a non-government organisation to be active and to question the actions of their political leaders. I agree with the speakers because the future belongs to the young and they must take the moment.

For politicians, I am afraid that they may not have anything more to say in 2019 if living conditions today do not improve. Things must just get better or we will all have ourselves to blame. I am in agreement with those who insist that infrastructural decay must be urgently addressed. I also want the government of the day to create jobs and provide the enablement that would encourage entrepreneurship. In another breath, I support those who speak against the prevailing atmosphere of fear which naturally encourages capital flight and discourages investment.

As citizens, we must continually be conscious of the fact that knowledge must be used for economic benefits. And for us to achieve the needed results, we must align with knowledge and technology because both are friends for growth and development. If we do nothing and pretend, then we will be deceiving ourselves because economy is already globalised. This is already evident as we have all seen that even our cottage industry is currently at the mercy of the dollar. This is the way to go and we must brace up and face the reality.

– Lawani, a former Deputy Governor of Benue State is an industrialist and philanthropist