A COUNTRY THAT CAN BE

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Monday comment1

Nigeria has what it takes to lift millions out of poverty, writes Adeniran Aderogba

It has become such a common refrain, that it’s almost beginning to sound like the proverbial scratched record: “Nigeria is great, a country blessed with abundant human and material resources”; the stark reality, however, is that we have not harnessed this massive potential to the fullest.

It is extremely convenient to point accusing fingers at political authorities for any perceived governance lapses but no, we must all take collective blame: from the “Okada “or “Keke Marwa” rider who brazenly flouts laws, goes against traffic as if it his right, the office driver who inflates fuel prices, the diesel supplier who fiddles with supply volumes, the street hawker who sells you a music CD which you only discover doesn’t work, to the civil servant who hides important files until there are “discussions”….

On a flight into Nairobi, I was stunned by the number of non-African tourists entering the country and displaying a high degree of excitement and expectation towards their visit.

Also, while waiting for my luggage on arrival at a Mediterranean city in Europe recently (by the way not even the capital city) it was simply amazing to see the hordes of tourists coming from different continents to enjoy the city.

I started to draw parallels: what do these cities have that we don’t have? They were simply selling sunshine, pristine beaches, nice hotels, a hyped up social scene and grudgingly I conceded, maybe a significantly more secure environment.

You know what though we have a lot of these things! Drive on the road from Eleko beach in Lagos/Epe axis to La Campaigne Tropicana and witness the marvel of nature- breathtaking palm trees lined in almost perfect synchronisation (as if designed by a supernatural architect). Along that same route, crystal clear and soothing blue lakes, you would think they were Olympic swimming pools.

Drive from Abuja to Kwara State, and along the way see unbelievable mountains, incredibly sculptured in a very natural way. Lush greenery that could be very well in any developed country….

So, why aren’t tourists coming here in droves, why aren’t we citizens making the best use of what we have? Why are Nigerians hungry? This is really the perverted story of Nigeria. A potentially great nation, but still trying to find its feet.

So, how do we exit this quagmire?

Let’s start with our people. Nigerians are resilient, committed, inherently fair and honest and extremely hardworking. You only need to drive on Third Mainland Bridge at about 5am on a working day and see the blazing lights of vehicles speeding into the island and you can only ask, what time did these people wake up to be heading to work at 5am? You only need to see the female traffic warden on Falomo Bridge, who, come rain, come shine is there directing traffic without any complaints. You only need to see the woman frying akara and yam early in the morning and you wonder. Also on traffic management, you only need to see complete obedience by people to the physically challenged man, with only a stick in his hand, directing traffic. Clearly there is a very strong work ethic and compliance culture but Nigerians will back-track once they get disillusioned and then start to find short cuts.

The civil service has one of the smartest crop of people, with deep institutional memory but again, deep fears of security of tenure and inadequate welfare makes them exhibit bad behaviour.

So what do our people want?  Educate them. Transport them at reasonable costs. Provide them with decent and affordable health services. Secure them.Give them some reasonable aspirational lifestyles. Provide sufficient shelter.Let them have electricity. Let them have a dignified and sustainable means of livelihood. Create transparent, free and competitive markets.

This brings us to what economic sectors need to be given due attention and get quick wins. We will highlight just three for this purpose.

Maritime Sector: Develop maritime academies which will train idle youths as seafarers, their services can then be exported and generate hard currency. The Philippines have the largest seafarer population in the diaspora generating well over USD40 billion annually.  Develop indigenous capacity in the entire value chain, ship building, ship repairs, national fleet, cabotage services, aquaculture, professional services (accounting, finance, legal and insurance), wrecks removal and ship breaking services, waste disposal. This will create jobs, conserve and generate hard currency.

Port logistics and infrastructure enhancement. Apapa gridlock, for example, could be ameliorated by better management of port transportation logistics.Create specialized financing institutions.

Entertainment: Go to any major store or restaurant in the UK today and you most likely will hear a Nigerian song belching out from the speakers. Across Africa, Nigerian culture and mannerisms are being adopted, just the way Hollywood influenced the world. This should count for something, instantly recognizable names should be monetized. You cannot have millions of ears listening to your songs, millions of eyeballs watching your movies and you are still hungry. Organise the entertainment sector in such a way as to make participants bankable and able to access funding.

Fully understand the value chain of this sector, from content creation, back stage production and operations, distribution and management. Each aspect of this chain has huge potential to create jobs and generate substantial revenues.

 Firm up legal framework to ensure sanctity of contracts in this industry as this is a key militating factor. Most participants will tell you it’s a dog-eat-dog world because enforcement of agreements is difficult. And protect proprietary rights and eliminate infringements.

Information Technology: With the advent of the internet, data and smartphones, the old lady in a village in Damaturu is not at any significant disadvantage to the high-rolling trader on Wall Street as they can technically have access to the same information. This is a massive tool to uplift our people and must be embraced.

Whilst the rest of the world was still busy texting and chatting, Apple, Facebook, Alibaba, Tencent, Amazon became corporate behemoths in less than a decade. With our numerical strength we can create such companies here. Again, actively seek out intelligent and merit-driven Nigerians who can create something from nothing. Applications which will expand the frontiers of knowledge and deal, with everyday problems Nigerians encounter. For example transportation solutions, health solutions, e-commerce and identity management ideas. Continue the creation of intellectual hubs were like-minded people can collocate and interact to develop themselves. Create vocational centres which will churn out skilled personnel who will drive innovation. Encourage financial inclusion by leveraging on technology to access the unbanked. Use technology to enhance security systems.

This list is by no means exhaustive but can act as a catalyst to triggering off a massive shift in our current conditions, engaging minds, solving problems, creating wealth and lifting citizens out of the poverty they do not deserve.

Aderogba is a former Ag. DG at NIMASA