We must build a healthy nation with the right capacity to meet the demands of the people, writes Joshua J. Omojuwa
Love it or hate it, Nigeria will form a new government in three days. Regardless of whether you voted or not, the government will be led by His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The sooner we accept these facts, the easier it will be to look at what lies ahead.
Acceptance here does not negate any expectations that some may have from the courts. However, just like the United States Government, which faced criticism from a usually loud minority due to its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, calling the next president and President Biden’s decision to send a delegation to the inauguration, the rest of us understand that the business of government cannot stop.
In that sense, we must consider what urgent and important matters the next government needs to address and prioritize alongside its own agenda. It is difficult to look beyond the fuel subsidy issue as the most pressing matter of national importance. The fuel subsidy policy, whether removed or retained, will have a multidimensional effect on almost every other important issue. While it would have an unprecedented impact on the economy either way, the political cost of its removal has been the most inhibitive factor for decision-makers for many decades. However, there finally seems to be a consensus on its removal. Whether the incoming government has the political will and capability to manage the political outcomes is one we’d have to wait to see.
National security had to be the primary issue on the agenda for both President Jonathan and President Buhari during their inaugurations due to the danger posed by the Boko Haram terrorist group from 2011 to 2015 and beyond. Nigeria’s security challenge has evolved to include banditry and kidnapping, adding layers to the issue. While suicide bombings have significantly reduced, other forms of danger persist due to banditry and kidnapping. One could be forgiven for not considering national security as the primus inter pares issue this time, as was the case with the outgoing government, for instance.
Nigeria has a significant gap to bridge in terms of its extremely low Human Development Index ranking over the years. The fight against terrorism had multiple effects on human development because resources that could have been used for infrastructure development had to be allocated to meet the demands of the war. Additionally, terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping have inflicted great harm on schools, hospitals and health centres, farms, homes, and communities, further exacerbating existing problems such as low life expectancy, inadequate school infrastructure, and the safety of lives and property.
While keeping a keen eye on national security, the government must directly address these issues. Our young and growing population poses a challenge for the future unless we implement a program to upskill the population. While our education system remains inadequate, this is not solely about education but rather about providing the right education.
A population that continues to receive knowledge relevant to yesterday’s problems cannot meet the demands of today and tomorrow’s challenges. The world of work is asking new questions that our school curriculum has been unable to address for years. Moreover, we must also consider the imminent challenges and opportunities presented by Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies. If Nigeria aims to become an economically competitive state, it must build a skilled population that will form its foundation. Without this, we would be placing our hopes on false expectations.
The economy must take center stage, and this time, the government should focus on facilitating economic participation, competition, and cooperation where necessary, rather than trying to be a player in the market. Most governments around the world, throughout recent history, have shown that it is the government’s role to ensure fair organization, rather than actively participating in business.
Think of it like football, where FIFA provides an enabling environment for countries to compete for laurels. FIFA does not have its own team playing against these countries, and it cannot be seen as making the goalposts smaller for some countries and bigger for others in the same game. This is where exchange rate administration comes into play. We cannot claim to have a fair system when some companies with privileged owners have access to billions of dollars at a lower price, while others obtain it at the market rate.
This injustice and imbalance should not require further explanation as to why it is detrimental to businesses thriving in such an environment.
Nigeria must focus on manufacturing products that can compete globally. Additionally, we need to facilitate easy access for the export of our finished products. It should not be more convenient for a Nigerian exporter to set up in Benin or Ghana and label their products as originating from those countries simply to avoid being undermined by elements within our own government. Unlike in FIFA competitions, where only one team emerges as the winner, in a functioning economy, the majority are winners. Strong businesses can grow and, as they thrive, they will require increased capacity to meet new demands. This will result in more jobs, more opportunities, and increased exports.
As a country, we cannot continue to cater to the greed of individuals in positions of power while our nation remains in a subordinate position, rather than dominating the global economy where we rightfully belong. We must build a healthy nation with the right capacity to meet the demands of the modern economy. To do this, we’d need the enabling policies and environments to make the people and their enterprise thrive.
Nigeria must as a matter of urgency become the preferred destination for its own people to stay and work. We cannot afford to pretend this is currently the case, it is not. Matter of fact, the new government would be doing itself a lot of good by designing a system that’d ensure it is not blinded by the usual blinders within government. This is the default design of power, especially in countries with weak institutions as ours. To truly have an appreciation for these challenges, the president and his cabinet must set out from day one to see Nigeria beyond Aso Rock’s thick walls and long corridors.
Omojuwa is chief strategist, Alpha Reach and author, Digital Wealth Book