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Time To Change Nigeria From A Significant Underachiever By Olufemi Boyede

April 3, 2015

The objective of this write up however, is not to blame past and outgoing leadership(s), but rather, to set an agenda for the incoming Government to realize that Nigeria has had and still has the potential to be truly great and the undisputable GIANT of Africa. We must, first and foremost recognize the fact that economic greatness is not achieved by rebasing the economy, neither can it be by propaganda and international press campaign. It has to be diligently worked for and achieved. The incoming administration must be ready to move Nigeria from being a paper tiger, a barking dog that cannot bite, to the deserved driver of Africa’s emerging economy.


Let me start this contribution by congratulating Nigeria on another milestone. This time, a very unique one.  We have, to the glory of the Almighty God, emerged unscathed from the valley of the shadow of death.  While the enemies were waiting gleefully for a disintegration of this great nation, God’s own special creation, we gave them the shock of their lives (all puns and innuendos intended).  Suddenly, I am able, once again to hop around with my head held high.  I am no longer an indigene of a Banana Republic but a proud citizen of Africa’s largest nation and recently self-reclassified largest economy.  Whatever stigma we, in the Diaspora have borne over the years has suddenly and happily been cleansed off by the successful conclusion of the Presidential election, and the magnanimity of the out-going President, in accepting defeat and congratulating his opponent and eventual victor.  I believe that I am speaking for all of us in Diaspora when I declare that you have made us proud again and we say a big thank you.  Now, to the business of the day and reason for my writing this piece. 

There is no doubt that Nigeria has always had the potential and capacity to lead Africa. The conduct, conclusion and mannerism of GMB and GEJ has shown that we can achieve that. Transposing this into national life, Nigeria has been tagged as a significant underachiever over the years. With all our God-given mineral wealth, thousands of kilometers of arable yet-to-be-cultivated land, navigable inland waterways, safe skies etc, almost every aspect of our national life is a divine endowment.  

Unfortunately, rather than explore these divine capacities, our leaders, over the years, seem to have focused more energy on securing and retaining power for the sole purpose of controlling a national cake that they did not contribute in baking and are not interested in growing.  This is the reason why while our national budgets have moved into triple figures over the past three decades, from modest millions in the Yakubu Gowon era (with oil prices at a bare $10/barrel and production below 1 million barrels per day), through the years to astronomical trillions these days, (with all prices climbing to close to $120/barrels and production escalating to above 2 million barrels per day) the standard of living of the average Nigerian has not leapt by 5%. Rather, we have seen our economy stagnate at around 127-131 out of 183 countries in the WEF ranking of global economies since 2008, thankfully receiving a slight improvement in the competitiveness index (Ease of Doing Business and Investment Climate) where we now sit at 127.  This is why our economic managers could be proud to preside over a monthly sharing of "excess crude revenue", which should, ordinarily and logically be the bedrock of our foreign reserve, the backbone of our own national currency's strength against the Dollar and other hard currencies.  This is why, rather than make our refineries to work, and become a major exporter of petroleum finished products to our immediate economic constituency, the African continent of which we claim to be the giant, we are doling out trillions in subsidy to support a cabal that imports these same products, and dictates the distribution, while stubbornly refusing to implement the only incentive that can grow and sustain our non-oil export sector and transform Nigeria into a non-oil-export-driven economy.  Obviously, it is now public knowledge that the Export Expansion Grant has been rendered inoperative since the past twenty months.  This is why, rather than address national security by creating jobs for the active population, educated or not, we have wasted the past six years and several more trillions paying ransom to people who brutally held the nation by the jugular through acts of outright brigandage, area-boyish and Robin-Hood-like rascality under the guise of “Oil Pipeline Protection Contracts”.

The objective of this write up however, is not to blame past and outgoing leadership(s), but rather, to set an agenda for the incoming Government to realize that Nigeria has had and still has the potential to be truly great and the undisputable GIANT of Africa.  We must, first and foremost recognize the fact that economic greatness is not achieved by rebasing the economy, neither can it be by propaganda and international press campaign. It has to be diligently worked for and achieved. The incoming administration must be ready to move Nigeria from being a paper tiger, a barking dog that cannot bite, to the deserved driver of Africa’s emerging economy.

In doing this, where should we start from?

The new Nigeria must be prepared to borrow from best practices around the world. How did India leave us behind? India is the world's leading example of an economy driven by MSMEs. Brazil is still classified as a developing economy but has produced vehicles that run on four different kinds of "fuel". Dubai has crude oil but decided not to exploit it yet but rather to build an economy that is based on and propelled by Services. Canada is one of the most peaceful places to live in, on planet earth, because it is able to provide the basic needs of her citizens, mainly through the Services industry and tax. Above all, we need to understand that the world's healthiest economies are not mono-cultural but diversified. Like the Brazilian vehicles, we must be able to switch our economic base from Crude Oil to Sugar, Cocoa, Tantalum, Rubber, Leather or finished petroleum products being vigorously exported to the global markets.  We must be able to mainstream Services including Nollywood, Sports, Entertainment (Music), etc. into our new economic plan. Our textile industries must be brought back to stream.  Power must function. The roads and railways must work.

The incoming administration must immediately cash in on its international (goodwill) credit which is principally based on the high reputation of our indefatigable retired but not tired GMB as a zero tolerant of corruption, and leverage this to secure assistance from willing friends of Nigeria. The assistance I am referring to here is strictly in terms of developing our real sector and cottage industries.

Government agencies, especially those receiving subventions from the central purse, must now be made to contribute to the central source. The days of “thirty-days-make-one-pay” must be deliberately and promptly brought to an end. The Agric Ministry must now begin to show in practical terms, real growth in production.  Whoever heads that Ministry in the new dispensation must be made to focus his energy on PRODUCTION (to required international quality standards) and leave the MARKETING to the Ministry created for that purpose. Territorialisation (the thirst to allocate expanded roles for one’s Ministry for the purpose of increased budgetary allocation, without ethical respect for the jurisdictional “owners of certain functions) certainly largely affected the focus, and therefore output of GEJ's Ministers.  GMB must not only guard against this by ensuring clarity of roles and delineation of jurisdiction for his Ministers, he must ensure that they work together as a team.  At the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, a SMEDAN, for example, must be made to create a specific number of cottage industries around the country per target period. The recurrent theoretical training of MSMEs, without seeing them through to the actual starting up of an enterprise, makes the whole process purposeless.  An NEPC, the natural parallel to NNPC in the nation’s economic framework, must be made to report on an annual basis and in specific figures, the number of new exporters developed, new markets penetrated, new products exported (in volume and value), the actual contribution of the non-oil sector to the nation’s economy AS A RESULT OF ITS DIRECT INTERVENTION (as against the current practice of reeling out periodic reports of fantastic growth in non-oil exports when in actual fact, they have had absolutely no input into how Nigeria’s endangered exporters are achieving these feats).  NEXIM, BOI and other financial support institutions, must show how much and to whom they gave funding support, and how those businesses are faring.   An NIPC must be able to showcase the real investments attracted into Nigeria in addition to the theoretic reports of Nigeria remaining the number one investment destination in Africa for the past three years, without any evidence of reduction in the nation's unemployment profile. The Ministry of Solid Minerals Development (now renamed Mines and Steel Development) must be made to show results in its artisanal mining projects and attraction of real mining ventures that will increase rural industrialization and employment. That Ministry alone can replace oil as the mainstay of the nation's economy, but only if prevailed upon to deliver defined results.

The foregoing observation and recommendation is simply an implementation of the concept of accountability or “TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN, MUCH IS REQUIRED”.  Our MDAs must therefore stop collecting subvention for the sake of collecting, rather than delivering results.

I know that a few sceptics might want to see the foregoing observations as a negative assessment of status quo (ante or present). Let me hasten to explain that planning for the CHANGE upon which the incoming administration based its electioneering campaign, can only be effective if we take an in-depth look (not a forensic probe) into the activities of the past, with the focused objective of sifting the wheat from the chaff and zeroing in on what can work.

Let me conclude this article with one practical illustration. At the onset of the GEJ administration in 2011, I was privileged to be one of the Captains of Industry to whom two Ministers presented their work plan at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.  The two Ministers no doubt had a very rosy idea of the things they would do to speedily raise Nigeria's profile in the comity of prospering nations, with fantastic proposals, projects and programmes. They sounded so believable that you could almost touch the new Nigeria in that hall. I remember vividly, my contribution from the floor after the two brilliant presentations. In the little time I was allowed, I warned them against trying to put too many pieces of wood in the fire at the same time. I even challenged one of them that if he was able to focus and ensure effective implementation of a mere twenty percent of the plan he presented, Nigeria would achieve her vision 20:2020 by the end of his tenure in 2015. Unfortunately, as good as that advice sounded, time has ended its implementation and the Ministry, even with a handful of sophisticated and novel achievements, has been adjudged to have had little impact on Nigeria and Nigerians' lives.

As a learning process therefore, I would humbly advise GMB and his team to also look into short-term interventions that would exert realistic immediate impact on the nation and her citizens. A few sectors immediately come to mind. I mention these in no particular order as follow:

Deliberate support for non-oil exports as was done in 1986 when the IBB administration reinforced economic diversification through virile non-oil exports as one of the palliative measures against SAP.  GMB must as a matter of immediate urgency, cultivate the understanding and cooperation of Nigerian exporters because, outside oil, it is only the non-oil exporters who can generate the dwindling foreign exchange that will help him to arrest and sustain the crashing value of the Naira.
Revival of the textile sector. Government, under OBJ spent a tidy sum to prepare a Textile Industry Revival Master-plan. There is no need reinventing the wheel. The plan is somewhere. Let it be exhumed. It only needs to be revived, reviewed and polished for implementation. 
The outgoing Government initiated the One Local Government One Product concept and the same was repackaged across different Ministries and Agencies under exotic names, with none actually seeing the light of the day. Again, it would be good to actually call up this document and see how cottage industries can come out of it. 

For the first time in a very long while, the Cocoa sector met at a globally acclaimed successful First International Summit on Nigeria’s Cocoa Value Chain, in Abuja in October last year and agreed a comprehensive Master Plan for the development of that critical sector.  It was themed “FROM PRODUCTION TO THE CONSUMPTION TABLE”.  Apart from the public showing of support for the efforts of the players, Government has not done anything after that.  The incoming administration can take this up and release an Implementation Plan/White Paper.  The success here can be replicated for other economic crops like Rubber, Groundnuts, Spices and Herbal Plants which is a world-wide hot commodity right now.
Each of these “low hanging fruits” has detailed reports and documents that can be used to fast-track their actualisation.  It is the Nigerian Government that paid for the design of these concepts and strategies so, no matter who is now at the head, they remain Government's properties.

The CHANGE team had demonstrated, during the electioneering campaigns, some grasp of the issues with Nigeria's (under)development.  I did commend this understanding then but advised that the Sparks needed to be developed into veritable road maps.  There is still a fifty-day period between now and May 29, for some of these ideas to be translated into quick wins and veritable enablers of the CHANGE Nigerians were promised, and which they logically and naturally expect.  This will be the road to relieving the country of its international brand of a SIGNIFICANT UNDERACHIEVER.

Once again, I congratulate the entirety of Nigerians all over the world.  I commend the magnanimity of our erstwhile shoeless GEJ who has, by his display of good sportsmanship may actually have positioned himself for the Hall of fame of Africa’s greatest leaders and, most importantly, I pray for and with the new and only African Abraham Lincoln, our tireless tenacious resourceful GMB and his team, as they get set to CHANGE Nigeria.

Long live the indivisible Federal Republic of Nigeria.


Olufemi Boyede, CITP/FIBP 

Certified International Trade Professional

3885, Stardust Drive

Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

[email protected]