Cheta Nwanze: Nigeria vs Venezuela, and this is not football

by Cheta Nwaze

I am caught up in a major conundrum. I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, on a university campus. Power was near constant in my environment. English was the language of my environment. People were forward looking, and positive. This was in Nigeria.

As a result, it was not difficult for me to, even under Abacha, when my parents became noticeably poorer, be positive about the future. My first rude shock about how bestial Nigeria really is, was having a front row seat to an ethnic slugfest involving many of those I’d grown up revering. But I shrugged it off as sour-grapes resulting from not getting a job.

My optimism continued. That optimism was the reason I was able to take part in certain movements. However, not too long afterwards, the reality of Nigeria began to seep in. Like many life changing events, it crept up on me. It started with being owed salaries by my employer, two employers, and being unable to do anything about it. This can’t be right, I thought, especially after an attempt at a court case failed. Both former employers are still ‘big men’ in Nigeria, nothing dey happen. The only way myself, and some colleagues, got some recompense from the second employer, was in having to resort to self-help.

Following that, I tried my hand at something else, dabbling with an investor. A Nigerian investor. Those ones changed the rules in the middle of the game, when it suited them, and nothing happened. Some of my colleagues tried the self-help option again, and it failed. Lessons from that, and the episode with my second employer — In Nigeria, to get things done, you have to be willing to use self-help. However, many times you will not succeed, simply because the forces you need to fight, are too powerful.

After that attempt to dabble into running a business with investor morning, I joined a small firm, where I currently work. And it was here that my eyes opened. What opened my eyes?

My firm prides itself on acquiring primary data, about Nigeria. It is my job to analyse a lot of that data. What I see, each day, from the economy, to sexual habits, does not give room for optimism.

However, like I’ve written in the past, and reiterated recently, what worries me most is the time bomb we are sitting on.

Nigerians have a bad habit of comparing ourselves with something bad in order to feel good. So, rather than comparing ourselves with Rwanda say, who are moving up in the world, we’ll say something along the lines of, “At least we no be Venezuela.”

Rain check — Venezuela may be going through shit, but they are in a better position to recover from their sewer than we are. And I’ll tell you why.

On 3 May, 2016, I was given the opportunity to give a lecture. The topic I picked was “Nigeria, what is the way forward”, and in the lecture, I made comparisons between Nigeria, and one other resource rich country — Venezuela. I can’t upload the complete lecture, because it was paid for, but the screenshot below, is one of the slides.


We can choose to deceive ourselves all we like, but the harsh reality is that we are an “at the moment” people, and it is hurting us, bigly.

At the moment, we are doing better than Venezuela, but we ought to be asking ourselves two questions, first, how much better, and second, how soon before we get to where they are given our current trajectory?

Now for another set of harsh truths.
Venezuela has a population of 31 million, compared to Nigeria’s almost 180 million, and a growth rate of 1.3%, as compared with Nigeria’s 2.5%. Ergo, we are growing at double their pace. Our median age is 18, their median age is 28. Given these growth patterns, who is better prepared to give the coming young ‘uns the skills required to navigate a changing world?

Venezuela is ranked 58 out of 120 on UNESCO’s Education for All Development Index, Nigeria is 108.

In terms of geography and geopolitics, in their neighbourhood, Venezuela is close to Brazil, and the United States, and are the eighth largest market in the Americas. In our own neighbourhood, we are the largest market, by some distance.

These aren’t the only challenges, but they are a good start. Our population is working against us, we have the challenge of giving this growing population the skills needed to survive, and we are not preparing for it.

Like it or not, Venezuela is better positioned than we are to come out of the now inevitable end of the global oil market as we know it.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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