Opinion: Nigeria needs to learn from South Korea, now

by Kehinde Olurode

Both our people and leaders can indeed learn a lot from the little country of South Korea… Maybe then Nigerians can start living in Gangnam style.

Visiting South Korea on a business trip indeed opened up my eyes to the vista of opportunities that a country, when well-coordinated by responsible leadership, can provide its citizens even with relatively limited modicum of natural resources.

The southern part of the Korean peninsula as it is known lies between the two great countries of Japan and China, with a population of about 50 million people living along coastal plains and mountainous regions which are largely not arable. Its recent history witnessed a war with its Northern neighbors in 1950 commonly termed the Forgotten War which came to an end in 1953 with the signing of an armistice dividing the country along the 38th parallel. Thereafter, South Korea was ruled by a military leadership for 32 years followed by civilian rule from 1993 and boasts of a stable democracy with upcoming presidential elections on the 19th of Dec, 2012. The war stymied economic growth but the growth achieved after the war is indeed amazing and a testament to this being the rating of South Korea among the 20 world’s largest economies.

The parallel which  Nigeria’s leadership and people can   draw from this is that South Korea is  largely a new democracy and as recent as the 1960s was comparable to the poorest nations in Africa in terms of economic growth and human capital development due to the adverse effects of the war. South Korea however pursued a different route to economic growth leading to rapid industrialization.

One then begins to wonder, what does it take to achieve such economic growth within the shortest possible time? Yes, it takes a lot and the answers are not that of rocket science but an effort by the leadership and its people. Nigeria should start to focus on things that truly matter.  The over dependence on natural resources has been a clog in our drive to development. A shift towards human capital development should be made, as no nation can achieve growth without a well-educated workforce who can come up with brilliant ideas and technologies for the next generation. All countries with continued economic growth have largely been through innovations that change the future and not via sole dependence on a particular natural resource where nationals depend solely on rent seeking and draw satisfaction only by playing a peripheral role in its economic commanding height.

As there is no amount of natural resource that can sustain a culture lacking in critical ICT-based knowledge and maintenance orientation, Nigeria also needs to borrow a leaf from South Korea in cultivating a mindset of sustainability and ownership of its infrastructure. I visited the Suwon World Cup Stadium to cheer on a local club known as Suwon Samsung Bluewings and was amazed to see the pristine condition of the stadium even well after its construction in 2001 for the 2002 World Cup. Nigeria can indeed borrow a leaf from this type of culture and such attitudes can be transferred in our efforts towards sustainable growth. The general state of infrastructure in Nigeria can be attributed to poor effort at grasping the core of sustainability; we invest so much in nothing and continue to fritter away resources. We demand the best social services yet we cannot provide them ourselves. Our leaders are a greedy lot and largely indulge in conspicuous consumption. How can a country develop when attention is not paid to what is important? Nigeria starkly represents a country where ethically conscious people are just in short supply in all key governance institutions.

Both our people and leaders can indeed learn a lot from the little country of South Korea, a shift to developing human capital and maintaining existing infrastructure are definite prelude to the realization of our full potential as a country. Maybe then Nigerians can start living in Gangnam style.


Kehinde Olurode is an engineer working in the United States with Samsung Austin Semiconductor.


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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