Pat Utomi: What change really means for Nigeria

by Pat Utomi

Nigerians prayYou are right again, Einstein. The old thinking that created this problem will not fix it. Nothing is more desperately needed than a new way of thinking about our problems in Nigeria, but there are ever present dangers if old ways still hold sway.

In the area of the greatest urgency, saving the country from an impending bankruptcy, wiping the unemployment scourge and boosting confidence in future prospects, through inspiring our youths to recreate the future, challenges of approach remain. Has change really come?

It is common talk amongst those who know that if we do not do an extraordinary job of cutting our coat according to our cloth, we shall be knocking on the doors of the International Monetary Fund before the end of this year. Their conditionality may prove far more painful than the enjoyment of few private jet owners during the difficult to pardon recklessness of our recent history. How do we recapture the lost opportunities and rebuild the wounded lives that victims of our wrong choices have endured?

In my view, the new thinking must include a show of example at the top. That show of example has to include deep cost cutting on bureaucracy, unnecessary aides and wasteful entertainment on the executive side, and on the side of the National Assembly. We may be constrained by the constitution from going directly to a citizen legislature, or part-time legislature, which is what we really need, but some major cuts and shifts in how that body operates is a national emergency, before the country heads for the IMF. We do not want to be in Africa, what Greece is in Europe.

We should not see that matter as fault-finding because what we need the most right now, is elite consensus and rallying common cause for rebuilding the fallen walls of the fatherland. The legislators of the land, just as the big man of power in the executive, need to see this as a patriotic rallying cause. Even more importantly, the bureaucrats in the system should show leadership and plug the leaks in the system as well as dams over corruption streams that make policy implementation difficult. Everyone needs to be inside this house of reconstruction, pissing out, rather than for some to be outside in the “open air of their selfish interest” pissing in.

What Nigeria is caught up in, with finances so bad, following on a period of earnings’ boom from which there could have been much savings, but little was done, is the moral equivalence of war. We need therefore a war cabinet of economic reconstruction with new thinking not only on how to plug the leakages but also on how to harvest the demographic dividend of our huge youth bulge. My preferred approach is a total emersion in an entrepreneurial revolution that draws the youth of Nigeria, in a change of mindset, from a rent-based consumer economy, to a creative, competitive production economy. In this model, the factor endowments of different zones of development should be that basis for building globally competitive value chains that are private sector-driven with impassioned public sector facilitation in contradistinction from today’s public sector with a culture of the policemen slowing things down, and often extorting from potential job and wealth creators, who are then discouraged. This process will involve converting the customs and immigration agencies into public relations vehicles competing for who will best welcome those who add value to the Nigerian experience.

In each zone, the educational system needs to be deliberately focused on competitiveness on the endowments of that zone. The new industrial policy should locate industrial parks and incubators, with entrepreneurship extension service agents to hand-hold young entrepreneurs and guide them to global leadership on segments of the chosen value chains. I do go as far as suggesting a Central Banking strategy similar to the regional Reserve Bank system in the United States in which the Central Banks are driven by the goal of stimulating regional commercial banks directed at the region’s endowments, and global competitiveness.

It is jobs created in this way that will prove sustainable pipeline for new jobs, reviving both agriculture, relevant manufacturing and some services in the ICT, and tourism niches, that will replace some short term new jobs from public works programmes that will provide quick infrastructure and improved environment “value-adds” while the young persons are developing new skills, part-time, as they work on the public works initiatives.

Critical to such a strategy will be interministerial coordination skills at the horizontal level, and state and federal coordination, at the vertical level. The spice will however lie in motivating the young persons to confidently own the future and to recognise that if they can dream it, they can make it happen.

Surely, the intersection of fall in oil prices and change in administrators is an opportunity rather than a threat. It is an opportunity to move from angry helpless youths to a confident creative, new generation, building a dream nation. It is opportunity to go from cutting corners and instant gratification, to deferred gratification that creates a lasting value. It is opportunity to shift from poverty and a miserable place in the misery index, to a nation of many triumphs and prosperity. The big challenge here is that if we are to save Nigeria from the old thinking that got us where we are, being the same deployed to save us, we must admit some truths. One of them is that as a country, Nigeria has been mortgaged to some special interests since the time of military rule.

For these interests, change is not about the Common Good. It is a matter of reshuffling the deck, change is about new lists of surrogates. The Nigerian people may therefore just wake up to their great expectations quickly becoming rising frustration.

If the youth of the land want to save their future, they must not relax in the belief that change has come. They must be prepared to take extraordinary measures to prevent these special interests who finance elections from sacrificing the greater good at the altar of recouping their “investments”. No one should be shy of talking of an unfinished revolution and working towards finishing it. No generation deserves to carry the burden of narcissism of a handful of men from a generation before.


Pat Utomi is a political economist and Professor of entrepreneurship, is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

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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