Simon Kolawole: Minting Our Way To The Top

By Simon Kolawole

Credit: Thisday
Credit: Thisday

Jim O’Neill, a British economist, is best known for coining BRIC – the acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, and China – to represent the shift of global economic power away from the usual suspects: US, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, UK and Canada, often called the G7. O’Neill is at it again. He has coined MINT – acronym for Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – which he calls the “emerging economic giants” to follow in the footsteps of BRIC. As Abuja prepares to host the 24th edition of the prestigious World Economic Forum Africa in May, which will keep Nigeria in the eye of the world for a few days, I keep asking myself: why does the world tend to believe in us but we seem not to believe in ourselves?

A typical Nigerian sees only problems. A typical outsider sees opportunities. We say our economy is going down. Outsiders say our economy is going up. Whose report should we believe? Every year, we are told our economy is growing at 6%, even 7%. But when we look around, we see hungry faces and millions of people struggling for clean water, decent healthcare and basic education. And where are the jobs? Instructively, the theme of the 2014 WEF-Africa is “Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs”. The event attracts heads of government, statesmen, global CEOs, leading financiers as well as policy and development technocrats from over 80 countries. It will give us a great opportunity for economic diplomacy – and to look at ourselves.

Indeed, if our GDP is growing, Nigerians should feel it. Economic growth figures must not be mere statistics. But there are various ways of looking at it. One is to say the right sectors of the economy – the productive sectors that will impact on ordinary people’s lives and livelihoods – are not growing yet. A boom in the oil sector does not create significant jobs. If agriculture and industry are booming, however, there will be a world of new jobs. A second way is to say things have gone so bad that it will take decades of good governance for us to feel the impact of growth. It is like you are dead thirsty and take only a teaspoon of cold water. If government policies help create one million jobs whereas 30 million people are unemployed, it is difficult to feel the impact. Yet it does not mean we are going backwards.
Let me state clearly that I am not one of those who expect Nigeria to develop overnight. I’m a realist. I don’t expect to go to bed tonight and wake up tomorrow to discover that all the mosquitoes, rats and cockroaches have disappeared. It took decades to destroy Nigeria. It will take decades to rebuild it. We have been experimenting with many reform initiatives. Some have worked and some have not. Ex-military President Ibrahim Babangida started a series of structural reforms in the 1980s aimed at making the economy robust, but the pains and protests meant he often had to reverse himself. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo pulled through many reforms, especially in telecoms and financial sectors. We are enjoying the benefits today long after his exit from office.

The various development initiatives of President Goodluck Jonathan and most of our governors indicate that we can keep up with our MINT potential. I have been to several states and seen enormous investments in infrastructure, healthcare, education and agriculture, and these are the things that will eventually grow our economy, create jobs, tackle poverty and take us higher on the development ladder. However, we should be moving at a faster and consistent speed. That is the frustration for me. I worry a lot about waste and corruption, which have slowed us down considerably, and wish that the twin evil will be exorcised. But, still, it is not all gloom.
At the federal level, Jonathan has, in my opinion, done quite well in agriculture in the last two years. For the first time, real farmers are getting subsidised fertilizers and seeds. Before, only an insignificant few were getting these vital inputs. The result of the new wave is that production of rice, cassava and cotton has doubled in many states, especially up North. There are indications that we will stop importing rice in the next three years. This has tremendous impact on our GDP and job creation, especially if we move to the processing stage. Jonathan’s concept of “Nagropreneurs” – encouraging Nigerian youths to take agriculture as business as they will take fashion designing or barbing – can open up yet another frontier of development.

Obviously, we have many things that can propel our economy into super drive. In addition to agriculture, Jonathan must pursue his industrial revolution policy vigorously. The potential is incredible. Let’s stop importing what we can produce! Obasanjo started pursuing self-sufficiency in cement production nearly a decade ago. Despite the politics and the hitches, it is heartening to know how much progress we have made on it in the last three years. We are now a net exporter of cement for the first time in our history. My perspective on how Nigeria is going to develop is that it is all the little progress here and there – at both state and federal levels – that will culminate in an explosion someday. China did not start yesterday. The world only came to notice them when they hit double digits growth in the 2000s.
Infrastructure-wise, while I concede that the Jonathan administration has invested a lot in reviving the railways and road construction, we know that without electricity, our growth will continue to be hampered. No country can develop on generators and diesel. Alhaji Aliko Dangote told O’Neill during his visit to Nigeria: “Can you imagine, can you believe, that this country has been growing at 7% with no power, with zero power?” In other words, if we can attain this level without electricity, can you imagine how unstoppable we would be if we had regular power? The projection by World Bank and Goldman Sachs is that at our current growth rates, we would be the world’s 13th biggest economy by 2050 – jumping ahead of Canada, Turkey and Italy. We must go for it!
How come the world sees prospects in us but we can only see problems in ourselves? I don’t blame us. We are a frustrated people, traumatised over the years by inept and corrupt leadership. Our commonwealth has been heartlessly plundered. It is therefore understandable if we have lost faith in our own potential. But in moments of introspection, we have to look around and ask if indeed it is all bad news. If we think Nigeria can change overnight, we would remain frustrated. But if we think our progress is going to be in stages and phases, we can be motivated to believe in possibilities. Obasanjo has done his part and left. Yar’Adua did his and left. Jonathan is doing his and will leave one day. Let’s keep it going steady and we will sooner or later “mint” the Nigeria of our dreams. But, first, we must believe in possibilities.

“Why does the world tend to believe in us but we seem not to believe in ourselves? A typical Nigerian sees only problems here. A typical outsider sees opportunities. We say our economy is going down. Outsiders say our economy is going up. Whose report should we believe?”

The Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, is fast becoming my Man of the Year, even though we are just 12 days into 2014. Agreed, he misfired in saying $49.8bn was “missing” and has apologised for his error. But have you noticed that the NNPC is now making efforts to explain how it spent $10.8bn two years ago? Sanusi wrote the letter in September 2013, and not until it was leaked did government officials start making efforts to verify the figures. Now NNPC is telling us how it spends our money! Even if Sanusi is forced to resign today, he has hurt the arrogance of NNPC.

Spare a thought for the 71 persons who have died of cholera in Kano in the last two months. According to the Centre for Disease Control, 2165 persons have also been affected by the disease in Nigeria’s second largest city during the same period. Poor sanitation, unclean water, pit toilets, uncollected garbage and blocked drains are the chief culprits. In fact, cholera is caused mainly by filth and dirty water. In truth, half of Nigeria’s population do not have access to safe water and about 30% do not have proper toilets. We need to up our game.

This story is sad but inspiring. On Monday, Aitzaz Hasan, a 15-year-old Pakistani schoolboy, was with friends outside his school when they saw a man wearing a suicide vest. Ignoring the appeal of fellow students, Hasan ran towards him, insisting that he needed to save the lives of the innocent school children and “my friends”. He confronted and captured the would-be bomber, who then detonated his vest, killing both of them. So tragic. But there were 2000 other students that could have been affected. Hasan is being celebrated as a national hero. He died that others might live. What a life.

Last week, I published an abridged draft chapter from my forthcoming book, Rethinking Nigeria. The general response has been very useful. It’s a book I’ve been working on for years, with my tight schedule hampering meaningful progress. I am not yet near a final product, but I am determined to deliver it later this year. It provides research-based perspectives on controversial issues such as revenue allocation, resource control, Shari’a, state police, confederacy, federalism, quota system, power rotation, the civil war and other key issues that came up since the amalgamation. Thank

Simon Kolawole writes for Thisdaylive!: By Simon Kolawole, Email: [email protected]

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