It may not look so if you browse the headlines but these times are good for optimism. In 52 years, there have been missteps surely but the possibilities remain such that despair, so often cast abroad in reflections, may indeed not be justified beyond a reminder we should be careful to moderate conduct that damages image of our national character.
Do we have troubles? Yes we do. What with the socially disruptive violence that assaults to human dignity all around us; the unemployment time-bomb; collapsing culture; weakening institutions; challenged system of education and an unacceptable rate of corruption. But the problems are not insurmountable.
On the plus side, we have many things going for Nigeria. What used to be considered a major problem, population growth rate, is now easily an asset, as economists now see it as yielding a demographic dividend. The there is human capital, even if a good part of it is located outside our borders as some generations left town. There are natural resources, some of which have been abused, in such a way that the resources curse argument has been recurring, but it is there and can be harnessed. The best news is that our troubled democracy is gradually maturing. A few more years and people will look beyond their comfort zones in the choice to participate, and voters will see that selling the birthright of their children for the instant gratification of a new naira is unwise. Very importantly, Africa is seen more as the new frontier of economic growth, away from the Afro-pessimism of the 1990s. Surely, this must profit one of Africa’s most entrepreneurial countries, Nigeria.
My initial disposition away from despair is instructed by how “hopeless” economic situations have been turned around to the embarrassment of renowned scholars who predicted doom. By now my favourite examples of Japan and Indonesia and, of course Brazil, are well-known. Had Gunnar Myrdal, the Noble Prize winning economists any idea Peter Lewis would one day write a book, Growing Apart, showing how similar economies, Nigeria and Indonesia traveled different tracks, with the former declining and the latter rising, he would not have sentenced Indonesia to “intrinsic stagnation” in his Asian Drama which gave Indonesia little room for progress. Just like experts gave Japan little chance in the late 40s and it came to threaten the US corporations a few years later.
Besides the hasty judgment of scholars who saw little prospects in countries that have experienced dramatic turn0around, I have an upside view of where Nigeria is going because the sheer force of the momentum of history and the demographic dividend coupled with a large educated Diaspora with a sense of home, and enlighten of globalization, work up to antidote for the alchemy of misguided elite in pursuit of narrow self-interest, driving the wheels progress in reverse.
How do these things matter and add up to my optimism? A Malaysian economist, KS Jomo, a little tired of many efforts at explaining South East Asia’s much misunderstood miracle, had offered the flying Geese hypothesis. I remember engaging him on that when he visited Nigeria as keynote speaker at the UBA Lectures a decade or so ago. For him, it was simple. One country in the region takes off and those across the border refuse to be left out and a school of Geese flock together generally and more investments go to Angola as evidence of the mess we are making of the Oil and Gas sector, the leadership in Nigeria will wake up one day, no matter how loud Nigerians like to pronounce our politicians as shameless, and say, like Roberto Duran or the Argentinean brave bull, Oscar Bonaevna, facing a comeback Mohammed Ali, No mas: No more! And Nigeria will rise up again. My expectation is that 25 years from now, West Africa will be a thriving economic region.
I expected that the demographic dividend of so large a population of young people when they get the right education and healthcare will unleash entrepreneurial energies that will reverse the trends in Nigeria. If intelligent management of the savings from oil and other natural resources is applied, it will accelerate the pace.
In many ways, the current administration in the country, whether it be good or bad, may be a useful watershed that exhausts the old order of the country of the Big man in which the rule of law is negated and an unhealthy dose of uncertainty derived there from diminishes economic prospects.
Despair should have no place as Nigeria marks 52 years of Independence. What should be uppermost in our minds is how to get people to turn to the values that sustain progress. Sure we are at a crossroads. But the resolution is simple; moving from exclusion to the inclusion of a broad spectrum of talents almost in the way Gen. Yakubu Gowon overcame such a crossroad challenge in 1966/67 by bringing on the chief Obafemi Awolowos, Anthony Enahoros, J.S Tarkas and the Shetima Ali Mungonus.
Pat Utomi is a political economist and founder centered for values in leadership Lagos Nigeria.
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