Tag Archives: Nigeria

A MAJOR RISK IN THE APPROACH TO REFORM OF NIGERIA’S ECONOMY – Strategy needed to avoid looming mass unemployment in Nigeria

Ever since the agrarian society of centuries ago, people have been the main factor of production in many societies. Even with the advent of the industrial revolution, machines that were created needed a lot of human input and control to function. That reality created lots of jobs for humans to do and the industrial revival led to many economies to close to having full emploNigeria_politicalyment status for many generations. But as we gaze deeper into the twenty-first century; things are changing radically.

Significant advances in technology are driving a lot of changes to the tapestry and architecture of a nation state in a way never seen before. With the talk of smart cities, advances in robotics and microengineering as well as the Internet of Things (IoT), we are at the cusp of a new world. The Internet of Things refers to the ever-growing network of physical objects that feature an IP address for internet connectivity, and the communication that occurs between these objects and other Internet-enabled devices and systems.

The “Internet of things” is becoming an increasingly growing topic of conversation both in the workplace and outside of it. It’s a concept that not only has the potential to impact how we live but also how we work. Broadband Internet has become more widely available, the cost of connecting is decreasing, more devices are being created with Wi-Fi capabilities and sensors built into them, technology costs are going down, and smartphone penetration is sky-rocketing.  All of these things are creating a “perfect storm” for the IoT.

internetofthings-1200x800Simply put, this is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from mobile phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.  This also applies to components of machines, for example, a jet engine of an aeroplane or the drill of an oil rig.

The analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices. That’s a lot of connections (some even estimate this number to be much higher, over 100 billion). The new rule for the future is going to be, “Anything that can be connected will be connected.” There are many examples of what this might look like or what the potential value might be.

Say for example you are on your way to a meeting; your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take. If the traffic is heavy your car might send a text to the other party notifying them that you will be late. What if your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 a.m. and then notifies your coffee maker to start brewing coffee for you? What if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more? The possibilities are endless.IIOT-Big-Data-in-line

All the foregoing have huge implication for the role of human beings and employment rate in many societies. The traditional labour intensive job model is dying at an alarming rate and digitally-enables jobs are the key to the future. So as there is a massive curl of manual and analogue jobs; new digital and technology driven jobs will emerge.

This leads me to my concern about Nigeria. We are still in the manual labour mindset in our employment ethos as a nation. We are also failing to prepare our citizens for the future that is imminently going to be upon us. If the country is to modernise, we will have to embrace technology in all sphere of national life. This will, in turn, lead to massive unemployment as machine and technology take over previous manually executed function in our society. Business processes will be streamlined and automated in the new world we will find ourselves, yet the majority of our citizens are not being sensitised, trained and facilitated to reskill and upgrade their capacity to be able to leverage new technologies for national growth and society transformation.

Speaking to a friend in government a few days ago; he explained of technologies that can run our airports in such a way that if applied to the International Airport in Lagos will reduce staff numbers by seventy percent overnight. From, automatic invoicing and accounting systems, to robotics to handle luggage and so on. This model will create one of the most efficient airports in the world if implemented. But at what cost? Jobs. There will be massive unemployment as the staff currently in employment have not been Internet-of-Things-no-id_Section1_1920x1280equipped, trained or helped to transition to new technology jobs of the future.

If the nation is to modernise successfully; I will, therefore, advise the government of the need for a new focus on education in Nigeria. This will involve formal, informal and vocational education that will be technology focused in preparation for the future that is fast approaching. In Singapore, the government aims to make the country the first smart nation in the world. There is now a massive investment in technical education and technology training for both young and adults across that country.

The government is preparing the nation for a future that will become a reality for them in the next five to ten years. With sensors on every street corner and lampposts, lots of anonymised data is being collected in the country to inform the IoT technology that is being planned. This will automate a lot of tasks and functions in Singapore and make several current jobs redundant. Streetlights will come on not at a prescribed time but based on the weather condition. The street lamps will automatically order a new bulb for itself when it notices a burnt bulb. A lot of manual jobs will disappear but it will alsostock-photo-digital-economy-abstract-business-concept-wallpaper-background-17711158 create many new jobs that are technology driven, which is why the government is investing in the technical education of children and retraining of adults in technology and microengineering on a massive scale. Adult education classes are freely given to adults to reskill while still working in their current roles (that will soon become extinct). This will make transitioning very easy for the workers of Singapore to adapt to new jobs as they lose their current analogue jobs for digital explosion expected.

A lot of manual jobs will disappear under the new industrial dispensation but this will also create many new jobs that are more skilled, technology driven, which is why the government is investing in the technical education of children and retraining of adults in technology and microengineering on a massive scale in Singapore. Adult education classes are freely given to adults to reskill while still working in their current roles (that will soon become extinct). This will make transitioning very easy for the workers of Singapore to adapt to new jobs as they lose their current analogue jobs for digital explosion expected.

Why-the-Digital-Economy-is-important-to-our-Region-any-region-in-factThe Nigerian government is not approaching their duty in an integrated fashion. As the government role out new technologies, there will be job losses on an industrial scale. How many of these workers are going to be able to get a new job with the outdated analogue skills they possess? The inefficiency in many government operations in Nigeria is linked to the need to create jobs for people but not necessarily to deliver an efficient or optimised service. Our airports are an example; where there are too many agencies of government with duplicating functions, overlapping responsibilities thus slowing down passenger experience.

As this government tries to modernise our infrastructure and government procedures and processes; they should avoid creating a big unemployment problem as they go along. This will require a national revamp of our educational system and adult education infrastructure that is focused on technology skills that will be needed for the future. Solving one problem by creating another is not wise leadership in government.

New technical colleges may need to be created. The curriculum of state schools should be reviewed to place more emphasis on technology. Vocational and adult education facilities should be created. The government need to begin a massive exercise to reskill the working population in preparation for the inevitable changes that technology will bring.

A stitch in time saves nine the adage goes. Nigerian government need an integrated approach to development by doing a Change Impact and Job Impact analysis of every policy before implementation and put in place a national strategy to mitigate these impacts and prepare the population for the new world before it is too late.

Otherwise, Nigeria could end up in a lose-lose situation. Massive unemployment caused by technology-driven changes and also new technology platforms and initiatives that will fail due to lack of trained manpower to effectively manage it. These are both avoidable consequences if the government takes note and act now. God bless Nigeria.

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BUHARI’s Danger of Mandate Misdirection

In my last post, I advised President Mohammadu Buhari (PMB) to go narrow and deep in his approach to governance. This requires him to focus on narrow areas of policy and dive deeply into them to embed irreversible change for the benefit of the people in defence of his democratic change mandate. I posited that this is better that a wide and shallow approach which tries to initiate change on too many fronts, but not effective in institutionalising change in any of them. Dissipating energy in too many areas but not concluding any of them. It’s like jack of all trade and master of non. mohammadu-buhari-official

The kind of alliance that was cooked together in APC to get PMB elected requires compromise and a doze of reality. Had CPC won the election; PMB would have had the focus needed to effect his passionate change mandate with minimal compromise. But with the compromise necessary to produce APC, PMB has to reflect on this and know that he cannot implement all he had in mind in CPC and that APC contain people of dubious credibility just like the PDP. In fact many were in the PDP until recently.

The danger as I see it is that other than his fight against corruption; there is no discernible strategic direction  to the workings of this administration. There appears to be a drift in policy that is not joined up, is disjointed and and lacking coherence. For instance, I do not see any strategic vision for the policies of the CBN in the management of our monetary policies. Each day is another directive from the CBN but all lacking clarity of purpose and no understanding of what the end game should be. The CBN was pursuing a cashless policy by encouraging Nigerians to use electronic fund transfers; yet the CBN Governor was happy to give Millions of Dollars in cash in a briefcase to the former national security adviser. Why did the CBN not ask to transfer the funds to a nominated account? Why pay in cash such huge amount in direct contradiction of its own cashless policy? Where is the cashless policy gone? And yesterday, the CBN introduced a N50 Stamp Duty Charge for every deposit (including electronic) made into peoples accounts by third parties. This N50 charge is fixed regardless of how much was transferred above N1000. A more equitable approach would have been to start at N50,000 transfers (this will exclude most of the poor) and then make it a percentage of the funds value starting from N1 to up to N100 maximum. Paying N100 charge on a N50Million transfer is negligible for instance. In most nations of the world, Stamp Duty is a percentage of the transaction concerned to allow for proportionality, equity and fairness. By introducing this fixed charge; it will drive more people away from the banking system in direct opposition to its Cashless society vision. Where has the cashless policy gone? With its ban on ALL use of Debit cards abroad; the CBN has succeeded in one swoop to reverse many of the gains of its cashless policy. Now many are back to cash is King frame of mind. Who can blame them?

In my opinion; probably the worst appointment made by PMB is that of the Information Minister. Lai Mohammed is a politician and good at spin and misdirection. He was effective as APC spokesman; but a government with mandate for change requires credibility  and trust from the media and the public. Lai Mohammed seems incapable of delivering this. He is still in the spin mode and each time he speaks; he reduces the credibility of this administration further.

What is the solution you may ask me? The answer is as follows:

  1. PMB should set up a Central Policy Unit (CPU) in his office. This team made of experts will produce the policy direction of his administration across all sectors of the economy in a coherent way.
  2. These policies will then be handed over to the various ministers to implement in their respective ministries.
  3. The accountability of each minister will be for the delivery of the policies given to his/her ministry. This will have KPIs and targets for implementation. More importantly; there will be the assurance that the policies are joined up with that of other ministries in a way that creates coherence and compelling outcomes.

Without the creation of the CPU, each ministry will simply pursue there own agenda, conflicting policies will emerge from various ministries and the government will lose momentum and the drive to deliver its change mandate. The CPU also allows PMB to control the narrative of his government by managing the CPU directly. The CPU also allows impact of policies to be objectively tested across all sectors before its implementation. It allows the government to project a coherent posture with the direction of travel clear for all to see. This will help eliminate any perception of a reactive, uncoordinated, piecemeal and confused administration.

So, to avoid a misdirection of the change mandate given to him; the president should do the following:

  • Create a solid leadership for EFCC (with the encouragement of the Chief Justice and other agencies) and allow these institutions to pursue and prosecute corruption official past and present. PMB should stop making corruption his main daily talking point. There is more to governance than fight against corruption. PMB should allow his team to lead on this war on corruption while he focuses on other things that are essential to Nigerians.
  • PMB should create a CPU as stated above in the Presidency. This unit will produce a collective policy framework that will then be passed on to the ministers to deliver, sector by sector. It must not be left to each minister to produce its own policies. Doing so is a recipe for disaster and confusion. The left hand will not speak to the right hand. I also believe many of these ministers are better at monitoring deliver of policies than producing one themselves. Many of them lack the 360 degree thinking needed for a joined up operation.
  • PMB should focus his press statements on how he is dealing with issues that affect Nigerians daily instead of a fixation with corruption statements. Truth is Nigerians will measure any fight against corruption by results and outcomes rather than just statements and press releases. So let your administration outcomes and actions speak for you on corruption, Mr President, rather than the daily statements we see with no legal conviction in sight for any of the alleged corrupt officials. PMB should speak about Power, Roads, Prices of goods, education, health and so on. Let the institutions you have set up deal with corruption matters in the background Mr President.
  • Setup a quarterly State of the Nation Press conference where you will be able to explain what your administration has done in the preceding quarter in ALL areas of national life. Control your own narrative; rather allow yourself to be defined by the words of your enemies.

There is a blueprint on how all these will work that is tried and tested. I wish PMB all the best and God’s wisdom as he delivers on the change mandate given to him by the people. Change in Nigeria has to be one step at a time and the work begins now. It is doable and we all have a part to play. It is then we will all be able to say in the words of our true pledge to Nigeria: “…to be faithful loyal and honest. To serve Nigeria with all our strength…and uphold her honour and glory. So help us God”.

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A famous quote states that in life, “dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things, but the absence of vision”. This to me captures the situation in Nigeria. While attending the University of Lagos in the 80s, I wrote a paper on the features of economic planning in Nigeria from 1960 to 1985. One of the main elements I can still remember is the flagrant lack of continuity from one regime to another. A regime will come to power with a ten year plan; but is replaced by a new regime three years later. The new regime rather than continue with the ten year plan; produces its own fresh ten year plan that has no coherence or correlation with the previous plan. Then another regime comes to power and the cycle of confusing and visionless leadership continued. Theft2

So for almost thirty years, economic planning in Nigeria lacked continuity, coherence and durability. I am not sure much have changed in the past twenty years. President Yar’adua came in with his seven point agenda only for President Jonathan to abandon it three years later for his own “agenda”. These series of short-term focused leadership has been a major feeder of corruption in the nation and a consequential cause of underdevelopment. It seems each government wants to invest only in projects that can be completed during its term of four years; rather than any long term strategic investment in the needs of the nation and its people. This is reflected at both the national and state level. Allow me to state with the states.

To illustrate my point at the state level; I will contrast two states, Katsina and Lagos. It has been reported that Lagos state alone is responsible for 25% of the debts of all the states in Nigeria combined. That is over N1Trillion. The great grandchildren our generation will still be paying off this debt in Lagos. But why such a huge debt? It is my opinion that Lagos state under Tinubu and Fashola started too many infrastructure and other projects all at the same time. These projects could not have been paid for under the State’s normal budgetary bandwidth. So borrowing was inevitable. And they binged on borrowing to a reckless abandon. After all, each contract is opportunity for graft and to steal our common wealth through bribes and over inflated contracts. Hence, the more the number of contracts initiated, the more money the politicians make and able to steal from the State.

I once heard a commissioner in Lagos stating that the easiest way to steal money untraceable in Lagos is through road constructions and dredging. His logic is that these are complicated projects that it is difficult to easily monitor quantity andTheft3 there are too many variants and profile of projects to be precise. A one kilometre road in the dry land of Ikeja is not same as one kilometre road in swampy Lekki. These understandable variations makes award of contracts difficult to pin down; hence you will notice the same pattern too many simultaneous infrastructure projects in many APC states. It is their tried and tested stealing system. It is contracts galore. The difficulty that Aregbesola faces in Osun today, is exactly the same. He started too many projects that the current income profile of the state cannot support. Hence the state is broke. So what does he do; borrow of course.

This is in contrast with Katsina, a state that is living within its means and developing at a rate its income can sustain. Yar’adua laid a good foundation of prudence in his state that the current governor seem to be continuing. That is why the state is virtually debt free today. Why start twenty road projects when your income can only sustain five of them. Why not start the five; complete it and then start another five and so on. Any household run like these reckless states would have been bankrupt long time ago. Infrastructure development is good, but at what cost and will it be affordable by the people. There is nothing wrong in pacing the development of a state; afterall Rome was not built in a day. True development must be sustainable. Why do state governors not develop a twenty or even thirty year plan for their state and then start the little they can and allow future governments to continue and complete these projects. Why the rush of build-up debts for generations to come? This greed and graft induced urgency will only lead to abandoned projects or infrastructure in the future when subsequent administrations cannot find the money to complete or sustain what they inherited.

theftAs for the Federal government, well that is even worse. Funding from borrowing underpins a lot of what the federal government has been doing in the past few years. That is why a nation that was virtually debt free at the end of the Obasanjo regime is now Billions of dollars in debt again in a few years since. Our politicians seem concerned only about what happens while they are in office and will sell the nation into slavery if needed to make the point. Great leader focus on making live better for the future generations but bad leaders are only interested in what happens to themselves here and now.

The lack of strategic vision for national transformation is apparent in this current government as with many before it. There is little evidence of joined up thinking. But we cannot change the past; hence our criticism has to be directly at the current leadership as that is what we can influence and hope for a change of approach. The UK government has just started a high speed rail project that will be fully completed in 2030; and we are just in 2014. Why? Because they need to spread the cost over that many years to live within their means. If they had been prepared to borrow heavily to fund the project; it could have been finished in a fraction of that timeline.

Good governments do not mortgage the future of generations to come. But with greed as the main motivation; many politicians in Nigeria are only interested in what will pay them now even if the future generations suffer the consequence. Such selfish and visionless leadership is what the nation is encumbered with at all levels. While there are governments like that in Katsina; there is still hope that the tide will turn eventually. The Greeks gave the world the system called democracy. But it was also a common Greek saying that “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”. We pray for such leadership in our nation.

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Nigeria: Our Future Lies Ahead and not Behind.

Today, I was privileged to attend a special screening of the Mandela movie with one of my daughters. Though I have read the book on which the movie was based, I was nonetheless moved by the Mandela story. It is generally believed that doing wrong can affect all your loved ones negatively, nobody said that doing the right thing can equally affect them badly. I was moved by the devastation visited on the Mandela family by the authorities and the human tragedies that ensued. 

But I was especially captivated by Mandela’s show of leadership in the period leading up to and after his release from 27 plus years of incarceration. With his wife and many South Africans still demanding violence, he insisted that peace was the only way forward. He went on national TV to declare to his people that they were wrong to demand violence and that as their leader; he must show them a path that is right; that their peculiar history may not even rationalise. After all, an eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind. He preached forgiveness.

This then got me thinking about Nigeria. I have seen interviews by people like Asari Dokubo relying heavily on the history of his forebears to demand autonomy for his people. I have also read writings by many politicians equally calling on the force of history to canvass a world view for the nation as they see it. But how much can we rely on history? Should the grandson of a late slave owner in American south today rely on history to demand segregation? We cannot say simple because something existed in the past it must also be made to exist now. We in the present have to chart a new future based on present day realities and a forward-looking vision; regardless of our past. We are not our fathers, and they do not expect us to be like them.

The challenges they faced and the world they lived-in was in many ways different from our own. What we now know and what we have access to, they did not have access to them. So we should rightly love and cherish our esoteric histories, but we must base our actions on what is possible and best for our people now and in the future, not based on obsession to replay or repeat history. Events in our history happened within a peculiar context and the actors did what they thought was best. I want to learn from history and not live or repeat it.

So the pertinent question therefore is what future do Nigerians want? What future is best for our people in the 21st century?  The response of many to these questions tends to be a history lesson. We don’t need that any more. We don’t need to be told how things were done in 1933 to determine how we should live together in 2013. It is intellectual laziness to only think the solution to our situation is always in history lesson of what the colonials did. Or what Chief Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe or Sir Tafa Balewa did. We cannot progress if all we do is repeat history.

Nigeria needs a new crop of leaders who, while appreciating history, are more focused on caving a new vision based on the future our people want and deserve; even if that is not a replay of historical precedents. In the context of current Nigeria; people saying that the nation should break up because it is an artificial creation of the Lord Luggard’s  British colonial powers, is like telling a married couple to divorce after 70years of marriage (and several Children and grandchildren), because their original marriage papers were not fully in order. Who cares whether their wedding papers were in order on or not many will say. After 70yrs of living as husband and wife; certain realities and interdependencies would have set in. They are now married with or without correct papers.

Simply saying that because Nigerian regions were separate entities before amalgamation almost 100 years ago is a mute point in my view. 99.9% of Nigerians alive today, were born into an amalgamated country; hence do not know what it was to have lived in the pre-1914 Nigeria. We have to accept that Nigeria as a country is the only nation we all know. We have to accept that we have lived together for 100yrs. And we have to accept that despite our failings, we cannot make breaking a 100yrs old marriage the only viable solution to save it. We need more creative leaders, who will lead the people, just like Mandela did. We need leaders who will be more forward looking and less backward focused. Nigeria as it is now is what most practically all Nigerians know territorially. We have been played a hand by history; our job is to play it to the best of our vision and passion and not simply hand it back to history.

An acceptance of this thesis is evident in South Africa after Mandela became the first black President. South Africa became a Black-majority democracy; and not a Black-Only democracy. That is an acceptance of the reality on the ground. It is an acceptance that South Africa cannot simply return to black only pre-colonial era. It is an acceptance of the irreversible changes that life has enforced on the tapestry of the nation. It is an acceptance that while respecting history; we have to move forward based on what is possible now and the realities today.

I have a dream that such leaders will emerge in our nation and lead the people on the basis of the future possibilities and not just on the basis of the long gone historical architecture. What will Nigeria look like in 50years time? What will be our position in Africa and the world in 20years? These are the ambition-laden focus we need. Enough of these self-serving history merchants who do not at the same time give us a future vision we can safely rally behind. Life they say is for the living; let’s make the best of it folks.

I will continue my thoughts on this matter in a future instalment of this article.

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What are the measurements for progress in a nation? Clearly every student told to mark his own essay will cheat somehow. President Jonathan challenged his opponents when he said in his speech recently that those that seek to mark his government’s performance should present their marking scheme. Well, I have decided to respond to his challenge. But rather than devise a new marking scheme that can be questioned; I decided to use a reputable, GEJglobally acknowledged scheme that also provide comparative analysis with other countries in Africa and beyond. Nigeria Finance minister at the same event organized to mark the midway in the administration spouted out several statistics and data; that is far from representing the realities of most Nigerians. The progress of any nation is beyond just GDP growth and national success and prosperity is about more than just fancy figures. The question is, how do ordinary Nigerians feel about their personal wellbeing and economic standing?

To capture my sentiment exactly; let me allow a progressive African leader to speak. Dr Joyce Banda , President Republic of Malawi said recently as follows:

“As for me, growth is not merely about GDP growth. Growth is about wealth and prosperity for all, opportunity for all, happiness for all, political and economic freedom for all. Growth is about growing and improving access to education for our children, and creating jobs for our youths. Growth is about growing the number of mothers who give safe birth in a hospital.  As women leaders, we should not allow children to suffer from malnutrion. We should refuse to allow our children to learn under trees rather than proper classrooms. We should refuse to allow mothers to die while giving birth because the nearest health centre is far away .Whenever these challenges are prevalent, our economies cannot meaningfully achieve the sustainable economic growth we all aspire for”.

I could not have said it any better. So the marking scheme I will use to score the Jonathan administration is the recognized measure used by the OECD and other global outfits called The Prosperity Index (developed by the Legatum Institute). This is the only global measurement of national success based on both income and wellbeing. Their econometric analysis has identified 89 variables, which are spread across eight sub-indices. By measuring prosperity holistically they are able to identify and analyse the specific factors that contribute to the success of a country beyond just GDP statistics or other banal statistical measure that does not impact on the true economic realities of a nation’s citizenry. These Eight Prosperity indices are: Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Education, Health, Safety & Security, Governance, Personal Freedom and Social Capital.

According to the Institute’s survey of Entrepreneurship in Nigeria; the raw GDP statistics masks major weaknesses in indices of national prosperity and economic wellbeing. In its report last year it noted that economically, Nigeria paints a mixed picture. GDP growth is recorded at an impressive 7.9%, however a high inflation rate of over 7%, high levels of unemployment, and poor internal infrastructure stifle long-term, sustained growth it said. Nigeria it stated has significant oil reserves but its reliance on revenue from oil has been described as “damaging”, while the risks of relying on oil reserves as a one-pronged economic strategy is well documented across Africa. They concluded that “Factoring in the current instability of the global economy as a whole, we may reasonably conclude that a diversified, entrepreneur-led economy is crucial to Nigeria’s long term success and stability”.

The Legatum Institute produced last year its annual National Prosperity Index for 142 countries in the world. Nigeria ranked a dreadful 123 out of 142 countries in 2012, that is a relegation from our already bad rank of 104 in 2011 and 106 in 2010. That means by an holistic measure of national prosperity and wellbeing as measured globally; Nigeria has slipped backwards and performed worse between 2010 and 2012. South Africa was ranked 74, Tunisia 78, Namibia 83, Ghana 87, even Mali was did better than us at 104.

Looking behind the overall poor ranking of Nigeria; we performed worst between 2010 and 2012 in the following indices: Economy (drop of 31 point), Safety & Security (27 point drop) and Education (17 point drop). We however improved in Personal Freedom (gain of 10points) and Social Capital (gain of 3points) measures.

So while I praise the Jonathan government for some of its high level macro economic achievements; attention now needs to be paid to the wellbeing of Nigerians in a holistic way. It is a known economic fact that there are more business opportunities in any economy than job opportunities. The engine for growth in Nigeria therefore will not be just more jobs for the unemployed (although that is needed by many) but an entrepreneurial explosion. Government should encourage and promote new businesses and our universities should emphasize entrepreneurship more rather than the current focus on getting a degree and going to apply for jobs that are not always available.

There exists today a multitude of objective data about entrepreneurship in Nigeria. For example, the Index report states that the average time it takes to start a business in Nigeria (31 days), the total tax rates, as a percentage of commercial profits, faced by Nigerian entrepreneurs is 32.2%. The growth of any economy is based on the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises. A concerted and unified strategy is needed to make a success of this vision. So rather than trumpeting pure statistics that means little to average Nigerians, the government should put more effort in productive activities and strategy that impacts on the day to day living of the people.  Of the eight indices measured, Nigeria improved in only two of them under this government. Given that we have slipped backward in six of the Prosperity Index in two years since the President was elected; I will give him a presidential performance score of 25%. So Student number 001, Goodluck Jonathan, if you repeat this core by the end of the school term; you will be expelled for poor performance.  So work harder and improve on your score. That is the conclusion of the Headteacher.

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Nigerians have grown to expect the worst from their leaders and government. Give an average Nigerian a couple of scenarios; one positive and the other negative and ask which they belief relate to their country and its leaders. Most will go for the negative. We have come to expect the worst from our politicians and no doubt, we get what we expect. But are we perpetuating a dysfunctional mindset that keeps us in a self-fulfilling cycle of failure as a nation? Hence, I have lately been reading the various chartrooms and threads about Nigeria on the web as well as other media commentaries.

I fear we are in danger of allowing cynicism to rule and ruin our future as a people. We know most of our career-politician leaders are corrupt. But then we are equally quick to find fault in new generation of leaders coming up. If it is an old politician, we complain that he has been there for too long and assisted in the pillage of the country since independence. If it is a young politician who has been in active politics for a short while; we complain that he has made no difference and a stooge of the godfather.lagos1

If it is a young or old aspiring politician, who is entering the terrain for the first time; we complain that he is simply going there to ‘chop’ (steal) money like others. It seems nobody is ever good enough for some Nigerians. We have become a nation of habitual complainers, moaners and cynics. We have given up on the old guards and the new ones are viewed with suspicion even before they take a single step.  My consolation is that even God has His critics here on earth. Much less mere humans.

But in my view; what is lacking in many Nigerians is ability to think rationally. Rational psychology expects you to prioritize your assessment of people and then decide based on dominant good qualities, while viewing the few bad qualities in context of an otherwise overwhelmingly ’good’ candidate. Many of us make these analysis daily. You indulge that driver constantly coming late to work, because he is otherwise an excellent driver and the best you have ever had. You indulge that househelp’s bad manners because the kids love her and she is the best cleaner you have ever had. You decided not to relocate from your area of Lagos despite the horrendously bad road leading to it because the area is otherwise very safe and little or no crime at all. We all make these judgments and balance analysis all the time. So why do we not apply the same to our old or aspiring politicians. Let us learn to increase in hope and optimism and believe good can still come out this country. Our focus on the negative has got us nowhere; so why not try a new approach Let us be less cynical and more hopeful.

Truth is; the worst offenders are the educated middleclass, many residing in Diaspora. Many complain about everything Nigeria does; yet live in Chicago where several of their governors in the past 20yrs have been jailed for fraud and corruption.   And the Internet allows people to pontificate, become tin gods with little repercussion and minimal sense of responsibility.  We need to change. There are now many “good people” reluctant to join the political arena. Not due to the fear of the corrupt political elite; but for fear of been shot into pieces and have the reputation stained by the mostly Internet-based/Educated/Chattering brigade; who theorizes and analyses everything from the sidewalk. I am sure some will say that at least the governors in Chicago were caught and prosecuted successfully, while none has been brought to book in Nigeria. But that is not the salient point here. My argument is that there are bad and corrupt politicians everywhere. Why must we allow cynicism to destroy the future of our hope?

In the most memorable section of his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, President Roosevelt captured his life philosophy in just a few sentences. “The Man in the Arena” tells us that the man we should praise is the man who’s out there fighting the big battles, even if  imperfect and those battles end in defeat. In our day, when cynicism and aloof detachment are considered hip and cool, he reminds us that glory and honour come to those “who spend themselves in a worthy cause.”  He noted:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”.

These perpetual Nigerian critics specialize in finding fault in anybody that is brave enough to enter the political ring. We all need to be careful. It seems many are naively looking for a “Perfect Candidate” that is blemish free. Remember that Joseph (in the Bible) had a criminal record when he became the best Prime Minister in Egypt; straight from Prison. I know Joseph was innocent; but nobody knew that except him and God.

My advise to these armchair critics is; why don’t you throw your hats into the ring. If nobody is good enough for your Nigeria, does that include yourself as well? Are you as bad as the people you always criticize?  If not; why don’t you enter the arena and make a difference. Perhaps, you are the change agent the nation has been waiting for.

Let’s stop shooting down everybody that is trying to make change happen in our Nation; even if they are not perfect. It’s hard to see the good in people, when you’re only looking for the bad.  Let’s focus on their ideas/policies/agendas and not simply on personalities or the mistakes they have made in the past. And finally, let us be led by that inner voice; so that we do not simply know everybody after the flesh. I see change happening in Nigeria through unexpected vessels.

Let us believe the best for our nation and support and constructively criticize those in the arena; not because we agree with all they do or they are prefect; but because we owe it to Nigeria since we are not in the arena ourselves. God bless Nigeria.

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Changing Nigerian Political Landscape.

The Nigerian political commentaries never cease to amaze me. With the Jonathan administration scoring itself high and the opposition scoring him as poor; it again emphasizes the age-old wisdom that the truth is always between the two extreme positions. A perusal of the government report on itself will reveal a catalogue of self-praise and achievements; with no credible mention of its failures. And reading the opposition analysis equally reveal all that the Jonathan administration has done wrong without any praise for whatever it has achieved. This scenario portends badly for the Nigerian political discuss. It simply shows that the government is as bad as the opposition. It reveals a level of political immaturity and bitterness that is bound to derail any plan for national development.

Nobody and no government can be completely bad. I am sure there are plenty of people GEJin Libya and Iraq today that reflect on the regimes of their former dictators with glee and affection. As bad as these dictators were; they got some things right. There was better stability; less casual violence and there was definitely no daily killings by militia groups. Don’t get me wrong; I oppose these dictators; all I am saying is that as bad as they were; they still did some things well, no matter how few.

So why do the opponents of the Jonathan administration never seem to be able to get themselves to admit what he had got right and praise him for the good things he has done. Or are they saying that ALL decisions taken by the President since Day 1 of his government have ALL been wrong and bad for the country. Also why is it that the President cannot get himself to admit his mistakes and failures while promoting his achievements? Does he think Nigerians are fools? Maybe many of us are.

I am not a fan of the style of Mr. President; but I am passionate about Nigeria and I refuse to give up on the nation. So both sides have to be fair in their analysis. The primordial concern of a government mid-term report that only focuses on its achievements and not its failures is that the administration will not give attention to fixing the problems we all know exists; but which the government has not admitted exist. People do not make effort to fix a problem they have not admitted exist.  So a candid admission of its failures will assure Nigerians that at least the government can see what we all can see; thus giving hope that solutions can be found. But when government does not admit openly to problems everybody knows exist; it is difficult to have confidence of any imminent solutions. Sadly our political leaders live in a bubble that makes empathy with ordinary Nigerians difficult for many of them. But do they have to rub our noses in it?

As for the Opposition groups; I have even greater criticism of their performance. Opposition for its own sake is bad politics and bad for transformation of any nation. If truth be told; Nobody (regardless of their political sympathy); can honestly believe the Jonathan administration has been 100 percent bad. Not even Saddam Husain was totally bad. There will be more credibility in opposition groups if they produce balanced analysis of the government performance. That will require them to accept and praise the government for what it has done right and then criticize what it has done wrong and then A_street_in_Lagos,_Nigeriaproffer their own solutions. Simply going on about how bad the government is will not wash. This is lazy politics. Afterall; many of these opposition players have been in power in one way or another in the past. What did they achieve when they were in office? How did they transform their sphere of influence? We need to move beyond the politics of noise to politics of substance.

My recommendation for the opposition is that they should form a Shadow Cabinet to replicate the real government. And they should produce a quarterly scorecard for each ministry they are shadowing. Stating in a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threats) format; the activities of each ministry as shadow cabinets. This will make them look like government-in-waiting and it will also create a pool of people who will be better familiar with the details of operational activities in each ministry; thus making it easier for them to hit the ground running if they get into power. They must stop all these nonsense of headline grabbing abuse and criticism of the Jonathan administration; just for its own sake. Their opposition is against the government and not Nigeria. Hence in the interest of the country; they must oppose responsibly and constructively. Nigerian will believe more an opposition group that credits the government when it is due and opposes them when it is deserved. Nobody has a monopoly of solution; afterall there are educated and experienced professionals in the current government. So they must be doing some things right and it will make sense for the Opposition to admit the successes of the government as and when it happens. This is the kind of opposition Nigeria needs. It also strengthens the voice of the opposition, thus increasing their influence and credibility.  An opposition that always opposes regardless of the facts; will become a laughing stock.

As for the government; President Jonathan need to take note of a wise counsel of our ancestors that; if a man with a big head goes into the public square to speak and first jokes Nigeria_politicalabout how big his own head is; it neutralizes anyone’s subsequent joke about his big head. People will say we know…he has told us himself.  So a government that honestly admits its failures with stated plans for change and improvement will wrest from the opposition the power to influence the citizenry.  Putting your own bad news and failures on the table candidly will take the sting away from any subsequent criticism. So the government’s constant denial of all things negative should stop. The administration should be bold to state both its achievements and failings. People love plain-speaking and candid politicians. Politicians that say it as it is. Politicians that do not insult our intelligence by denying what most of us know as truth. The recent First Lady sickness denial debacle comes to mind.

So who should blink first? The opposition should reform their approach and consider the recommendation I made earlier. It seems however clear that the government has the resources to implement the foregoing changes more quickly that the yet to fully congeal opposition groups. Why not show leadership by changing the style of your administration Mr. President. Move from the lethargic posture to a more open and pro-active leadership style. And by the way; Mr. President; you need to get rid of Okupe immediately. You cannot secure credibility from a discredited mouthpiece like him. I believe that (given the right instruction and encouragement); Abati (though disappointed many so far but not yet fatal failure) can still do a better job than the politically scared and tainted Okupe.  I still believe Abati may be able to do better if given the right climate and rules of engagement. It is time for less spin and more spunk.

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