In the face of daunting developmental challenges confronting Nigeria as a nation, a whole new set of thinking, deep and outside the box, devoid of myths, conspiracy theories or outright fallacies, is needed now more than ever before, if pragmatic solutions are to be achieved to set Nigeria on a sure path to progress and prosperity.
It has become evident that, with the best of intentions by leaders of government, if the prevailing less-than-realistic narratives about the endowments and potentialities of Nigeria, which have become entrenched in the psyche of both leaders and the led, are not urgently corrected and put in proper and realistic perspective, the most populous African nation might risk perpetuating the vicious cycle of high expectations from succeeding administrations but disappointments on the part of citizens for promises not kept and hopes dashed.
Nigeria is not blessed with abundant natural and human resources, as popularly believed. No nation on earth is so endowed. That Nigeria is endowed with a number of natural mineral resources in commercially viable quantity must not be mistaken for abundance. Nigeria’s chief mineral export is crude oil, which accounts for about 80 per cent of the country’s total export earnings. Nigeria’s hydrocarbon reserve is conservatively estimated 37.2 billion barrels, with a daily oil production output of 2.28 million barrels per day making her the 11th largest oil producer in the world. This is where the good news ends.
Nigeria has a large population of about 170 million people [the seventh most populous country in the world]. If the considerable volume of Nigeria’s oil production is placed side by side the large size of her population, it is clear that Nigeria is endowed with just enough natural resources that are far from abundant. For example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with a smaller population of about 28 million people, is the largest oil producer in the world, with a proven reserve of 268 billion barrels of crude oil and a daily output of 10.7 million barrels per day. Compared to Saudi Arabia, Nigeria cannot continue to thump its chest as being blessed with abundant natural resources. This situation is made worse when the modest resources available are frittered away by the kleptomaniac ruling class.
If Nigeria is endowed with just enough natural resources, the same cannot be said of its human resource base. A country whose educational system has been in a steep and steady decline since the early 1970s cannot continue to pride itself of having abundant human resources. The low standard of education in Nigeria has taken a negative toll on the overall development of the minds of a larger section of the population, particularly those who had the misfortune of being born after Independence. A population whose business management and public administration skills are severely inadequate and have led to a poorly managed, private sector-driven economy and an equally inefficient and wasteful public service clearly indicates gross inadequacy in human resources.
A people whose democratic choices in the political process are dictated more by retrogressive sentiments of ethnicity, religion and filial ties than pragmatic alignment of individual or collective economic interests with their political choices, irrespective of ethnicity, religion of family ties, cannot in all honesty qualify as a formidable human resource base.
A country whose people judge each other by their place of origin, faith and mother tongue rather than the content of their character and what they have to offer cannot continue to pride itself as having abundant human resources. A nation of no scientific inventors and technological innovators does not qualify as one that is blessed with abundant human resources. The abundance of human resources is measured by the quality, not the quantity, of the population.
In the face of these stark realities, it has become important to deepen and expand the discourse about nation building beyond just how to efficiently manage our natural endowments to the more fundamental issues of how to expand our resource base from being just enough to truly abundant. Similarly fundamental to sustainable growth and development is Nigeria’s ability to shore up its human resource base to effectively drive the process. Nigeria, like other progressive nations of the world, must begin to look beyond its borders for extra sources of natural and material resources. To achieve this major objective, one option immediately open to Nigeria is to re-appraise her foreign policy objectives by making it more pragmatic and realistic but less moralist in its engagement with countries that are relatively less developed.
While remaining committed in principle to all regional and sub-regional multilateral agreements, Nigeria should begin to evolve more economically beneficial bilateral engagements with willing countries, particularly those within its traditional sphere of influence. Nigeria should outgrow its dependency on the so-called foreign direct investments (FDIs), which have proved to be highly exploitative and contribute nothing in real terms to the economy, to becoming an overseas investor nation, beginning with Commonwealth nations of Africa.
The entire Nigerian economy revolves around the two million barrels per day oil revenue, with predatory investors merely investing very little to get a huge chunk of our meagre resources, which they freely repatriate to their countries of origin in a brazen case of capital flight. Nigeria must exit this pitiable state and join the new scramble for Africa along with the emerging economies of China, India and other South East Asian nations.
Nigeria must explore its influence on brother African nations to secure favourable trade and investment deals for Nigerian businesses to thrive as overseas investors. This will enable Nigerian investors to also repatriate profits back home, which will help greatly in boosting our foreign exchange earnings. In this circumstance, Gambia and South Sudan hold a lot of promise for a successful economic voyage overseas for Nigerian business entities. If any lesson was learnt in the last 16 years of Nigeria’s overdependence on FDIs, it is the fact that overseas investments are far more profitable than the so-called foreign investments.
Similarly, while government must start investing in quality education to develop the hearts and minds of Nigerians politically and economically as mid- and long-term measures aimed at transforming the large quantity that is its population to quality human resource base to drive the process of sustainable growth and development, in line with the vision of economic expansion beyond the borders of Nigeria, in the immediate, a pragmatic immigration policy must be evolved with aims and objectives tailored towards admitting only the best of brains from everywhere around the globe who have the managerial, technological and scientific skills not available to our indigenous population, while shutting our doors tightly against citizens of countries who lack these important skills and hence have nothing to contribute to our progress as a nation.
Currently, Nigeria is one big thoroughfare, with citizens particularly of countries in the West African sub-region taking full and undue advantage of the free movement treaty to embark on an uncontrolled mass movement into the country but seldom out of the country, thereby further exerting pressure on Nigeria’s meagre resources.
Nigeria’s economic diplomacy in Africa has the potential of uniting the fractious country that she is currently. The exploitation of less developing countries on the African continent by getting them to open the doors of their economies to Nigerian business entities will go a long way in easing the intense struggle of the various ethno-geographic groupings in the country that are struggling over the very inadequate natural resources within her borders, which has led to entrenched corruption.