Chief Executive of InsightRedefini Group Dr Ken Onyeali Ikpe posits that Nigeria can equally become a fast growing economy under the right leadership.
The fastest growing economies today are driven by the creative and entrepreneurial abilities of the citizenry, who see new opportunities and pursue them, especially where the political leadership provides the enabling environment. In such economies, human capital development is given priority attention in much the same manner that the Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, sent thousands of Chinese youths to learn about Western economic management practices as the country prepared to transit from caps communism to market-oriented socialism, which encouraged private ownership of capital and in the process laid the foundation for the global economic powerhouse that China has become. The same can be said for the United Arab Emirates, where the leader envisioned the modern economic wonder now known as Dubai and set about making it real. Nowadays, the world troops to Dubai.
In this interview, Chief Executive of InsightRedefini Group, Dr. Ken Onyeali Ikpe, who holds a doctorate degree in Development Economics, posits that Nigeria can equally become a fast growing economy under the right leadership.
You have been involved in marketing communications for a long time. Looking at our nation, why has it proved very difficult to create the true Nigerian Brand everybody can identify with and be proud of?
I think it has to do with the fact that we have not yet defined what we really want out of our nation. It may have to do with our national structure and composition. Perhaps we are yet a mere geographical expression. If you go to Japan, you meet the Japanese; you go to England, you meet the English; same thing for Russia, you have the Russians and you have France, for the French.
But if you come to Nigeria, who do you really meet? Yoruba, Ijaw, Hausa, or Igbo, Efik, etc? We must say there is nothing wrong with diversity, but it must be driven by vision and strategic sense of purpose.
So, if Nigeria decides that she is going to be a nation, then we have to convert our differences and peculiarities into our strength. This however requires visionary leadership that has the capacity, competence and character to deliver. Have we been lucky with that? Not too sure.
Diversity is good and our people represent our strength, not oil, as we like to think. If we claim that our people (population) is our strength, the question then will be, what have we done with it? What deliberate plan have we put in place to harness the resource we call people? We have the weakest universities in the civilized part of Africa (the top tier) because we have the weakest school infrastructure and curriculum. We cannot compare ourselves with top African or world universities. So if we claim that human resource is our strength, then it will make sense that a significant amount of our resources should go into human capital development which will in turn impact on our curiosity and our ability to innovate. So, we could have produced the best engineers, the best innovators and the best technologists around Africa and the world.
Talking about the Nigerian Brand, to answer your question proper, we have not built the Nigerian brand.
Other people have built a brand and narrative for us. The brand people know of Nigeria is corrupt, unwieldy and dysfunctional. There is no nation in the world that does not have a negative side, but that cannot be the emphasis. The emphasis therefore in communication should be on your strength. Nobody can controvert the fact that Nigerians are intelligent, resilient and resourceful. Nigeria and Nigerians have demonstrated these over and over. If you uproot a Nigerian and take him/her to the United States, England or France, in a suitable, excellent environment, he/she excels. That must tell you what the Nigerian specimen is about. So, why don’t we deliberately and consistently talk about our strength? And in fact make it a habit. Strategic communication must tell us what we should do and not do. This actually goes back to the issue of the identity.
It is obvious we need visionary leadership. How do you define visionary Leadership?
An analogy of the ship sailing at sea will help here. Leadership is not about the man in charge of the engine room (turbine), monitoring the production of the power that is propelling the ship. Rather I believe it is about the man who is looking at the map and charting the course and saying this is where we are going and ensures that the ship is sailing along the right course; it is also about the man who is making sure that people who are in charge of producing the propelling force are happy and pushing themselves to produce more propelling force to keep the ship sailing in the right direction in record time..
Is there hope for Nigeria’s leadership?
Of course, there is hope. Nigeria is a great country. Eventually with guided and visionary leadership, Nigeria can stand out from Africa and possibly matching the likes of Malaysia or Dubai in less than 20 years. I strongly believe the most important cabinet minister should be the one in-charge of youth development because that is the future of Nigeria.
It is from youth development that information technology applications that create arrays of new industries and activities that also create massive employment will emerge. Education will benefit from this too.
If you don’t develop your youthful population, how can you say you are managing Nigeria for the future? You need economic planning and development with youth development being a major parastatal under it.
You need a powerful and resourceful minister who understands how to harness the creative ability of Nigerian youths for economic growth and national development. That is why a significant percentage of the resources of the country should be invested in youth development, to tap their ability to create new wealth.
What do you think can be done to harness the Nigerian youth for greater productivity?
I honestly think Nigerian youths fall amongst one of the most hardworking people you can find around the world, however, when a people work hard without commensurate navigation and reward for their effort it leads to frustration. What the Nigerian youths need is enabling environment and direction.
Let’s take Nigeria’s tech hubs for example: imagine the government partners with key industry players to build a tech empowered ecosystem across viable regions of the country, by providing affordable and consistent electricity, highly subsidized high-speed internet, single digit loans for projects with proof of concepts and strategic alliance between Silicon Valley and these Nigerian tech hubs using special purpose vehicles to drive knowledge exchange programs and venture commercialization with both long term and short term economic growth benefits across the country.
Do you know that this can create around 1,000 new businesses annually; if each of these helps additional 100 dependent businesses to thrive and each of these employs 20 direct staff, this sub sector would be creating 2 million jobs every year. Think about it.
Do you honestly think initiatives like this can work in Nigeria?
I know Nigerians are one of the most optimistic and prayerful people around, however, our continual denial to systems that work has created a false representation of our truth.
I strongly believe the future of our nation is webbed around our young population. Once we create business models or policies around our young populations’ areas of interest they will drive it over and beyond.
If our nation claims not to get the best from our young population then it means we are not taking guided steps to getting the right outcome. If you use and deploy data like we do at InsightRedefini Group, you will understand impossibility is relative. We solve complex business and economic problems using business intelligence, psychographic and consumer lifestyle patterns to create new paradigms.
I strongly believe our nation can achieve anything we set our hearts upon especially if it is driven by visionary leadership.