I doubt if it has ever been imagined that we can ask youths to set policy and target for Nigeria’s economic parameters such as vehicle imports
The world is constantly changing with impact at the most personal levels and areas of our country. I hope we can agree on this, I will give one example that affects me and I hope affects most of us too. My father, who is 87 years of age, is a first-generation educated person in my community, who, in the 1950s, was a staff of Shell Petroleum Company, and among other places studied in the United Kingdom. In his world, letter writing and the post office were modern matters. He has faithfully kept the family post office box and number since at least the 1970s. I believe that over the years I have been a prime beneficiary of that post office and box number, which he has faithfully kept up paying the fees to the Nigerian Postal Services (NIPOST).
Recently, he asked me why I no longer receive mails through the post. He has also seen me come home, and while sitting with him in the sitting room brought out my laptop. He has asked what I do with the laptop (which he never used, being a modern person of the 1930s through the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s). And I told him I receive and reply mails. He asked me how these mails get to me and I also replied, without using our beloved post office address and box.
A community owning a post office was a thing of pride. Communities went to great extents to have one while neighbouring communities that didn’t have had to patronise their neighbours’, sometimes feeling humiliated. Today, looking at post offices in cities and villages, the story is obvious. I suppose NIPOST must be seeking areas of relevance. Change is happening in every aspect of life and living globally and in Nigeria. Examples are all around us by our food, clothing, shelter, transportation, health care, education, even the way people love, marry, family, child bearing and rearing, communication, religion/worship, and certainly every way. We can cite multiple examples in each of these categories. For instance, we did not eat “Indomie noodles” as children. Such food as pasta and noodles are Asia-influenced.
A few years ago, we did not know green tea. Today, it has spread across Nigeria. A few years ago, apples were exotic far-off things. Today, apples are hawked on the streets and commonly eaten, imported from South Africa/Europe. We learnt in schools with chalk and blackboards. Today, we have arrived at markers and white boards, and even beyond with ICT facilities in classrooms. The production and marketing of these products are from North America, Europe and Asia. You see many Nigerian ladies adopt Caucasian-looking hair, a definite sign of inferiority complex. That was not the case a decade ago but currently these are imported at a significant foreign exchange cost, going by the huge demand for them.
Very recently, I have had cause to worry about presiding at meetings and believing the issues being discussed were defined and the agenda of the meeting understood. We get to some stage discussing a specific matter, and then someone starts talking about something unrelated to the matter at hand. Or still you spend some time discussing something and someone just says something that seems to suggest that all that was discussed never happened. This is a matter I am not sure what sensible explanation to give it. And these are all persons with higher education qualifications. Sometimes, I imagine it has to do with stopping school debates at the secondary level, or the years of military incursion and the closure of the parliaments. Recently also, I came across what I am unable to recall the exact words in which I saw them, but what was communicated is close to: People may have eyes open, seeing, but do not observe. People may be hearing words but are not listening. People may have noses but do not smell. And one I have added: People imagine they think, but in reality they do no thinking.
My understanding of these is that for sundry reasons which may include distractions, obsessions with pursuit of what to eat, drink, or wear, most of what I will be saying are well known to most persons, but whether they understand what is happening and what may happen to them as Nigerians within a world economic system is not clear. In this category are people who have passed through very high education programmes, acquiring very high degrees, as well as those very highly placed. Despite these discouragements we shall try.
Every period of difficulty in human history inspires people to rise to the challenges. Very often, that will be the youth. I give a few examples: Colonialism and the struggle for independence. By 1940 when the struggle was well on, the prime personalities were aged as follows: Nnamdi Azikiwe (36 years), Obafemi Awolowo (31 years), Ahmadu Bello (31 years), Tafawa Balewa (25 years). Decolonisation of the African mind, African thought process and African intellectualism had some key actors in the 1950s aged as follows: Nnamdi Azikiwe and the idea of a university founded by Africans (46 years in 1950), Mbonu Ojike – Boycott all boycottables on the advocacy for the consumption of domestic products (36 years in 1950), Chinua Achebe and the idea of telling our story ourselves as in THINGS FALL APART (28 years in 1958). The Biafran war and Medecins San Frontieres, founded in 1971, in the aftermath of the Biafra secession, by a small group of 13 French doctors and journalists, who sought to expand accessibility to medical care across national boundaries irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliation. Among the founders and their ages by 1970 were Jacques Beres (30), Benard Kouchner (32), Vladan Radoman (35), et al. The multi-dimensional challenges of our time, recommends youth visions and youth actions. In the realm of the provision of public goods and services, Nigerians now provide security for themselves whereas this should be the first duty of the state to her citizens. In all areas, including provision of water for household use, health care, education, transportation, building and maintenance of roads, communication, news media, to things that should be clearly privately provided such as music and entertainment. Nigeria is brimming with opportunity, before us has emerged a huge Nollywood industry with virtually no role for the state. Next I shall venture into a terrain that has not been walked yet and that is because it clearly is in the realm of the public service, economic policy. I doubt if it has ever been imagined that we can ask youths, outside formal structures of government, to set policy and target for Nigeria’s economic parameters such as vehicle imports, as well as imports and consumption of consumer products in Nigeria. Trade policies are public matters, but we may have to start encouraging Nigerian youths to take positions on that and mobilise society to abandon imported products and consume local products as a means of generating employment. That seemed to be Mbonu Ojike’s vision in his time. Clearly, we have a problem with public policy in Nigeria. Contrary to common commentary that Nigeria has many policies on virtually everything, that in reality can be disputed when what we describe as policies in Nigeria can be subjected to classical examination. In the modern world, we cannot describe as policy what lacks ownership, what is not knowledge-driven and evidence-based, what has no supporting strategy and plan of implementation, and what has no clearly defined measurable parameters and no defined actors with defined responsibilities for implementation, and there is no committed action plan and committed agencies focused on driving, monitoring and evaluating such actions and deliverables, and are often forgotten and not regularly updated as the parameters change. We in fact have examples of supposed policy documents that have been issued in the same era with conflicting positions on similar matters as exemplified by the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (NERGP) vis-a-viz the National Determined Contribution (NDC) to emission reduction, in the context of the Paris Climate Agreement of which Nigeria is signatory, on the issue of Nigeria’s obligations and targets on reduction of emissions and gas flaring. This is what I have previously described as Policy Absentmindedness.
That will be my message to the youth of our land. Simply put, take over public “policy” and action on consuming locally produced goods as a deliberate way to generate increased local production, increase employment, and reduce poverty. Consume made-in-Nigeria products even if of poorer quality than their foreign equivalents, because that is how every other successful country has risen above their economic challenges. Some years ago, it was the Japanese being derided in Europe as hawkers of transistor radios.
It was about made-in-Taiwan, or China-made at some point in time. That is what we need to do now. The generation of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mbonu Ojike, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Cheikh Anta Diop, Frantz Fanon, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Patrick Emery Lumumba, Nelson Rolihlahlah Mandela, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda, et al, was committed to the idea of freedom and the dignity of the African and the need for the restoration of the dignity of the black man. It was of such utmost importance to them. Today, we have a generation of willing slaves. Can we go beyond the traditional talk as persons associated with education and the school system beginning to take action in a small way, within our spaces, the power of personal example, to pull back from willing economic slavery to the major economies of the world? I dare ask: Can you just stop and retrace your steps from that one way in which you may have been a willing accomplice in your own enslavement? While doing that, do reflect on the lyrics of the “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley.
• Prof. Nwajiuba is Vice Chancellor, Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State