Over last weekend, we commiserated in shock, with the families of 16 Nigerians killed as people paid an estimated N6billion naira for 125,000 applications for 4500 jobs offered by the Nigerian Immigration service.
Almost simultaneously on the 17Th March 2014 our National Sovereign Conference begins. A political event unlike none seen in Nigeria since independence was convened. 492 candidates chosen from across the country will be deliberating on the county’s future. The delegates reported to the National Judicial Institute, the official venue of the conference along the Airport Road in the Jabi area of Abuja. And President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated the conference with a call for delegates to be non-partisan and ignore ethnic rivalries.
Similarly, last week in leafy St Johns wood in London, I was invited to a meeting where an amazing group of Nigerians to discuss their contribution to the sovereign conference.There was a UK broadcast, a human rights campaigner, a lawyer, at least three bankers, a beautiful media personality with 60 million viewers (not to be outdone one individual claimed he had 10,000 facebook followers… lol) but basically there was no shortage of talented Nigerians. We were asked to contribute ideas for the sovereign conference to be held soon and to last 90 days.
The idea was to discuss potential issues to discuss at the sovereign conference.
I suggested that we should set out a large scale project like building a new city or new rail links. But some of my co-hosts were pointedly more political. Because on the surface the sovereign wealth conference is a political, not economic event.
However I was struck by the fact that there was no pre-published agenda.
So by far the most popular ideas suggested were to ask the conference to help Nigerians abroad obtain access to voting and consular support, there was the idea that Nigeria needed to help its citizens thrive around the world, project a positive destination image for tourism and of course there was focus on reforming the constitution to emphasize human rights and due process.This was predictable.
The published group of 492 individuals is stellar. It contains former governors, ministers, permanent secretaries, disability and women’s groups aplenty. Its diversity is inspiring. With this calibre of individuals hopes are running high. Very high.
But in a sign of deep seated suspicion about the conference, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the Afenifere and the Ohaneze groups have not agreed on a common line to take. Some have even asked why the Unity Schools including Kings College Lagos for example are not represented.
From my perspective I feel sympathy for the delegates, because they have a gigantic task.
The majority of citizens inside and outside Nigeria are looking at the conference to deliver salvation on an epic scale. The resolution of political issues such as the relative power of local, state and federal governments is up for discussion. The balance between religion and secularism, the place for western and Islamic law are important. The conclusion of issues of sovereignty within the context of ethnic push for more self-determination by minorities in Nigeria is the stickier end of this spectrum of political problems that may well dominate the discussion.
But for me … outside of our political process there have been economic changes on a wider stage.
A month ago Jim O’Neil the head of research at Goldman Sachs broadcast on the BBC from AlikoDangote’s private jet in Abuja. Mr O’Neil declared Nigeria was one of a new set of countries his bank had dubbed ‘the MINTs’. MINT stands for Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey.
We are living in an era were a new group of countries that have been developing their economies slowly for years were now readyto make a great leap forward!.
If we are brave enough, a planned period of unparalleled development can begin in Nigeria.
Missing in the current national sovereign conference agenda arethe financial plansor the economic goals that we must set for Nigeria.Like the Chinese did.
The only way to deliver our great leap forward is by investing on a new large scale, both in our political and economic future.
The idea of an economic plan that focuses on the generation jobs on a large scale would be welcome by all.
Not just welcome, but game changing and nation building.
The new reality we live in allows us to devote part of this conference to setting a bold economic growth plan for Nigeria. Not just a political one.
By sheer coincidence, an apolitical group called the Network Nigeria 2020 lobby group (NN2020) has published a simple plan for the conference to consider.
The summary proposal sent to GEJ and NOI (as well as several conference delegates) and is trending on twitter under #nigeriansovereignconference. It can also be found here: http://www.slideshare.net/chidiobihara/the-nn-2020-group
The plan maps out a $120bn high speed passenger train network and a freight network linking at least 7 Nigerian cities.
Imagine if one of the outcomes of the conference might be an economic plan on the scale of the decision to build Abuja or more. Consider if the conference accepted the NN2020 plan and agreed a sum of say $200m to draw its road map and assemble the RFPs. In 6yrs time we could be seeing the commissioning of solar power station developments and the launch of Africa’s first high speed train networks. The rumour that one of the stops of the high speed trains is in Bayelsa state (one of the poorer parts of the south) is exciting for the president’s supporters. A similar rumour is that Borno state’s Boko haram torn city of Maiduguri is another stop allegedly has the backing of the ACF.Afenifere and Ohaneze groups are yet to discuss their preferred cities with the state representatives.
If either of these is true, then the political will, will be found.
It is ambitious; costing the government an estimated $120bn over 30 years. It is estimated to generate 30 million jobs and add 5% to GDP annually for the duration of the plan.
The plans are ambitious and are about bringing Nigerians together in a co-ordinated city and transport network…. But there are much more than three ethno centric groups to consult.
The truth of the matter is that it is impressive that the government has assembled a glittering and diverse array of clever minds – but delivering this great leap forward would be game changing.
Only a convened group of the size and nature of the sovereign conference can fully deliberate on this kind of great economy leap forward….
The revelation that the conference might focus on an economic goal like 1 million jobs created every year might be SMARTER than political goals that are difficult to measure and unclear to the population in general.
The Nigeria Network 2020 lobby group is suggesting an economic future that is impressive.
The question is whether the sovereign conference think it is important that economic as well as political goals are set and met.
The key challenge will be allowing people like the NN2020 group, who are not involved in politics to start the planning process and execute it.
If this happens, then the conference will be the executing a plan that will generate national cohesion by focusing on economyas well as political goals. Growth and jobs will finally have centre stage.
If these goals are SMART and well executed Nigeria can take up the African and global leadership role that many people around the world now expect. Making the country the number one manufacturing economy on the continent. Also the project would be a stepping stone for the development of the west and central Africa regions by increasing positive network externalities.
The Best thing 492 clever eminent Nigerians can do about the country is give us all this new future to aspire to where we pull together and create something great economically.
Oti-Obihara is a finance, banking and derivatives consultant.