It is important to show appreciation to BBC for organizing a debate: Is Nigeria Ready to Lead Africa? on the 25th day of June, 2014 at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, Kano Hall at 5.00 pm Nigeria time. I thank Mary Morgan, Producer BBC debate world service for inviting me to be part of the audience.
At the debate, we had 3 panelists, Abba Morro, Minister of Interior, Hauwa Mustapha, Development Economist, and Kalu Idika Kalu, former Finance Minister. Rivers state governor, Rotimi Amaechi and Niger state governor, Babangida Aliyu, were part of the audience, which included security experts, economists, civil society actors and young Nigerians.
The debate was enlightening, thought-provoking and interesting. Although, the theory of adultism did not give room to young Nigerians at the debate contribute as they ought to. The avoidable bomb blast that rocked Emba Plaza at Wuse 2 in Abuja an hour to the debate was not helpful for in-depth interrogation of the subject matter. Rather than focusing solely on the proposed topic, as we had it on the invitation and BBC official website (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27885700), the precarious incidence caused a bit digression, making us to almost lose focus on what the debate is all about.
At the audience, we were anxiously waiting for the political leadership to tell us how we are ready to lead Africa. Yes! They did not disappoint us, they told us at the debate. For the Minister of Interior, Abba Morro, Nigeria is ready to lead Africa because it has the highest population in Africa. For Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, it is not a new thing that Nigeria has the potential to lead Africa, however, since 1960; Nigeria has constantly remained a potential state that is yet to be translated into concrete reality of development.
Nigeria can lead Africa but the indicators are not there, he further elaborated. We had hope that governors at the audience; Rotimi Amaechi and Babangida Aliyu, will provide meaningful direction, but their insight on how we can lead Africa is not different from Abba Moro’s. None of them showed the capacity to lead the process. For us as young people listening to them, we suddenly discovered, there are more problems beyond the surface appearance.
In this piece, I shall carefully respond to the question of whether or not Nigeria is ready to lead Africa by relating such proposition to our current realities, which include poverty, youth bulge and unemployment, growing inequality, mega corruption, insecurity, to mention a few.
For me therefore, it is important we begin to hold debates on our actual growth and development rather than simply singing the song, Nigeria readiness to lead Africa, and being emotional about our rebased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and where we will be in 2020 or 2030 as it pleases the projectors. It is politically suitable to project that in the next 20 to 30 years, we will lead Africa, but we must ask ourselves: what does it mean to be African leading economy? Will ascribing Africa’s biggest economy to ourselves solve the problems of poverty and inequality in Nigeria? These questions are more than genuine, particularly, in view of the fact that at present our poverty is at 69% rate.
Indeed, the neo-liberal models that are generating growth and driving us closer to a middle income category have also generated poverty and inequality. It is important to note that the market fundamentalists are enthusiastic to underscore that, 6 out of the 10 countries globally that have recorded the fastest economic growth are in Africa. However, they have continued to maintain silent on the fact that those 6 countries are also witnessing escalating inequality and severe poverty, for instance despite our rebased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the much celebrated economic growth our poverty still stands at 69%.
Then the most fundamental question, is the growth that comes with gross inequality and exclusion desirable, or sustainable? Unquestionably not! Then comes another question, are the socioeconomic disparities perpetrated by the neo-liberal model a necessary price we have to pay in our ignorance of measuring how well our economy is doing? The neo-liberal model fundamentalists who sing the praise of our rebased GDP are yet to sincerely answer the question what is happening to poverty, inequality and unemployment? Certainly they will not because the economists live in a denial and seem not to understand our current realities.
It is important we begin to interrogate the premise that determine our ability to transform our potential to solving our local problem first before thinking of leading the entire black Africa nation. For us to begin to see development, we must be a developmental state that acts proactively to transform the economy and the state. And we have to do so within the democratic setting which is the framework within which we operate.
Our politics at the moment is too confrontational and there is urgent requirement to find a means of transforming our politics to one that gives consensus to development priorities that could transform our economies and the state. Our ability to lead developmental process, direct our affairs, build a strong institution and public sector, create a space for civil society organizations and build the capacity of our citizens to engage governance will be major determinant factors for measuring our readiness for development and eventually lead Africa.
It is true we are growing and we have the potential. However, our potentials cannot be translated into development unless huge and lasting investments are made in education and health, promotion of inclusive growth, creating employment and putting sustainable issue at the heart of our development process. If we do not go in this direction, our current youth bulge and unemployment will be a time bomb waiting to be exploded. The issue, therefore, is not economists rebasing our GDP growth per say, but what are the policies and development models being put in place to drive development and turn our 170 million populations to assets and not liability. As we begin to adopt a framework for what is desirable, it is important we begin to think in terms of what is possible and fundamentally, ask, what we need to do to make what is desirable become a reality.
The point that must be made is, our discussion on industrialization is no longer holding. One way we can begin to redefine our path as a nation is to have industrialization as an integral part of our development planning process. The truth we must tell ourselves is, without industrialization, we are not going to build an economy that will create opportunities and end poverty. Apparently, all countries that have reduced poverty did so because the economies grew out of practical strategies that created sustainable jobs and provided decent incomes based on industrial growth, which is a key missing link in our case. Our model which bases on the intensification of our past colonial way of commodity export is not sustainable for our growth and development.
We must remodel our pattern of political process, at the moment, our political parties are not engaging the population and they are essentially “periodic vote gathering organizations”. We do not have any democratic structures within which we have debates on the problems facing us and about the choices that needed to be made. Our political parties are not people driven, their ability to understand what is happening in our society is weak and that translates into weak and unfocused governance. The factions in our political parties are about patronage not about the need of our people. This character of our politics needs to be changed and overhauled.
As a young Nigerian, I think we should begin to ask ourselves sincerely what has happened to our country. Why has our country defiled all the development frameworks and models? Why have all the benchmarks we set for ourselves not been achieved? What is it that we are going to do to achieve them? I think, we need a sincere democratic debate with the state actors, non-state actors, religious leaders, business giants and citizens on what needs to be done. In that debate, we need to have a comprehensive review of what has happened during the last 60 years and come up with a new ways of thinking about what development model we need to adopt and what kind of future do we need for our people otherwise things might get worse in our country before they get better.
Economists, academics, and some paid government agents have gone to work proclaiming us as Africa leading economy. The error of language and obvious denial of our current realities by the propagandists has led us inevitably to errors in our policy formulation and implementation. This erroneous assumption we are imposing on ourselves is frightening. Looking at our current realities, one begins to wonder do we have all what it takes to lead Africa, or whether our self imposed mission are mere emotional adventure founded on obscured vision of reality in the first place.
On whether we have the ability to lead Africa, our bureaucrats, academics and government paid agents promptly make reference to our population, GDP growth and our recent rebased GDP to enlarge their illusion of our greatness which they have propagated and promoted without any result to show. Our problem with this kind of analysis with the assumption that we are ready to lead Africa when we do not have a firm socio-economic substructure, a functional industrial foundation, and a stable self regulatory policy further exposes the illusion and lack of understanding of our bureaucrats, academia, ruling class in their calculation of our situation. It is embarrassing that we are still following the neo-liberal models in analyzing our economic growth and we are yet to reappraise, rethought and restructure our own model of measuring our economic growth.
Apparently, illusions are not easily surrendered, and when they are surrendered, they are often succeeded by new myths. This means, it will be difficult for the economists and our government propagandists to agree with our present reality. I am particularly worried, judging from our current 69% poverty rate, youth bulge and unemployment, insecurity, mega corruption, import dependent economy, poor education, inadequate housing, leadership failure etc we still impose to ourselves the readiness to lead Africa.
We may be rich, big, large, and wealthy or even a populous country, but we do not at the moment have the capacity to lead Africa. Although we might aspire to lead Africa because of our demographic, economic and geographic opportunities, this must be understood as only aspiration that does not translate into solution for our current realities.
One way to transform our leading Africa aspiration to reality is for us to begin to rethink our past, we must re-examine our democracy and the nature of our politics which is now our development framework, and we must ask where we went wrong, how and where we failed and what to do in future to have a better Nigeria. We must have alternative crop of elite with alternative perspectives. If we fail to dream new dreams and see new vision for the future, am afraid we are getting nowhere.
I call for apology from the economists and our government propagandists for their robust prodigalism and provocative assertion that we are ready to lead Africa, our ability to lead Africa is not just academic conclusion but a political will and political necessity. The economist and our government propagandists must admit, although we are rich in strategic mineral resources, in the prevailing circumstances of poverty, unemployment and inequality we cannot lead Africa.
To position ourselves to lead Africa, we must build a formidable military might, industrial base, a sound economic structure, a conscientized civil society, and stable political system. These are the ways to our leading Africa aspiration. Our false generosity abroad and poverty at home must be stopped. Although they praise us in our presence, they mock us at their private homes and conversations because they know our history. For us to lead Africa, this bazaar philosophy must come to an end.
It is not a taboo for us to aspire to lead Africa, but we must understand that there is a lot work to be done before that happens. We must think of how to achieve it and plan towards it. The aspiration alone is not enough, what matters most is how to get there. In our ‘camouflage’ arguments, yes, we hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) and rebased our GDP this year 2014 and the economy is growing at 7% rate.
Beyond rebasing our GDP, what the economists do not know is that Rwanda and Mauritius did not wait for neo-liberal model analysis in addressing their challenges. Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara and Amilcar Cabral have proven the economists wrong; they have shown you can only improve the lives of the citizens via purposeful leadership which is a key missing link in our country that aspires to lead Africa.
Without a visionary leadership and citizens with capacity to engage governance, no matter how we rebase our GDP we will continue our aspirant to lead Africa. Economists must understand the neo-liberal models have not been solution to ensuring development anywhere in the world. It is a mere intellectual delusion, and those who still argue on the basis of neo-liberal models must be stoned.
Audu Liberty Oseni is a programme officer at the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja. Kindly give him feedback via email at Libertydgreat@gmail.com and through his Twitter handle @libertydgreat