Journalism in the service of society

Nigeria’s next move

By Ehi Braimah

WHEN the January 9 Collective (J9C), a group of Nigerians who are keen for Nigeria to make progress and march forward, invited speakers, discussants and other key stakeholders to yet another conference two months ago, the theme was, “Evolved Generation, Fresh Voices and the Pragmatic Next Steps.”

The forum was another opportunity for Nigerian voices to be heard. On that day, speaker after speaker expressed familiar concerns about our current circumstances and the future of Nigeria. The theme was aspirational and the aim was to listen to young voices as we search for solutions to the issues confronting us and point the way forward.

I was not disappointed with the contributions from an evolving generation of young men and women who have a stake in the task of nation building. Instead of agonising as we often do, the conference looked at how we can develop a road map to achieve prosperity and greatness. 

The youthful speakers gave a good account of themselves; they inspired hope and displayed enthusiasm for the great renaissance ahead, hoping that it will come very soon. They seem to be in a hurry and they are fully aware of the key issues – political, ethno-religious, economic, socio-cultural, identity crisis, inequality, gun violence, etc – that are making it impossible for Nigeria to attain its full potential.  

In his presentation titled, “My thoughts on Nigeria’s next move,” Obafela Bank-Olemoh, senior special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Education Interventions, was very forthright when he said our actions and inactions over the last 60 years have taken us to where we are today.

We live in a very toxic environment where there is mutual suspicion based on which part of the country we come from. There is constant tension between neighbours as we struggle to protect territories on the basis of tribe and religion. This paradigm needs to shift and recognise that we are Nigerians first before anything else.

Our current realities, according to Bank-Olemoh, includes a “rapidly growing population and the mass exodus of our best and brightest out of the country.” The exodus is caused by economic migration by Nigerians to places where they believe life can be better and more meaningful for themselves and their families.

With a population that is projected by the UN Population Division to grow to about 400 million people by 2050, we have so much work to do to tackle crime and food insecurity. We cannot depend on crude oil that accounts for over 70% of our revenue forever.

It is not too late to re-invent ourselves but everyone must buy into a “national vision” that is acceptable to all as a “Charter for Greatness and Prosperity”. We need a leader to champion the vision and as the drum beats of the politics of 2023 become louder by the day, there is no better time than now to search for the “right” leaders.  

The challenge of 2023 is for all eligible voters – young and old – to ensure that they have their voter’s cards ready which must be used wisely. Another way we can address this challenge is for a new generation of men and women to rise up and mount the soap box – this is the only way we can stop recycling old and tired politicians who have refused to quit the stage.

Since Nigeria is too big to fail, it therefore follows that Nigerians at home and abroad must pay more than a cursory attention to what is going on. A new momentum should be created to dislodge and displace professional politicians in the corridors of power. Their tactic is primitive accumulation of wealth for do-or-die elections. Unfortunately, voters allow themselves to be manipulated because of poverty and hunger. These politicians go as far as creating confusion and instigating violence in order to rig elections.

We are now obliged to develop a system that should become a dominant culture for selecting and electing our leaders through a filtration process. I do not think it requires any rocket science. Leaders are the conscience of society and I can say confidently that we have Nigerians with gravitas, experience, knowledge and capacity who can lead this country to greatness.

These are indeed tough times, but Robert Schuller (1926 – 2015), the American Christian televangelist, motivational speaker and author, reminds us that tough times never last, but tough people do. In moments like this, when the economy is falling apart, what we need are visionary leaders who would not think of spending over N600 billion (US$1.5 billion) to fix a dead refinery. It is complete idiocy! 

This decision is the outcome of the crisis of leadership rocking Nigeria. I do not agree with Timipre Sylva, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, that we should hold him accountable for every dollar spent to rehabilitate the Port Harcourt refinery. 

To even think of spending US$1.5 billion at this time when our external reserves lost over US$1.1 billion last month is scandalous. All the four refineries in the country have been losing money running into billions of Naira every month, so why are we prioritising this expenditure? I’m not sure the idea is to please Nigerians but I think it is one huge joke taken too far and the decision should be reversed.

In his recommendations, Bank-Olemoh said Nigeria can embark on the “next move” by implementing five pragmatic steps. One, all the key stakeholders should come together – the three arms of government, political elites, Nigerian elites, youths and the average Nigerian citizen; two, transparency in government is compulsory; three, redesign key sectors in the economy; four, strengthen the moral fibre of the country, and five, inspire the people.

These prescriptions are very insightful and similar recommendations have been made in the past through conferences and newspaper articles, but they did not move the needle, not even by one inch.

The truth of the matter is that time is running out and we need to act fast to save the country. Any football team that wants to win must assemble its “best team” as we see in leagues around the world. It is this country that produced great ambassadors such as Prof Akinwunmi Adesina who is the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who recently assumed office as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 

We also have great minds and intellectuals such as Prof Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate who is regularly spotlighted as an enigma for his literary achievements and nobility. By the time we add the shining Nigerian stars in US President Joseph Biden’s administration and the great honour bestowed on Burna Boy and Wizkid as Grammy award winners recently, we are comforted that we can build great and successful brands in different categories out of Nigeria.

I agree with Bank-Olemoh that in making our next move, we must win the trust of the people through effective communication and transparency in government. This requires quality leadership at all levels to drive robust engagements that can build trusting relationships. I concede that this task will not be easy but it is possible to enable a paradigm shift for success. It begins from the way think and behave as Nigerians. The new leadership model and framework must foster a sense of “ownership” and recognise that everyone is a critical stakeholder.

From the foregoing, the quality of leadership that we parade right the provincial level all the way to the highest echelon of government is critical for the “national vision” to succeed. For example, how do we manage the recent absurdity of Hon Idris Wase, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who exhibited crass ignorance over a simple legislative matter that even a high school student can decipher? So Nigerians in the diaspora cannot send a petition to the National Assembly on a matter that affects their kith and kin back home?

With lawmakers like Hon Wase, Nigeria may never move forward. However, we must look beyond such drivel and continuously separate the wheat from the chaff. Luckily, not all the lawmakers are like the Deputy Speaker; we have diligent legislators and thought leaders in the National Assembly who are ready to make a difference. Although they are in the minority, it doesn’t matter – all hands must be on deck to achieve a critical mass for our march to greatness.

We have to remain optimistic and hopeful. The late sage, Nelson Mandela, said in one of his famous quotes: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” 

Our leaders must be smart and intelligent, and make everyone feel important and special. In addition, they must worry less about the perks of office, including shunning gratifications. It is more charitable to serve without expecting anything in return. May God bless Nigeria.

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