By Muyiw Adetiba
Last week, my friend and neighbour Dr Kingsley Kola Akinroye (KK), was formerly presented to a diverse but select crowd of expatriates and Nigerians as the Honorary Consul of Finland. It was the peaking of a romance that started about 15 years ago, and which hopefully, will still have many peaks.
As a young doctor who had chosen cardiology as his area of study, he had gone to Finland to find out how a country which at a point, had one of the highest heart diseases in the world, turned itself around to becoming a country with one of the lowest heart diseases. He had been intrigued by what he found in this tiny, rugged country and that fascination kept him going there again and again. Hence the beginning of what, hopefully, will be a mutually beneficial relationship.
Two months ago, in exchange for a book on Collin Powel which I cherish, my friend had given me a book on Finland. I didn’t think at that time that it was a good deal. After all, I had come across such PR books during my years of travel. But this book was different. For one, it was written by an outsider who had been fascinated and assimilated by Finland. An intellectual, he was able to explain the feat that forefathers of Finland who transformed the country, had performed, in management terms.
Finland is a tiny country that has been made cold and unfriendly by nature. It is also a country with very few natural resources. But what it lacked from nature, was more than compensated for in men and women who are fiercely patriotic and courageous.
Twice, it fought wars that many people thought it could not win. One of them was with Russia, a sprawling, powerful neighbour that wanted to swallow Finland up. To end the war, Russia demanded a hefty sum as compensation. Finnish leaders preferred to ‘pay the price of freedom’ even if it meant working their collective fingers to the bone. Finland eventually paid Russia off by producing superior goods that could be marketed in Russia and never looked back after that.
Today, Finland is one of the most prosperous European countries and as usually follows, one of the least corrupt in the world. Its strength has been in education and research and has some of the most advanced research institutes in the world. An average Fin, according to the book, has a logical, analytical mind.
So why am I bringing this up? What has Nigeria to learn from the Finnish example? Its education, education and education. The lesson here is that the future of the world does not lie in oil, gold or such natural resources any more. It is in education. President Obama of the US recognised this four years ago when he made re-educating Americans a campaign promise. He reiterated it again during the last campaign. For America, he said, to compete and take jobs back from China and the Asian countries, America must have higher training and higher skills which in the final analysis, mean higher education.
At home, our ‘leaders’ are still busy fighting over revenue allocation. Neighbours – Anambra, Kogi, Rivers and Bayelsa – are fighting themselves over newly discovered oil. Instead of fighting over what is under the ground, why don’t we develop what is over the ground – the human resource? Instead of fretting over depleting assets, why don’t we worry over renewable assets – the human brain?
As it is, many countries in Africa have discovered oil. Worse still, our two main markets, America and China are looking inwards. On top of it all, the rest of the world is moving away from oil to cleaner, more renewable forms of energy.
If certain leaders don’t want to move ahead, then we should leave them behind. This is the time to forget tribal, religious and political affiliations and come 2015, choose a competent, visionary leader from any corner of Nigeria who will put education on the front burner.
Would it be possible, for example, for our new President, to pick the best five universities now and make them centres of excellence with a mandate to be among the world’s top 50 in five year’s time? Let the country’s brightest and best, irrespective of state of origin, be enrolled in these universities.
Let them be run by highly acclaimed Nigerians picked from anywhere in the world, who are driven by excellence and the need to leave a legacy (it should still be possible to find a few I hope) Let the academic and administrative staff be the best we can muster. Then let these universities be the yardstick for the others.
In the mean time, let the clamour for a new man in Aso Rock begin; A man who will have the vision to prepare our young ones for the challenges of the knowledge driven 21st century.
Let the social media, the Save Nigeria Group, and other Civil Societies begin to look for a man (or woman) that most of us can back, not because of his religious, tribal, or political leaning but because of his intellect, passion and vision.