Mobile Week with GSM

August 2, 2009

Porter worries overNigeria’s poverty

By Prince Osuagwu
PERHAPS, not so many   people would have known that Nigeria ranks poorly in the 2009 Global Competitiveness Rankings of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness of the Harvard University, United States. But the arrival of world’s renowned business strategist and revered scholar at Harvard Business School, Professor Michael Porter penultimate week, at a seminar sponsored by MTN Nigeria to discuss Nigeria’s economy, threw more light into the survey.

The seminar, with theme, “Enhancing Nigeria’s Competitiveness through Public-Private Collaboration”, was conceived as a platform to share Prof. Porter’s insight on the challenges facing the country and possibly iron out ways out of the woods.

Prof. Porter said that the 2009 Global Competitiveness Report was put together after a survey of 134 countries across the world, measuring competitive disadvantages against a number of indices. On some of the indices, Nigeria’s ranking is disheartening, even if they were not surprising.
For instance, on the index, Patents per million population, Nigeria ranks last on the list of 134 countries surveyed. On quality of electricity supply, the country ranks 133rd. That would not come as a surprise to most Nigerians, many of whom would expect Nigeria to rank last on this index, considering the appalling situation of the country’s power sector.

On the index of burden of  custom procedures, Nigeria ranks 122nd; ease of access to loans, 124th; quality of railroad 121st; quality of infrastructure, 115th; personal computers per 100 population, 117th; quality of roads, 104th; internet access in schools, 105th , and Internet users per 100 population, 99th. In overall, the country ranks 106th.

This performance, according to Professor Porter, belies the great potential of the country, given the country’s location, natural endowments and human resource. Some of the world’s best brains in ICT, like Philip Emeagwali, Father of the Internet, have Nigerian origins.
“Nigeria is rich in people, in size, in location. The country is strategically located in West Africa, with easy access to the sea. How can a country so rich be so poor?”  He queried.

However, Porter was quick to add that as grim as the situation appeared, Nigeria could climb to the top of the ladder, using the strength of Information Communications Technology (ICT), among other measures.

For him, the sponsorship of the high profile seminar by MTN, the attendance of the seminar by leading lights in the private and public sectors ,including three state governors, as well as the enthusiasm that many of the participants had shown in their interactions with him, were all indications that Nigeria was ready to get back on track. He posited that for Nigeria to turn its situation around, it needs to get competitive. To be competitive, according to him is to be productive; to harness, utilise and get the most value for all available resources.
“Productivity rules. That is the higher law of the global economy, but for a country to enthrone productivity, it must fortify its strengths and work on its weaknesses” he added.

The strengths of the country, according to him, include favourable location, size, abundant resources and agricultural potential.
The weaknesses he listed included electricity, land transport, air transport, land use, workforce skills, ICT capacity, business regulation / red tape, tariff and non-tariff barriers, monopoly / lack of open competition and intellectual protection.
Unveiling what he called Nigeria’s competitive agenda, Professor Porter listed fifteen work areas for all stakeholders, including, the public and private sectors. They are classified into five broad levels: business environment, macro, states, cluster development and regional integration. Under business environment, he stressed the need for Nigeria to catch up with ICT. Indeed, the country has made a lot of progress since 2000 when total number of lines in the national network was about 400,000. Today, the country boasts of over 60 million lines, courtesy of private telecommunications operators, led by MTN and other GSM operators.

Professor Porter stressed the need to encourage the telecommunications sector to continue to grow in order for the country to realise its goal of emerging as an economic powerhouse in the region in the nearest future.

The don harped on the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors. He was very clear about what roles each should play. According to him, in the new world order that Nigeria needs to aspire to, the private sector holds all the aces as the fountain of productivity and creator of wealth. The private sector therefore needs to be encouraged and supported to move Nigeria into an era of ‘created prosperity’ as against ‘inherited prosperity’ that has done the country no good.

To achieve this, he implored the government to address bottlenecks in physical infrastructure and land use, modernize business rules and regulations, continue reform of the financial sector, open up local and international competition and protect intellectual property (IP).

Intellectual property issues, for instance are holding back the growth of a potentially huge, revenue-spinning software industry in Nigeria, hindering the country from partaking in the multibillion dollar global outsourcing business. India’s outsourcing industry had exports of about US$47 billion in the fiscal year to March 31, 2009. The industry provided means of livelihood for about 2.2 million staff in the same period.

As if reading Prof. Porter’s mind, the Nigerian government recently revved up efforts to rout piracy through its agency, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), shutting down many companies engaged in piracy and mounting aggressive media campaign against the menace.

Porter left a message of hope. “Nigeria has some of the most brilliant and hard working people around the world, and would take no time to climb the ladder of competitiveness”. But he added that stakeholders must, first of all, collaborate to remove the obstacles.