By Obadiah Mailafia
TODAY, we conclude our reflections on National Goals and Priorities. We had previously discussed priorities such as security, restructuring and nation building, power and infrastructures, and agrarian reforms. The other goals needed to build a New Nigeria are: people, institutions and national repositioning.
We received with great rejoicing the news that a young Nigerian, Silas Adekunle, age 26, has become the highest paid robotic engineer in the world. He was born in Lagos where he also completed his secondary education. He recently graduated with a first class honours degree from the University of the West of England, Bristol, United Kingdom. Silas Adekunle is the founder/CEO of Robotics Reach Ltd. His company has signed an exclusive and highly lucrative sales deal with Apple that will sell his Mekamon robots throughout the world.
The story of this young Nigerian is illustrative of the talent, creativity and energy of Nigerian youth when we invest in them and build the right enabling environment.
This leads us to the sixth national objective, namely, investing in human capital and job-creation. The combined lessons of economic science and of world development in the last two decades make it abundantly clear that human capital is the driver of the wealth of nations. The new endogenous growth theories pioneered by economists such as Robert Lucas at Chicago and his student Paul Romer – both of them Nobel laureates – place emphasis on human capital, technology, innovation and knowledge as being central to growth and economic prosperity.
Despite massive strides in growth, unemployment remains an abiding challenge. A World Bank report has characterised our development path as that of “jobless growth”. Youth unemployment in Nigeria stands at over 20 percent. In some of the most impoverished areas, particularly the north east, it hovers well above 60 percent. Basic technical, literacy and numeracy skills remain binding constraints to employability among our youth at all levels. Outside the formal education system, very little goes for adult literacy and for skills acquisition. Nigeria’s adult literacy rate currently stands at 59.6 percent. We are faced by a situation of some 76 million of our countrymen and women who are locked in the dark night of ignorance and illiteracy.
Our research and innovation base is also weak. Historically, much of the research and scientific activity in our institutions has been of little value because of the absence of an enabling ecosystem. In rich as well as low-income countries, research is always a risky activity. The promise of success is not always guaranteed. This often means that government has to play a catalytic role not only in promoting research but also in mitigating the inevitable risks while providing the institutional support for commercialisation activities. Investing in people is ultimately about emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, and creating the right environment where talents flourish. We must reframe the paradigm underpinning all our national development efforts to focus on people, skills, intellectual capital and the knowledge economy. Education and health are the key to human capital development. An educated populace is also a healthy one. Research has shown that educated mothers are more likely to bring up healthy children who survive infancy. Maternal mortality is also less prevalent among literate women. Ultimately, it is an established axiom of economic development that health, truly, is wealth.
Seven, we must resolutely commit to public and institutional reforms. From the decade of the eighties up to the early nineties, Nigeria embarked on a series of structural reforms under the tutelage of the Bretton Woods Institutions. These reforms had, at best, limited impact. The second wave of reforms came from 1999, with the inception of the Third Republic under President Olusegun Obasanjo. The new administration sought to restore Nigeria’s credibility among the nations by ensuring a basis for political and economic governance. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was established to fight corruption and rent-seeking behaviour that had become rampant in the public sector. The external sector was opened up and foreign investors were encouraged to bring in their capital in terms of both FDI and portfolio investments. State-owned institutions such as NEPA and NITEL were unbundled. The results were quite impressive.
The launching programmes such as the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, NEEDS, aimed to empower the people, generate jobs and ensure accelerated growth. As part of these reforms, the CBN took the lead in the banking consolidation reforms that led to the transformation of our banking and finance sector. Even at that, these reforms did not prevent the subsequent crisis in the banking sector that led to the scenario of bad loans which necessitated the creation of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON. Some efforts were made to privatise Ajaokuta Steel and the five government-owned refineries, with ineffectual results. In the case of the refineries, the sharks that control diesel and refined petroleum importation colluded to ensure the refineries never work so that they can continue to exploit the Nigerian people through the extortionate payments of highly questionable subsidies exceeding N1.4 trillion annually. The Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, has largely been killed by collusive action between petroleum/diesel importers and the oil majors.
Now is the time to implement third-generation structural reforms. We currently have a bloated public sector that employs over 3 million. There was a time when the Nigerian civil service was one of the best in the entire Commonwealth. Today, we face a sorry state of affairs. Corruption, rent-seeking and sloth are rife; wages remain abysmally low; nepotism has become the norm; professionalism virtually non-existent. The new phase of public sector and institutional reforms must be anchored on restoring merit, discipline and professionalism in the civil service.
We understand that the Federal Government recently inaugurated the Project Management Teams for the implementation of the 2017-2020 Federal Civil Service Strategy and Implementation Plan. Civil servants are the people best placed to initiate their own institutional reforms. We will need to create a new commission with a limited mandate to review and oversee the reform process. In so doing we will need to revisit the recommendations of the Steve Orosanye Committee on the rationalisation of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government, MDAs, to ensure greater coordination while minimising waste and duplication of functions. We do not believe that this institutional repositioning will of necessity involve the mass retrenchment of civil servants. That will be contrary to the spirit of our proposed reforms. What we intend to achieve is greater professionalism, effectiveness and greater accountability for results. We need nothing less than a new civil service for a New Nigeria.
Finally, we need an aggressive economic diplomacy that attracts inward investments while boosting market opportunities within and outside our continent. We must resolutely commit to repositioning Nigeria as a bourgeoning world economic and trading power. We must put our national interests above all other considerations in our external relations. The Chinese of the Qing Dynasty defined fuqiang – the pursuit of power and wealth – as the abiding the purpose of the state. The task and vocation of a new generation of leadership in our country is to advance Nigerian power and prosperity in the context of an intensely competitive and dynamically changing world.
Underpinning all our developments must be commitment to the sustainable use of natural resources in a manner that preserves our environment for present and future generation. Our vision is that of a New Nigeria; a just, peaceful, prosperous and happy nation. We must foster an eco-system that unleashes the energy and creativity of our people. We must invest not only in physical infrastructures but equally in human capital – creating an educated, healthy and wealthy population linked to peace, social justice and opportunities for all.