Nigeria’s Real Path To Progress

Nigeria is one of the greatest countries on earth with enormous potentials in natural and human resources. Very few countries can lay claim to this unique qualities. In fact many less endowed countries maximize the gains of their limited resources or explore other areas which where usually overlooked by others. Japan, for instance explored the digital and electronics technology into positioning itself as a world player and a force to reckon with in spite of it relatively some size. Indonesia, another Asian country introduced palm cultivation into its agricultural sector about three decades ago. Today, not only is Indonesia a thriving and prosperous country, but agriculture is her biggest labour employer accounting for 44.3% of the 95 million-strong workforce. India, one of the largest and most populous nations on earth, tapped into her huge wealth of intelligent individuals and created the Software sector which is one of the largest employers of labour today in India as well as around the world. Again, a little known country, Dubai, (well, few years back) is now one of today’s biggest players in the tourism sector since channeling her petroleum resources into creating the mega resort that she is today. The list goes on and on. I would not even go into the per capita income of the aforementioned countries because they dwarf what we have in Nigeria.

It is a well know fact that we have in our confines all these resources and the potentials of a great nation, but my questions are : Why are we still where we are today?; Why is Nigeria still an under developed country?; Why do we still have a high corruption level? ; Why, after 47years of independence, is Nigeria still plagued with the same nagging fundamental problems?; Why are many people trying to leave the country? And so on. It is mind-bugling that Nigeria with such great potentials is still faced with these problems. The reason is not far-fetched. A good leadership is what is missing in the Nigerian equation. Not just a good leadership, but a focused and diversity-minded individual. A leadership which is devoid of the stereotypic mindset of petroleum resources being the major cash cow and income earner of the nation. Just then would Nigeria start the real walk on the path of progress and prosperity.

With the growing cry for alternative fuel and the dangers of global warming, it is now common place to hear countries like the United States, the EU nations and Japan , to mention a few, exploring the possibility of ethanol, electricity and many others as alternatives. This is the clearest signal yet that countries like Nigeria and many Middle Eastern nations should begin to seek new policies for their economies before it is too late. The discovery of petroleum in Nigeria has been both a blessing and a curse at the same time. The emphasis on the importance of petroleum by previous leaderships has created amongst many, the underdevelopment and impoverishment of the agricultural sector and an unbalanced economic structure. Many young Nigerians scramble for a chance to be admitted into the Petroleum departments of many universities. Even bribing their way in when it becomes an option. Very clearly, the effect of this imbalance is felt shamefully in the sorry state of our refineries today. We habitually refine our petroleum resources outside the shores of our great nation because our refineries are in bad states disrepair. I guess if we had invested sufficiently in the development of the other Engineering discipline (Mechanical for instance), the situation probably would not be this bad. Sadly, there is actually no clear distinctions between these various careers anymore in Nigeria, because the few best and brightest from the various professions who get the opportunity to work in the oil sector are reduced to mere routine and uni-dimensional workers and probably never get a chance to contribute their know-how to the Nation’s development.

This vicious cycle of economic stagnation will never be broken if we do not have a leader with the courage to review our economic development policy. In the past eight years of democracy, some positive and bold steps have been taken which have given both the Financial/Banking and the telecommunication sectors a boost. We should be careful though, by avoiding the mistakes of the past with the over-dependence these now booming sectors. Every Nigerian professional including the sociologist, Biologist, Chemist etc all now want to be employees of these sectors while their own sector suffer. Well, the bottom line for these individuals is earning a good living given the fat salaries and other benefits accruing from being employees of these sectors. I am particularly interested in the development of the Iron and Steel industry as well as the revitalization of the agricultural sector. A few days ago, an article about a young Nigerian who developed a helicopter from assembling metal scraps and second hand engine made in Asia was published on the internet site “Yahoo” and later on the web media of “Nigeriaworld”. It was pathetic to read that this helicopter was developed by a Nigerian but with basically imported materials and technology. While a helicopter may have been the final product, but it cannot be truly tagged a 100% Nigerian made aircraft.

The iron and steel industry has always been a powerful player in the world economy. Just like oil, it’s a huge income earner and a huge employer of labour. There is a huge demand for its products in basically all sectors. Growing up in Nigeria, the story has never been different with respect to this sector. It appears that successive governments have deliberately abandoned it. Is it for fear of commitment to a seemingly mammoth project or they never really had a clear policy towards development. Either ways, the lack of action has resulted in the epileptic and deplorable state of the Warri and Ajaokuta Steel plants today. The simple fact that Iron and steel are the fundamental resources of the Auto, Aviation as well as the construction and manufacturing sectors is a testament of what Nigeria stands to gain if this sector is developed and equally given the needed attention. More so, the potential of creating millions of new jobs directly or indirectly. The per barrel cost of oil today may be at its highest today, but may be history tomorrow, but It would not be hard to project the long term demand for iron and steel.

A nation can never really be said to be self-sufficient if the citizenry still view feeding as a fundamental problem. It is sad, but I would have to agree that Nigeria is still categorized as under-developed given the fact that the average Nigerian can not really enjoy a decent transportation because the roads are in deplorable states (Benin-Ore?), communication because power is unreliable and epileptic, and worst, a decent meal because the prices of foods have gone beyond reach. In the latter, many resolve to meals that are far from being balanced. Progress or retrogression? Be the judge. Ironically, the Nigerian soil which is naturally fertile in comparison to that of countries like Egypt and Libya cannot be said to have fed the nation as well. On the contrary, there seems to be a shortage of food hence leading to sky rocketing prices. The neglect of this sector is evident from the lack of incentives to farmers in the rural areas and hence forcing undue flight of labour from the rural to the urban areas. Even as one of the richest countries, the United States still gives priority to its agricultural sector which is evident from the yearly incentives in the forms of financing and their protectionist tendencies. One of the achievements of the ex-governors of Cross rivers state was in the area of agriculture. My suggestion is that the other states as well as the federal government should borrow a cue from the agricultural policies of that state. The agricultural policy which worked in Cross Rivers should be used as model. There would not be the need to re-invent the wheel, so to speak.

Nigeria has enormous potentials and resources which need a new breed of leaders who can see the bigger picture of not equating the Nigerian success, greatness and prosperity sole with the petroleum sector but with the savvy of the words “Equilibrium and Diversity”. Until having a good meal of chicken is not considered a luxury in the average Nigerian home, the government can not claim to have succeeded in improving lives in Nigeria.

Written by
George O. Uwaifo
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