Open Letter to Nigerians (2)

by Obi Igbokwe

We should also exploit Internet and mobile technologies to build a national e-health network to achieve our objectives and enable the storing of the medical records of Nigerian in electronic format, so that these records are within the reach of registered healthcare providers at every hospital, every ward and every clinic at any time of the day in Nigeria as to ensure continuity of care and reduce deaths due to medical errors.

We must also put drinkable water either through pipes or boreholes within the reach of every single Nigerian child. Nigeria has one of the largest fresh water resources in the world. It is no longer excusable that children should die of diarrheal diseases because we failed to put clean water within walking distance of the child’s mother.

5. Education and Training: An educated workforce is a more efficient workforce. A better educated population also presents multiple opportunities for the economy to diversify beyond its traditional pillars. This was an approach followed by the Asian Tigers, who invested heavily in education to produce a workforce that could provide value-added services as income generators for economies that had little or no natural resources.

We will have to increase the budgetary allocation to education, and indeed healthcare as well, as both sectors are critical to our success as a nation. The provision of compulsory quality primary and secondary school education with a strong focus on the sciences and mathematics to ALL children is a matter of urgency if we are to take our true position amongst the league of leading nations.

We will also need to increase funding to our universities, which were neglected over the years, and task them to get more involved in research. We must also endeavour to build community colleges in every local government area whereby vocational and technical skills training could be provided for school leavers before they enter the workforce.

We must design and deliver a series of informal programmes that educate our people on religious and tribal tolerance, civil rights and civic duties, and a host of educational initiatives aimed at ridding our society of the social injustices that are carried out under the auspices of culture and tradition.

6. Agriculture & Natural Resources: With the global food prices on the rise and Nigeria being a net importer of food, the country will be better served by reviving its agriculture sector, which was also Nigeria’s chief export earner before the discovery of oil.

Nigeria, once an exporter of food crops, now has to import food to meet local demand. It is unacceptable, as a nation that fails that to feed its population is preparing the ground for civil unrest which can tear our society apart.

We will need to reform the agricultural industry as the availability of cheaper foods will also lead to an increase in the quality of life for Nigerians as more people will be able to afford to put more food on the table for their families.

Agriculture is the biggest sector of the economy but yet past leaders have spent all their attention on the oil sector, to the detriment of developing an industrialised agro-based economy.

7. Environment: Damage to the environment has long term implications to the Nigerian economy as it can lead to a deterioration of health of the general population, a depletion of natural resources and an increased cost of doing business. It is much cheaper to put in preventive measures to protect the environment than to clean it up down the line. Protecting the environment is no longer a social issue but an economic one, and one that the Nigerian government will need to embrace fully.

We must put an immediately end to the sloppy practices of oil companies and their local accomplices, who in order to save a buck, are wrecking the environment of the Niger Delta, while recording multi-billion dollar profits at the end of the financial year.

8. Finance & Housing: Developing a strong financial sector which stimulates growth in the private sector through the availability of credit would be a priority, more so given the current global financial crisis.

While it might not possible to provide cheap housing for all Nigerians, we must develop a mortgage system that puts owning a home within the reach of most Nigerians.

We must also strengthen our tax system, as it would provide the necessary funding needed to improve education, healthcare, the enforcement of law and order, and other public services.

9. Enterprise & Innovation: Promoting micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) can lead to a reduction in poverty and unemployment, and lead to wealth creation for the owners of the businesses. All these have a direct effect on the economy, and it also useful in reducing the wealth gap between the haves and have-nots.

10. Legal & Security: The enforcement of contracts and adherence to the rule of law not only provides a suitable environment for doing business locally and fighting corruption, it can also lead to increased confidence amongst investors looking to plough their money into the Nigerian economy.

Increased internal security fosters external foreign investment and adds to the quality of life of the country’s citizens. Tackling the crisis in the Niger Delta region and the wave of violent crime across the country will go a long way in improving the quality of life for all Nigerians.

We will also need to strengthen our judiciary system and the police, which have been systematically weakened over the years so as not to challenge the nefarious activities of wayward politicians and military rulers. We must push through legal reforms to change acts and decrees (such as the Land Use Act) that have long put ordinary citizens at a disadvantage and introduce new laws (Child Labour Act, Spousal Abuse Act) that protect the most vulnerable in our society.

11. Trade: Improved trading opportunities in Nigeria’s non-oil sectors can be a major foreign currency earner for the country. Nigeria has a number of mineral and natural resources that have yet to be exploited due to the government’s focus on petroleum.

Also the country is blessed with cheap labour but high energy cost and poor infrastructure have discouraged the growth of a manufacturing base in the country. If an enabling environment where the overhead costs of operation can be brought down to within reason, along with the enforcement of laws in the country, protection of investors, and education reforms, Nigeria can develop a manufacturing base that can rival those in South East Asia.

12. Tourism: Tourism is a good foreign currency earner for any country as every tourist dollar spent has a multiplier effect on the local economy. Improving internal security and transportation and developing a strong financial system can aid efforts in improving the tourism sector in Nigeria.

The country has lots to offer from the diverse ethnic makeup of the country to different climatic conditions (hot humid weather in Lagos, cool temperate weather in Jos) and geographical features (Mangrove swamps in the south, arid savannah in the north). There is something for everybody.

Our plan was designed to achieve the following:

• Increased Efficiency in the Economy: Improvements in the transport, communications and the energy sector will bring about a reduction in the cost of production and distribution of goods and services. This will invariably lead to putting goods and services within the reach of more Nigerians.

• Better Quality of Life: Improvements in education, healthcare, agriculture and housing sectors will bring about an improvement in the quality of life of Nigerians. Also taking active measures to protect the environment, not only improves the quality of living in the country, it also prevents huge avoidable costs in cleaning the environment later in the future. L

astly improvements in security will make the people feel safe.

• Fight Poverty: Promoting and supporting enterprise, along with improvements in the financial sector and legal framework will foster the growth of micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) which have been shown to fight poverty, increase wealth creation and reduce unemployment.

• Increased Investments: Improvements in the infrastructure, along with those in finance, security, enforcement of laws and education should bring about an increase in both local and foreign investments. The presence of the right infrastructure makes it cheaper to produce goods and services, the enforcement of laws makes it easier to conduct business, and an improved educational system produces quality candidates from which companies can select their staff from.

• Increased Foreign Earnings: Improved trade and tourism will bring about an increase in much needed foreign earnings.

• Diversification: Opening up other sectors of the economy brings out diversification, making the country less reliant on a traditional base e.g. agriculture and oil. This is particularly significant for rural communities.

• A More Open Society: By creating a more open society via our education programs, we can put an end all forms of discriminations that hold our people back from being the best they can be. We can finally begin to see an end to barbaric practices such female genital mutilation. But most of all, an end to tribal politics. We should be able to elect our leaders based on their intelligence, character and integrity, and not because he or she is from a particular part of the country.

Indeed there is a lot of hard work to be done to rekindle that beacon of hope that Nigerians once felt when we gained our independence. And work hard we must, for this is no longer just the North’s country, or the South’s country, neither is it the East’s country nor the West’s country. This is our country. This is our Nigeria.

Yours sincerely,

Alliance for a New and Better Nigeria

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