Strengthening Nigerian Economy Beyond Oil Revenue!

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

There have been several suggestions made on the way forward inside “Nigeria4betterRule debate” forum, and implicitly to the Nigeria government, about how to encourage development and improve the country’s economy. Some of the suggestions include caps on cash withdrawals, encouraging the use of checks, severe penalties for bogus check issuers, identifying land and real estate ownership for taxation, to name a few. While many of these suggestions may improve some aspects of the economy, especially the reduction of liquidity in the system, they will not significantly improve the nation’s economic situation as a whole.

The recent situation in Argentina is a case study. Limiting cash withdrawals, for example, will only affect a small percentage of the population as the majority of Nigerians do not have that much cash in the banks in the first place. With true unemployment running at near 50% (if not higher), the biggest problem facing the country is obviously the development of industries and the subsequent increase in employment. The lack of a viable middle class means tax revenue from payroll withholding is rather small making it difficult for the government to raise cash for various projects.’

The previous administration made significant efforts to improve Nigeria’s economic situation with impressive results. But the improvements may not be self-sustaining as long as the manufacturing base remains weak. The Obasanjo’s administration also made laudable progress in designing legislation that will encourage investment, especially those of the foreign persuasion. Unfortunately, foreigners with large suitcases full of dollar bills are not tripping over each other at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport to invest in Nigeria.

So what is the government to do? Before anything concrete is undertaken the following must be considered: International Aid (an oxymoron at best) is nothing more than international welfare. Ironically, right leaning governments who propose the philosophy of individual self-help, don’t think twice about asking for handouts from their foreign “benefactors”. Anyone familiar with the American welfare system, prior to the recent reforms knows very well the cycle of welfare dependency that became the lifestyle of many families. It is a vicious cycle that goes on generation after generation. Like the welfare system, International Aid only begets dependency. One needs to remember that, just like the welfare system, the economically powerful countries will never give you enough to help you develop. They will give you just enough to keep you alive in order to generate wealth that is then sucked out of your economy by selling you cheap products at exorbitant prices. This is the cycle “developing countries” have been in since independence. With few exceptions, despite the billions of “aid” given to “third world” countries over the past 50 to 100 years, no developing country has made the transition from poor to a wealthy nation. Those that have, did so either because of excellent governance through meticulous planning (Singapore is a case study) or the sale of fossil fuels (oil). Ever wonder why it is so.

The sooner the leaders of this country realize that, in a monetized system, the authority do not want you to set up shop and compete with them, the better of they will be. This same principle is at work in a global economy. The so-called developed countries want to maintain their economic dominance and will NEVER actively assist upcoming countries like Nigeria develop and become a true competitor. They want you to remain a supplier of cheap raw materials such as bananas, cocoa, coffee, latex rubber, bauxite, timber, etc. whose prices are dictated to maintain the producing countries at or below poverty level. They frown at our huge deposit of petroleum resources. They will not assist you to produce finished products such as steel or aluminum, petroleum raw and fibrous materials and for example, unless they own those factories and take advantage of cheap local labour. If Nigeria wants to develop and compete in the global market place, it has to do its own research and develop its own products. Again, STOP asking for economic assistance and START building your own industries.

It is time we stop thinking that only the white man has technology. With available information, (schools, libraries, books, internet, industrial experience, etc.) even Nigeria can build airplanes if it wants to. What it takes is the will to do it. I am not saying we should squander our meager resources to start building airplanes. What I am saying is that whatever the government wants to do it can, as long as the will power is there. Of course what they decide to do must fit into some long-term plan (enacted “vision”). Witness America’s landing of man on the moon in 1969. It was a challenge from President Kennedy, and the scientists went to work to accomplish it. It is that type of goal setting that makes individuals and countries accomplish great things. Of course it must be a plan that future governments must carry on and not abandon after each government change.

Before a country can industrialize, it must develop its own indigenous and unique technologies that meet its needs. It means cooperation between government, industry and academia. This is what goes on all the time in the so-called developed countries. It also means the government must identify certain key industries where it will spend its resources – both industrially and academically. It means reallocation of financial and other resources, if necessary, in order to accomplish the stated goals. And it also means subsidizing the appropriate industries that are in the national interest to make sure they succeed. Despite vehement denials, “developed” countries do this (subsidize key industries) all the time.

I use to feel there is no such thing as a “developing” or “Third World” country. (What is a “Second World” country anyway?). These are racist labels coined by the neo-colonialists to keep their former colonies in perpetual self-loafing and poverty. In my opinion, there are only economically depressed countries! Nigerians must stop thinking of themselves as “developing” nations. Fact is, ALL countries are developing. Any country that thinks it has finished developing will wither and die. Development is a continuous process and all countries are moving forward, (hopefully) although, admittedly, some at a much greater pace than others. With global access to information, technology, and markets, any country that has the will and is able to harness its resources can lift itself out of economic depression. Of course, due to racism, political and economic interference, government corruption, lack of nationalism, and other factors, it is a lot harder for us to compete in the global markets. But the right government will take these factors into consideration when establishing their development plan.

What do I mean by this? It means anyone wanting to lead the nation must have, first and foremost, an uncompromising desire to create the greatest nation on earth. If a leader is driven by this one goal he/she will formulate a selfless administration whose sole purpose is good governance that would result in a better nation than when they took office. It sets the tone for the rest of the government in particular and the people in general. Using these criteria to judge the independence-to-date leaders of Nigeria, it is obvious that only but Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Saka Tinubu and Tafawa Belewa, have come close to having such a dream. Interestingly, it is leaders who seek the greatness of their people, rather than their own, end up being considered great men and women in the end. Leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Eisenhower, Ho Chi Min, Lenin, and Castro of Cuba are few examples. (For those latent, paranoid anti-communists who will argue the inclusion of Fidel in this list, my only response is that he has done remarkably well in spite of the economic embargo, assassination attempts, and the tremendous efforts being waged by a super-power to remove him from office). Any Nigerian leader who does not demonstrate the qualities stated above must be removed (forcibly, if necessary) from office.

It is a matter of shifting the country’s priorities. One thing is for sure, it is time we stop having others come and tell us about ourselves, the Niger Delta issue, our plants, lands, animals, genes, diseases, health, drugs, etc. The numerous problems facing us must be dealt with by Nigerians to benefit Nigerians. We must set our own priorities rather than criticize others for not putting our problems high on their agenda. Our problems are ours, not theirs. Waiting for others to come and do it for us means we will continue to be looked upon as third class citizens of this earth and continue to earn little or no respect from the rest of the world. It is time we took our destiny into our own hands and stop depending on others to do it for us. Products developed out of our self-relied research can be produced for worldwide distribution to generate badly needed foreign currency. Even a single product, if sold worldwide, will pay for this research facility in its entirety. It is not the intention of this paper to describe in detail how this research facility should be designed and/or operated. It is only important to plant the idea for our leaders to ponder. If they are wise, they will take action. If they are foolish they will continue business as usual, satisfied in their ignorance and Nigeria’s among other Africa’s position as a third class continent of this earth.

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