Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once painted the picture of Israel’s ‘punch’ in terms of how they have attracted the biggest global companies, their technological advancement, precision agriculture, and attracting over 20% funds on cybersecurity. For a country of just 0.1% of the global population, they are clearly punching way above their weight.
Nigeria weighs heavier, at 4% of the world‘s population, but how high or heavy is our punch?
In some areas, we are clearly punching heavily.
On human capital, the recent appointment of 5 Nigerians into President Biden‘s administration including Adewale Adeyemo as Deputy Secretary, the appointment of Ngozi Iweala as WTO DG in addition to Akinwunmi Adesina at ADB, Amina Mohammed at UN, and Mohammed Barkindo at OPEC, shows that we are holding more share of important positions in the world. Other Nigerians are making waves in NASA, on Covid research, and in the USA, where Nigerians are the most educated with 37% graduates, 17% masters, and 4% PhD holders, levels higher than even the Americans. We are clearly punching above our weight in terms of talents and human capital.
On digitalisation, Lagos has grown to become the tech hub of Africa with many incubators and accelerators. Digital start-ups from Nigeria are raising significant foreign capital with $380m in 2019 and $120m in 2020 (due covid). The $200m Paystack/stripe acquisition signifies the huge transformation ongoing in sectors such as e-commerce, financial, and logistics and we are seeing our indigenous telecom companies and banks starting to penetrate African countries. We are clearly punching ahead of our weight in digital.
On entertainment, Nollywood is the 2nd biggest globally behind Bollywood on the number of films produced. In music, our artists have hoisted Nigeria as the clear music industry leader in Africa, and are regularly played on radio stations in the USA and Europe, raising the industry value above $4bn. We are punching ahead of our weight in entertainment.
However, we are punching light and low in other areas.
On security, Boko Haram/ISWAP has left a million people displaced. Banditry, kidnapping, herder-farmer clashes have raised ethnic tensions to near civil-war levels, and citizens hardly venture beyond city limits. Our gallant military has been run ragged and police hapless. On security, we are punching far below our weight and need stepping up, as without security, all other things are mute.
On economy, whilst we are the largest economy in Africa with a GDP of $450b, but our GDP per capita is below $2,500 and our budget per capita is below $150. These make us a poor country and further exemplified in that 100m of our citizens (50% of our population) are living on below $2/day. Clearly, we are punching below our weight on economy and citizens wellbeing.
On corruption, despite government’s efforts on single treasury accounts, bank verification code, whistle-blower policy, open partnership, and publishing NNPC account, our continued poor ranking in Transparency Index highlights that the perceptions of citizens and stakeholders are that the level of corruption that they experience, has not improved. Clearly, we are punching below our weight.
On infrastructure, decades of weak long-term planning and execution by past successive governments, to prepare for our population growth, and a poor maintenance culture has led to regular electricity blackouts, poor transport, and rundown of hospitals, schools, and refineries. Despite the current government’s commendable efforts on rail, roads, and power roadmap, we are punching below our weight.
But this was not always the case.
In the 1970s the high-quality of our civil service enabled better long-term planning and execution of highways, refineries, LNG plant, Iron and Steel, etc. Public service deliveries were more efficient.
Our economy was growing then with some years of double digit GDP growth rate and even the Naira was stronger than the dollar until 1985. We were a real giant then and even sanctioned Britain (BP) on account of apartheid.
The regional leaders then (Awolowo, Azikwe, and Aminu Kano) were sagacious and worked for the unity and progress of the country. They led with character, vision and ideology, including a belief in a just and egalitarian society. They were committed to a bright future for the country.
Nigeria was on a great course then – so can Nigeria be on such a course again?
Yes, we can!
Firstly, we need unifying leaders and an end to the drumming of war, and talks of violent separation. Citizens need to ratchet down the negativity and penchant for bad-mouthing Nigeria and leaders. It is right to criticize, point areas to improve and articulate credible solutions, but we should not allow our justified frustrations to lead us to the path of wishing evil on our country and on others. Israelis don’t rein obscenities on their country on account of the war going on with Gaza and Palestine since 2006, and with rockets being launched into Israel and the killing of over a thousand Israelis.
Also, as our population has quadrupled since the unitary system of government was established, it is clear that we need urgent reforms on devolution from the Federal to the States in areas such as policing and resource management. Our judiciary needs reforms so justice is dispensed fairly and timely. Our electoral processes need reform so elections can be less of brigandry and return to the days of ideologies and cerebral politicians.
The huge talents in Nigeria should be put to better use for our commonwealth and round pegs put in round holes, especially for critical positions at all levels. Our challenges need the very best that we have to move things forward. We cannot survive by just getting by with minimum denominators.
There are of course many other things that need addressing (diversifying economy, job creation increasing revenue, building infrastructures) but if we can tackle some fundamental issues initially, it will have multiplier effects.
There is no quick fix or magic wand to be waved to get to the other side, so we need to work through our issues. However, we have the talents, natural resources, weather, and diversity to punch heavily, if we put our acts together, all of us.
We can and will punch above our weight!