Finding long-lasting solutions to Nigeria’s woes

SCRIPTURE says “Where no counsel is, the people fall: But in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” Nigeria is in such dire straits that its affairs can no longer be left solely to those in the corridors of power. Either they are short of ideas or the problem is just beyond them. I do not want to believe we have found ourselves, again, in the same bind that made one-time military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, to exclaim that Nigeria’s economy defies solution. So, all hands must be on deck. Solutions must be proffered right, left, and centre. Usually, those in government are deaf to the cries of “ordinary” people. What to do, then, is to keep crying, like biblical Blind Bartimaeus, never getting weary and never allowing naysayers shut us up; confident that, if we faint not, we shall one day reap. It starts with everyone getting involved, bringing to mind Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu’s “Because I am involved”, which was his own perception of the Nigerian political vortex and what he considered as solutions. You may or may not agree. Critics must never give up, even when it appears they are sounding like a cracked record. They should also not just criticize but also proffer solutions – whether right or wrong. This is where I differ from my comrade, classmate and course mate at Great Ife, Wale Olajire Ajao, whose piece “The role of the public space in a democracy” is cerebral and engaging as usual but his position that critics need not make suggestions does not sit pretty with me.

Hear him: “Supporters of the government often say that those who criticize the government should come out with alternative views or suggestions for the government to consider. But the rules of the public space do not include making suggestions to the government. In other words, a critic who does not have suggestions for the government has not violated the rules of the public space just because he has not made suggestions to the government. In fact, his duty is not to make suggestions. His duty is to criticize. If someone has made destructive criticism, those media officers of the government or those who are supporting the government have to exercise their right to reply and disapprove of all the facts in the destructive criticism. No more, no less”.

I beg to differ for the simple reason that criticism becomes an end in itself and not a means to an end! Welcome, anarchy! There must be a purpose to every action. If the rules of the public space do not include making suggestions, we should quickly amend them to do so! I will publish Wale’s treatise at a later date and we shall be able to discuss it fully. Today, however, my attention goes to another cerebral and passionate commentator, Timothy (Tim) Akano, because of the urgency of the matter he addressed – the savagery of the country’s economic situation and the cauldron of repressed anger in the land. Tim and I, in company with others, had, time and time, laboured for long hours around the same table rubbing minds as we discussed the country’s problems and trying to fashion out solutions. Now, Tim appears to have shouted “Euruka!” with his “Getting Nigeria’s elephant to the dance floor” Permit me to edit it, and to also pass comments, as we get along.

Hear him: “ “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” This is the title of Louis V. Gerstner memoir. The “miracle-manager with a magic wand” who midwifed IBM’s historic turnaround that begot IBM 2.0 in the 1990s. By 1993, before Louis’s appointment as the new CEO, IBM, the company that revolutionized the technology world, was on its way to extinction. It was projected to lose over $16 billion that year alone. IBM’s fate of dissolving into a confederation of autonomous corporations was signed and sealed but not yet delivered. This situation was similar to Nigeria’s fate on the eve of May 29th, 2023 when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu collected the leadership baton.

“IBM, which was incorporated on June 16th, 1911, three years before Nigeria’s amalgamation in January 1914, was a victim of its lumbering size, an insular corporate culture, and insensitivity to modernization, even in the face of the irreversible wind of change blowing over the PC market it had helped invent. The birth of IBM 2.0 was not an accident or luck; its extraordinary second coming was a byproduct of audacious, hairy visioning and strong political will. Louis paid the full price through the strength of his character for the prize he later won as one of the greatest turnaround CEOs and heroes of the 21st century. He carried out wholesale restructuring of IBM, rebuilt the leadership team, and gave the workforce a renewed sense of purpose. He led by example, ran a lean management, and made accountability, prudence, and innovation his priorities.

“Promptly, IBM’s dry bones heard the word of Louis; new breath entered into IBM, and the dry bones became whole. It roared back to life, became stronger, bigger, and better. Louis streamlined the company’s product portfolio and carefully defined the kind of parties IBM would attend, which were only those where IBM had both comparative and competitive advantages. On May 1st, 2006, IBM sold off the hen that laid the golden eggs, i.e., IBM’s PC hardware business units (equivalent to Nigeria’s NNPC), to Lenovo, a Chinese company, because the hen had since become barren in IBM’s cage…

“IBM and Nigeria share several things in common. Aside from being age mates, both are “ELEPHANTS” in their own right, two conspicuously consequential entities with untold potentials. IBM is to the global corporate world what Nigeria is to the Black race. However, while IBM 2.0 has turned the corner since the 1990s, Nigeria has remained static in the same corner for 40 years as a spectator in a sorry state, a fragile, fractured, fragmenting federation, always failing and fumbling at the edge of every fundamental turning point, perpetually on the brink with no voice, no vote, no veto, no victory!

“The best-run countries in the world operate like the GLOBAL500 corporations. They are target-driven, sharply focused on the BOTTOM LINE which, for corporations, means profit, and for nations, it means PEOPLE. Similarly, smart nations feature only in a few parties where they have natural endowments, skills, and resources to out-compete other nations.

“Norway is one of the smartest nations on earth. With only 7.5 billion barrels of oil reserves, she is accountable for over 2% of global oil consumption. Norway has sharpened her skills in oil business management. Conversely, Nigeria’s oil numbers don’t add up: with over 30 billion barrels, she is accountable for a mere 0.4% of global oil consumption, sitting in the 37th position despite having the 10th largest oil reserves globally. NNPC has made a profit only twice in 40 years, according to its GMD, whereas Norway’s savings of $1.62 trillion is the world’s largest sovereign wealth asset, built from her oil profit, holding on average 1.5% of all the world’s listed companies’ stocks. This translates to over $295,000 per Norwegian citizen. Nigeria has a comparative advantage in crude oil reserves but has zero competitive advantage in production and oil business management.

“South Korea is another smart nation, focusing on dominating steel manufacturing (POSCO being the world’s 7th largest steelmaker), car manufacturing, shipbuilding (Hyundai is the global number one shipbuilder), and electronics. South Korea is the world’s second-largest producer of semiconductors, which represents her main export, and textile. Just five areas of focus.

“The question is: where does Nigeria have both competitive and comparative advantages vis-à-vis other nations? Or, put differently, which five problems are we solving or can we solve for the world better than any other nation?

“Nigerians knew things were bad on 29th May, 2023 when President Muhammadu Buhari handed over to Tinubu. Nigerians knew that the treasury was emptied by President Buhari’s administration, which was why the mind-boggling revelations that came out from the CBN audit report by Jim Obasi did not come as a surprise to many. (By the way, where is the report, and what is the government going to do with Obasi’s findings and recommendations?)… But things are getting worse. The hurt, hunger, and haemorrhaging are on an astronomical ascendancy… Leaders need to act cautiously whenever despondency descends on a nation because, when hope is lost, the people become as wild and dangerous as a pride of hungry lions…

“The seven demons wearing new ranks of a 4-star general today are: devaluation, stagflation, financialization, de-industrialization, dehumanization, insecurity, and corruption. Call it a perfect storm! A situation where food inflation is now in excess by 40%; currency devaluation is in excess by 100% in an import-dependent economy; unemployment is going through the roof; a 300% increase in electricity in “Band A” where manufacturers belong; a bank interest rate on loans of about 40%; surging insecurity with random kidnapping for ransom; financialization with banks being the only ones declaring profits at a time of massive factory closures, coupled with unbridled corruption, is nothing short of a perfect storm.”

What is to be done? Tim made 12 suggestions: 1. Food security 2. Power supply 24/7. 3. Re-industrialization. 4. Farewell to poverty 5. Re-inventing education 6. Ending medical tourism. 7. Reducing the cost of governance and dismantling corruption 8. Achieving peaceful co-existence and security 9. Re-working the Federal Executive Council 10. Focusing on Entertainment as a business because we hold comparative advantage there 11. Launching a Nigeria Rebirth project (moral. cultural and social rebirth) 12. Restructure the country’s superstructure because the current political structure is not working.

I doubt if anyone can de-list any of Tim’s panaceas to the country’s woes. Interestingly, however, I find about 80 percent of the persons he recommended to President Tinubu to help effect the much-needed turnaround disagreeable! I think that is where the problem starts: Building the team that will build the country.

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