The 21st President of the Westminster College, Fulton Missouri, United States, Prof. Benjamin Akande, has declared that the Nigerian economy may not grow until urgent steps are taken by the Federal Government to redirect economic policies. The former dean, George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology, Webster University, also in Missouri, spoke with ABIOLA ODUTOLA. Excerpts:
Global economic experts and world leaders believe that Nigeria has great potentials and is filled with opportunities. Do you see these in Nigeria?
What I see in Nigeria is an economy that has refused to embrace its potentials. It is an economy that has not harnessed the opportunity given to it. I found a country that has been a complete failure in terms of the role of the government. Government is to protect, enable us and make things better for all of us. But what I have found in the case of Nigeria is that the government has been able to take away from us and steal from us.
But it appears the public sector has been redundant, contributing little or nothing to the federal coffers. Should all responsibilities lie on the shoulders of the private sector?
No, it shouldn’t. The public sector in Nigeria has been functioning by about 10 per cent because if it was functioning by about 50 per cent, this country would have been transformed. Nigeria has developed and grown in spite of the deficiency of our government and what has kept it running is not the government but the private sector. What the government did was to disrupt the game. Until we change the rule of the game, we are not moving forward. Nigerians are very optimistic about life, that in spite of what they have done to us and what they have failed to do, tomorrow is going to be great. But we have been constantly disappointed. What I see in Nigeria is a private sector that has replaced the public sector. The private sector is playing the role of the government and that is why the government is what it is today. The absence of a structure that ensures that leaders are held accountable for their promises has made the public sector what it is today.
Comparing Nigeria with other climes, how can we tackle the failure of leaders to fulfil their electoral promises, especially on economic matters?
It is amazing seeing government officials making promises that have never been kept. I am disgusted by it all because I have been in a place in the last 30 years where you don’t make promises you can’t keep because when you make such promises, you would be brought to task by vote. And if you made promises you didn’t keep, Americans are known to kick you out. The reality for me is that, why do we continue to allow this even in the wake of the 21st century? I am frustrated by the fact that this country is run on generators and that we are the 6th biggest producer of oil in the world and yet we don’t have constant electricity. We keep hearing promises and we keep hearing that things will get better, as we ask for votes. That is my perception of the government.
How do we find a solution to the irregular power supply in the country?
The solutions are glaringly clear. When I was consulting for the World Bank in the 90s, we talked about privatisation of the power system and wrote an article on how to do it and segment the country to regions of power. Nigeria needs to emulate the US in order to address the shortfall. Like the US, we should deregulate the sector and make it state-regulated. The power system should not be regulated by the federal system but the state.
But global economic experts are optimistic that Nigeria is one of the countries that will occupy the next frontier of development and that massive development investment will flow into the country. Does this mean they believe in Nigeria more than us?
The massive investment indicates that the investors see the potentials in the country. In my opinion, it does not make sense. Look at the population; over 50 per cent of the population of this country can be categorised as the youth. What that tells you is that you are basically living on significant potentials for products, services, development and that the only way Nigeria can go is up. But the reality is that we have been hearing about potentials and opportunities for a long time over the last 10 years. We have heard about potentials and opportunities, but we have not built the door that enables the opportunities to knock and that, for me, is the real challenge that Nigeria is facing.
How do we do that?
We have a lot of potentials but lack action. A friend of mine who is among top world 500 CEOs once said that he did not see Nigeria in the immediate future because we don’t deal with corruption
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