That Nigeria parades the world’s best in terms of brains may not be in doubt, the use to which our ingenuity is put is usually the bone of contention. Geniuses in more advanced climes use their brains to win global recognition for their home countries in the fields where they are masters, and also pursue life-touching legacies that stamp their names forever in their countries’ golden books of history. But many of Nigeria’s celebrated wizards have, over the years, not been able to translate their rare gifts into sustained fortune for this country.
One may be tempted to quickly conclude that, in this part of the world, considerations of pecuniary gains usually eclipse patriotic reasoning, even in matters relating to nation building. But we must not also forget the fact that the inability of past leaders to build solid institutions is one major reason Nigeria has remained in the take-off economic stage for donkey’s years.
Many have said, and rightly too, that if countries’ wellbeing were to be assessed by the number and quality of policies developed within a given period, Nigeria would definitely be in the same league with the world’s economic powers. Unfortunately, sound policies only thrive where the brains behind them shun egocentrism in the interest of common good, and where elected officials are not economic marauders seeking lifetime riches.
Lessons from around the world reveal that a country’s economic boom or doom depends largely on the commitment of its leaders to sustained transformation. In Singapore, for instance, by the time Lee Kuan Yew, the brain behind the country’s economic rennaissance, passed on at the age of 91 on March 23, 2015, he had inculcated in the next generation of leaders, the selfless spirit that transformed the hitherto poverty-stricken country into one of the most advanced economies today. But this did not happen by chance.
Throughout LKY’s very active days, one thing he held close to his chest was succession planning. It was not therefore surprising that he worked really hard to ensure a smooth leadership transition to the next generation.
Analysing how he engineered Singapore’s economic miracle, the British Broadcasting Corporation quoted Llian Mihov, Dean at leading graduate business school, INSEAD, as saying, “His (LKY’s) main contribution, and the key to his success, was that he understood that, in order to put Singapore on a sustainable growth trajectory, the country needed much more than sound economic policies. Any policy can be reversed, any incentives for growth can be dismantled. Mr Lee built a country whose institutional set-up is unparalleled.”
Lessons from the United States are not in anyway far from this. Bill Clinton, whose eight-year tenure at the White House has been described as one of the country’s finest economically, also identifies institution building as a necessity in the quest for the development of poor countries.
“The challenge in poor countries is institution building…The challenge in rich countries is institutional reform..Technology is only an agent for salubrious change so long as it promotes those twin goals,” Clinton said, during a Wired For Change conference in New York.
Simplistic as these lessons seem, the rude reality is that Nigeria seems to be heading for economic chaos today because successive governments spent too much time carving political space for themselves at the expense of sustainable growth. Hence our economy has been on ‘life-support’ for about three decades.
As a result of the lack of focus, elected officials unwittingly created good room for economic parasites rather than paradise. For instance, this country paraded some of the world’s best during the second term of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Thorough-bred technocrats, such as Chukwuma Soludo, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Nasir-el-Rufai and Bode Agusto, among others, provided sound ideas, which gave some form of momentary relief to a comatose Nigerian economy. GDP growth rate increased from the 2.82 per cent the administration inherited in 1999 to a sizeable 7.5 per cent as at the end of the first quarter of 2007.
True, the figures could have made sense to those who understood the economic jargons at the time, but they meant nothing to the ordinary citizen, whose standard of living was not any better. So, what was the missing link? Coming closer, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan started on a good note, or so I thought.
Many experts agreed that the former President presented an ‘A’ cabinet, especially after he won the 2011 elections. But, hard as the key players tried, they failed to prove to Nigerians that much was achieved during the lifetime of their administration.
So, why did the Olusegun Agangas, Okonjo-Iwealas and Femi Adeshinas of this clime fail to excite Nigerians with their world-respected brains? Finding the answer to this poser will be a good starting point for the new Buhari ministers.