There are now over 201 million of us and about 100 million (roughly 50 per cent) are extremely poor. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, our unemployment rate increased from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 per cent in in the third quarter of 2018. A friend recently asked me why I continue to write on the economy and economic welfare of Nigerians who, according to him, are busy fighting for their lives in the face of rampant killings and insecurity, everywhere in the country, particularly in parts of the north. He wondered who was reading my hard financial stuff when gunmen were rampaging everywhere. I actually confessed to him that it has become so very hard for me to concentrate on the economy when all I hear is apocalyptic. He added that only those alive will worry about poverty and enterprise. It is indeed very hard to write about the same thing for so long and see it get worse. It’s no longer about poverty. It’s now about the uncertainty of life. People are not just poor; they cannot guarantee their lives for the next day.
Although he noted that Nigeria has always been a nation of debaters, my friend wondered why they continue to talk about everything but do nothing about anything. That, he further explained, was the reason why they debated the IMF loan under the regime of Gen Ibrahim Babangida and decided not to take the cheap loan from the Fund. Instead of the IMF loan, they opted to embark on a Structural Adjustment Programme, which they later claimed was the beginning of the nation’s economic collapse. It is good to talk about a problem. Good suggestions could come from them. However, it is a different thing when everybody talks ferociously but nobody seriously does anything to effect the talk.
The debates have continued to rage. Every day we debate insecurity and economic decline. Unfortunately, and perhaps due to our kind of leadership and political system (the only unique one like it on the planet), there is no way to hold public officers accountable for failing to deliver on their briefs. Or more appropriately, public officials who fail to perform their functions are not held to account either by those who appointed them or all of us. So people take office for the fun and perquisites of it but refuse the work entailed by the office. We debate their failure and make suggestions for improvement but they don’t even pay us any mind.
This probably explains why over the past five years, I have written in this column, every Wednesday without fail, on poverty reduction, enterprise and economic welfare, but poverty continues to run amok in my country. The critical suggestions we put out every week have become script of a movie meant to entertain without more. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we became home for the largest number of abjectly poor people under the sun. Sadly there is no sign of seriousness anywhere – lifestyles of leaders continue to spit the fire of affluence; public office holders continue to grow rich buying up anything with doors and windows at home and abroad. Meanwhile our cities are being overrun by foreigners we allow a free reign in the country.
After listening to my friend, I could barely muster the zeal to write this column for today. It is such a shame that we can’t even make a lifestyle adjustment, even if symbolic, to show that we hear the deafening sound of the silent death our country is facing. All talks and no work has become our national symbol. What we find now is that Boko Haram will overrun a village, and civilians in some of our 774 local governments, probably those very far from where the attack happened, will come on television to make blind and uninformed propositions as to what happened and why the security agencies could not perform. Even then, it appears the media are talking to those who are willing to talk to them. Those who know what is going on do not even honour invitations to the television houses. The next thing you hear is that security strategy is not for media consumption. The result is a mass of conjecture and hearsay by people who are neither close to the points of conflict nor even understand the issues addressing the nation. As we gradually lose our communities and economic bases, and indeed our livelihood to what have become fancifully tagged bandits and criminals, and nothing significant is happening by way of intelligent response, one thing is becoming clear – Nigerians are running out of debating capacity.
The concept of nation building is a complex amalgam of art and science, which creates a unified but often heterogeneous entity. However, a nation can only get built when consistency, honesty and determination, are put to work. In order words, to build a nation is to be engaged in a process whereby people of diverse origins, languages and religions, come together to forge a common destiny for all citizens. It involves the creation of a legal order, public education systemor even a restructure of existing institutions and systems to reinforce the unity of a people and create an integrated national economy. Nation builders seek to construct a nation or restructure an existing one, using the instrumentality of state power, in order to unify and create a stable society. We complain about out-of-school children but we have a bigger problem: out-of-job youths. Education has lost its charm. Why should anyone seek education in Nigeria of today?
To build a nation is not only to forge a cohesive whole from disparate parts but also to create an economic base that will sustain the nation so created. The mainstay of any economy is not its politics. It is its economy, even if these phenomena are mutually reinforcing. To create an economic base for a nation, the builders must articulate a system or process that takes the people’s strengths and weaknesses together with the opportunities and threats they face, toset standards of performance. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbo, and their commercial acumen, which have helped them to provide above-national average living standards to their families, and to survive, despite obviously enormous challenges they face in the country, have been recognized internationally. The Igbo have a well-evolved apprenticeship system that works. They also have an entrepreneurial culture that has helped to expand the markets and commercial activity wherever they are found, in and out of Nigeria. Perhaps there is something other Nigerians could learn and benefit from this endowment.These could become a national rallying point for the evolution of a culture of economic independence, resilience and entrepreneurship for Nigeria.
I dare say that illiteracy is still Nigeria’s biggest challenge. Unfortunately, education remains her biggest victim. There is evidence of the dangers of illiteracy and half education, everywhere one looks. From leaders who must steal every kobo trusted to them to fill their confidence gaps to dumb projects in many places. Listen to the army of terrorists claiming to be in Zamfara openly promising Nigerians a piece of hell on earth and you see how ignorance and lack of education can eat up young men.