I stumbled upon a six-hour, four-part miniseries docudrama titled “The Men Who Built America”, and I must say that six hours later, I was more enlightened about how great men made giant strides to build the United States of America after the civil war and in turn revolutionize the modern society as a whole. And how the government made conscious efforts to shape the nation by making policies and laws that best suited the citizenry, even at a time when the proprietors of these business empires almost seemed bigger than the government.
I might have always been interested in socio-economic matters, but my interest in such matters quadrupled after I saw the docudrama. It became clear to me then more than ever before, that no nation becomes great by chance or by deceiving itself into greatness, neither can we simply rely on unrealistic developmental goals backed up by prayers to become a developed nation.
The immediate efforts being made by the present administration to ‘rejig’ the economy are welcomed. I for one think that the present restrictions on the use of foreign exchange for the importation of certain goods is aimed at reorienting Nigerian businesses to always consider options within the country first before looking outwards. If Nigerian businesses can weather the storm and channel the present hardship being faced into innovating ways to remain self-sufficient by sourcing for required goods and services inwards, then the restrictions would be considered a catalyst of some sort that triggered the desired change, a change from an import based economy to a self-sufficient producing nation and subsequently an export based economy.
The most important steps to be taken however are long term ones, foreign exchange restrictions alone cannot turn around the economy. The government must go back to the drawing board, and as it approaches the “drawing board” to formulate a development plan, it must do so with the mind-set of a nation that is starting from the scratch and intends to formulate a plan that would be initiated now, but would begin to blossom in about 5 to 7 years. Why that long you may ask, after all Nigerians are already screaming “where is the change sef” just seven months into the present administration’s tenure.
This is because the government needs to carefully select sectors and industries they intend to ‘rejig’, revamp and newly develop, and then initiate immediate plans to kick-start the selected sectors and industries for the present and then fully inculcate the core elements of these sectors into our educational system to ensure steady growth for the future.
The simple truth is we must fine tune our educational sector to meet our economic needs. What I propose is a massive overhaul in the educational system, by consciously reviewing the curriculums to best suit our nation’s needs and an unprecedented funding of our educational sector. What is the effectiveness of an educational system that churns out learned youths only to become unemployed? Imagine an educational system that trains young Nigerians on how to solve our numerous challenges, and when they are released to the labour market, they hit the ground running by making their respective contributions in solving these challenges. This would not only have a positive effect on the GDP per capita, GNP and other figures that the lame man on the street does not care about, but would ultimately create jobs for the growing number of unemployed youths and in turn lead to revolutionary economic growth.
Take the mining sector for example; this is a sector that the government has not paid so much attention to, thereby largely ignoring the foreign exchange potential of the various mineral resources. I do believe that this sector would be revamped by the administration to make it a major revenue earner, but it must not stop there, the various Departments of Geology and Mining across our tertiary institutions should not be abandoned, in fact more should be set up across various institutions within the nation. I was made to understand that the full-fledged Departments of Geology and Mining in the country are those in tertiary institutions which are geographically located close to mining sites, if the government is serious about revamping and sustaining this sector, then more Departments of Mining should be established with adequate funding to conduct required research in this sector and impact the knowledge on the younger generation.
On power, I must commend the approval of off-grid generation, as we need all the Mega Watts we can get. We are a long way from the 40,000 MW we set to generate by 2020, and we must look for alternative ways to cure the cancer that has ravaged this sector for ages. But since we know that a large part of our country is underdeveloped and Nigeria with a population that according to the United Nations (UN), shall exceed 300 million in 2050, the truth is that for decades to come Nigeria would always seek to generate more power. The time to invest in research on the power sector is now; steps must be taken to adequately fund the various Universities of Technologies across the nation to establish and maintain Renewable Energy Departments.
Housing is yet another sector that requires prompt attention. Nigeria has a massive home deficit estimated at about 14 million by the Federal Mortgage Bank. It’s high time we thought of cost effective alternatives to building homes in Nigeria, most of the beautiful homes Nigerians stay in when they travel to the United States of America are built with wood. That is just one suggestion, every Architectural, Building, Quantity Surveying and Regional Planning Departments in all tertiary institutions across the country should devote a bulk of their research in searching for these cost effective alternatives that would suit our environment, and this studies should form a bulk of their curriculum. This seems like the only reasonable way to provide true low-cost housing for the teeming population.
Similar templates should be adopted in reviving the agricultural sector, ending gas flaring and building infrastructures to cover up our huge infrastructural deficit. The efforts of the Private sector cannot be ruled out in all of these, the bulk of the funding could be provided by the private sector through Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and a bit of it via Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Also the local and state governments must do their bit to implement such polices at the grassroots level, in the best and most effective ways they can.
These are simply the views of a trained lawyer and a self-acclaimed socio-economist, who cannot afford to bore his few readers up. I can only imagine the ingenious ideas that would come up at the National Economic Council Meetings chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, however one thing is certain, we cannot continue to dance around the same ideas and expect the desired change we so desire and need. Those that determine our economic policies must think out of the box at these crucial times, to make decisions that would be practicable now and can be sustained for the future.
By Damola Olatunji
Damola is a Legal Practitioner, Political & Socio- economic Commentator and a concerned citizen