Nigeria: Moving from mere growth to real development – Japheth J Omojuwa


Nigeria is one of the reasons the rhetoric on Africa has changed from doom and gloom to “Africa Rising.” The just-concluded World Economic Forum on Africa sessions that was held at Cape Town, South Africa showed many reasons why Africa is experiencing a different paradigm from its “hopeless continent” days. Much of the debates about Nigeria and Africa will always focus on where we are compared to where we used to be. It is indeed important to state that it would be a lot more illuminating to place these growth numbers against where we ought to be.

Nigeria has experienced a decade of sustained economic growth but in the midst of this, there is a miasmic puzzling reality. A sobering one; Nigerians are not better off today than they were at anytime during this period. There is a gulf, a seemingly parallel disconnect, between the rise in the country’s fortunes and the very lives of the people for which the economic growth ordinarily ought to be about. There is something fundamentally wrong with how we are growing as a nation. This is scary in itself but even scarier is the fact that those who should know better — government officials — keep touting these shallow growth numbers every passing year as indicators of their successes as though the poverty we see along with the growth is a part of the whole canvas we are not supposed to bother ourselves with. But we can do better. There are ways we can make this growth count.

There is no single path to economic development. The kind of growth that is inclusive, that impacts the lives of the majority of the people will always be about that which allows for the people’s participation in the economy. It was a new deal for the United States of America at a point in its history as the country rose from the ashes of one of the worst depressions known to man. Nigeria needs a new deal, a phenomenon that allows for economic freedom and people participation in their own means of livelihood. Call it the Green Deal for Nigeria!

Any economic path for Nigeria that does not have agriculture as its driver will be an effort in futility. By 2020, the world would have nine billion mouths to feed. We can become its food basket. We have supplied oil to a world obsessed with oil but oil has not at any time made our people prosperous. If we cater for the world’s food needs as we have for its energy needs, our people will be better off. The reason is simple; oil production in Nigeria is a rent system. Irrespective of how much we raise our production, the oil industry as it is set up is not there to create jobs for Nigerians. It is a capital-intensive industry of machines and platforms. It is there to create money for the government, the multinationals and a few individuals. Agriculture is far more accommodating of numbers. While the oil industry often requires a level of technical knowhow that is often not available here, agriculture – at least farming – is a natural ability with our people. We must do whatever we can to make our farmers produce better yields through improved seeds and access to fertilisers. We need to pay attention to the needs of women farmers. Three out of four Kenyan farmers are women and the numbers for Nigeria will not be far from that. That means that if we limit our women farmers, we limit our access to food. Credit to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Adesina, for the efforts to better the lot of Nigerian farmers and improve the value chain process but there is a lot more to be done. We are very far from where we used to be and even farther from where we ought to be.

There can be no Green Deal for Nigeria as long as we keep running our economy the old, inefficient and ineffective way. What are we doing with our gas for instance? According to the Nigeria office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, we are flaring a resource that could be helping us generate as much as 7000mw of electricity according to what we waste in methane through the flared gas. What if we developed an efficient gas system that puts the exploration in private hands? What if we rely more on gas, which is about 40 per cent more efficient than petrol and is less harmful to the environment? To cap it all up, Nigeria’s gas reserve is at least three times our oil resources. We have a reserve of 260 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. We must be thinking beyond spending $13bn on fuelling household generators in 2011 alone. What would the numbers be if we accounted for the manufacturers that spend some 60 per cent of their production costs powering their generators? There are certainly better and far cheaper ways to generate energy.

Germany intends to have about 35 per cent of its energy sourced from renewables by 2020, 50 per cent by 2030, 65 per cent by 2040; and 80 per cent by 2050. It is not a wild dream because the amount of energy sourced from renewables, including wind rose from 20 to 25 per cent in the first half of 2012. There are costs to “Energiewende”, or “Energy Transformation” but the benefits especially in the long run far outweigh the cost. Europe is already working on a plan to have the Sahara Desert in Africa supply about 15 per cent of its energy needs by the year 2050. As a people, we are often so obsessed with the immediate that we lose sight of the big picture. The costs of doing nothing will be more than the benefits of today’s laziness. The beauty of renewables is that homes and villages can generate and transmit their own power through say small hydro and solar power. We have more than enough energy from the sun to power many earths yet we can’t seem to put it to effective use apart from dry our clothes.

The world would need Africa’s labour force soon enough and Nigeria will naturally be the number one contributor to that supply. Africa will have more people in its labour force than anywhere else by 2040. China’s labour force is not growing younger. Nigeria and Africa can only benefit from China’s losses if the population is empowered through a much-improved system of education. Nigeria’s system is currently predominantly set up in the colonial ways. Students are trained to regurgitate what they’ve been taught rather than trained to think. The future of the world’s economies will increasingly depend on thinkers. This is the case today but it would be more pronounced in the coming years. Innovation is the new capital.

You cannot build a house on nothing. Nigeria needs to pay attention to infrastructural development more than ever before. Economic development will always be limited by available infrastructure. We need to identify bankable projects and look to have some sort of Public Private Partnerships to get things going. It is not rocket science, others have done it, why can’t we do it and do it even better?

This article was initially published in Nigeria's biggest selling Newspaper The Punch

Omojuwa offers ideas on how Nigeria can make the impressive growth numbers count