The Nigeria of tomorrow has to be a place where we invest more in the imagination that can bring better possibilities, where we are committed to tides that lift all boats, where chauvinism, ethnicity or tribalism is not a way to become a champion in this country, and where we know that it is going to take a lot of sacrifice to become the true giant that we want to become. The truth is that for us to become relevant and to become loved in the world that is emerging post-COVID…we need to do our internal work…

A few days ago, Andela became Nigeria’s fifth unicorn, getting $200 million worth of investment. In the new world that has been created by these incredible companies with global investment, Nigeria is that African country that is combining its talent with the daring to become ‘the’ destination. The real stone the builder rejected presently turning into the cornerstone. Now, Andela a Nigerian company, is not just in Africa, it is in Latin America and in Asia. This is one of the greatest birthday presents you could give a country that was never meant to be worthy of becoming a nation. A country whose elite are at war with the possibility that it might become something that the world would respect. A country totally oblivious to the know-how or mòó lò of its peculiarity.

Nigeria is an enigma; a man-made, but I believe divinely ordained, country that will eventually become that Nation of Destiny. Often, you listen to people who believe that it should, in their opinion, be a failure, especially that the administration in government is fundamentally and irreparably damaging. However, we never really look at the facts when we hear these people, who dominate the popular opinion, saying these things. They believe the nation is headed for disaster, and I think these Nigerian pessimists have replaced the possibility of a great nation with the development of ethnic Bantustans. Whatever is their intention, these ethnic nationalities are being damaged by their use (without any broad consultation or legitimisation) for largely personal agendas. A form of civic coup or worse, armed robbery.

At 61 years, Nigeria is the only country of its age to be among the “200 club”; that is the seven most populous countries in the world that have over 200 million people. It evolved from a humble beginning in 1960, starting with 45 million people. By the end of the 1990s, it had 122 million, and by 2021, 211 million people. The evolution of this nation is clear from its birth rate, which shows that at a stage, its women were having an average of 6.3 births each in the 1960s. Fast track to 2020, that fell to 5.2 births per woman. This illustrates something very challenging. For a developing country to have this level of demand on limited resources is almost threatening to any ambitious development agenda. In spite of this and corruption, the arc of progress continues slow and painful movements.

If we look at life expectancy in Nigeria, it was 36 years in 1960; in 2020, it was 55 years. There has been a steady, but not particularly inspirational, growth in life expectancy. The Nigerian of today is more likely to be living in an urban area, rather than a rural area. 52 per cent of Nigerians live in urban areas – another fundamental shift in their orientation, expectation, and engagement. But why is this significant? Well, the literacy rate of Nigerians tells a story. The Nigerian of today is about 62 per cent likely to be literate, compared to the Nigerian of 2008, who was 51.8 per cent likely to be literate. The highest point in the journey of literacy in this country was in 2006, when the literacy rate was 70 per cent.

As such, when we look at the Nigeria of today, what do we see? We see a country with extraordinary expectations, where trust in government is one of the lowest in the world. A country in which majority of the elite find themselves at odds with and dislocated from the purpose of the country, strikingly judgemental and unabashedly destructive in their commentary.

We, in Nigeria, have made steady growth in terms of our GDP. This was $4.2 billion in 1960, while per capita GDP was $93 per head. In 1980, the GDP was $164 billion, with $2,180 per head. However, in 2020, the GDP rose to $432 billion, with GDP per capita at $2,097, a fall from the 2014/2015 levels of $546 billion in GDP and $3,000 per capita.

Nigeria statistics tell a largely positive story, with trends mostly better and often moving in the desired direction in the 5-10 year frame. These have been slow but steady improvements, almost in spite of us. Notable for me is Nigeria’s Gini Coefficient, which has been quite interesting. In 1985, it was 38.7 points, but In 1996, it rose to 51 points under General Abacha; hence the income disparity and the damage to the society is very clear from that period. Today, the Gini Coefficient is lower, and rightly so, at 35 points. If you compare that to even the supposedly better countries of the United States (U.S.), which has 41.4 points, and the United Kingdom (U.K.), which is exactly like Nigeria at 35.1 points, you can see that Nigeria is not doing badly, and certainly can do a lot better.

One of the areas in which you can look at the trends that we should be really worried about is infant mortality. In 1960, the infant mortality rate was 180 deaths per 1,000; In 2020, it had fallen to 57 deaths per 1,000. A woman in Nigeria, as I indicated, was likely to have six children in 1960, and this was reduced to 5 in 2020. Nigeria’s population continues to grow, and is expected to carry on in leaps and bounds.

As such, when we look at the Nigeria of today, what do we see? We see a country with extraordinary expectations, where trust in government is one of the lowest in the world. A country in which majority of the elite find themselves at odds with and dislocated from the purpose of the country, strikingly judgemental and unabashedly destructive in their commentary. We also have a country where the next generation has its promise with unicorns and the incredible progress of Afrobeats and Nollywood across the world, becoming global standards. However it still has inculcated or is socialised into this practice of seeing the worst, expecting the worst, yet being surprised that this materialises.

…what is critical is that we need to challenge our elite, to become a people who are less likely to be bombastic and chauvinistic. They should recognise our interdependence and work together to find solutions that bring all our people towards excellence, rather than competing to exploit ethnicity as competitive advantage. Nigeria needs to be a place where the humanity of all people is welcome.

The challenge of Nigeria, going forward, is not a response to those who would have us believe that the only way we can progress is to disaggregate and reduce ourselves in the world. Ours is a more humbling challenge; that of first recognising that calling ourselves the giant of Africa is aspirational, and not a birthright. It is a powerful call to sacrifice and service, a call to craft, as well as a quality collective mission. As the 21st century matures and Africa recognises the poignancy of it, then it will need its largest economy with the largest population and its most creative people, to be a mature as well as respected flag bearer for a Pan-African civilisation. This will include recognising and acknowledging our role in the African Diaspora across the Atlantic world, both recent and especially those forcibly abused for centuries. Today, most people across the world have a grudging respect for Nigerians but love for them is something that is extremely rare. We must change this fast.

The Nigeria of tomorrow has to be a place where we invest more in the imagination that can bring better possibilities, where we are committed to tides that lift all boats, where chauvinism, ethnicity or tribalism is not a way to become a champion in this country, and where we know that it is going to take a lot of sacrifice to become the true giant that we want to become. The truth is that for us to become relevant and to become loved in the world that is emerging post-COVID, a world where there is greater interdependence, we need to do our internal work. We need to champion our women, an area where Nigeria has failed spectacularly over the years and continues to fail. Our women need to be part and partners with us in making a better world, and a better Nigeria. Building platforms for our children, not just to become incredible performers, but to be able to play, to be healthy in their minds, to be healthy in their engagement, to be loving people, to be vulnerable and to be aspirational.

Also, what is critical is that we need to challenge our elite, to become a people who are less likely to be bombastic and chauvinistic. They should recognise our interdependence and work together to find solutions that bring all our people towards excellence, rather than competing to exploit ethnicity as competitive advantage. Nigeria needs to be a place where the humanity of all people is welcome. We should be where it does not matter whether we are materially well off, but that we look after each other. It should be where we find your value and put it to work for you, as well as our benefit. A place of abundance, even with little material, as we recognise what is truly valuable. Then Nigeria will lead the 21st century in abundant living, no matter the economic circumstance.

Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.


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