WITH biting unemployment, dwindling crude oil price in the global market, heavy import dependency and a poverty rate that stands at 73 per cent in the rural areas of the country, the Nigerian economy is unarguably in dire straits.
How to reposition the economy to the betterment of the citizenry has, therefore, become the concern of every right thinking Nigerian, especially ahead of the transition of power to a new administration, to be led by the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, come May 29.
Speaking on the subject matter at a recent interview with The Guardian, a Finance & Investment and Development Policy and Practices expert, Mr. Charles Nwodo Jnr. urged the incoming administration to develop a vision for the country, embark on ambitious projects and appoint credible people into positions to lift the country out of its present economic doldrums.
According to Nwodo, the result of the last general elections showed that Nigerians were unhappy with the turn of events in the country and desired a new direction.
“It is clear from the result of the election that Nigerians are dissatisfied with the direction that our leaders had taken us in the last couple of years.
So, what Nigerians have communicated to the new set of leaders that would take over from the current administration on May 29 is the desire for a new direction. It is also a strong mandate to attempt to reinvent Nigeria in the manner that our founding fathers desired.”
Going down memory lane, Nwodo recalled the good old day when Nigeria hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77).
“This is the same Nigeria that today people are fleeing in droves to even less endowed countries. Nigeria was a haven for migrants from Ghana, the Caribbean and wherever.
We had a Nigeria that was the largest contributor to the African Development Fund that gave rise to the African Development Bank (AfDB). Nigeria then created a Fund that was specifically targeted at helping least developed African countries under the management of the AfDB.
So, what I am saying is that the vision of our founding fathers is a Nigeria that is great and an unquestionably assertive leading Black nation on earth. So, there is a template in my view for our incoming leaders. There is a pathway to greatness they have to follow,” Nwodo said.
Nwodo, who is the Executive Chairman, XL Africa Group Ltd, a services group with active interests in many African Countries and the U.S., explained that the starting point of rebuilding the country and its economy is to assemble a team of experts to chart a national vision for the country.
He said: “Even the Bible says that without a vision my people perish; it didn’t say without money or education my people perish.
So, the first thing is to reinvent the vision of a Nigeria that works — a Nigeria that respects and rewards positive values. The starting point is to create a vision around this and try to communicate this vision to every Nigerian.
Many young people see Nigeria as a country that is dysfunctional. They see Nigeria as a country that rewards thieves and robbers. So, the first thing to do is create that awareness and to try to reinvent the Nigeria of our dream.
“The second thing is that they need to assemble a team of competent people to drive that vision because you cannot give what you don’t have. Nigerians tend to see political appointments and government positions as avenues to dispense patronage. We need to see this as a call to service and this is where the need for a national vision comes in.
If you want to invite people to serve, you have to look for people who have the capacity to serve. You can’t look for people who can’t help themselves and expect them to come and help the masses.
So, in assembling the team to work with, the incoming government would do itself a lot of good by making sure that they assemble people who have the capacity and the pedigree to offer the kind of service that aligns with the vision the administration must have crafted for the country.”
Nwodo also harped on the need create and recreate the institutions on governance in the country, saying: “One of the things that has happened in recent times is that again because of poor governance, even our existing institutions have been deliberately weakened in order to satisfy immediate selfish and pecuniary interests.
But institutions are the foundations upon which nation-states rest; institutions are the engines that lubricate the wheel of greatness for every country.
Even if you are a strong and visionary leader, it is the institutions that capacitate your vision and translate it into actionable realities for the rest of the people.
So, we need to deliberately reinvent our institutions and empower them to be able to perform the roles that they were intended to serve.”
He further urged the incoming administration to galvanise the goodwill that Nigeria has in the international community to attract foreign investments, noting that the country is in an advantaged position in that regard more than other African countries.
“Nigeria is today a favourable investment destination. There are many factors that are working in favour of Nigeria. One of them is that almost every other part of the world is distressed presently.
The only continent of growth regardless of the sector you are talking about is possibly Africa and Nigeria has a lot of advantages in Africa. So, what the present government should do is to create the enabling environment to harness the enormous global goodwill and resources that are capable of coming to Nigeria.
“Recently, it was announced that the government of China signed an agreement with Pakistan to invest over US$46 billion in the country in the form of different projects and investments.
These are the kind of interventions that goodwill can attract to Nigeria under the incoming government. But to attract this, you need to create the enabling environment.
Again as I said before, our institutions must be on ground and effective. I believe that if the right environment is created and the right leadership is in place, Nigerians on their own can create a private sector-led development that would transform this country.”
In spite of the harsh economic realities confronting the country, Nwodo urged the incoming administration to set ambitious economic goals, stressing that “this is the right time.”
He explained: “If we are talking about infrastructure renewal for instance, why can’t we create a national carrier. There is no reason we cannot do that because the resources are there and we have people who have set up businesses in different sectors of our economy with very little resources and nurtured them to greatness. The services of such people should be sought for because you cannot give what you don’t have. Those are the kind of goals I want to see under the incoming administration.
“I want to see, for example, a Marshal Plan for the North-East region that has been devastated by Boko Haram insurgency. Why can’t we transform the entire North-East into the gateway to Central Africa? It is possible but you need to tie that project around a transformational vision and assemble capable hands to execute it.
There is no reason we cannot transform the entire North-West into the religious and cultural capital of the Black man.
Why can’t people go to Sokoto, Kano and Zaria for tourism the same way they go to Mecca and Egypt? Why can’t we create a petrochemical hub around the entire Niger Delta with all the crude oil deposit in the region? We already have a refinery, a petro-chemical complex in the region. It is now just a matter of activating the Brass NLG project that has been on the drawing board for years.
We can complete the East-West road that has been pending for years and build a coastal road from Bonny in Rivers State to Lagos State.
We can transform the Port Harcourt airport into a regional hub for the entire oil and gas community in not just West Africa but also in the entire oil producing belt in this part of the world all the way to Angola.
“The administration can target the South-East and transform it into the commercial capital of West Africa. In any case, people are already moving to Onitsha from Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo and so on and so forth. When they get there what are the Custom formalities that you create? Can you create a free trade zone? Can you create economic opportunities for people to come there and even set up manufacturing hubs? How easy is it for entrepreneurs there to set up companies?
“If you come to the South-West that is already developing, you can reinvent the region to become the industrial centre for the nation. Lagos and Ogun states already have substantial presence of industries but you can build another airport to support the existing one and construct a rail system linking Nigeria through Badagry to the West African sub-region. Then the West African Gas Pipeline that nobody knows whether it is going up or down has to be resuscitated.”
Nwodo, an alumnus of Harvard Business School, believes that “when these are done, you will see that the concept of nation building will change from an entitlement mindset where people troop to Abuja to share allocation to a development mindset where people make efforts to contribute to the vision of a great Nigeria.”
“I think the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is in a position to provide this kind of leadership,” he affirmed.