“In the past what we have done has been to manage the situation.
I do not intend to manage ourselves out of the situation as has been done in the past.
I intend to fix it! I owe it to the Ghanaian people. I, John Dramani Mahama, will fix this energy challenge.”
– President John Dramani Mahama
State of the Nation Address, 2015
Fellow Nigerians, let me start on a positive note today that there is no problem we are facing today as a country and as individuals that cannot be fixed if and when we are ready, determined and tenacious. I draw huge inspiration and example from President John Dramani Mahama today because I have had the opportunity of following Ghana’s trajectory very closely and keenly since the regime of President Jerry John Rawlings (aka Junior Jesus). I doubt if there is any Nigerian of my generation who would not remember that, once upon a time, Ghana was down and almost out. Things were so bad that I would not even want to regurgitate the story here. What is good is that the story has changed for the better. Even if Ghana is not yet an Eldorado, the country is certainly on the confident and steady march towards prosperity.
We have a lot to learn from a few smaller African nations. I won’t bother travelling to Europe, America or Asia my examples. Right here in Africa, smaller countries with minimal resources are doing admirably well. I know the usual attitude of some of our people is that they dismiss those countries as being too small and lacking our kind of stupendous population. But they conveniently forget two salient facts; that one, those countries don’t have access to our kind of resources and two, our bigness should be an asset and not a liability.
I have no doubts about the greatness of Nigeria and I plan to preach it and admonish President Muhammadu Buhari and his team that they can fix our problems if and when they are ready. As complex and complicated as we may seem, Nigerians are not too difficult to govern. The trouble is our leaders usually refuse to do things differently yet they expect dissimilar results. Only if they can turn things around a little and work instead of sermonising, they would see better results. Nigerian leaders often expect Nigerians to trust them with all their hearts, and even their lives, but forgetting that politics and religion are not one and the same. The first requires critical analysis while the latter thrives on blind faith and no proof of evidence. Our leaders are insensitive to any form of criticism but ignoring the aphorism: “to whom much is given, much is expected!” My unlettered mum taught me that the best way to silence your critics is to continue to excel. This, precisely, is what President Mahama is doing in Ghana.
Trust me, Mahama has been endlessly maligned and castigated at the flimsiest opportunity but he has continued to respond by unleashing a tornado of developmental projects all over Ghana to the mortification and bewilderment of his most vociferous and acerbic critics. First he was accused of doing nothing and they almost succeeded in convincing us. Mahama’s infrastructural development of Ghana was the best kept secret. The projects he embarked upon were quietly successfully executed without fanfare yet they were spread everywhere you turned. Alone they seemed isolated and nothing to write home about but by the time he lifted the veil on his remarkable collection of projects, he left us totally stunned. Now the woeful tune being sung by the Opposition has changed from “he is doing nothing” to “the contracts are inflated”. No one can even quarrel with the world class quality of the job so they can only whimper about the cost.
I call Mahama a magician because I wonder when he found time to conceptualise the projects, how he designed them so beautifully and where he got the funding to actualise this audacious dream of his. It is obvious that he must have had a simple but comprehensive roadmap and followed it meticulously and religiously and his faith moved mountains for him. His confidence level is uncommon going by his speech quoted at the beginning of this piece. That is the attitude we need to imbibe desperately and urgently. The roadmap would be like our business plan. Nigeria can make do with a master-plan going forward because it seems noting of the sort is readily available for now. I recall Vision 2020 was supposedly one of such master plans but nobody even mentions that any more. I can only venture that it is better late than never to formulate a veritable roadmap for our beloved country. I have no doubt Nigeria is blessed with some of the most intelligent and knowledgeable people in the world and if invited and allowed to function they would perform wonders.
The biggest challenge Ghana faced in the last three years has been the virtual collapse of energy. Power outages crept into the country like a thief in the night and soon took over the lives of the people. It was so bad that the moniker, Dumsor Dumsor, soon became a household term depicting the rationing of electricity from zone to zone. What I admired the most was that government did not panic. The ruling government ignored all the insults and rolled up its sleeves. They demonstrated clearly that they meant serious business. They reduced any frivolous activities they were involved in and concentrated on exterminating the scourge of power failure that crippled many organisations and businesses. They attacked the demon from different fronts, before our very eyes. They invested in different types of power generation – wind, hydro, solar, barges, turbines using diesel and gas, etc. Today, Ghana has won the battle, almost totally. We can too. And I have noticed improvements in Lagos in the last few months. I’m very confident that Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola is up to the herculean task but he cannot do it alone. Such a venture requires the collaboration of several ministries, agencies and private organisations together with the will and zeal to move mountains.
The first thing government should have done that it refused to do is shed the toga of “bigmanism”, according to critics of Buhari. The attraction of a Buhari government, as many of the youths abusing us today remind me repeatedly, was they expected it to be less ostentatious but fast-paced in conceptualisation and actualisation. They think Buhari is too casual and lackadaisical and when we try to offer explanations and plead for understanding and patience, they get even angrier. The insults I receive on behalf of President Buhari is no longer funny and I hope he is aware of the foul mood of the people out here contrary to whatever he is being told by insiders. It is getting bad and must be appropriately managed lest it gets out of hand.
The young ones are saying they expected Buhari to treat the problems of Nigeria like an emergency that it is and not like a typical presidency under a normal climate. They expected him to do away with the profligacy of the past, sell off most of the Presidential jets and reduce Presidential convoys and multitude of security aides that portrays us like an Empire ruled by an Emperor rather than a Federation governed by a democrat. Those who advocated for change felt that this would mean that the President would reduce foreign trips to the barest minimum, cut costs of governance at all levels by setting example from the top, get active on our bad roads by making surprise appearances at critical sites and locations, and so on. I don’t think they are asking for the impossible. Some of these expectations can be handled by the office of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who as a former University lecturer would readily know how to manage restive youths. Every government tries to pull some cosmetic stunts at the beginning. It is like when a plane wants to take off; it requires a lot of power and everyone around feels the vibration. Fashola invested in planting flowers and improving the general environment of Lagos. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode mesmerised Lagosians with his light up razzmatazz and it is working for him. Such projects visibly ensure that citizens see and believe government is working. President Buhari must have assumed everyone would see his pure and genuine heart and judge him only on his incorruptibility but it is not always as simple as that.
The biggest assets of Nigeria are not in oil and gas but in our human resources, particularly our amazingly talented youths. They must not be allowed to waste away. I’m glad our President eventually met with the Facebook founder, Mr Mark Zuckerberg, in Abuja yesterday. No one can ever repay him for that visit to Nigeria for its free public relations windfall. It doesn’t matter if he came looking for how to expand his own business. Nigeria needs more of such inspirational visitors. I hope this would not end as mere photo opportunities like others before it. I’m sure Mr Zuckerberg didn’t just wander into Nigeria like Henry the Navigator. He has met and employed several Nigerians at the highest echelons of his company. Today is not the day to salute and pay tribute to these giants of social engineering and information dissemination. He knows there are many more geniuses buried within the so-called wilderness of Africa. He is smart to see what many of us can’t see in our own people. I commend his spectacular vision.
One of the ways to create employment opportunities for the people is by investing substantially in science and technology, especially ICT. For example, close to home, 70 enhanced community information centres have been completed across Ghana. Nigeria can partner with some of our blue chip companies to create such opportunities in every Senatorial or Federal constituency. The Federal Government can designate each of the geo-political zones as centres of excellence and mould them into our own Silicon Valley for technological advancement; Oil and Gas zones can be set up in our oil producing regions as is the case in Houston, Texas. We can create institutions like The Academy of Sciences; Agricultural Research Institutes, Centres for vocations and artisans; Schools of Business and Entrepreneurship and Colleges of Politics and Leadership to mould and produce our scientists, farmers, entrepreneur and leaders of the imminent tomorrow. It makes it possible to target specific talents and they will create the buzz and generate loads of activities. Only the best brains would be admitted and nurtured in these elite institutions. Not everyone can enter Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc. but they do not have to be children of thee privilegentsia. Any youth who has the requisite, intelligence, acumen and determination will be able to gain admission to such centres of excellence. We can start by upgrading two universities per geo-political zone since we can’t revamp all our universities at once.
We must invest in our healthcare. This would reduce the temptation of going for treatment abroad. Let us build excellent medical facilities, at least one per zone, and employ the best medical practitioners from all over the world. Let us make agriculture our top priority. Government can identify spirited young farmers and support them in setting up and also identify those interested in processing, preservation and distribution. Agriculture alone can engage a vast majority of our people. By now we should be exporting our produce, foodstuff, and foods, much more than we do at the moment. We should not pay lip service to diversification. We must understand that such can never happen in a jiffy. It is the product of painstaking research, hard work and dedication. Failure to understand this means we are not even ready to begin.
Proper attention must shift to rebuilding our infrastructure, especially roads and airports. Our airports are just too disgraceful, especially the ones in Lagos and Abuja. President Buhari needs to act fast because nothing gives Nigeria the worst image than these retrogressive airports which invariably represent the gateway to our dear country.
No government can do it all but some of the suggestions I have enumerated can ignite not only a job revolution but also massive industrialisation and an agrarian regeneration. There is no time to waste.
We must start from somewhere, sometime. No better time than here and now!