Oguche Agudah, Chief Investment officer, Natanel Florens

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Subjects of Interest

  • Development Finance
  • Finance and Investment
  • Fiscal Policy
  • International Trade

Ending the Nigerian paradoxes now 14 Feb 2019

Information on the Nigeria country page of the University of Birmingham's website shows Nigerians are the second largest bloc of new international students at the British university, where close to 200 Nigerian students are pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate studies. This is not an isolated case as research from the British Council indicates that Nigeria will overtake India as the country with the highest number of postgraduate students studying in the United Kingdom – second only to China.
    
The UK is not the only country that attracts Nigerians looking to further their educational pursuits. International Educational Exchange data released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) as of November 2017 shows that there were 11,710 Nigerian students pursuing educational goals in the United States. The figure represents an increase of 9.7 per cent over 2016.

Nigerians are go-getters. Nigerians with means spend a fortune to educate themselves and their children. Some estimates suggest that Nigerians spend about $3 billion on foreign education annually.

Poverty and inequality exist the world over. But Nigeria is a land of extreme paradoxes. On one hand, enormous amounts of money are spent educating some Nigerians abroad. On the other hand, Nigeria has 13.2 million children out of school, the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.

A country that is the poverty capital of the world, with 86.9 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty, also boasts of having the highest number of billionaires in Africa. Four Nigerians have a combined net worth of $23 billion – approximately more than the combined GDPs of the sovereign countries of Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad and Congo.

The ironies in the Nigerian society run deep in every facet of the society. Let's take a look at some other ironies that bestride the Nigerian landscape.

Nigeria loses approximately $1 billion annually to a growing trend of medical tourism. Thousands of Nigerians fly abroad to access healthcare services in foreign countries. But the irony is that some of the most respected and celebrated doctors in the Middle East and Western countries are Nigerians – most of them were trained in Nigeria. Furthermore, this same country that has produced outstanding doctors is also among the only three countries in the world where cases of polio still exist.

The high rates of infant and maternal mortalities and the prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are simply unconscionable.  

One of the largest oil producers in the world, Nigeria has earned about $677.9 billion between 1999 and 2016, per an audit report by Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). Over the 18-year period, the highest revenue from sale of crude oil was $68.44 billion the country earned in 2011. Apart from the significant portion of these earnings that cannot be accounted for, N1.4 trillion ($4.6 billion) is spent annually on subsidy payments to oil marketers who import refined petroleum due to lack of local refining capacity.

Nigeria has the 9th largest arable land in the world, with approximately 30.5 million hectares of arable land. This is by far the largest arable land size in Africa, as Sudan comes a distant second with 17 million hectares of arable land. The climate in Nigeria is very conducive to grow a large number of crops, ranging from rice, peanuts, cotton, sorghum, millet, yam, rubber and the likes. This should ordinarily translate into large agricultural output to feed the Nigerian people and for export. However, the reverse is the case, as Nigeria is the second largest importer of rice on the planet, second only to China and higher than the entire European Union. Nigeria imported 3 million metric tonnes of rice in 2018.  

In contrast, the Netherlands with an arable land size of just one million hectares, earned 91.7 billion euros from agricultural goods export in 2017.

Nigeria's potential is not in doubt. Nigeria's potential and the question of when it would manifest are not new debates among international relations scholars. People used to talk about how the black race looked to Nigeria for direction and leadership. Sadly, Nigeria failed to rise to that occasion. Today, Nigeria is hardly looked upon for leadership on any significant matter on the continent.

The honest truth is that bad leadership is the main culprit of Nigeria's unfulfilled potential. And when I speak of bad leadership, I'm not just referring to how it relates to political leadership. We need bold, sacrificial, radical and visionary leadership across board.

We need wealthy Nigerian entrepreneurs to lead by example and seek to invest in the Nigerian people. Their foundations and family offices should invest in the next generation by tackling some of the structural issues that have hobbled Nigeria's development, such as education. It is unfortunate that international foundations like The Carter Center and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are the organisations fighting to eliminate diseases in Nigeria.

With enhanced partnership between the public and private sectors, a lot of the billions of dollars that go offshore every year for university education, medical tourism and food imports can be retained in the country.

Nigeria is waiting for a generation of visionary leaders to harness its potential, by utilising the vast human and natural resources to build an economy that works for all Nigerians and a nation that is prosperous and united. The millions of out-of-school children and the millions of unemployed adults and the youth cannot wait any longer. They certainly cannot wait for the 2023 election to have a visionary and competent leader. The time is now. The time to end these shameful ironies is now and Nigerians must arise in 2019 and make this moment count.