Oguche Agudah, Regional Director, Nigeria, OurCrowd
Follow Oguche Agudah
Subjects of Interest
- Development Finance
- Finance and Investment
- Fiscal Policy
- International Trade
What Nigeria needs to do to develop 30 Dec 2019
Out-of-school children in Northern Nigeria popularly known as Almajiris
Back in the 1980s, Nigerians were inundated with television and radio advertisements, which talked about a time in the future when the quality of life of all Nigerians would improve and basic amenities would be available for everyone in the country. The Nigerian government promised that by the year 1990, all Nigerians would have access to housing, education and healthcare.
The promises were a pie in the sky. The year 1990 came and went by without any reprieve in the severe lack of access to healthcare, housing and quality education for the majority of the populace.
Right in the middle of the game, the goal post was shifted as the dates for achieving these great targets were changed. The people were then told there would be housing for all, etc., by the year 2000. The year 2020 subsequently became the new target when the 2000 target for achieving those goals was missed. Well, we are just a few days to the year 2020; it's safe to say Nigerians are not better off in terms of access to housing, education and healthcare than they were in 1980 – almost 40 years ago.
The 2018 Human Capital Index (HCI) of the World Bank ranked Nigeria in the 152nd position out of 157 countries. The index quantifies the contribution of health and education to the productivity of the next generation of workers. Former World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, said educational outcomes in Nigeria are too poor. In the 2019 Best Countries for Education report by the U.S. News & World Report, Nigeria was ranked 77th out of 80 countries. The country fell two places on the ranking from its 75th position in 2018.
It is no longer news that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. Only about one in 10 Nigerians owns their own home, not to mention the estimated 120 million Nigerians who are living without access to reliable and affordable power. In September of this year, the United Nations called Nigeria's housing crisis the "worst in the world." According to the UN, two-thirds of Nigerians in urban areas are living in informal settlements.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to look in the mirror and ask deep, soul-searching questions. Perhaps, if we asked the right questions, we might be closer to getting the right answers.
So, we may want to ask: Why is it difficult for Nigeria to get it right? Why do successive Nigerian governments set targets and goals without achieving them? Why can't the Nigerian state facilitate the provision of basic amenities for the majority of its citizens? Why is there little commitment to human development in Nigeria?
Good governance is not magical thinking. In their famous book, “Why Nations Fail,” Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson provide answers to questions like the ones I asked above. Their painstaking research, covering several centuries, helps us understand to a great degree why Nigeria is the way it is. Their central thesis is that political and economic institutions are essentially what underlie economic success (or the lack of it).
A brilliant case study in the book brings home this point. It pertains to divergence in the economic prosperity of North Korea and South Korea. Both countries came from a historically homogeneous culture before they divided into two nations in 1953. Since then, the people of the North have become some of the poorest people on earth, while their brothers and sisters in the South are among the richest. According to the authors, some of the reasons for South Korea's economic progress are as follows:
• The country forged a society that created incentives and rewarded innovation.
• South Korea ensured that everyone was allowed to participate in economic opportunities.
• South Korea created a system of government that was accountable to and responsive to its citizens.
Overall, the main differences in the Koreas are the political and institutional infrastructures, which created completely different trajectories.
This is a very poignant example for Nigeria. In 1945, South Korea's literacy rate was 22 per cent, and rose to 87.6 per cent in 1970. It was at a record 99.9 per cent in 2018. Contrast this to Nigeria that has a literacy rate of around 62 per cent. This hasn't changed much from the year 1991 when the literacy rate was 55.4 per cent.
In order for Nigeria to meet its human development targets of dramatically increased access to housing, education, electricity, food, etc., for a majority of its citizens, there needs to be a radical shift in the governance structure of the country. Research has shown that no society that benefits only a privileged few ever makes any meaningful progress. Instead of investing in an economy that expands opportunities and benefits everyone, the privileged few in the political class and their cronies in the private sector would rather use the country's resources to provide good healthcare for themselves and secure their own future and the future of their progeny.
This system that excludes a large majority of the country, where over 100 million people are living below the poverty line, has to end for Nigeria to seriously chart a new course. Otherwise, the government would continue churning out fancy policies and new targets for achieving development milestones that would never be attained. Some of the critical things the country needs are as follows:
• Statesmen who are sacrificial, visionary and who prioritize the greater good.
• Inclusive economic models that incentivize innovation.
• A truly accountable governance structure that ensures the plurality of voices.
• Mass qualitative education for all Nigerians.
• An effective justice system that advances the rule of law.
• A new orientation and culture that rewards and celebrates hard work, integrity and discipline.
• A free market system with a combination of even-handed state controls.
A lot can happen in 40 years. A nation can transform itself within this period. Countries like Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam have shown that it is possible. Nigeria hasn't utilised the past 40 years to achieve progress. Nevertheless, we must look forward with hope. Over the next 20 years, we can't be singing the same tune of failed promises and failed targets. We need laser-focused attention on investing in human development.
We need to make concrete plans to attain some clear development goals within an identified period of time. We need to change the structure of our polity to enable every government institution to align with the pursuit of those goals.
It's often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. In truth, that's what we've been doing in this country. We've been recycling the same people with the same ideas within the same system that hasn't worked. Why do we think it would change?
We need to alter the course of this nation for the benefit of the millions of people who have no jobs, no education, no access to power, and no healthcare. We owe it to them. We owe it to the future. Let Nigeria arise and be the true giant of Africa.