Martins Hile, Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine

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  • Governance
  • SMEs
  • Social Development

Reimagining Nigeria’s future at the dawn of heightened uncertainty 10 Feb 2023

President Muhammadu Buhari’s two elected terms will come to an end on May 29 this year. He has given himself a pass mark. One of the favourite pastimes of the president and the ruling All Progressives Congress is proclaiming that he has outperformed his predecessors in the People’s Democratic Party.

It is usual for governments to talk their book and embellish the facts. What Nigerian officeholders, especially those in the current administration, do considerably well is lowering the bar in terms of the performance people should expect from them. In December 2022, while assessing his time in office, Buhari said he had done his best for the country. What this means, in light of his actual report card, is that the president’s best must be a bar set very low.  

Nigeria is not more prosperous or more secure today than it was eight years ago. If anything, suffering, fear, and stagnation are more ambient than before. 133 million Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. These are people who suffer deprivations in multiple dimensions like health, education, and decent living standards, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The government’s failure to design a functional social protection system is one of the reasons 61% of Nigerians are not just facing different forms of overlapping poverty; their future is also uncertain.

One can reel out varieties of dire economic data, not to mention the relentless news of kidnappings and killings by non-state armed groups, that should give this administration pause for thought, instead of showboating. But this is not a piece on Buhari’s legacy.

This is a call to action, urging Nigerians to elect and support a new class of leaders with the intellect, strength, and temperament needed to reimagine Nigeria's future and lead the people through today's changing and uncertain world. We need leaders at the federal and state levels who can demonstrate empathy and moral imagination, which are essential skills for effective and decisive action.

It is high time Nigeria became a country that thinks in terms of decades and centuries ahead – as opposed to the next election cycle. For this to happen, we need leaders that can craft well-coordinated strategies and plans and build the institutions to drive them. No one has the ability to know in advance the exact likelihood or impact of future events. But the uncertainty of outcomes can be reduced by planning against contingencies and crises. Equally crucial is creating policy frameworks aimed at accumulating human capital and fostering prosperity.

Global powers like the United States and China have internalised what the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been saying for many years: “People are the real wealth of nations.” That is why they empower and support their citizens and businesses to compete in the global marketplace – and dominate it. China's famed success in poverty eradication is fundamental to its emergence as the world's second-largest economy, which some experts believe will, in time, become the world's largest, overtaking the U.S. economy.

To exemplify China's progress in human development, the country moved up 19 places on the Human Development Index (HDI) between 2015 and 2021. Designated as a high human development country, China was ranked 82 out of 191 countries in the 2021 HDI. Nigeria remains in the low human development category of the index and was ranked 163. The country moved up just one spot in the six-year reference period.

The Human Development Report (HDR), which publishes the index, is a significant body of work that deserves the close attention of policymakers and anyone with even a passing interest in development. The publication ranks the world’s countries by their human development, measuring average achievements across three key dimensions, namely, long and healthy life (life expectancy), knowledge (expected years of schooling and mean years of schooling), and decent standard of living (gross national income (GNI) per capita. Ranking above Nigeria are Ghana (135) and South Africa (102), respectively considered medium human development and high human development nations. The United Kingdom and U.S., ranked 17 and 21, respectively, are very high human development countries.

The 2021/2022 HDR is grimly titled, “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives,” denoting the current landscape of multiple global crises that are disrupting human development. It introduces "uncertainty complex" into development lingo as a way of describing the multilayered crises, which are generating a new type of uncertainty never before seen in human history. The COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and political polarisation are just three manifestations of this uncertainty complex. Others are climate change, food crisis, and rising feelings of insecurity.   

The report underscores the dawn of heightened uncertainty with varying risk implications for different countries and people. Wealth, for instance, has always been a factor in terms of how risks are distributed – and handled – between and within countries. This means that if Nigeria becomes more economically prosperous, as citizens have access to more and better opportunities, public services and security, the country will reduce its uncertainty quotient.

We can certainly appreciate why this year's election cycle is the most consequential Nigeria has had since 1999. For the first time in over two decades, a Nigerian presidential election is a three-horse race. Despite the uncertainty as to who the next president would be, 2023 presents an opportunity to reimagine a better future – one in which we are a truly democratic society with economic security as our foundation.

With Peter Obi of the Labour Party on the ballot, voter interest seems to have revived and perhaps turnout would peak this year. This would seriously give him a fighting chance. He is the only candidate in the race with quite a number of the leadership attributes mentioned earlier. We can imagine that the probable election of Obi could usher in a new Nigeria, where the air is jazzed up with hope and great possibilities beckon. As Percy Bysshe Shelley, the 19th century English poet, said, imagination is “the great instrument of moral good.” Electing Obi would be a great moral good.

In the meantime, we must not just survive these times of uncertainty; we also need to develop some tools to guide and enable us see beyond our current reality. I like to suggest some three ways to further enable us handle uncertainty and take hold of our future.

1. Believe that progress is possible. To manage our uncertainties, many Nigerians accept dangerous trade-offs for short-term financial benefits. We sell our votes and get paid to support candidates with no coherent agenda for the country. The implication of this sort of behaviour is that nothing ever changes.

Before we make that self-defeating calculus, we need to remind ourselves that change is possible. If we believe in something, we should go for it. If it does not provide the desired outcome immediately, we can review our strategy and try again. A famous quote attributed to Vladimir Lenin, Russian revolutionary and political theorist, says, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”

2. Develop our moral imagination. Moral imagination, according to American scholars, Darcia Narvaez and Kellen Mrkva, involves not only the ability to generate useful ideas. The ideas must also be about what is good and right, and we must put the best ideas into action for the service of others.
While individual success is important, our society can only function better when we seek the most good possible for people in our different communities. Politicians, artistes, entrepreneurs, journalists, writers, and everyone should endeavour to join the effort to achieve a Nigerian society where people from different tribes, class, beliefs, backgrounds can coexist and seek solutions that advance the common good.

3. Have courage. Sometimes our prejudices and fears, compounded by the many odds stacked against us, discourage us from reaching out and moving forward. But if we must do what is good and right, we need courage. If we can imagine a better future and we believe it and have the courage to work towards it, we can see it come to pass.

Martins Hile is a sustainability strategist and editorial consultant.