By Alim Abubakre
Dr Abubakre is on the advisory board of the London Business School Africa Club and is the non-executive chair of These Executive Minds (TEXEM, www.texem.co.uk), an organisation which he founded and has trained over 4,000 executives across multiple continents. He is a senior lecturer in International Business at Sheffield Business School (an AACSB-accredited Business School) at Sheffield Hallam University.
Nigeria is the 6th most populous country in the world. It is richly endowed with several mineral resources, including oil. Nigeria has a great potential that, if utilized, can propel it to great heights of success. However, 62 years after independence, the country, like a vehicle on a hilly road, is struggling to climb. Indeed, one would argue that its large population and resources are at present a weakness and not a strength as they should be. Significant challenges impeding its progress include high unemployment, poor infrastructure, insecurity, poor governance and a high level of immigration.
So, with the myriad challenges, can Nigeria spring up and reverse the negative and worrying trajectory? Without a doubt, a positive change is possible. But first, there must be a paradigm shift. Indeed, the Nigerian government, decision-makers in the third sector and business leaders are fully aware of the challenges the county is facing six decades after gaining its independence from Britain. The million-dollar question is, how can these challenges be addressed for sustainable success for all? Leveraging my experience of engaging with over 4,000 executives globally and helping hundreds of organizations to win, I suggest these seven areas that could fast-track Nigeria’s goal of sustainable development, comparative advantage and the competitiveness of her businesses in the global space.
1) Harnessing diasporas and increasing exodus of talent
Migration movements worldwide have positively influenced economic and demographic transformations over the years. In the past few years, owing to globalization and in search of greener pastures, there has been massive emigration of Nigerians to Europe, North America and Asia. Unlike in the past, today’s migration is characterized by the transfer of skills, technologies and resources that, if utilized well and an enabling environment created, can help in nation building.
Being a country endowed with huge potential, Nigeria can achieve prosperity by harnessing diasporans and attracting investments from compatriots outside the country’s shores. Specifically, diasporans could be a source of talent and technology transfer. Technology advancement could be achieved if the country develops special schemes that encourage more Nigerians to return home, at least during their leave. This suggestion is practicable as some doctors overseas are already doing this for Nigeria, and South Korean and Chinese engineers do it for their nations. Thus, this will make their emigration from Nigeria a brain gain, just like the Jewish diasporans.
On the other hand, through better intra-agency collaboration, deliberate government policy and judicious use of big and deep data, the country should make it easier for some of its citizens who have migrated to other countries to invest at home. Furthermore, given the country’s present revenue challenge and the fact that diasporans’ remittances are the country’s largest source of foreign exchange, it is critical for government and the private sector to invest more in a better relationship with the “hen that lays the golden egg”. Better relations initiatives could include conferment of more Nigerian national honours when they excel overseas and offering the opportunity to participate in the electoral process through suffrage.
Also, since diasporans are plenipotentiaries overseas, they could also be a source of global soft power. They could help obtain the outcomes that Nigerians want in world politics if they are actively courted and treated as strategic assets. With better connections with their home country and incentives for investment, it becomes easier to foster development and nation-building.
2) Vertical integration of agriculture and petroleum
Nigeria is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and gas, yet the largest importer of refined petroleum and fertilizers in Africa. The largest producer of cassava but the continent’s largest importer of starch. One of the continent’s biggest tomato producers but the largest importer of tomato paste. Nigeria is in a no-win situation with almost sole reliance on oil for its foreign exchange export earnings. For example, with over-reliance on oil, the price volatility makes it difficult for leaders to plan. Also, when the price is low, government revenue dwindles and when the price is high, government expenditure increases due to subsidies. One way to avoid such scenarios is by diversifying and building other industries. More precisely, vertical integration of agricultural and petroleum industries could reduce her foreign exchange import bill and create fiscal stability. Vertical integration should entail the Nigerian government and business leaders building more refineries to leverage petrochemicals’ developmental benefits, especially for the country. According to IEA, petrochemicals are the largest source of demand for crude oil and will account for 50 percent of crude oil demand by 2050. By-products of petrochemicals include asphalt for paving roads, aromatics for the manufacture of perfumes, propylene and sulphur used in the petrochemical, pharmaceuticals and naphtha for producing polymer. Other uses of petrochemicals are for manufacturing digital devices, medical equipment, fertilizers, detergents and tyres. Petrochemicals are so vital that they could be a source of developing the renewable energy value chain. For example, petrochemicals could be used to manufacture components of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, thermal insulation and electric vehicles, which is greener, sustainable and will create jobs. The symbiosis between the petrochemical and agricultural value chain will drive energy and food security in Nigeria. It could spur the development of the agro-allied industries that could ensure an integrated manufacturing ecosystem. This strategic approach to leadership would also lead to the conservation of foreign exchange and create a compelling case to attract more foreign direct investment that will enhance economic growth. In doing so, the country diversifies its revenue stream and builds vibrant industries, especially agriculture and manufacturing, that will drive sustainable, inclusive economic growth.
3) Building a national brand
Arguably, Nigeria can create a meaningful economic impact and promote sustainable growth over the coming years if it builds a vibrant and trusted national brand globally. But first, it must set its standards high and strive to build trust in Nigerian products and services, especially in agricultural products, fashion, arts and entertainment. Nigeria can borrow a leaf from Japan, whose Made-in-Japan goods and services are considered among the top five trusted brands globally. However, this country’s export was not always regarded as high quality; given Japan’s poor response to Fukushima, many of its manufactured cars were once considered low quality. Like the Japanese, the Nigerian government should invest in sensitization programmes that encourage manufacturers to enshrine transparency, authenticity, continuous improvement, innovation and flexibility while producing and exporting their goods and services. With an excellent national brand, the government and other business leaders can go ahead to market their products and improve Nigeria’s balance of payment. Indeed, national brands have other benefits, including high customer trust, reduced marketing expenses, visibility, loyalty and strong, soft power. With such benefits and the associated high revenues, achieving prosperity will be a matter of time.
4) Harnessing Nigeria’s youthful population
With one of the largest youthful populations in the world, Nigeria has a tremendous economic asset that, if utilized well, can contribute to the country’s economic growth. Approximately 70 percent of the country’s population is young, most of whom are under 30. Such a high percentage of youthfulness can be harnessed for nation-building, especially in the areas relating to art, entertainment, fashion and technology development, among others. From Facebook to WordPress, Subway to Dell, Microsoft to Yankee candles, these companies all have a common denominator; young people founded them. While Europe is ageing and arguably in decline, Nigeria could leverage its young demography’s drive, energy and technological capacity in unleashing innovation and optimizing its global impact. But for such a population to be adequately harnessed and its potential utilized, the government and other leaders in the private sector must invest in good health care, tuition in entrepreneurship and how to manage money at a very young age. Also, competitive grants should be offered, and mentoring programmes extended to young entrepreneurs. These deliberate investments in the youths will build their entrepreneurial capabilities and develop a skilled and healthy workforce for national prosperity. Suppose all stakeholders consciously try to create a favourable environment for youths to thrive and blossom! In that case, the youths will channel their passion, talent and energy into building Nigeria, a superpower globally.
5) Developing a sustainable energy ecosystem
In recognition of the growing threats of adverse changes in climate leading to environmental degradation and global warming, the Nigerian government and leaders in the private sector need to pay attention to developing a sustainable energy ecosystem as part of its nation-building strategies. While the country is endowed with abundant natural resources such as wind and sunlight, the country can learn from China, whose government has partnered with the private sector and other international partners to invest massively in the sustainable energy ecosystem. There is a need to increase funding and deployment of environmentally-friendly technologies; this will attract international grants and foreign direct investment. Diversifying its energy sources to more sustainable and abundant sources will spur industrial transformation that will reduce transactional costs and positively impact the productivity of Nigeria’s formal and informal sectors. Furthermore, the country will be able to promote pollution mitigation, preserve its environment, contribute to a safe and healthier populace, leading to a more prosperous future for the present and next generation, and achieve sustainable national development.
6) Take advantage of Africa’s free trade agreement
Africa’s free trade agreement seeks to promote the free movement of capital, labour, goods and services within the region. Since it took effect in January 2021, the agreement has been gradually eliminating tariffs on goods traded in the continent-wide market across 55 countries. In addition to removal of barriers, there are other additional benefits that will accrue due to the expected increase in foreign direct investment both from within various African countries and even outside Africa. In particular, the investment will bring capital, skills and technologies that will spur economic growth.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, stands to gain in many ways if it has the first-mover advantage to take advantage of the agreement. Nigerian firms, especially manufacturing enterprises, should utilize the free access to cheaper goods and services from other African countries. However, as it stands, intra-Africa trade remains low. Nigeria’s imports from African countries relative to its total imports remain below 5 percent, while its exports to other African countries are slightly above 10 percent, clearly suggesting that there are opportunities not yet tapped. Going forward, the government and business leaders need to seize the opportunity by building competitive sectors to take advantage of the close to one billion-strong market created by the agreement. Just as Germany has greatly benefited and registered tremendous growth by offering innovative and value-adding goods and services to the EU market, Nigeria can do the same in Africa.
7) Harness diversity as a strength
Undoubtedly, Nigeria has one of the most culturally diverse populations globally, comprising 300 ethnic groups, speaking over 520 languages and practising different religions. Such diversity brings together a large pool of opportunities which can be harnessed for nation-building in many ways. For instance, Southeasterners are entrepreneurial, the North is the country’s food basket, the Southwest appears adept in international affairs, and South-south is the foreign exchange hub through the export of petroleum products. If brought together through transformative leadership, all these can be great for building national cohesion, as in the USA. Albert Einstein (in science and originally from Germany), Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google, originally from Russia) and Dikembe Mutombo (renowned basketballer – from the Democratic Republic of Congo) are all successful immigrant Americans. These examples demonstrate that America is a fantastic example that celebrates diversity and harnesses talent irrespective of where they are from. If the USA can do it, Nigeria could also do it – the country could be a confederation of nations, where your ethnicity, religion or gender will not limit what you can achieve.
In conclusion, as Nigeria commemorates its independence, there is so much to do to achieve prosperity over the coming years. However, if it can tackle its challenges and utilize the opportunities it has in the seven areas explored, then there is a very successful future for this blessed nation. Happy Independence celebration, Nigeria.
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