How Nigeria Can Emerge From Being A “Shithole”, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

If we must emerge from our “Shithole”, we must tackle mediocrity, endemic corruption and impunity. Actions must have consequences. A culture of excellence is the difference. It is the reason why some countries succeed and others fail. We must strive for excellence to emerge as a strong, virile economic and political power.

We know we are in a mess, the world knows Nigeria is a mess. We are the big for nothing “Giant” of Africa. Big, not only in population but also in bad governance, corruption, poverty, disease, and many other measures of underdevelopment. Nigeria is the leader which does not lead in good indices; the bad example for smaller nations on the African continent. Nigeria is corrupt and pretty much deserving of name calling. What Donald Trump did wrong was to use a very vulgar term. Nigeria has big problems and those charged to lead do not seem to understand the enormity of the problems. Now that Nigeria has assumed some kind of stability as a democracy, citizens must understand and appreciate their power as electors of those who represent us. Nigerians must be made to realise that the world, which has changed, is moving on without us and, and our jobs have to change with it or we are sunk as a nation in the “shithole”.

Apart from human resources, the wealth of any nation depends on its ability to trade in goods or services. Trade cannot be done without infrastructure, and there can be no infrastructure without investment. Trade, infrastructure and investment are the essence of development. Despite Nigeria’s oil wealth, it has nothing to show in terms of infrastructure. Nigerias are running away from their countries, dying on the sand dunes of the Sahara and in the bellies of the Mediterranean because of successive governments that have turned Nigeria into a “shithole”. The lack of visionary leadership has made a resource-rich Nigeria abysmally poor. Rather than encourage development by building and maintaining infrastructure, raising and spending petrodollars wisely on the right projects, leaders are busy lining their pockets and stacking funds in foreign banks, while acquiring properties in choice cities abroad. Development is impossible without infrastructure. No one will invest in a country this big, depending on less than 7,000 Megawatts of electricity, where power could go out at any time. Despite our huge market, there can be no tangible foreign direct investment with a corrupt juduciary and law enforcement, because laws and business practices must be set up to encourage initiative and investment. This nation will be incapable of growing its gross domestic product in line with its potential, if there are no legal protections for businesses and individuals, property rights, contracts and copyrights.

Nigerians in the United States, where Donald Trump is president, are the most educated immigrant group and very successful. Why? They are in an environment where their creative genius can thrive, where merit is recognised, where hardwork is rewarded and actions have consequences. My favourite example is the recent success of Nigerian artists globally. Within Nigeria, artists have benefited from the ubiquity of cable channels, YouTube and iTunes because their creations can be played or viewed across the world and their earnings paid to them. Left to us alone, without the benefit of new technology and media, our artistes would not have made such inroads because their works will be pirated and dubbed for free. We have a culture that has no respect for intellectual property rights. There is no incentive for investment in music studios or record labels, because the absence of intellectual property laws or its lack of enforcement has meant that some people profit from what others create.

In this “shithole”, ridiculous amounts of paperwork are required to start a business, buy or sell property, file cases in court and anything that has to do with the government. Every contact with a civil or public servant is a bribe giving and taking exercise, and an opportunity for extortion.

We can get angry all we want about Donald Trump’s vicious qualifier, coming into Nigeria two weeks ago, the airport felt like a “shithole”. With over 300 passengers arriving on KLM, there were six immigration officers on duty. The arrival hall was blazing hot, the stamping of passports was painfully slow and as always, the Customs found a way to extort or make a painful arrival much worse. It is frustrating and fundamentally demeaning when you encounter bare-faced corruption at every turn. While the faces of corruption are the bribe taking policemen or customs officials, the real corruption lies in deliberate chaos and red tapism created to make the citizen frustrated and aspire to cut through the chase. The new car park is a case in point. It is shameful that a car park built 17 years into the new millennium will have so few elevators, no ramp to wheel luggage through, a convoluted entrance and exit, sprinklers that are so archaic they look like drip irrigation pipes, and clearance that speaks to incompetence of the architects and whoever approved the plan. There is nothing futuristic about the car park. It was built without any future projections in traffic growth, given our ballooning population. I will not be surprised if the cost of the parking structure will easily build a airport in some other countries.

Endemic corruption is when simple processes are complicated and made deliberately slow. In this “shithole”, ridiculous amounts of paperwork are required to start a business, buy or sell property, file cases in court and anything that has to do with the government. Every contact with a civil or public servant is a bribe giving and taking exercise, and an opportunity for extortion. The slower the process, the greater the temptation to pay. You pay to register your deed, get your certificate of occupancy; the tax officer slams you with higher corporate taxes, so you can negotiate with him and he pockets the biggest chunk. You bribe to see doctors in federal and state hospitals or else other patients will be herded to the doctor while you wait in vain. That is the reality of the day-to-day living in the “shithole”. There is abuse of power at every level because of endemic corruption and everyone flows with it. It is normalised. It takes strong leadership to fight it. We elected Buhari largely because of his anti-corruption bonafides but we have seen how he shields his own or assumes indifference when the cabal he created are involved. It is tough, but it can be done and doing it is key to getting out of this “shithole”.

Nigeria’s overall productivity is nothing to be proud of because employment and appointments are frequently not merit based. One of the problems working against Nigeria’s emergence as a global powerhouse is the Northern education conundrum and the role of women in Nigeria as a whole.

Legal immigrants from the “Shithole” countries are accepted and given opportunities that are not available to them in their countries of birth. What are we doing in Nigeria to make opportunities available to all regardless of religion, ethnic group or socio-economic standing? Our simmering ethnic and religious divides are destabilising and discourages investment. Ingrained social and cultural factors have made us a poor “shithole” country. Nigeria’s overall productivity is nothing to be proud of because employment and appointments are frequently not merit based. One of the problems working against Nigeria’s emergence as a global powerhouse is the Northern education conundrum and the role of women in Nigeria as a whole. In his book, The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs talks about “Cultural or religious norms that block the role of women leaving half the population without economic or political rights and without education, thereby undermining half of the population in its contribution to overall development.” If Nigerian women do not work, it means the earning potential of Nigeria is halved. This is the major reason why Nigeria is busting at the seams. Women who stay at home will always have more children than those who work. High population has its advantages. There is nothing wrong in having many children, as long as you can provide for them. Unfortunately, Nigeria does not have the infrastructure and the landmass to care for its projected population, which guarantees “shithole” status for generations to come, unless we all have a rethink and change our ways. According to Jeffrey Sachs, “With fewer children, a poor household can invest more in the health and education of each child, thereby equipping the next generation with the health, nutrition, and education that can lift living standards in future years.”

Before Trump, America believed in the greater good, in unity, in the rule of law and promoting democracy abroad. Americans are optimistic, hopeful, ambitious and they always pull together. Through his campaign and a year in the white house, Trump has promoted paranoia, fragmentation and uncertainty. He has taken Anerica out of TPP, the Paris Climate accord, and NAFTA is threatened. Under his fractious leadership, America is seen as angry, unwelcoming of change, overconfident and brash. We should ignore Trump, American institutions will rein him in sooner, rather than later. Nigeria does not have institutions. David Landes, the economic historian in his book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations says, “If we learn anything from the history of economic development it is that culture makes all the difference.” If we must emerge from our “Shithole”, we must tackle mediocrity, endemic corruption and impunity. Actions must have consequences. A culture of excellence is the difference. It is the reason why some countries succeed and others fail. We must strive for excellence to emerge as a strong, virile economic and political power.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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