My heart was really burdened this past week by the news from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that Ghana has overtaken Nigeria as the world’s largest exporter of yams. Nigeria has a larger population than Ghana, along with a larger landmass of which a substantial part is very arable. So why is Ghana, with less human and material resources, overtaking us, with more human and material resources? According to Dr. Nobert Maroya, IITA’s Project Manager for its Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa project, the reason Ghana has overtaken Nigeria is because Ghana is more organised.
If I was tempted to doubt Dr. Maroya, my doubts disappeared when I saw a comment by a Nigerian to the story when it appeared on nairaland.com. A certain Oleri Smith commented thus “Don’t mind those IITA people, what is IITA doing to put Nigeria back into exporting yam.” I was taken aback by such a comment, but on second thought, I should have seen it coming. There is such a loss of responsibility in Nigeria that Nigerians, old and young, are very eager to cast blame on others for things that should be their responsibility.
IITA is a non-profit organisation set up by well meaning foreign institutions with the aim of helping African nations increase their capacity to feed themselves and yet we have Nigerians getting angry at them for a challenge that is not their fault and for which they are trying to render assistance. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth! What is it about Nigeria that we seem to be losing out in areas in which God in His infinite wisdom has given us ability and resources?
Just like yam, 50 years ago, Nigeria was the world’s leading exporter of palm oil and then Malaysia sent experts to Nigeria to learn about our palm oil industry. Those experts returned to Malaysia with seedlings from Nigerian palm oil trees and in less than 20 years they overtook Nigeria and became the world’s largest exporter of the product before being overtaken by Indonesia. We used to be one of the world’s largest exporters of cocoa in the glorious days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Western Region. Today we have regressed and are not even among the top three importers of the product.
Even with crude oil, which brought us quick money and which many have blamed for making us lazy and dependent, we have also displayed this trait of mismanaging our competitive advantage over our competitors. Nigeria used to comfortably be the largest crude exporter in the African continent, but various experts have opined that Angola would overtake Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil exporter next year. Some experts have pointed out that Angola has already overtaken Nigeria. Why do we seem to be losing ground on so many fronts?
I think the answer lies in the fact that our peculiar type of federation attunes us to think of revenue sharing rather than revenue generation. So, as our focus is on sharing whatever revenue we have, no one is interested in generating revenue and the few people who have a mindset of generating revenue are not encouraged to do so because no one wants to generate revenue for greedy and lazy leaders to share.
While our leaders have a “give me, give me, give me, my name is Jimmy” mentality, they forget that givers never lack because they have a production mentality but takers always need because they have a consumption mentality. We have a Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and a Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) which are two of the most active bodies in Nigeria which are always in the news because we are obsessed with consumption and sharing. Where is the Revenue Generation Commission, where is the Federal Account Requisition Committee? Nigeria has reached a stage in which no one wants to produce but everyone wants to consume and we must change this or we will continue to lose grounds to smaller African nations.
And the way to change this is to start with our youth. We must train up a new generation of Nigerian youth who have a productive mindset and not a consumptive one. Have you noticed, for instance, that all our youths ever think of doing once they graduate from university is to look for a good job? If everybody wants a job and nobody wants to start a business, then who is going to be working for who? We cannot build a nation with only white-collar citizens? We need entrepreneurs, artisans, blue collar workers. What we have now is just a craze for paper qualifications so that we can acquire jobs and sit in an office as employees. Nations do not grow like that. And this is the main reason why employers are discriminating between degree holders and Higher National Diploma (HND) holders.
The original idea was that universities would be the institutions that would produce professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects who would, as entrepreneurs, go on to set up shop in their various professions, and that polytechnics would be the institutions that produce vocational and technical people who would set up small and medium scale enterprises. Graduates of the social sciences and the arts were to gravitate into the civil service and the Ivy League, while those from technical institutes would be the artisans and in that way society was to function without gaps.
But with the way our society has gravitated towards the worship of paper qualification, all these ideas which were in the Second National Development Plan of the Gowon administration were jettisoned and everyone did what was right in their own eyes until we have come to this sorry state where engineers sit in the Federal Ministry of Works undertaking purely administrative tasks and all the work has to be contracted to Julius Berger who has to fly in technical staff from Germany because there is a dearth of qualified technicians in Nigeria.
Such is the degeneration in Nigeria that if you need builders, electricians, tailors and other skilled artisans, you are better off hiring citizens from Nigeria’s neighbouring nations! Even worse is our agricultural industry.
Our banks prefer to provide capital to fund consumption rather than production which is why they will lend to a business or individual that wants to import foods such as powdered milk, processed beef, tooth picks and fisheries which can be sold quickly and profitably, rather than a business or individual who wants to set up a farm or an agro-based industry. Going back to yam, Nigerians who used to love pounded yam now eat poundo yam (yam flour) and I was surprised to find that many elite Nigerians prefer to eat imported poundo rather than locally made ones. Our elite who grew up on pap, ogi and eko, would now not touch any porridge except it’s Quaker oats.
As a child, I ate Nasco corn flakes and it was delicious and nutritious and most of all it was made in Nigeria. Today, our elite will not touch cornflakes except it is Kellogs! I have been to Ghana, which has now overtaken us in yam exports, and I see the patriotism in that nation which is lacking in Nigeria. If you are in Ghana, one of your first culture shocks would be that a large proportion of Ghanaians wear made in Ghana textiles which they will stylishly sew into the latest styles from the West. You see men with suits made out of ankara (local textile also known as wrapper, the kind made popular by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) or kente (a popular Ghanaian traditional fabric.) Their women even make tights and spaghetti dresses out of ankara!
It is clear that Ghanaians have adopted Western culture and modified it to suit their conditions and environment. They produce a lot of what they consume and are exporting the excess. This is why their institutions of learning now attract elite Nigerian families who send their children to secondary schools and universities in Ghana. As at 2014, there were over 75,000 Nigerians studying in Ghana after paying collective school fees of over $1 billion.
Education in Ghana is geared towards building entrepreneurs and the nation has a Ghana Entrepreneurs Foundation and has placed such a premium on entrepreneurship that they have a Ghana Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame into which they induct the most active entrepreneurs every year.
In a study published by the European Journal of Business and Management, it was revealed that over 23 per cent of Ghanaian university students have entrepreneurship inclination. And it is not just in yam that Ghana is dominating. In 2014, Ghana exported over 42,000 tonnes of vegetables to Europe. Ghanaian banks, on the prompting of the Ghanaian government, are lending huge funds to vegetable farmers which has enabled them to increase their yield and quality. Many Nigerians are unaware that Ghana’s economy is growing faster than Nigeria’s and climaxed at an exponential 15 per cent growth in 2011 and a projected 8 per cent growth in 2014.
In 1981, we asked Ghanians to leave Nigeria in the popular ‘Ghana must go purge’. Yes, the Ghanaians left Nigeria. They did not just leave, they left Nigeria behind. So, what are the lessons Nigerian can learn from Ghana? The first and most important lesson is that we must shift our focus from revenue allocation to revenue generation. Just like Nigeria, Ghana has a revenue agency called the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), but unlike its Nigerian counterpart, the GRA is tasked with generating revenue for Ghana. We need to have a sober reflection on that in Nigeria.
Another lesson we can learn from Ghana is to reorder our education sector where we are not so focused on paper qualification only but are producing entrepreneurs, civil servants and skilled technicians who can staff our service industry. This will have the long term effect of overhauling our economy and moving it from a consumptive to a productive pattern.
But most importantly, we must put machinery in motion to revamp those industries in which we previously had comparative advantage. If at one point we were the world’s leading exporters of palm oil, yam and groundnut, we can build our capacity to come back to the top again. We have the people and the land. What we need is the will.
My name is Ben Murray Bruce and I just want to make common sense.
•Murray Bruce is the senator representing Bayelsa East in the Senate and the Chairman of the Silverbird Entertainment Group