Leadership: Youth and politico-economic development in Nigeria

(By Kayode Michael Olumuyiwa)

We may also easily pass blame on the government of the country for not making policies we consider right or necessary, but we also must face the reality that the Nigerian government alone is not, and cannot singularly be held responsible for all the woes betiding this country. The masses, too, are involved either with their passive or active actions. So, in a simple sentence, the government and the people of Nigeria have synergized to bring the country into this despondent state.

PUT under the microscope, the Nigerian political and economic system reveals some hideous symptoms that make one wonder if there are visionaries in that country. It makes one wonder why the country was even ever at a time referred to as “the giant of Africa”. Right from the days of her independence in 1960, the government and leadership of that country have never failed the world in performing stunts that are detrimental to her economic wellbeing and political stability.

A comparison of the country’s enormous resources with its current ranking in the world economic and political table shows not the slightest element correlation and this greatly confounds natural expectations and predictions – expectations one would proffer for such a colossally endowed country. But as a young adult citizen of this country, I had come to realise that making profession of passing blame and making derogatory remarks only will not give us any favourable reward, as it has been the case so far.

I have realised that the government alone is not responsible for whatever state the country is as at present, that private individuals too have contributed to what brought us this ‘far’. I have also realised that among other things, the willingness to work collectively and individually, the making of decisive plans from our sound minds to spin and execute creative ideas, and willingness to take responsibility are the key characters our dear nation needs before we can truly create the good change we have always desired.

Nigeria is a country blessed with almost every natural resource available on the planet. She is blessed with fossil fuel, solid minerals, arable land, good weather and clement temperature. Human resources also lie in their millions in both skilled and unskilled forms. And so, one would naturally predict in 1960 at her independence that the country should by 2010 be among the first economic giants of the world or near it. But the reality we are facing in year 2012, 52 full years after independence is not just non-fulfillment of that expectation, but an extreme opposite. It is a known truth that inflation rate now is worse than it was in 1960; unemployment rate has risen beyond acceptable levels as university graduates either have no jobs or are unemployable. The number of people living below poverty line is comparatively higher to what obtained in the early 1960s, quality of education has fallen and the degree of income inequality has gone too wild. Everything on the general scale with few exceptions seems to be getting worse since independence and sincerely, it is very appalling.

As a result, we want to know why countries such as Bangladesh, Singapore and Malaysia, which were in the same or worse-off economic condition as Nigeria in 1965, have achieved considerable economic growth and development and Nigeria is regressing in economic variables measuring growth and development. And now with all our riches and resources, Nigeria has declined from being a low middle-income country and amongst the 50 richest countries in the world to one of the 30 poorest. These are very bad symptoms. They make us want to ask questions such as what then is responsible for all these negative symptoms. Is the government not planning at all or do they miss something out in their development plans? Are the people contributing their quotas to the economic development bid?

We may also easily pass blame on the government of the country for not making policies we consider right or necessary, but we also must face the reality that the Nigerian government alone is not, and cannot singularly be held responsible for all the woes betiding this country. The masses, too, are involved either with their passive or active actions. So, in a simple sentence, the government and the people of Nigeria have synergized to bring the country into this despondent state.

On the government part, we have seen that it has embarked on fruitless actions, which lack purpose or real direction. It made huge spending on projects that have no impact or direct linkage to the economic growth. The government had been responsible wholly or partly in creating and aggravating inflation in Nigeria as in the case of the 1975 Udoji salary award that indiscriminately increased workers’ salary by a whopping 100 per cent. It had neglected agriculture and industry, concentrating only on crude oil. Agriculture has consequently shed off manpower that the oil and industrial sectors combined cannot absorb and so we have our high rate of unemployment. The government has also earned a great deal of notoriety from its corrupt practices, which has made it lose credibility with its citizens and spectators around the world. All these form the upper jaw of the corroding teeth that have eaten deep into the beloved fabric of our economy and rendering it this bad. Should we say the Nigerian government deserves a very good part of the credit!

The masses, mostly dominated by the youth, make up the other part and lower jaw of the corroding teeth. It is not uncommon in Nigeria to hear of specialised crimes like gas pipe vandalisation and then complain of fuel scarcity a few weeks later. We carry out all forms of examination malpractices and then complain of fallen standard of education.    Thuggery and violence has become essential features of our elections and we turn round to decry bad governance. Some have even given themselves up to terrorism. They bomb our infrastructures, which are not enough in the first place and then say Nigeria has poor infrastructural facilities. The few ones among the youth who know little about computer and the internet see it as a means of committing cyber crimes and bringing bad reputation to the country instead of doing great things that will place them beside the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Misplacement of priorities abounds with the government and people alike and the future is already telling. We need to decide on what to do and how to do them fast before we reduce Nigeria to the poorest country on earth.

The stories written in the foregoing will be entirely useless if we do not discuss the corrective measures we should put in place to drive this nation. We need to find out how the youth of this country can harness the vast resources of this country to solve the problems we face. We all have the duty of solving the most pressing set of development issues in the land, we need to build a lasting and self sustaining economy and democracy, and we need to establish an effective locally-driven progress we can possess and call our own.

The political climate in any setting in the world defines nearly every other aspect of that state. It defines the degree of freedom of individuals, the degree of ease of trade, the direction and nature of state priorities, the state of the economy, social perspective and even sometimes, the religious perspective. In short, the political health of any economy has a colossal influence on its growth or decline. What is reassuring is that the citizens of a country can always determine the nature of their political system by allowing the right set of candidates into political offices through their consent to free and fair elections. In the light of this knowledge and by extension, the Nigerian youth are in a vantage position to redefine the Nigerian democratic system. But they must break themselves free from the influence of corrupt politicians. The Nigerian democracy can come alive again if the youths and voters will no longer vote for aspirants who are willing to pay them the huge sum of money in bribe. Our political system will be stable if the Nigerian youth will stop stealing ballot boxes when the polls do not favour their candidates. Our democracy will be wholesome and happy if we let our electoral processes follow their normal course. So, for our political system and for the sake of our beloved democracy, I suggest that the Nigerian youth should quit putting blames on the bad eggs they enthrone. They simply should bring in, or allow in good and visionary leaders to lead the country. The Nigerian youth should stop stealing ballot boxes today only to complain of unfair elections tomorrow, we should quit rioting and killings before we complain of political instability. We should understand that those little political crimes we commit are drops of water constituting the mighty ocean of political instability and bad democracy we suffer.

Another potent dimension of any human society is their economy. It is made up of all exchange of goods, services and funds among private individuals, firms and the government. This, in short, explains the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. The higher the level of economic practices in an economy, all things being equal, the more buoyant the economy and the higher the standard of living, measured by the Human Development Index (HDI).   In the Nigerian economy, which embraces a mixed economic system, it is implied that private individuals and government brandish equal the right to be entrepreneurs exploiting freely the vast natural resources of the country to increase the Gross National Product (GNP) value. But this is not what most of the workforce of the country (dominated by the youth) understands by mixed economy. All we still see is an economy where the government handles all means of production and distribution. We wait for the government, and the government only, to establish factories and industries that will provide jobs for us. We class some profession as dignifying and others as dehumanizing. We all want to work in business ventures established by other human beings like us but see the idea of establishing any ourselves as unthinkable.

To further push ourselves into this mediocrity, we complain that funds are unavailable and we second that claim with the imperfection of our financial market and financial system. So everyone folds his arms, waiting for the government to create jobs. Poverty consequently increased with unemployment. Now with all the resources at our disposal, we are the 28th poorest country in the world.

To get out of this, we the youths should learn to take responsibilities. We should deliberately plan to make our economy self-sustaining. It has relied on foreign aid for too long. Nigerian youth should become committed to developing the various sectors of our economy according to our expertise or interest. For those of us who are informed or inclined to commerce and industry, we should make good use of the credit facilities available for the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises to start some businesses. We should identify some need in our various environments and fill those needs by the establishment of small businesses. This is a good way out of the problem posed by the grossly imperfect financial or banking system we face. We should understand also that some big multinational companies respected all over the world now either once started as single-unit small scale firms or recovered from a major setback that nearly put them out of the market. And even if our established business ventures do not become multinational, they would have helped to reduce unemployment.

Still on the economy, another lucrative sector Nigerian youth may as well give consideration is the agricultural sector. Though it is seen to be a reserved field for the aged and rural dwellers, agriculture is best handled by the youths who have technical skills on production of various crops, and who can efficiently adopt mechanized techniques that will on the one hand reduce unemployment and on the other hand increase food production and also provide raw materials for our industries and create an avenue for expansion. As we speak, Nigeria spends a very good part of our national income on food importation and this constitutes a burden on our balance of payment status. Increase in agricultural output will help improve our balance of trade and help maintain price stability of agricultural products at the national level.

If I may leave Nigerian youths with a final piece of advice: We have always heard people call us leaders of tomorrow. But we can’t just fold our hands today doing nothing and expect to be leaders when tomorrow comes. If our attitude and culture is not that which always wants to make things better than we met them, if we will not always want to be responsible for our actions, if all we do is to sit idly and blame others over why things are not working on others, if we keep destroying our own world and holding the government responsible, I am afraid a day will come when the government will go and the future will come; those who are called the leaders of tomorrow will become the worst of subservient followers. But if we do our best, if we contribute all we can to the development of this great country, if we make the economy grow with our democracy and we selflessly serve our country with love, strength and faith, the day will come when we will not only be the leaders of tomorrow, but we will be leaders of a leading country of the world. And all that will be left to be said of poverty and hunger, illiteracy, unemployment and diseases in our county is that they once existed.

• Kayode Michael Olumuyiwa is a final year student of Economics in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), ile-Ife, Osun State.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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