Gone are the days when the description of Nigeria as the most populous country elicited feelings of pride and dignity. Such an appellation no longer confers any advantage on the country. Nigeria’s size and population were once things of pride and provided a range of opportunities for both citizens and the country among the comity of nations.
The fact that the country has enormous population back then conferred on us a great advantage such as a large market and is considered as an investment destination for offshore investors. At some point, Nigeria’s economy was doing well with the discovery of oil which led to the sudden increase in cash flow from the export of the commodity and more money for government to spend.
The value of the local currency was stronger than the American dollar; 0.95 naira was going for a dollar, while around two naira comfortably exchanged for the pound sterling back in the days.
Many a Nigerian elite were living big as offshore investors consistently flooded the country as a result of the huge market for their goods and services. Many Nigerians were appointed to the board of the companies, while government took advantage of the huge resources from oil income to award all manner of contracts to build white elephants all over the country.
However, by the turn of the millennium, the false image of oil rich economy has gradually fizzed out, no thanks to the gross mismanagement of the economy by our political class both in agbada and army uniform.
Beyond the challenges of corruption foisted on the country by successive military and short-lived civilian governments, poorly conceived and executed policies, political instability and ethnic suspicions have conspired to fritter away the gain of oil-boosted economy.
Today, in Kano, Kaduna, Rivers, and Lagos states are the relics of our attempt at industrialisation and stir the country away from mono-cultural economy. Many companies that had banked on the mass market advantage and the cheap labour opportunity offered by the country’s large population in the 70s and early 80s have since relocated either to the neighbouring countries or closed down completely.
Nigeria at some point in the glorious past could boast a thriving textile industry, and a flourishing shipping and airline sub-sector that were the pride of the continent. The automobile industry, then comprising of Volkswagen plant in Lagos, Peugeot assembly plant in Kaduna and Anamco plant assembling Mercedes Benz trucks and buses in Anambra State, were all contributing to an emerging industrial revolution and providing huge employment to millions of Nigerians. On the agro-allied sector, our population advantage was deployed and put to work in the cocoa farms in the Western and part of the South-south region, Rubber plantations in the Delta region, Groundnut farms across the north and fruits, vegetable and yam farms in the middle belt regions.
Many industrial giants such as Dunlop and Michelin set up manufacturing plants to take advantage of the abundant rubber plantations to produce quality tyres, the same for cocoa processing plants to reduce the burden of exporting raw cocoa beans across the Atlantic.
The East was not without input to the economy, the palm plantations were producing quality oil to the extent that some Asian countries came to Nigeria to take away seedlings to grow their own palm plantations.
Also, many Nigerians who travelled abroad for studies rushed back as soon as they were through with their educations to work in either government sector or many industries that dotted our landscape.
Life was good for many young Nigerians who had the opportunity to acquire formal education either locally or abroad. Even the semi-illiterates and the stack illiterates among them were accommodated and absorbed as factory workers in the textile, automobile plants and other industries.
In the midst of our prosperity, out political leaders or rather rulers took advantage of the thriving economy to perpetuate corruption across the sector both at the public and private sectors. Instead of creating standards and institutions that could help sustained economic growth, the politically advantaged among us began to subvert the system for personal gains.
Unqualified family and friends were placed in position of responsibility they did not deserve; policies were deliberately made to suit certain categories of people, class and ethnic group.
Gradually, our nation began the descent to the abyss; the attractions that conferred on us certain advantage even as a country suddenly became irrelevant to investors and our development partners. Our leaders, with their stinking misdemeanour failed to take cognisance of the fact that Nigeria was not the only country with a conducive environment for economic growth in the third world.
The Asian country of Malaysia, that at some point came to take palm seedling to kick-start their own plantations, has since got their act together and overtaken us a hundred fold.
Gradually, through corruption, bad leadership and poor policy initiation and execution, Nigeria began to lose its attraction, and the economy started faltering and nose-diving in our very eyes without our leaders realising the implications of their bad leadership on the overall well-being of the citizens.
The result is that Nigeria today imports all its textile needs from the Asian countries, automobiles are imported in scrap from America, Europe and Asian countries because all our assembly plants have since shut down.
Recently, the Nigerian Customs Service impounded some egusi soup shipped into the country from China; in the last three decades or so, Nigeria has become a huge dumping ground for all manner of goods from other countries, including their discarded household items.
From Asian countries, we now import palm oil and rice and other food items to feed our burgeoning population while the prospects of Volkswagen and Peugeot assembly plants upgrading to full manufacturing plants have long been buried and forgotten.
The country is battling with a surging population bred by our sudden wealth from oil and overtly religious consciousness. Unemployment has reached a boiling point because those industries that hitherto absorbed millions of Nigerians are no longer in existence.
Incidentally, in spite of Nigerians’ declining economic fortunes, our leaders have yet to change their lifestyles, instead of facing the reality that the party is long over; they persist in their avarice and looting of our commonwealth.
In today’s Nigeria, the most thriving business is politics; many middle class members who have lost their jobs or struggling with their businesses have now found solace in playing the errand boys and girls to the political leaders just to pick up the crumbles from their tables.
Nigeria, today, is living in the shadow of its past, the system has broken down, impunity has become the order of the day while the country is being run by mediocrities and any hope for return to the good days has faded.
The country is now saddled with huge unemployed youths, mostly unskilled and unemployable due to the poor education curricula and decay in infrastructure and value system. The industries that hitherto provided jobs for the teeming population have since shut their doors due to poor economic policies and mismanagement. The naira currency has weakened against all other major currencies to a ridiculous level as the economy now reels under the weight of huge importation bill since we import almost everything we need in the country.
However, all hope is not lost and the onus is on the people to rise up to the challenges and take back their country from those who have driven us to the present awful condition.
First, efforts should be made to curtail the growing population with a clear policy on population growth management and control. In many developed countries, the issue of population control has become a major part of economic policy and management and our country should not be an island to itself.
Nigeria should also take a leaf from China which for many years chose to close its doors to all importations and silently embark on internal development and rebuilding of its system to later emerge one of the world’s biggest economies. While Nigeria at this point could not shut its doors to the rest of the world, before it could make an impact and change in its economy but we could set the stage for economic revival by borrowing from some of the strategies deployed by the Chinese to reinvent their economy.
We could start with a policy that would ensure that we take advantage of the massive arable land to cultivate food and other agricultural products to feed the nation and provide raw materials to kick-start an industrial revolution in the country. While the present efforts to boost rice productions in the country are commendable, the agriculture revolution envisaged should be comprehensive and more intentional rather than the present tokenism policy being adopted by the government that is not rooted in any specific ideology.