By Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa
As soon as I became able to read as a child, I read that Nigeria was a Third World country. Then it was called under-developed country, less developed country and later, developing country. When I checked, I found that Third World country, under-developed country, less developed country and developing country are synonyms. They mean the same thing, just changes in nomenclature to assuage the ego of the political leaders of such countries of which Nigeria is a prominent member.
According to Wikipedia: “A developing country,also called less developed country or an underdeveloped country,is a nation or sovereign state with less-developed industrial base and a low Human development index, HDI, relative to other countries”. For 57 years since independence Nigeria has remained in this classification. What a damning stagnation!
Countries in this unenviable category are known by the following characteristics: low income per capita (GNI per capita of less than $4036 and Nigeria has about half of this); high level of poverty (Nig= 68%)low education & literacy (Nig=59%); high population growth (Nig=3%);lower life expectancy (Nig=52).
Other characteristics of these less developed countries,LDCs, or less economically developed countries, LEDCs, include poor access to clean potable water(Nigeria depends on bore hole and pure water); high load of tropical and infectious diseases; high level of air pollution; high rate of unintentional poisoning( as we have in metal-rich states like Zamfara); high road traffic accidents; high rate of rural-urban drift with urban squalor; low electricity energy utilization( in Nigeria we never expect power always);unsustainable use of energy resources( mainly kerosene & firewood in Nigeria); high dependance on natural resources for livelihood (in Nigeria we depend solely on crude petroleum and Eba); poor safety practices and low regard for human life (in Nigeria human life is not worth much, sometimes less than 20 Naira); and high level of insensitivity to climate change issues. This is where I have lived since I was born.
Many countries that were in the same LDC class with Nigeria in 1960 like Honkgong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan( all the Asian Tigers) first became newly industrialized countries and by 1997 had become developed nations. Other similar countries have also moved to the class of the Developed Countries, DCs: Cyprus (2001), Slovenia (2007), Malta(2008), Czech Republic (2009), Estonia( 2011), Lativa( 2014) and Lithuania (2015).
Factors that stimulated substantial growth in these countries were just four. First is human capital development. These nations adopted UNESCO’s and WHO’s recommendation on investment in education and healthcare. Nigeria is not even trying any more as chronic paltry budget allocations to education and healthcare indicate a lack of ambition (our health workers spend more days on strike than at work). The second is trade policies.
These countries became aggressive in exportation, implementing open, non-restrictive trade policies. Nigeria has been oscillating between free trade and controlled trade, banning and unbanning. The third factor is aggressive attraction of investment. All these nations turned their countries into preferred investment havens – vastly improving ease of doing business and ranching up their global competitiveness. Nigeria is currently one of the countries with the lowest ease of doing business score (145/190) and lowest global competitiveness index (127/139). Some effort is being made to improve these as we have seen with the Presidential Ease of Doing Business Council and the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria, NCCN, but sincerely much more is required if we ever wish to attract the kind of investment that will make real difference. Fourth factor is Knowledge Gap. This is the knowledge age and countries that hope to compete must understand and play effectively in this digital age. Nigeria must quadruple its rate of digital technology adoption and application.Related to this is the huge investment in research & development. Here Nigeria is a non-starter as our research institutes do not have money to buy reagents not to talk of electronic spectrometers.
What is worse, Nigeria’s growth is hindered by six factors.
First is political instability. From series of military coups and regimes to quasi- democratic governments marked by rascality, impunity and poor governance, often leading to conflicts and agitations. Again,Nigeria is making some effort to curb this, but the effort is lackluster. Today Nigeria stands 136/175 in the global corruption perception index, CPI, compiled by Transparency International.
Third is lack of a uniting vision and leadership.There is no compelling national vision that energizes and mobilizes the citizenry to pursue stated economic destination. We tried Vision 2010 and abandoned it. Then we spent energy and resources on Vision 2020 and jettisoned it. Now it is National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, NERGP, which will soon be abandoned if a new government comes to power. Just as we jettisoned the 2005 political reform recommendations and have refused to look at the 2014 National Conference report. Our political leadership has remained largely parochial, non- visionary and predatory.
Other factors inhibiting growth in Nigeria include high disease burden (malaria, TB, HIV/ AIDS), poor nutrition (under- development of body & brain), child marriage in sections of the country and the sustaining knowledge gap. It is thus clear that if we must move away from this almost life-long classification as a Third World, we need to do what those countries like Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea did- adopt the four growth stimulators in a sustainable manner and jettison the six inhibiting factors.
For me, the least we can do is to aim at becoming a proper emerging market like Brazil, Malaysia, Argentina, Egypt, Iran Thailand and Pakistan by 2020 and aim to become a newly industrialized country like South Afrca, China,India,Mexico, Philippines and Turkey by 2025. Global efforts to locate us in BRINCS and MINT have been woefully disappointed. I believe this is doable if we have the enlightened leadership that can mobilize and galvanize Nigeria’s latent energy.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR