Are We Thinking About 2050? – Babatunde Oladosu
25 May 2016 National
NIGERIA – In Spring 2009, I completed a two-week internship at the London office of Goldman Sachs. I was one of 8 Nigerian undergraduates who joined students from top universities in Europe on Goldman’s Spring Internship programme.
Towards the end of the programme, some interns got together for lunch. During a discussion about graduation plans, one of the Nigerian interns mentioned that they would undergo a mandatory one year national service. Other interns were intrigued by the idea of compulsory national service. Only the Swiss could relate, ostensibly because they also faced a compulsory conscription programme.
Someone — it must be Jonathan the tall, smart South African — asked: “Why should your country take one year of your life at your prime? What will you do for your country for one year?”
I replied, “Teach at a secondary school”. I did not explain why. I could not.
Cedric, the Swiss marathon runner, was stunned. “Wonderful, your country thinks highly of you! In Switzerland, we serve as museum guards during conscription!”
Everyone left lunch thinking Nigeria knew how to treat its young people.
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In mid-April 2016, I read harrowing tales from survivors of insurgency in the North. Tears hugged my eyes all day. Although I have been exposed to victims of Boko Haram’s war against the Nigerian state by virtue of my involvement in the AUN/Afrinvest IDP Intervention Fund, I was still shocked by survivors’ monumental suffering narrated here.
Seven years on, I still find it difficult to come to terms with the wanton rape, slaughter, death and disaster ravaging northern Nigeria. How did we get here?
Expectedly, victims were not selectively chosen. I found out that everyone in the communities involved: leaders, villagers, traditional rulers, Malim, farmer had been affected. They were either dead, dying, losing a limb or lamb, have a spouse dead, son slaughtered or daughter kidnapped. Ill wind sure blows no one no good.
Yet, Boko Haram might be the beginning of our troubles.
Because in 2050, Nigeria will have a population of 400 million people, or so thinks the United Nations Population Division (UNPD).[i] Yes, 182 million in 2015 and 400 million people in 2050. Struggling to conceive how many that is? Multiply the number of people on your street by two. Yes, think of everything in doubles. Twice the number of cars on roads, two times the number of children in dilapidated classrooms. Twice the number of almajiris… Yes, everything na double double.
Surely, 400 million people on this stretch from coast to desert sounds farfetched. Yes, even I doubt that we are up to 182 million,[ii] the basis of 400 million. But we could work it out. For instance, INEC could validate 69 million Nigerians in 2015. That amounts to 69 million people older than 18. (That assumes that ALL eligible voters above 18 were validated, I wasn’t). If the percentage of total population below 18 is 50% (Nigeria’s median age was circa 18 years in 2015)[iii], then they work out to 69 million. And our total population to 138 million. On a 2.4% annual population growth rate, that works to 316 million people in 2050!
You may also want to think of it this way. The population between ages 15 and 30 is 41 million[iv]. If half of these people, women, had 2 children each in the next 10 years (our current fertility rate is 5.4, projected to decline to 3.6 in 2050), we would have added 42 million to our population. Between 2026 and 2050, we will add millions of children and grandchildren. Added to our current population, how far out is 400 million?
Unhealthy competition, our lot!
At the heart of Nigeria’s woes is unhealthy competition. For political power especially at the centre — because it unlocks access to oil wealth and unprecedented lordship over our collective destinies. (Forget all the talk about diversification, this government has allocated more executive time to OPEC than to any form of diversification).
182 million people, organised as three major ethnic groups and 300 others compete for too few rewards. The result is rivalry, nepotism and a zero sum game of national retrogression. Sadly, this game feeds into all spheres of national life. Admission spaces into Kings College, selection of permanent secretaries, that entry level position at the central bank, how to select infrastructural projects to benefit from China’s benevolence.
At a micro level, citizens compete for sustenance. How? During former president Obasanjo’s tenure, power generation reached 4,000 MW. For a population of 100m people, that worked out to 40W/person. Under President Jonathan, we celebrated a Power Sector Roadmap and again hit 4,000MW. With 182 million people, that comes to 22W/person. Please define retrogression!
25,000km of paved roads has been a battle for 182 million.[v] For 400 million, it is difficult to imagine how we intend to manage 400 million people. Do you know why the government of Akinwunmi Ambode will struggle more than Babatunde Fashola’s? Stiffer competition. For everything. For instance, if the Lagos State Government’s estimate of inward migration of 85 people per hour is correct[vi], by 29th May 2017 LASTMA will attempt to manage 744,600 more people on Lagos roads than they did under Fashola. The same roads?
It is not rocket science, Nigeria has to bake new pies. You will unsettle a clan if you offered it the sustenance due a family.
There would be 230 million more Nigerians in less than 40 years. How will it pan out?
Two scenarios come to mind.
It could a Nigeria driven by the energy, wits and resourcefulness of 400 million people. An immense human development experience. Robust per capita income. Ease of doing business. Negligible infant and maternal mortality. 100% girl-child school graduation rates. Enviable income equality.
Or a country where 400 million people are up in arms against constituted authority. This is chilling because Boko Haram started as an animosity against the state.
We need to make Nigeria work
It would be catastrophic to assume that the next 200 million Nigerians will bear economic depression, poverty and unemployment with equanimity. Not after MEND and now Avengers. Not after Boko Haram. Not after Ansaru. The signs of an ominous future are compelling. Large unemployed youth population, arms proliferation, kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, social hardship and an increasingly abusive and restive youth.
Sadly, there is a growing sense that hope might not reside with the government. It may not be readily obvious but Nigeria is sliding towards something it is ill-prepared for. How long will the English Premier League and Olamide’s music distract our disenchanted youth?
We are losing the plot. Every failure to address our structural deficiencies is an opportunity lost. It will be paid for in dreams lost, schools closed, lives lost and further slide into hopelessness. This might hold dire consequences for us all.
We are condemned to succeed. There is no other way.
Which Way Nigeria?
How do we put this great country on the path of the future it deserves? I am tempted to repeat the platitudes. Build infrastructure. Create jobs, end corruption. Do everything, do it all, wave a magic wand.
But first, where are we headed as a country?
First, we need to decide what we want to be. And CLEARLY communicate the vision. Before we set about building. So anew, we need to ask what the end-game is. What is the future we see as a country? What is our global advantage, contribution, identity?
Are we trying to supply the world’s needs of hide or leather, electric or completely knocked down cars, entertainment, robots or people? Are we going to be China, Japan, UAE, Singapore, Brazil or India? Will the Nigeria of our dreams export raw materials, build an advantage in manufacturing, specialise in Artificial Intelligence, clone technology or export IT?
In other words, will Nigeria become a manufacturing hub, an entertainment capital, a trade centre, a consumers’ market, a tourist attraction or an energy giant?
We need to collectively agree on the Nigeria of 2050. Then, we could communicate this collective vision to every Nigerian, in all our languages. So we all are invested in a future that binds us together.
Because this determines the infrastructure we will build, or prioritise. Should we develop infrastructure around agriculture, manufacturing or banking? Will all roads lead to the ports, as with our colonial masters? Are we going to learn from Kenya and take bandwidth from submarine cables at the coast to the fringes of our territory? Should we localise gas and power plants around manufacturing hubs or build knowledge capital to solve the world’s needs of talent?
Strengthen the law
Are we ready to set up the legal and governance sub-structure on which everything sane and sound rests? Central to any form of development is the supremacy of the law which is encapsulated in the enduring value of common good, the sanctity of contracts and the triumph of institutions. It is not enough for anti-corruption agencies to suddenly jump to their senses because there is a tough sheriff in town. The law (and the institutions that serve it) is any society’s strongest security. It must always hold supreme.
For one, Nigeria has treated the law with impunity for too long. No superstructure can be built on lawlessness. Not when you will have a population of 400 million people. Not in a world of terrorist ideology and so much hatred.
Educate for development
I believe government will not need to bother about creating jobs when there is a functional educational system. Government creates an enabling system, opportunity creates jobs. And a good educational system creates solutions for society, be it industrial or social. Nigeria needs problem solvers across industry, education, governance, social order, everywhere.
Education must provide problem solvers. So, let’s teach math. STEM. Philosophy. Ethics. Life. Our proud culture.
Leverage the Nigerian Diaspora
I strongly believe that we need to tap deeper into the Diaspora, our actual Sovereign Wealth Fund. Nigeria’s accomplished Diaspora must offer more than remittances, which by the way have been invaluable. I consider Nigerians in the Diaspora strategic national assets. We have loaned them to the world. It is time to have them work for Nigeria.
We cannot solve all our problems in one generation. Heck, we cannot solve all our problems. But we must solve our biggest problems. Those that inhibit every Nigerian from living their lives to the peak of their powers.
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I always dream of a reunion of the 2009 Goldman Spring interns. Sometime in 2052. The discussion is centred on entrepreneurship. Nadine, the shy Iranian says incredulously: “Can you imagine, Nigerian youth created the most number of $1bn-revenue companies in the last 30 years?” Everyone is astonished. Cedric, silver hair now adorning his temples, shrugs: “what do you expect when a country trusts its young people with great things?”