Nigeria: the fundamentals of making the right choices

Posted by News Express | 19 August 2019 | 1,377 times

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Nigeria is very diverse. Part of that diversity comes from our ethnic and cultural makeup. Nigeria is also a country of circumstance. An important part of our circumstance is slavery and colonisation. This should rather be what inspires and not what enfeebles us. Indeed, what inspires us in the choices we make in our laws, policies, and actions to influence behaviour positively.

What makes us a country is our 200 million-plus diverse Nigerians that occupy our rich land. So, we should be able to say purposefully and confidently that our greatest assets are our people. Governance therefore, should be about protecting and promoting our people as our most treasured investment to assure the future. This should be strategic to Nigeria. It is this way of thinking that would compel us to measure the performance of any government on the following indicators:

1. Strengthening of individual Nigerians, around a set of ideas and ideals that make us human.

2. Connecting and uniting Nigerians, around a set of ideas and ideals that make us human.

It is the set of ideas and ideals that should be fundamental to our way of life. To which we should be so individually and collectively persuaded and passionate. The set of ideas and ideals that defines the character of our country. When we can hold Nigerians in (or seeking) positions of consequential decision-making to the highest standards of what defines us as a people, we renew faith in our country.

The over-arching ideas and ideals of our country should as priority and baseline, promote the life, liberty, and freedom of all Nigerians. This should mean access to information, economic means and a minimum (defined) living standard. This would fundamentally affect power relations and strengthen our democracy. But even more important is the illimitable spirit, ‘can do’ and belief in what is possible that we can unleash, to conquer new frontiers, and to accomplish what is difficult, and hard. This can be the source of pride in our country, to reinforce and regroup for even greater accomplishments. 

We are well into our journey as a country, albeit questions on the pace and the direction that we are heading. Faced with mounting challenges, we should pause and take a critical look – outside to inside – at where we are going and what we are doing. Our greatest strength should result from how well our political structures and systems of laws, policies, and actions, are bringing out the best in Nigerians.

This should be provoking important leadership questions including:

1. How are our political structures and systems of laws, policies, and actions, reducing structural and systemic barriers and risks?

2. How are we enabling all Nigerians to use our minds and hands productively?

3. How are we promoting the co-production of quality goods and services (and creating enough tax-paying jobs), given our natural resource endowments and opportunities and threats in global environments?

4. How can we enable our large population to meet its needs, community-by-community and community-with-community?

5. How can we trade with the rest of the world within rules that are fair?

6. How can we benefit from the [wealth creating] best of capitalism without the worse behaviour of excessive greed and corruption, while emphasising community and protecting our common humanity?

These are some of the tough questions that all Nigerians should be engaging. But, especially Nigerians in positions of consequential decision-making, such as traditional, religious, business, and political leaders should be very concerned enough to keep them awake at nights thinking about the most appropriate policy choices. This is given emerging challenges such as current, and possible:

• dominoes and contagion from global financial markets;

• far-reaching implications on our people, economy and country (threats and opportunities) of artificial intelligence, multinational corporations and globalisation, that exploit wealth and pull profits to a few countries and a few people, instead of creating wealth for all; and

• future impact of climate change.

Nigeria can surmount current challenges and threats ahead if we have the right political response, and the right integrated policies (domestic and foreign) that are based on strong evidence. The starting point must be access to reliable and valid data on Nigerians and on the resources (means) and activities happening in our country. Do we have up-to-date and secure data systems? This is the most important investment opportunity (right now) in my opinion for Nigeria working collaboratively with the private sector and international development partners.

With a diverse population of 200 million-plus, our country is complex. And the complexity will increase. Our approach to solutions should, therefore, be very intellectual. Are our local, state and federal governments leveraging the intellectual strengths of Nigerians (inside and outside of our universities) to systematically and intentionally design, implement, evaluate and learn from solutions?

Data on 200 million-plus Nigerians (our most important resource) can provide important information and intelligence. The questions to ask are:

1. How well do we know our people?

2. What and how are our people doing?

3. Can we really say that our policy choices are appropriate if we do not know those who would drive or be impacted by them?

4. Are we tracking, evaluating and learning from the impact of policies in relation to some strategic objectives towards our national purpose?

I agree with many people who say that a unique digital identification for every Nigerian is long overdue. But, our current security challenges should make it a matter of national emergency, urgency and priority. National identification should be mandatory for every Nigerian and it should be an area for collaboration between local, state and federal governments, and other strategic partners.

The availability of technological tools and expertise in Nigeria now makes it relatively easier, affordable and could be the right stimulative action to upgrade and expedite the issuance of the National Identity Card. This should be the foundation of our data architecture. The job opportunities that would result from such intensification would benefit existing civil servants, who are otherwise currently redundant. They will be retrained and redeployed to data centres to justify their salaries. This will also provide opportunities for new employees. The overall impact on the labour market, productivity and the economy can be huge.

But it is also because a unique digital identification for every Nigerian will be the source of rich data for research, social security and related progressive capitalist policy choices. And why not? Although Nigeria should not, it is a relatively poor country (in US$ terms), even with its rich natural resources. Something is definitely wrong with how we have managed our country since independence. With very high level of poverty in a population of over 200 million people (largely young and creative), our policy choices should facilitate the full absorption of the energy and talent of youth into productive work. What if we could creatively finance massive infrastructure and social housing required on mostly local inputs? We could turn Nigeria into a huge construction site, unlock supply-chains and put millions of our young people to work throughout the country. What message could be louder than that? What is holding us?

Data on Nigerians can also generate credible intelligence that would make the work of law enforcement and the military easier in preventing and prosecuting crimes and protecting our country. So, why not consider a country-wide census in 2020 that incorporates national identification with integrated and advanced features? Why not declare a national emergency on strengthening and securing routine (digital) registration, working in partnership with other (private, social and public sector) sources of data for harmonisation?

What is holding us from an ambitious target for up-to-date identification of all Nigerians by 2022? We can aggressively pursue this ambition by mandating “data in every policy” in the public sector at local, state and federal government levels. This will provide leadership to the private (formal and informal) and social sectors. Let us build Nigeria on data, ideas and ideals.

Source: News Express

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