From MURPHY GANAGANA, Jos After passing through a traumatic experience of being raped all night by a man literarily described by the police as a beast from hell, the curtain seem to have closed for a 15-year-old girl (names withheld), as medical examination has confirmed her assailant HIV positive. The teenager was said…
I have some special sisters, who have made a huge impact in their fields of endeavour. As some people know, Professor Dora Akunyili, a woman of deep empathy and an indefatigable Amazon all rolled into one, is one of them. There are others but I mentioned Akunyili to give you the idea that this relationship is not biological or ancestral but one of shared values. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili entered my list of great sisters a few years back when she was still the minister of education and paid us a courtesy visit at The Sun Publishing Limited’s corporate office at Kirikiri Industrial Estate.
We were already gathered to wait for her arrival when I got a call that she was stuck in a traffic gridlock atop Berger Bridge, Kirikiri. She was stuck in the middle of trailers that blocked the bridge and there was neither going forward nor backward, despite her police escort and, perhaps, siren. Well, she did something amazing. Instead of sitting it out in her air-conditioned car, she got out and began to trek, trailed by her officials.
Her choice was to trek through the nearly a kilometre stretch of the traffic gridlock despite the hot afternoon sun. At the other end, I mobilised my official car and one other vehicle to pick her from our end of the road. By the time I got to her, the honorable minister of education has already rustled a lift from a man driving a Mercedes V-boot and the minister and four of her officials stuffed themselves inside that steamy, unair-conditioned car to our office for the reception which went as smoothly as if nothing had happened! It was nearly two hours down the line before her official vehicles made it to the Sun premises.
But she struck me not only by her exceptional brilliance and breathtaking grasp of the intricate nuances of the problems and her choice of solutions to her educational portfolio but by her down-to-earth pragmatism. During our meeting, she showed us slides that broke down the problems of education ministry into graphic details, making it difficult to argue with her policy choices based on those facts.
She comes to her job with a sense of a private sector technocrat tackling a business problem, rather than a political one, with the result that her policy options, based on those facts, may not be politically correct, but at the same time difficult to fault on purely empirical basis. “I will definitely raise the issue of the danger posed by the trailers packing on this (Berger) bridge and blocking access to vital naval security assets in this area at the exco meeting on Wednesday,” she promised as we escorted her to the car, plotting what we described as our NADECO escape route for her to get out.
“Just make sure you don’t let Baba (President Obasanjo, her boss) know that Sun newspaper is also here otherwise he may order Nigeria Port Authority to block the whole territory with all the trailers from the Apapa ports!” I warned her on a lighter mood.
Therefore when I learned that Oby was going to be the keynote speaker at the 16th award ceremony of the Success Attitude Development Centre, on Saturday, there was no question that I would cancel out every other commitment, to attend. Mrs. Ezekwesili who had since completed her tenure as the Vice President of the World Bank, where she helped to mobilize over $40 billion investment in Africa in her five-year tenure, spoke on, Nurturing An Entrepreneurial Mindset—The Pathway to A New Nigeria.
It was a great and rewarding night. For one, SADC’s annual awards has grown into one of Nigeria’s greatest collection of entrepreneurial minds who fire your minds with their innovative ideas, making you wonder why you didn’t set out early on the journey of entrepreneurship. It’s all thanks to Dr. Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase who has become an icon of entrepreneurship and a model of mentoring through his SADC. Oby’s classic paper became the intellectual icing of the night not only because it tells you why Nigeria remained a “laggard nation” in comparison with nations like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam which used to be the “economic contemporaries of our country” but also because it dissected the failures of our leadership and elite. Who would have believed that Nigeria used to be in the same economic category with these economic giants? Well, here, according to Oby, is why Nigeria remained stunted: “The wealth and poverty of nations inexorably depend on their domestic productivity and relative competitiveness.
Hence the economic welfare of every citizen can only be guaranteed by nation-states that are governed by people who understand this very basic economic thought. No nation that has developed did so by having leaders who remained complacent in the face of the stark reality of very poor and declining performance of national productivity and competitiveness indices.
No nation became great without leaders who have the entrepreneurial mindset.” Oby cited the example of Botswana which used to be 98% dependent on foreign aids until it discovered diamond and judiciously invested the proceeds to transform and “grow itself into one of Africa’s very few upper middle income countries.”
In other words, while Botswana’s diamond transformed its nation into a success story, Nigeria’s oil boom became our national doom, except for few members of the ruling class and their cronies who had cornered our oil wealth, indulging themselves in obscene wealth and what President Roosvelt called “a life of ignoble ease”. Like Professor Pat Utomi once asserted, Oby confessed that she is one of those praying earnestly that our oil wealth should dry up or that the West should come up with alternative renewable energy. Reason?
The easy wealth from oil has become a national albatross robbing us of thinking leadership able to use their minds to create national wealth. Entrepreneurial mindset, she asserted, is impossible without a visionary leadership with an entrepreneurial mind and a highly educated and competitive elite feeding our public policy pool with great minds that can design great innovative ideas and policies to drive the nation forward, generating conducive environment for entrepreneurs to thrive.
In her words, “The Elite of every successful society always forms the nucleus of citizens with the prerequisite education, ethics and capabilities operating in the political sphere and the public service, providing the great ideas to build the nation and possessing the moral rectitude to always act in the public interest.” Tall order here, a pity. What is worse is that in many cases, what passes for private enterprise is more often, a matter of incestuous economic cartel milking from the national wealth rather than generating wealth through competitive business ideas.
Oby captured our national tragedy as follows: “We have a private sector which also reflect’s the state of the public sector—a collection of businesses which mostly thrive not because of creativity and innovation but mostly because of incestuous linkages with a corrupt and inefficient public sector. Other than micro, small and a few medium scale enterprises that thrive despite government, a deep analysis of some of the private sector in our nation will reveal that profit comes not from effort but because of access to the benefits that distortions in public policy convey. “Manufacturing and enterprise more broadly has not been sincerely embraced by our political elite whose incentives are warped by a culture of rent seeking behavior. .. “Our politics and those who run it have become our albatross.
The political system has unfortunately frequently attracted those who do not seek to create any new value but simply desire to be given a share of wealth that is already available. The crowd that makes up our politics need entrepreneurial mindset in order to awaken to the reality that our oil dominant economy has not only fallen way behind other economies with less possibilities than us but that the future of the nation is extremely bleak if they do not urgently lead us to the path that diversifies our growth.
“I am one of those Nigerians that constantly pray that our oil should dry up or that the rapid quest for technologies that offer renewable energy options as alternatives to oil should emerge in order that the lure of oil politics in our nation may cease. Oil is not the route to our greatness. Our human capital is not just a route to our greatness but is in fact our greatness.”
To Oby’s lamentations, I can only say, yeah, yeah, yeah. A pity that her bold and excellently articulated paper which I have only scratched on here has not enjoyed a deserved media attention. Whatever happened to news reporting? Perhaps, Lagos State government of Babatunde Fashola is already offering a template for the future without oil revenue. Unlike most states that depends cap-in-hand on federal allocation for survival, 73% of budget of Lagos State comes from internally generated revenue, leaving only 27% income from oil and VAT-based federal allocations. That’s the way to go.