Nigeria Faces An Uphill Battle To Give Its Future Meaning

Photo by Namnso Ukpanah on Unsplash West African folklore is rich with tales of people and animals who used their wisdom to solve problems to great reward and riches. These stories were told to explore the world, pitting good versus evil in attempts to dissuade vices including greed, vanity, and selfishness. In these stories, the modern Nigerian state would undoubtedly take the position of the villain; dumb, slow to action and morally bankrupt.

West African folklore is rich with tales of people and animals who used their wisdom to solve problems to great reward and riches. These stories were told to explore the world, pitting good versus evil in attempts to dissuade vices including greed, vanity, and selfishness. In these stories, the modern Nigerian state would undoubtedly take the position of the villain; dumb, slow to action and morally bankrupt.

Nigerians are facing a conundrum. High levels of unemployment, an increase in absolute poverty, rapidly rising inflation on key food items, and a near-worthless currency partner to destroy the living standards of everyday people. This has robbed them of the dignity they deserve and constrained their daily lives with unnecessary suffering. The situation is dire. As of the end of January 2021, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 33.33%, meaning that 1 in 3 Nigerians were unemployed. This compares to a global average of 6.5%. For graduates from Nigeria’s crumbling and overcrowded university education system, these figures are even worse with about half not being able to find employment years after graduating.

A further 50% of the population, 87 million people, live in severe poverty. Overtaking India a country with 6.8x the population and establishing the country as the poverty capital of the world. Indeed, as the twin forces of globalisation and industrialisation lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty across the world, Nigeria fought the trend to deliver more of its children and their futures into the clutches of destitution and want. This future is likely to maintain its current zeitgeist of tepid hope backed up with religious fanaticism and ignorance as more people continue to suffer and smile.

Further, the rapid rise of renewable energy and electric vehicles as the world shifts itself to full decarbonisation complicates things for a country dependant on oil for 40 per cent of its GDP, 70 per cent of budget revenues, and 95 per cent of foreign exchange earnings. The major European markets like the Netherlands and Spain which both account for 19% of Nigeria’s crude oil exports and the United States at 3% have also instituted or plan to institute bans on the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles. While this won’t have a significant near or medium-term impact on oil demand and the nearly daily fluctuations in its prices, the long term reality is clear. Oil is fast becoming a relic of a now bygone era and as the dominant source of Nigeria’s income, the country faces total economic disaster in what could be near-apocalyptic conditions if it fails to plan for this inevitable shift in human society. Other oil-rich nations from Saudi Arabia to Norway have for decades planned for this with carefully managed sovereign wealth funds meant to replace lost government income when this day finally comes. However, the Nigerian SWF has been mismanaged through a toxic partnership of corruption, ineptitude, and a poverty mindset.

Nigeria has for decades underinvested in itself. Its economic hinterland, Lagos, still suffers frequent electricity blackouts, poor roads, and water supply issues. Its currency, the naira, has lost more than 99% of its value since the emergence of the independent republic from British colonial rule. At the start of the new millennia, you needed ₦13,600 to get $100. That same amount now gets you $33. This type of devaluation, propagated by ineffective and incompetent Central Bank of Nigeria, has crippled inward foreign direct investment and meant the largest economy in Africa, in an age where record levels of global liquidity continue to flow into global assets, attracted $2.3 billion in inward FDI in 2019. This compares to the $3.9 billion of its English speaking neighbour Ghana. A poor rule of law, questionable property rights, and a corrupt state are further contributors to the poor inflows of investment into Nigeria. Critically, beneath this collapse of confidence and trust in the Nigerian economy is the propagation of poverty and human suffering. A maintained stunting of living standards for a country that imports nearly everything it consumes.

With Nigeria’s population expected to continue its upward trajectory, both the state and private enterprise face an uphill battle to steady the ship and place the economy on the right path. Yet there are still signs that the government, impervious to the calamity that awaits, continues to make the wrong decisions. From the land border closure, the Twitter ban, and the Lekki massacre. The Nigerian government now actively legislates, regulates, and rules in a manner that can only be described as a flock of Turkeys voting for Christmas. It is against one’s interest to initiate policies that harm the very people it is meant to protect. For those outside looking in, they see a government ruling on nothing but vibes and religious zeal.

The solutions for Nigeria to this battle to give its future mean are not easy and require a fundamental redirection of its society and economy. This article is undoubtedly pessimistic, but this is the only prudent conclusion that can be garnered from the trajectory of the country’s policy decisions over the last few years since a ‘reformed’ ex-military dictator was voted in as the president. The rapid growth of technology companies in Lagos and their collective raise of tens of millions of dollars in capital from global venture capital firms present a bright spot. This has placed the country on a path where people equate Yaba’s tech cluster as West Africa’s Silicon Valley. Nigeria is now starting to have a part in the great wealth creation story that has played out when capital is married with entrepreneurial talent.

Ultimately, we know a solution has to include women excluded from jobs and education. We know it requires more investment in expanding electricity production capacity and making the current distribution infrastructure more resilient. We know it includes treating the most vulnerable in society with dignity and respect, including paying pensioners their pensions and protecting women and children from violent crime. We know it involves uprooting the cancer of corruption, admittedly a Sisphesian undertaking. We know it includes greater freedom of speech and the press, enhanced government transparency, and stronger property rights. We know the more well-to-do tenets of Nigerian society have a role to play in either by private donations to organisations like the Lagos Food Bank, Mirabel Centre, and Iranwo Foundation. Stimulating initiatives like Lagos State Employment Trust Fund are also steps in the right direction. All sections of Nigerian society need to mobilise to address the looming spectre of a future with no meaning.

Nigeria’s antagonist status in its folktales can be changed. The country has the talent and resources to create a reality where it grabs opportunities across its horizon doesn’t look towards its future with dread. This future where Nigerians drop the suffering and just smile will be achieved once the country uses wisdom to guide itself through its tale of redemption.

In pursuit of meaning through writing