Nigeria, The Giant Disappointment Of Africa (2) By Tolu Ogunlesi
Continued from last week: Nigeria, The Giant Disappointment of Africa (1) By Tolu Ogunlesi
How has India managed to make itself a centre of medical tourism, while Nigeria continues to be a leading exporter of medical tourists, a country where, in 2014, persons suffering acute myocardial infarction (“heart attack”) have no guarantee of getting a competent angioplasty? Surely, the answer goes beyond “corruption”. It must have something to do with other matters, like vision, and enlightened self-interest – which by the way can be summed up as “common sense.”
From Brazil to Indonesia to India – countries similar to us, struggling to shake off decades of retarded development and widespread poverty – we see endless examples of the ways in which Nigeria’s leaders stand indicted of visionlessness, of a shocking lack of common-sense. Even Pakistan and Egypt are well ahead in basic indices like life expectancy and electricity generation. Current installed energy generation capacities: Pakistan (22,000MW), Egypt (24,000MW), Nigeria (less than 9,000MW); Current Life Expectancy: Pakistan (67), Egypt (73), Nigeria (52).
I don’t need any statistics to tell me Brazil’s electricity scenario is well ahead of ours – I have now spent one week here (in two very different regions) and have yet to experience even one power cut. Digital electricity meters are actually a ubiquitous sight in all the low-income neighbourhoods I’ve visited, and there’s none of that tragedy-prone tangle of wires that Nigeria patented a long time ago.
Health insurance coverage is available to more than 90 per cent of China’s population, and more than 75 per cent of Brazil, compared with less than 10 per cent in Nigeria. This year, Brazil started a programme to vaccinate all girls aged between 11 and 13 against the sexually transmitted Human PapillomaVirus, implicated in cervical cancer. In less than two months, 50 per cent of the target population have already been covered.
This sort of ambition – big plans tackled in big ways – is what Nigeria has never quite been able to manage, forget about our loud Vision 2020 fantacy. It is baffling, considering that many of these things are not exactly rocket science. Sometimes, when we try hard enough, we get things done. Last December, we were finally certified guinea worm-free by the World Health Organisation (for this certification to happen, a country has to prove that it recorded no cases of guinea worm in the preceding three years). And we may well be on our way out of the “PAIN” group of countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria being the only remaining countries in the world still struggling with polio (India exited the club last month, with a WHO certification coming after three years without a report of polio) – after several years of alarming the world with the enthusiasm with which we threw welcoming arms at the disease. We haven’t experienced any cases of Type-3 polio in the last 18 months; and only one case of Type 1 has been recorded this year. If – a massive if – we maintain that record, our polio-free status will become official in 2017.
When the acronym craze first started a little over a decade ago, Nigeria missed out. The “BRIC” train took off without us. Attempts to engineer a revision to “BRINC” only succeeded in hilariously highlighting the negative implications of smuggling the “N” in – the comforting solidity of a brick replaced by the scary prospects of dancing on the brink.
Now, there’s a second chance for Nigeria, with “MINT”. But even then we’re still the odd ones out. Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey are far more industrialised countries. In fact, including Nigeria in “MINT” really looks like someone attempting to do us a favour. It does often seem like our population is the only thing that makes it hard for the rest of the world to ignore us. Certainly not the way we’re running the country.
Mexico’s brutal drug war has not stopped it from being one of the top five car-exporting countries, on the back of massive investments in it by companies like General Motors, Audi and Honda. In Deloitte’s 2013 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index featuring 38 countries, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey are ranked in 12th, 17th and 20th places respectively. Nigeria does not feature – no surprises there. Dubious automotive policies and half-baked industrial revolution plans will not alter that tragic story.
At the end of the day, it is the seriousness of our leaders – their possession of a compelling vision for development, and display of commitment to implementing same – that will rewrite the Nigerian story. Chinua Achebe was absolutely right when he came to the conclusion that “leadership” is Nigeria’s preeminent curse. I cannot emphasise enough the top-down impact of leadership in developing/emerging/frontier countries like Nigeria.
And much of the buck comes to stop on the table of the person who sits at the top of the power-and-patronage chain. A country like Nigeria equips its presidents with enough power and money to fashion the country after their own image and vision. It is up to that president to decide whether that vision will be truly transformative, or only half-heartedly so.
At the level of our state governors, the most crucial task for them to accomplish is a revolution in local governance. The current system where local government administrations are manacled to the whims and caprices of state governors, and starved of funds, is a shame. Governors should focus instead on setting up strong systems of accountability – setting specific and challenging targets for all local government chairpersons in their states, and providing the financial backing. It is sad that the same governors who are loudly clamouring for fiscal federalism are shamelessly undermining the local government systems overseen by them.
Abuja is now celebrating a “rebasing” of the economy, a landmark happening that has seen us overtake South Africa to become the largest economy in Africa. Exciting news on the one hand, but also one that is likely to, in the weeks and months ahead, further highlight the yawning gap between Nigeria’s potential and its damning realities. The world will enjoy laughing at the $510bn economy that can’t even guarantee six hours of electricity daily, for all its citizens.
We need to get stuff done. Aim big, do big. Brazil is arguably no less corrupt than we are, but it enjoys electricity sufficiency. Something tells me the lesson there – and this was my point last week – is that corruption is not a good-enough excuse for underdevelopment. A few weeks ago, I met a Brazilian man who works in Nigeria. I mentioned my impending Brazil trip and we got into a conversation. He summed up the difference between Brazil and Nigeria: “In Brazil we steal, but the job still gets done. In Nigeria, you steal, and nothing gets done.”
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