By Abdulhalim Ishaq Ringim
The giant of Africa and emerging global giant in all ramifications; the story of Nigeria’s journey to greatness has become a subject for intellectual and academic delineation, for it eludes the projections of even the most reputable global think tanks.
Nigeria solidified its position as the largest economy in Africa and became the fastest growing economy in the world. The nation achieved such a feat by restructuring its economy. Successive governments have over the years focused on structural economic transformation for long term economic growth with commensurate development. The economy became diversified not only in terms of output, but also in terms of productivity and revenue generation.
Today, Nigeria no longer depends on oil revenues courtesy of our booming value-added manufacturing-led industrialization and knowledge-based economy. This positive economic trend was further crystallized by the diversification and expansion of the tax net through an efficient and leakage-free tax regime. The expansion of our export basket with processed agricultural commodities and mineral resources produced by our manufacturing sector have ensured steady inflow of foreign exchange and that has stabilized our currency’s exchange rate. We are now a global power in trade.
We are witnessing massive capital influx in form of Foreign Direct Investments(FDIs) due to our favorable business environment, abundance of material resources and a skilled labor population. This has guaranteed an upward trend in our employment rate and a resultant free fall in our unemployment and poverty rates. The skills and technology transfer initiatives that accompanied the massive FDI influx has increased the employability of our working age population and our productivity.
Additionally, the huge tax receipts and social responsibility commitments from our large private sector formed a gargantuan financial resource base that funds our human capital development endeavors. Basic and Post-basic education is now free and compulsory. We have increased the penetration of healthcare institutions across the country and have driven down maternal and child mortality and morbidity rates. We have invested hugely on tertiary education, research and development and such have greatly contributed to our transition to a knowledge-based economy. We also have developed a robust social protection system that adequately caters for our vulnerable geriatric and pediatric population.
Gratifyingly, the number of out-of-school children we have is very insignificant today. Thanks to a proper diagnosis of the problem and the deployment of a robust solution. We understood that we had over 10 million out-of-children and we realized that the almajiri population in Northern Nigeria was the major source. So we restructured our education system in such a manner that it will be able to accommodate and admit a significant percentage of the out-of-children. We also deployed variable policy actions based on the individual peculiarities of Nigeria’s states and regions.
In the North, which contributed the highest number of out-of-school children, we revitalized more than 150 Tsangaya Model Schools and operationalized a standard curriculum for these schools which included modern education, Islamic education and technical/vocational education.
We then systematically engaged all stakeholders involved and secured their support to absorb all the Almajiri population into these schools in batches. The Almajiri teachers continued to offer lessons in Islamic studies while other teachers complemented their efforts with modern and entrepreneurial education.
We then banned the Almajiri system and imposed stringent penalties in case of violation. We trained all the absorbed Almajiri students in batches and the moment we were done with that, we converted all Tsangaya Schools to conventional primary schools. At that point, we had no Almajiri roaming on the streets. So these conventional schools became an addition to the pool of primary schools we have. And we now hardly have a child that is out of school.
In our bid to improve the productivity and employability of our working age population, we effected broad changes in the upper levels of the education sector in a manner that created extra routes to employment. We created a skill-based educational system that complemented the university education system. This new system assured the creation of what we call “new-collar jobs” or skill-based jobs. To achieve this, we constituted a broad apprenticeship program that trained and acquainted students with high demand industrial and technology skills. We then created a certification system for these students which was used to confirm their competencies by industries and organizations that require their services.
With this, many youths who were not able to pass through the university and could not get jobs in the previous system we operated were now suitable for the “new-collar” industry we created. This was how we reduced our unemployment rate and improved the productivity and employability of our working age population. A lot of industries of both local and international origins found Nigeria as a suitable investment destination because of our highly skilled, productive, employable and easily trainable working age population. Resultantly, our national productivity and output increased greatly. And millions of families were brought out of poverty because of the resultant increase in employment and income.
We witnessed a massive reorientation of the entire Nigerian population. The Nigerian people even with huge diversities in ethnicity and religion have been peacefully living together. This stems from the national reorientation exercise that prioritized the understanding of our differences and learning to tolerantly adjust and accommodate one another. The political terrain was sanitized in a way that disincentivized ethno-religious manipulation. We had series of constitutional amendments that reshaped the country towards true federalism where every federating unit is autonomous and productive.
The characteristic recurrent political crises that usually ensued from ethno-religious causations was put to an end by a political settlement arrangement backed by constitutional provisions that mandates the rotation of political powers among the 6 geopolitical zones of the country. This arrangement was conditional and was to be abolished after all geopolitical zones have had their share of political power. The underlying principle was that the frequency of political crises would be reduced. This resulted in smooth political transitions and Nigeria was no longer in a state of constant crisis management. Ultimately, this served as an enabler for the new political coalition that have ruled Nigeria over the years to be visionary and to focus on consolidating on successive efforts to achieve long-term structural transformation.
The rotational system has today been abolished having accomplished its ultimate objective and Nigeria’s political terrain is now completely meritocratic and significantly devoid of ethno-religious divisive undertones. Elections have also become very credible and peaceful. The structural and functional capacities of agencies of government responsible for enforcement of electoral laws and punishing election-related crimes were enhanced. The government also improved the country’s financial intelligence network for effective monitoring of financial flows during election seasons by responsible agencies and resultantly ensured enhanced compliance to financial regulations during election periods by political actors(individuals and parties). These among other measures improved Nigeria’s political climate and sanitized the country’s election processes.
Corruption which was once a major challenge we faced is now alien in this country. Few years back when Nigeria was still in a troubled state, we consistently ranked lower than average in most indexes that measure countries’ transparency, accountability and Integrity. However, the fact that most of the ranking organizations were mostly overseas made it easy for Nigerians and the government to fault the validity and accuracy of the data and methodologies employed.
Resultantly, home-grown transparency, accountability and integrity indexes were designed to assess the compliance of governmental institutions and organizations to national and global anti-corruption and good governance standards, regulations, guidelines and statutes. The indexes ranks these governmental organizations based on their respective compliance levels.
The ranking system exposed a lot of cases of lack of compliance to national and global commitments to anti-corruption and best governance practices. Some of the local statutes that were not being complied to included Freedom of Information Act, 2011; Executive Order No. 001, 2017; Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007; Federal Character Principle; Framework and Guidelines for the Use of Social Media Platforms in Public Institutions, 2019; and Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.
United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), 2004; Nigeria’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan II; Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 and 16; African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, 2006; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and many others were on the other hand part of the international commitments that a lot of the government institutions contravened even while Nigeria was a signatory to them all.
Based on the discouraging results obtained from the assessment and ranking exercise, Nigeria embarked on a massive public service and institutional reform exercise. Government organizations were restructured and the capacity of public and civil servants was improved through a robust capacity building exercise. Those among them who could not withstand the rigor of the retraining exercise were retrenched in accordance with labour laws and were replaced by young, capable hands.
Accessibility and Functionality of Institutional Websites; Fiscal Transparency and Accountability; Transparency in Procurement; Citizens Engagement, Responsiveness and Effective Feedback Mechanisms; and Effective Human Resources Management were assured by the reformed public and civil service. The combination of these public service reforms and reforms in anti-corruption administration largely alienated the magnitude of corruption in Nigeria. Long-term stability in government, judicial independence and improved citizen consciousness contributed to the establishment and sustenance of this resilient anti-corruption regime.
The insecurity that characterized Nigeria was approached from a holistic perspective. With de-escalated ethno-religious tensions resulting from massive citizen reorientation and improved political settlement, marked improvement in all human development and economic indices and a rejuvenated armed forces; Nigeria applied a hybrid of kinetic and non-kinetic interventions to solve her insecurity problems.
We restructured our security architecture holistically, amended our constitution to legalize state and community policing and rebranded our Federal Ministry Of Interior to Federal Ministry Of Internal Security And Home Affairs. The rebranded Ministry housed new security bodies that were responsible for border and forestland security. We developed and employed efficient technology-based methodologies in the surveillance of our borders and other spaces of concern. We also leveraged spaces that were formerly ungoverned for real estate, recreation, tourism, agriculture, modern livestock management and other industrial endeavors.
Our media sector also restructured itself to conform with the vision of a new Nigeria. While we were still in troubling times, the media adopted a role that was defined by a balance between freedom of press, social responsibility, fact-seeking and healthy media-government relationship. As a guiding philosophy, the media assumed a role that discouraged the glorification of terrorism/Insurgency and encouraged the operationalization of selective censorship or measured reportage of terrorist activities in favor of counterterrorism efforts. This was of course adopted without losing cognizance of the imperative of protecting freedom of expression.
The media continued to consistently condemn acts of terrorism and adopted editorial policies that embodied patriotism while denying the terrorists the notoriety they so much desired. The media and government worked closely towards disincentivizing the lack of balance between patriotic and unpatriotic reportages by discouraging the receipt of funding specifically meant for reporting terrorist incidences from both local and international organizations. This process was driven by pure patriotism. Due to the influence of national reorientation, the love for our country was the only incentive that drove this media restructuring process.
Resultantly, the stability of our economy and security and our status as a global power in trade and commerce guaranteed us improved recognition in the international community. And as we continued to consolidate on our renewed patriotic consciousness, Nigeria defied all odds and rose to take her proper place in the comity of nations. We joined important global power associations including the BRICS(now BRINCS), G-20 and G-8. We also got nominated into the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member.
Deep sigh! How I wish the above exposition was our reality. Sadly, it is just a compilation of many of my dreams which I have overtime documented in a collection I call the “Nigeria of my Dreams”. But the fact that I was able to dream of a prosperous Nigeria(including the details of the road to prosperity) means it could indeed become reality.
Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim writes, being an entry submitted for Sana’a da Ilimi Foundation’s Independence Anniversary Essay Competition.