Between human beings and human capital
Often you hear people talk and write about the abundance of human capital in Nigeria. Overtime and from my experience managing businesses, leading institutions and most significantly teaching children and adults, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that what we actually have is an abundance of human beings and not human capital, and I think it is necessary that we make the distinction, so that we can chart a course for a better society in our country.
You will agree with me that the purpose of human capital is for creative and innovative enterprise and productivity – in this regard, one of the factors of production.
In Nigeria, our human population has been scarcely involved in any serious creative and innovative enterprise or productivity to warrant us saying we have an abundance of human capital. What we have rather is a huge population of consumers who can at best be described as what we are in our most basic form – human beings, and even that is still an aspiration for many. Human beings in our current evolutionary phase are referred to as ‘homo sapiens’ – the human that thinks and reasons – I am still doubtful that many Nigerians today have achieved this basic level of a thinking humanity considering our proclivity for indiscipline, corruption, nepotism, ethnic and religious bigotry!
My assertion is simple, if we truly have an abundance of human capital or talent like many people often express, then we would have been a much more innovative and productive society, and a society driven by higher values and principles.
There are many things out there that lend credence to my assertion – an educational system bedeviled by striking lecturers, churning out cultists and half-baked graduates who in turn end up being lecturers and professors themselves, further polluting the ivory towers.
Or is it the “victims” of private education, led by proprietors whose only interest in education is vain glory and the accumulation of wealth for themselves, so much so that they are neck-deep in acts of willful examination malpractice, piracy of school books and resources; and other brazen acts of cheating and fraud.
Or should I point out the professionals in the workplace today who demand higher wages and pay but fail to contribute meaningfully to actually improving themselves or the institutions where they work? Remember, almost 100% of our self-financed government budget at all levels goes to the payment of salaries of an over-bloated and inefficient public service including multiple houses of parliament, and multiple levels of judiciary in a country bereft of justice and fairness.
Can we dare say that our 180 million people can be described as Human Capital? Most of us are either whining and complaining, sitting on the fence, or just too pre-occupied with getting our share of the national cake and then spending it all in wasteful consumption.
The few Nigerians who are striving to transform their human capabilities into capital are unfortunately going through an ordeal. There is no need to recall the huge infrastructure challenges, multifarious tax and levies that they have to bear, and outright discrimination from the rest of the Nigerian human beings who still prefer to consume imported goods and services even while acknowledging that the Nigerian substitutes are better or at least comparable.
I mean I have heard prospects say that rather than have a Nigerian voice-over artist for an e-learning video, they will prefer one with an ‘oyibo’ voice or foreign accent, so they like your content, but they believe it will flow better with an imported or even electronic voice.
Or someone who will be trying to beat down your price for children’s educational games that are made in Nigeria only to turn around and import games from abroad at 5 times the price of the valuable Nigerian substitute that was seemingly “too expensive”.
Our country is now being drowned by a celebrity culture, so much so that young children now write essays on the subject of what they will like to be and they simply say “I wanna be a celebrity”, drawn to the pomp and pageantry that is vainly celebrated on television and social media that is unfortunately symptomatic of the emptiness that pervades our land.
Our half-baked graduates become the half-baked engineers that build defective roads and bridges; half-baked doctors that forget their Hippocratic oath and are more interest in getting rich over-night that providing world-class medical services; or our quarter-baked religious clerics who are pre-occupied with preaching about prosperity and increasing their personal bank accounts and fleets of jets and luxury cars to the detriment of an increasingly poor congregation.
I can go on and on, but I think the point is well made – we need to stop fooling ourselves about an abundance of human capital, and start working hard towards transforming the 180 million human beings that we have into some form of viable human capital. We can only do this when we are brutally honest about who we are in the first place.
Barrow is an Abuja-based teacher of values based leadership and life skills