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Nation building driven by faith of citizens

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A visionary walk: Referencing Peter Obi’s conversation with Prof. Don Jacobs.

Former governor of Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria and vice presidential candidate of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2019 general elections, Peter Obi gave this thought-provoking testimony recalling his stint in a six-week course in Kellogg Graduate School, Chicago, United States. The resource person was Prof. Don Jacobs, dean at the time and the topic was ‘Global Economy’. On the eve of ending the course which congregated top business people all over the world, Obi sought to know why Africa was not mentioned in the near six weeks’ duration of the programme. The don responded ‘there is nothing like Africa economy. Nobody plans for Africa because the continent has no plan’. Can you give me a plan of your country or continent for the next 10, 20 years? he quipped. Jacobs said one could only plan for countries that have short, medium and long term plans. Car manufacturers, he affirmed, have specifications for America, Europe, Asia, Gulf because of their plans. The next day after launch, both individuals had a sidewalk along the Lake Michigan near the Graduate School. He asked for a Nigeria currency and Obi thrust out a N100 note. Jacobs brought out a $100 and asked which does he prefer. Dollar Obi replied. Why? he pushed. N100 Obi explained is equivalent to $1 whereas $100 is N10,000. (the conversation was in 2001). After a brief purse still strolling, Jacobs repeated the question and after the manner of sighting the notes. Obi affirmed his earlier response. And having sat, Jacobs said it cost more to print the naira than dollar, which is just two colours. Do you know why you believe in dollar, not naira? he asked. Nil response. He said it is because you don’t have faith in your country. It is not about rate, but about faith. Other countries he said plan based on faith. No one he continued, knows what is going to happen in ten years but countries give their people hope. Japan keep their money in yen, India in rupee, Germany in deutschmark and even Italy at the time when the value of the currency plunged badly, they still had faith in the lira. Africa don’t because of lack of faith in their currencies which is why they give it to the dollar and make it stronger. He charged Obi,” go back to your country and create public wealth. Africans want to make individual money and wealth. Public wealth enriches everybody; individual wealth impoverishes everybody”.

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This engrossing dialogue between the two men represents the true reality in our country and would be a good starting point towards rebuilding Nigeria in earnest. I cannot place my thumb on the stage of the development plan Nigeria is following at the moment but what I do know is that even where a document exists, is it being followed? The government especially at federal and states, should drive this crusade given the enormous powers they wield because of the political system in place. The disproportionate distribution of wealth in the country can indeed be fixed by creating public wealth. But to realize this, the government should be open to the feasible means of creating public wealth which Jacobs proposed as an antidote to enriching everybody. There are a number of begging opportunities Nigeria can draw additional funds while checkmating wastage, to rejig development of public infrastructure. The country can leverage for instance on the proceeds from the momentary gains in global crude sales to consolidate on fixing critical public infrastructure.

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Nurturing the faith of the people in any nation or geopolitical entity starts with a deliberate action plan by the government centered on the people. Public sentiment is critical and should be treated as sacred to gain trust of the people. Our rudimentary understanding of democracy as defined by Abraham Lincoln is a suitable rhyme in this conversation.

The rippling effect of citizen’s faith in a country is huge and too important for any responsible government in the 21st century to ignore. Patriots are products of faith who willingly give unreserved allegiance to the country. This explains why Americans for instance, irrespective of their countries of nativity, are passionate about America and her greatness.

But for this to happen, the government must earn it by auctioning the people centered plan they have deliberately hewed for the benefit of the people. Anecdotal relationship, not transactional, is the fruit of this union. This way, commitment is effortlessly nurtured among stakeholders in the polity. The rescue in 2020 of the two Americans held hostage by Boko Haram in Borno State, Northeast Nigeria is a ready example

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Politicians, especially public office holders, should scale up the quality of governance to earn the trust of the people. And talking about trust, I’ll reference a portion in my earlier published article in Lens online titled- Locked Horns: Nigeria should fix her broken system to impact quality of governance 1&2, “What needs to happen for the country to voyage on a positive trajectory is buying back the trust of Nigerians. The government should show leadership by administering our common wealth equitably to proportionately impact the physical, psychological, social and economic well-being of the people”. This upgrading will put the government in good stead to increase public comfort and prosperity thereby improving the living standard of the people. Government should be genuinely concerned about the impact of policies it generates on the people.

A hungry man, according to the age long cliché, is an angry man. A sick person with an underlying health condition is a hopeless person. A homeless person is a frustrated being and a soft target of abuse and manipulation. Against these odds which are only a fraction of the problem, the country cannot draw faith from her citizens.

To be continued tomorrow

Asanga, public commentator, wrote from Akwa Ibom State.

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