That Nigeria may not fail
Bill Powell (Newsweek Magazine, June 21, 1999) described a failed nation as one that possesses the following among other characteristics: (1) It is unable to pay the salaries of workers. (2) It is a nation that is unable to collect taxes. (3) It is a nation overwhelmed by corruption, decadence and decay. (4) It is a nation unable to guarantee the security of life and property. A failed nation, I must include, also cannot guarantee the well-being of its citizens. A failed nation is a retrogressing economic system. A failed nation is confronted by intra- and inter-ethnic strife.
A failed nation is unable to solve any problem. A failed nation is highly indebted. I would rather say that Nigeria is failing fast; it has not failed. Nigerians must work very hard and quickly too, to prevent it from failing. The Catholic Church, the biggest human organisation on earth today, had Peter as its first leader (Pope). Peter did not have great education but God gave him the necessary knowledge and wisdom to lead the Church from the earliest time. In 1783, the United States having survived the Revolutionary War, took its place among the league of nations. Its future was assessed by Frederick the Great of Russia, who dismissed the new nation as a mere temporary freak. It would not exist for long, he said, because it was too large and it would fall apart.
Technology built America and proved Frederick wrong (Bulletin of Science and Technology & Society, 1984). George Washington, the first President of the United States of America (USA) was the head of the militia of the Confederation of the Colonies that fought the Revolutionary War with Britain 1776-1783. George Washington did not have the privilege of education. But he was a man with many-sided talents. He had good judgement. Leaders who came after Washington were men of vision. By 1800, more than 90 per cent of Americans lived on farms or tiny villages which formed rather thousands of different economies rather than one economy (Bartlett, et al., 1969). Americans displayed fully the versatility of an educated people.
The New England States and Pennsylvania were the first to establish public school systems to educate all young people. Following the discipline of the mind by education, the young American began to acquire one type of skill after the other, never contented with any single type and always learning. It was also in the states where sound and systematic education and training for acquisition of skills had been practised longest and where knowledge, skills and competences were most developed that the greatest manufacturing occurred first.
The USA fought a civil war 1861-1865. At the end of the 19th century, Americans looked back at the thirty-five years after the civil war with amazement. The entire nation seemed to have been transformed in their life time. All around them were huge new cities, large population, a bewildering array of new machinery, a vast railroad network and thousands of new factories, mills and mechanised farms. In just about 300 years, from 1606 when the first colony was established in the New World till 1910 when it was clear that the USA had achieved the modern industrial revolution, the nation achieved more than European and Asian nations achieved in 2000-3000 years. European and Asian nations neglected education and training for that long.
Mao Zedung, is the father of modern China. In 1949, the Chinese economy was in chaos. The Russians on whom the Chinese had depended for a long time had quarreled with them and they had stripped Manchuria, the most built-up city, of everything. The transport system was in ruins and the currency worthless. The Chinese used the resource they had in abundance: people. ‘Let the people walk on two legs,’ said Mao Zedung, the Chinese leader, ‘let the native skills and local materials supplement modern technology’ (Stokes and Stokes, 1975). Mao probably meant to link more directly learning activities in educational institutions and working/learning in artisans’ and craftsmen’s work settings in the economy outside the campuses of educational institutions. Everyone in China (then divided into communes) worked together. The Great Leap, 1958-1961 was also based on the principle of the educated and the traditional people working together. That was how the Chinese having drifted during the period 1000 B. C.-1949, 2949 years, commenced accelerated scientific growth and industrialisation to become the fastest industrialising nation in the world.
Lee Kuan Yew is the founder of modern Singapore. He became Prime Minister at the age of 35. He was a lawyer. He did not transform Singapore because he merely stayed long in office or because he was a lawyer. He did the right things to build a nation. In an interview he granted Michael Bociurkiw, in Forbes Global, Magazine, October 30, 2000, the interviewer asked: ‘One journalist described Singapore a “nice house in a rough neighbourhood.” Can you explain that analogy?’ Lee Yew said, ‘We can’t prevent the neighbourhood from going wrong from time to time. We can only prevent ourselves from going wrong. —- In the early days the NSTB (the National Science and Technology Board) figured that because of the low percentage of research scientists and other knowledge workers in Singapore, it needed to quickly build up a capability for knowledge generation.
Investments were made in the areas of science and technology. In less than 10 years, the number of research scientists and engineers rose from less than 28 per 10,000 workers to about 70, close to the 75 that most developed economies have. Now, there is a strong base of science and technology covering diverse areas.’ Developing the indispensable scientific capabilities, again, is the primary basis of the Singapore miracle.
Why is Nigeria failing? Great nations are built by people with great minds; great nations are owned by great people. I have argued that it is for lack of knowledge that Nigeria and many other African nations adopted the African Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in the 1980s. The African SAPs like the punitive German SAP – the programme to which Germany was subjected in the period 1919-1923 because it could not pay war reparations to the Allied Powers, are not development programmes. Just as the German SAP disgraced Germans and Germany, so have the African SAPs disgraced and shamed Africans and Africa.
Nigeria would not have adopted the African SAPs if Nigeria had leaders with great minds. Sadly, Nigeria and other African nations are still implementing the African SAPs today. Nigerian leaders and people so far, lack the knowledge and the divine wisdom for building the nation. Whereas successful nations (USA, China, Singapore, etc.) focused on developing the people and scientific capabilities, Nigeria has always focused on erecting roads and bridges, electricity generating plants and transmission lines, dams, etc., through highly inflated contracts and promoting poverty and accumulating huge debts. Nigeria must abandon the African SAPs and focus on educating and training Nigerians to acquires scientific knowledge, skills and capabilities, quickly, otherwise it will fail.