Opinion: The debate about Nigeria’s economic diversification

by Ayodele Adio

The debate about the diversification of Nigeria’s economy seems to have elicited keen interest within and among the political class. There have been big talks about investing in agriculture because of its obvious potential and the exploitation of other mineral resources. It is however worthy to note the hypocrisy and sophistry employed by these politicians who speak so highly of what they invest very little into. Our current state as a nation is a direct consequence of a political class that speaks much and does far less.

The series of debates for me has left out the linchpin of any economic strategy away from the overbearing dependence on oil. When we think of diversification we still think in terms of resources, particularly land and mineral ones and hardly ever think of the resourcefulness of the individuals that drives the entire process. Whenever we talk about Nigeria’s potential, it is always about mineral resources and little of its human capabilities. It is cardinal to note, that it is human capabilities that accelerates national and economic development and hence should be at the very core of our national strategy (if any exists).

What do Nigerians do faster, cheaper and better that anyone else in the world? The answer exposes our feet of clay and lack of any real competitive advantage as a nation simply because of the continuous vulgarization of human capital development. Again, no nation can rise beyond the skill sets, talents and competitiveness of its citizens.

Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Twitter recently gave a third of his stock away to his employees, in his words, “we are directly reinvesting in our people, I will rather have a smaller part of something big than a bigger part of something small. I am confident we can make twitter big”. Jack knows the open secret to growth and prosperity, which is the investment in the capacity and capabilities of individuals. This is as true in the corporate world as it is in government.

It is impossible to excel without making huge investment in Nigerians. The entire budget (projections and estimates of revenue and expenditure) for the country in 2014 stood at 4.6 trillion naira (about 29.3 billion dollars). Juxtapose that figure with the revenue of Apple which stood at 182 billion dollars in 2014 alone with a labour force of 92,000 employees as against the well over 70 million active labor force in Nigeria. Google had total revenue of 66 billion dollars and a net income of 14.4 billion dollars with just a staff strength of 53,600 individuals. Apple and Google are producing better results with fewer individuals because of the productivity of their labour.

Instructively, Apple and Google are companies started by individuals with brilliant insights, impeccable skill sets and inimitable capabilities, a pointer to the contributions that individuals can make to a nations economy when properly equipped with the right skills. There is a strong correlation between the talents in a country and the strength of the economy thereof. The United States recorded 287,831 patents between 2011 and 2015. The United Kingdom had 14,972 patents within the same period; Russia had 28,765, Japan 271,731, China 704,936, Germany 47,853, Korea 159,978, France 14,690 and India 10,669. Nigeria in that same time frame had only 50 patents.

If we continue to invest on things beneath the ground at the expense of the brains and minds of Nigeria’s, the dream of becoming an economic giant will always elude us.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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