Nigeria is facing unprecedented times with record inflation rates, low government earnings, salary arrears in states, workers retrenchment, budget funding crisis due to low oil production and price, unstable monetary policies, terrorism still on in the North-East, herdsmen/community clashes, militancy in the South-South, secession threats in the South-East. Our country is on its knees.
However bleak the current situation may seem, we can either look at this as a challenge that can be surmounted or an obstacle that cannot be overcome. In my view, the biggest failing of government is their inability to use messaging to educate, enlighten, unite and mobilize citizens for the task of building a developed Nigeria.
With strong and right messaging, we can turn our current challenges into our best opportunities for nation-building. What are the key messages governments at all levels should communicate?
New Economy: The majority of Nigerian citizens have always known a rent economy. This is an economy where we sit down and do little or nothing while the natural resource is harnessed (using foreign technology), sold and we are given a share of the proceeds. This is a summary of our oil and gas industry which contributes 95% of our earnings.
It is time government uses effective messaging to help citizens recognize and accept the arrival of a productive economy. This is an economy where we use our brains, hands and land to produce goods and services. This type of economy gives us a larger share of proceeds, makes our citizens innovative and productive, creates a wide range of income-generating sectors, provides millions of jobs, enables the rise of large Nigerian-owned corporations, makes Nigeria a leading export trade country, etc.
I also believe this economy will see all regions contribute enormous resources for our nation, not just the South-South region.
New Opportunities: Communicating the productive economy is not sufficient on its own. The game changer would be for government to research into needs in countries across the globe and highlight these to citizens to encourage productivity in these areas.
Most citizens do not know the various opportunities that exist in agriculture for example. The Federal Government can produce sufficient information to guide citizens on produce that we can become self-sufficient in and also become an exporter of.
To aid her messaging, government should produce statistics to help citizens see how big these new opportunities are. For example, Bangladesh earns $5bn from just t-shirt production (more than our non-oil exports earnings). Brazil has about 249 million cattle to our 19 million. Malaysia earns about $10bn from palm oil only which is close to our $15bn from oil sales.
So many big opportunities are available if only government will communicate these effectively and make citizens excited by highlighting huge earning potentials.
A strong Naira: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report in 2015 stated that our yearly rice consumption was projected at around 6 million tonnes but we imported 3 million tonnes. We spent billions of dollars for this importation.
Through messaging, government can fix a target (on self sufficiency in rice), communicate it to citizens to encourage our participation and ensure we consume locally produced rice.
The rice project is just one example and already Kebbi State is targeting 1 million tonnes of rice this year. Through messaging, government can get citizens’ buy-in on our need to stop petroleum products importation. Our biggest forex expenditure is in this sector and it is not enough for government to seek to repair and modernize our current refineries as well as welcome private refineries, we need citizens, persuaded by the benefits, supporting this process with ideas, reporting saboteurs and speaking out against militancy.
A stronger Naira will give a stronger purchasing power to government and citizens.
New Mindset: The main outcome of a rent-based economy most of us have known all our lives, is our fixed mindset. Government’s messaging can change this.
We need to create a growth mindset that believes in possibilities. For example, citizens with a growth mindset can see the possibility of cattle ranches in the South and not just a trade of Fulani herdsmen.
As a people, we can be enterprising but we need the growth mindset to enable productivity – the creation of big dreams and the actualizing of such irrespective of the challenges.
The growth mindset will also encourage many more citizens to innovate new ideas, processes, solutions, products, etc. For example, it is possible for us to take our cassava and turn it into various products (not just garri) for local consumption and export.
The nation-building core values are critical to initiate and sustain the growth mindset and need to be effectively communicated.
Government must, in addition to effective messaging, also live out this mindset in their thoughts, words and actions. It must also be said that the provision of critical infrastructure such as electricity, good roads, a well connected rail system, access to ports, etc., are vital to the cause.
While all that has been said is centred on government, it can never been achieved by government alone. Citizens need to launch initiatives that will open the eyes and minds of other citizens to the new era we have found ourselves in, not by choice but by accident.
The current crisis provides our best opportunity for true and lasting development. Would you join in this effective messaging?