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Vision(less) 20-2020: A National Deception ~ By Tony Eluemunor

I have often wondered why the Olusegun Obasanjo administration thought Nigeria would knock off say, Sweden, from its perch in 2005 as the world’s 20th staunchest economy in 2020. By 2005, Sweden had been industrialised for over a hundred and fifty years. Sweden’s developed export-oriented economy was feeding the world motor vehicles (such as Volvo, Saab, Scania), timber and news print, hydropower, and iron ore. It was and still is earning foreign exchange from telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, industrial machines, precision equipment, chemical goods, home goods and appliances, forestry, iron, and steel.

Even its agriculture is not Nigeria’s stone age one but a modern one that employs over half the domestic workforce even as Sweden further develops engineering, mine, steel, and pulp industries that are competitive internationally, as evidenced by companies like Ericsson, ASEA/ABB, SKF, Alfa Laval, AGA, and Dyno Nobel, Vattenfall, Skanska, Hennes & Mauritz, Electrolux, Volvo Personvagnar, Preem, TeliaSonera, Sandvik, ICA, Atlas Copco, Nordea, Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget, Scania, Securitas, Nordstjernan, SKF, and Sony Mobile Communications AB.

And Sweden was the country Obasanjo’s administration said Nigeria would outpace in year 2020. Did those who set the 2020 target know that, unlike Nigeria that was starting from the scratch, Sweden had, decades ago, achieved a high standard of living under a mixed system of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits?

With all of the above in mind, Vision 20-2020 must be the greatest lie any President or Prime Minister ever told to his country. It was a national swindle for the project had no foundation whatsoever.

How did it even occur to that administration? In expounding that puff of smoke, that mirage, that nonsensical make belief, that lie of the worst order, that fantasy, that national delusion, that hallucination, which the government of the day had promised that Nigeria would be among the world’s 20 most developed economies by this year. The name, Vision 20- 2020, implies that.

Yes, that self-deception was foisted on us in 2005. By then the Third term gambit had bewitched Aso Rock’s heart and soul. Any lie that could be dreamed up to bewitch Nigerians and get them to support the Third Term nonsense was welcomed at the top most offices in the land. Hey, if Aso Rock was ready to bribe national legislators with the hefty sum of N50 million, with some collecting N200 million, why wouldn’t any lie that could advance the accursed Third Term project be given wide wings with which to sour?

Do I need to point out that one-third of all Swedish work force have tertiary education, unlike Nigeria where illiteracy is endemic? Yet, why did it not occur to Nigerians that the proposal was defective from the start? SWEDEN, BELGIUM or SAUDI ARABIA, depending on differing indices were on that 20th position by 2005.

Really, on what foundation was that project based? Which study recommended it? On which projects were such hopes based? Sweden’s investment into research and development stood, by 2005, at over 3.5% of GDP, was higher than that of USA. Nigeria’s must be zero%. In fact, by 1937 Sweden’s Saab company was already manufacturing aircraft and only later applied its aircraft expertise in its cars – that explains Saab cars aerodynamic features.

Dear unfortunate brothers and sisters, all that hoopla ensued when in 2005, Goldman Sachs published its Global Economics Paper No: 134, authored by Jim O’Neill, Dominic Wilson, Roopa Purushothaman and Anna Stupnytska, listing Nigeria among what it called the Next 11 countries: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam, to come after the First 11 termed the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) which had in 2003 been projected to become the world’s leading economies by 2050. Yes, 2050 if they got certain indices right!

And believe it or not, Godman Sachs warned on page 11 that “only Korea and Mexico are serious candidates that are large enough and plausible enough to lay claim to a BRICs-like impact”. It added: “Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan all score poorly. Nigeria’s standing, in particular, highlights the large amount of work needed if it is to have a serious claim in achieving the potential growth outlined in the NEW 2050 PROJECTION. Of the other countries we looked at, only Mexico and perhaps Korea have the potential to rival the BRICs economies that we excluded initially because we viewed them as already more developed. Mexico’s favourable demographics and scope to catch up place it among the BRICs in terms of economic size by 2050”.

Did you notice the operative date? 2050! But Obasanjo went ahead with the Vision 20-2020 national deception. Third Term was in full swing and any lie could do; and such lies poured out as torrentially as the River Niger flows. $13 Billion electricity project, rail reforms, school reforms, etc, all went on simultaneously and haphazardly. Even the National Confab which Obasanjo had once called an anathema was organised. Yet, Nigeria got no tangible benefit from any.

Yet, Goldman Sacs had warned: “Nigeria and Indonesia emerge as interesting prospects, but they face serious fundamental weaknesses in the conditions that we identify as necessary. Each of the countries in the N-11, Korea and Mexico excluded, faces its own specific dilemmas, and perhaps unlike the four BRICs, they are not close to the heart of current and likely future globalisation developments. That does not mean that these other countries cannot achieve their own BRICs-like aspirations indeed several probably will but the probability is lower and their potential ultimate size is smaller”.

Truth is that Obasanjo’s administration and the subsequent ones never surmounted Nigeria’s “specific dilemmas”. Power and education were not enhanced. Manufacturing did not increase, instead, industries died or moved out of Nigeria.

And Obasanjo’s successors still did not stop that “March of Folly”. The late Harvard University History Professor, Barbara Tuchman, in a book, The March of Folly described folly in government as the pursuit of a policy that had proved to be unachievable during the time of that pursuit. Yet, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua sang the Vision 20-2020 mantra everywhere, until his bitter end. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, his successor, sang the same song, saying that agriculture would take Nigeria to that Promised Land.

Compared to the people of Sweden or Belgium which Nigeria wanted to replace as the 20th world’s best economy, Onyenekenwa Cyprian Eneh pointed out that “the vast majority of Nigerians are ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed and ill-educated. They live in the rural areas characterised by massive underdevelopment. Poverty is the basic malady of Nigeria which is involved in misery-go-round, as part of the slum of the world economy”.

And the 3rd country Nigeria wanted to overtake as the global 20th strongest economy may be a mono-product country like Nigeria, and depends on the same crude oil, but unlike our Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), that has posted loses for years, Saudi Arabian Oil Company, Aramco, is the world’s most profitable company with 2018 revenue of $355.9 billion. That is more than the combined revenues of Exxon Mobile, Royal Dutch, Shell, BP, Cheron and Total. And it has 268 billion barrels of proved oil reserves as against Nigeria’s 37.4 billion barrels.

Ene wrote in 2010 in the Asian Journal of Rural Development, Volume 1. 10 years later, Nigerians can’t even move freely for fear of kidnappers and sundry bandits and the debate is whether we have not joined the ranks of failed nations. So much for the visionless vision 20-2020

Just as people were preparing for the last Christmas, tragedy struck the Abuja Newspapers Distributors Association, Area One, Abuja; the death of two vendors; Barrister Kayode Adeleke and Mr OKOI Ibiang Barnabas Iwara.

Adeleke’s death brought tears to my eyes. Born on 25th June 1966, late Barr. Adeleke through commitment, dint of hard work and perseverance was called to the Nigerian Bar two years ago. He trained himself at the university from the proceeds of his newspaper vending. When he could not find employment, he registered for a Law Masters degree, but death cut short that dream.

The President of the Association, Comrade Benji Obute, while speaking to newsmen at the Association’s Secretariat said that the Association was in deep shock, to lose two committed members in a space of two weeks. He said as President, he felt terribly bad and traumatised over the sad incidents.

Now, in an effective country, why wouldn’t a newspaper vendor who earned a university degree find a better job and move up in the social ladder? Or why would anyone struggle to lift himself up by his boot straps? Why? Worse still, Adeleke was struggling to pay his son’s school fees overseas. The boy won a scholarship to the US but as many things Nigerian go wrong, that scholarship money could not be paid. Instead of bringing the lad back to Nigeria he struggled to pay the fees. First, he sold his small manual printing press in Ogbomosho and intensified his struggles. His colleagues believe the struggles over his son’s school fees affected him as his health plummeted. Now, his wife has stepped into his newspaper vending shoes! How far can she go? Gosh!!

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