Five things Nigeria needs to do to win trust.

by IK Oligboh

May 2016

A proud and culturally vibrant nation with a civilisation dating back to 500 BC, over 250 ethnic groups and a workforce of 51 million. The world’s fifth largest oil producing nation, which dominates the African rich list with a combined wealth of £49bn, including the continent’s most wealthy woman. A country with international standing, which acts as the lead for the multinational peacekeeping force ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group). The list of its successes goes on.

But, despite these achievements, Nigeria continues to be held back by its more infamous list of imperfections. A list I’m sure you’re well acquainted with: Its failure to control the growing influence of Boko Haram. The seemingly endless struggle to contain crippling overpopulation, coupled with unemployment rates as high as 25%. The appalling history of corruption.

Much maligned, oft dismissed, sometimes condemned, Nigeria is a country struggling to repair itself, a country which remains victim to an image sealed in the mind of the wider world sometime last century.

Despite the initial causes for celebration listed, the majority of the world’s population still doesn’t fully trust Nigeria.

And it is trust, or lack thereof, that is the greatest hurdle facing this great land today. The issue is both external and internal. Objectively, Nigeria is a land with boundless opportunities for financial growth, yet foreign investors have their reservations and, after years of broken promises, Nigerians themselves are wary of having too much hope in their Government. But the Nigerian people should look to their South African counterparts as a measure of optimism. South Africa – a nation that not too long in the distant past was intransigently dogged by apartheid was able, in 2010, to hold Africa’s first football World Cup, showing the world how far it had come. South Africa, despite its problems, does attract a vast amount of foreign investment.

With the wealth of potential it possesses, there is little reason why Nigeria cannot do the same. Earlier this year, it voted in a new regimen. The new government headed by President Buhari, was voted in on an anti-corruption ticket. It has pledged large scale rebuilding of Nigerian infrastructure and systems, more transparency and a clamp-down on financial misconduct.

Yet with a history of repeated disappointments, how can this new Government convince an exponentially greater number of people that Nigeria is now a place to do business, to visit and to trust?

THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO:

  1. Put its money where its mouth is.
    Invest as it said it would. Quite simply, the Nigerian Government needs to ensure that if it says it will do something, it gets done. Buhari and his government now need to turn positive noises into reality by making good on promises and fulfilling their pre election pledges. They have stated their intention to invest in infrastructure – now they must do it, and fast.
  2. Introduce a system of transparency.
    Corruption has been a common theme throughout its history. Nigeria must remember, or learn, that there is a relatively simple, fail-safe remedy to corruption: Transparency.
    If the Government treats its electorate with respect and informs them when things do not go to plan (as is possible in any nation), the Nigerian people can start to have more trust.  The vital trust, required to save its reputation and subsequently build its future is attainable. Muhammadu Buhari’s recent declaration of the assets in his personal account bodes well.  Nigeria now needs to capitalise on this turning point and make transparency a continued course of action, assuring the world that it means business. If Buhari’s Government successfully follows up on its pledges then the country will be off to an unprecedented start and have the chance of building momentum.
  3. Show the world the progress it is making.
    How can Nigeria ever strive to achieve a new image, either domestically or globally, if media corporations continue to circulate only news stories that highlight corruption and economic despair? The influential Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie spoke of the dangers of the ‘single story’, and the stereotypes they perpetuate. She makes a compelling assessment on the power of perception. Nigeria is a nation with many prosperous sides to it, yet as a result of a ‘single story’ controlling the narrative, it is a country continually defined by its less glamorous history. In the spirit of transparency, Nigerian business and governmental organisations need to step into the 21st century and institute far-reaching communications strategies. Each needs to take responsibility for financing and up-keeping proper press offices, websites, social media – communicating across the stakeholder mix with a focus on educating the world on progress made. Every step forward should be a cause for celebration and Nigeria should not be apprehensive of shining a light on financial, business and cultural successes.  Transparency is about investing properly in telling the world the good news, as well as disclosing failures and problems. Without such outreach, how can Nigeria expect anyone beyond its shores to know it is overcoming its troubled past?
  4. Invest in its Youth
    In recent years, Nigeria has produced some of the continent’s leading entrepreneurial minds, with the likes of Hotels.ng CEO Mark Essien and iROKO CEO Jason Njoku, leading the way for other young entrepreneurs to emulate. Many young Nigerians, both globally and domestically, have great pride in their heritage – which helps drive them in their desire to see a better and more thriving Nigeria. A Nigeria as it should be, given its glorious pre-colonial past. Many proactive, innovative young Nigerian minds are eager to create positive movements of change and this is a cause for optimism. The Nigerian Government needs to become aware of their fortunate ability to call on an impressive cohort of tomorrow’s intellectually-progressive thinkers and subsequently invest in their youth. Nigeria must start to act like the leader it is increasingly becoming. It is through the youth that this can be achieved.
  5. Do not retreat back to the habits of old.
    Trust is hard to obtain and is easily lost. This must be at the forefront of the thoughts and subsequent actions of Nigeria’s decision makers. The slightest hint of a sign that Nigeria is reverting back to its old habits will be music to the ears of the detractors, eager to cement their argument that Nigeria is a nation past the point of redemption.

A sense of pride and a determination to see these nay sayers eat their words will act as the motivating factor in ensuring that Nigeria continues on its path of promise.

There is undoubtedly much work to be done for Nigeria in order to overcome the issues it is faced with, but there is so much hope for this oil rich country. The Nigerian film industry is thriving, producing more films a year than any other country with the exception of India. The mobile phone industry is enjoying a boom far beyond expected projections. Twenty years ago, Nigeria only had one telecoms company and 300,000 phone lines – today it has approximately 120 million subscribers.

It is not all doom and gloom for Nigeria; it is a country with huge potential. I, for one, am eagerly waiting the day when Nigeria is referred to not in terms of potential but in terms of success and achievement.

I am confident that it’s a day not too far in the future.