Beyond ‘bread-and-butter’ governance

NigerianBREAD-and-butter issues need to be cleared out of the way very fast, to enable the country’s leadership, including all other critical stakeholders (private-business, academia, research, banking sector, etc) begin the earnest task of looking at tomorrow’s global challenges as they will unavoidably affect us as an economic system and as a society.

We also must favourably position our country for the on-coming ‘techno-production-economic’ revolution. It should sadden us that in 2015 (almost six decades into independence), our key administrative and governance problems remain mundane matters like how our children can pass WAEC/WASC in adequate numbers, JAMB entry conditions, persistent residential and public-road flooding, paying civil servants’ and teachers’ salaries, primary health care delivery, reliable electricity supply etcetera.

We struggle daily with a terribly corrupt and inefficient transaction interface between citizens and business entities, on the one hand, and government departments on the other.

Why can’t our governors repay pensions as and when due? Are pensions no longer pre-planned re-payments to ex-civil servants who have saved for the rainy day through their employers over two to three decades? Why should governors link pension re-payments to monthly Federal allocations?

Yet, this is a country endowed with a jaw-dropping array of natural and circumstantial resources. We just made the wrong choices, resulting from decades of bad leadership, inefficient macro-policy priorities, import-dependent and de-industrializing policies, poor project implementation and generally corrupt governance.

Why is a ‘green-field’, 1,080 km (one thousand and eighty-kilometre) road construction across five (5) ECOWAS countries – Abidjan to Lagos, costing roughly the same – about N180 billion – as the 185-kilometre project to expand and repair our own Lagos-Ibadan Expressway? To really save money, this President should address that issue once and for all.

Whatever the political pressure, he must keep his promise to fight widespread and deep corruption in government. Although they should remain important, we cannot, as a society, allow bread-and-butter governance issues to blind us to the tsunami of technological, engineering and economic revolution that is just under two (2) decades away.

Nigeria should consciously create strategies and opportunities for empowering its children and youth (by the millions) to become an active resource and viable participants in the fast-approaching, global techno-economic revolution.

How do we organise our educational and technical-skill acquisition system for maximum competitive advantage in view of an increasingly aggressive international trade and investment competition driven by the ‘knowledge economy’? This new, strategic techno-economic competition will sort countries into winners and losers by their technical effectiveness and capacity in producing and trading internationally.

We need to explore the possible short-cut (fair and foul) routes to industrialisation. This is crucial to buy us some leeway vis-a-vis forces like the ‘Washington Consensus’, which, truth be told, will continue to be a global ideological mechanism (especially through the World Trade Organisation – WTO Rules) for keeping technologically backward and pre-industrial countries in a perpetual mode of import-dependency.

What knowledge ‘means and methods’ should we quickly identify and deploy, so that Nigeria can specialise in the most advantageous products, services and skills-sets that will form the pillars of competitive advantage in the future knowledge society?

Any country will pay a heavy price if they continue to specialise in mass poverty by exporting products with adjectives like ‘raw’, ‘primary’, and ‘crude’ etc, in a world where the strategies, tactics and aggression of international trade will favour mainly the countries that specialise in goods and services of ‘increasing returns.’

As 99% of Nigeria’s current exports are goods of ‘diminishing returns’, which, structurally speaking, guarantee continued national poverty, the dynamics of global export-import-pricing (including factor-price equalisation challenges) will spell clear economic-survival danger for an economy like ours when robotics technologies are fully and widely deployed in manufacturing from about year 2030. Same for services.

Some development analysts and authors have described the near future as the age of ‘Globality’, one in which ‘everyone (companies, countries) will compete with everybody, for everything, everywhere’.

Over the last century, technology gradually and pragmatically altered the relationship among the three famous ‘factors of production’ (land, labour and capital).

But now, artificial intelligence (especially robotics) is poised to dramatically alter nearly everything we know about the economics of production, including unit costs of goods, products and services.

Countries not industrialised, or without local capacity to compete globally, or to position themselves strategically as hi-tech ‘skills hubs’, will be doomed into the sorry league of ‘Permanent Importers of Nearly Everything’ (PINE).

If, say, in about three years, and given sincere determination, we are largely done with the most disruptive bread-and-butter governance matters, we can/should start deploying the needed resources, analytical expertise, cutting-edge research, and, where useful, major pilot programmes, to put in place appropriate ‘transition mechanisms’ ahead of the inevitable knowledge revolution.

By 2030, robots will beat billions of humans out of their day jobs, and render many currently valuable skills and production processes obsolete. Robots will work, work and work.

No human error, no late-coming, no going to toilet, no lunch breaks, no maternity leave, no children, no salaries, no training courses, no sickness, no promotion, or rivalry for promotion, no unions – just work 24/7!! Unit costs and prices of products, goods and services will plummet to yet un-imaginable levels, making it economically un-viable to produce most goods and services in (PINE) countries that have no competitive robotics capacity at the cutting-edge of technology and engineering. This will likely be the general rule.

Of course, some truly local, low-end, consumption goods, products and services, which may be subject to what development economists call ‘Geographical Resistance’, will survive for some time.

Yet, even ‘geographical-resistance’ opportunities may not be that many, or endure forever, as humankind literally moves into a new ‘mode of production’.

No place to hide in the world of 2030 if you are a PINE country!! Time now to solve our basic governance problems, so we can turn attention to strategically more serious future business.

Time to seek out the country’s best hands (here and in the Diaspora), and deploy them for the sake of its present and future. • Bolaji Ogunseye wrote from Lagos, via erinje@yahoo.com



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