Opinion

Joe Biden Trusts a Nigerian to Run His Economy – Why Don’t Nigerians?

By Joel Popoola

United States President-elect Joe Biden’s appointment of Nigerian-born Adewale Adeyemo as his Deputy Treasury Secretary should be a huge matter of pride for us ‘Naija’.

But to me it demonstrates yet again how and where we are failing as a nation.
That a Nigerian in his thirties will be soon have such a critical role in the American economy – and the economy of the entire World as a result- is a testament to the intelligence and industry of our young people.

But it is also a sign not just that too many of our best and brightest young Nigerians continue believe that they will have better opportunities overseas, but that they are probably right to do so.

On some level we should be thrilled at the international success of the Nigerian Diaspora – with the recent promotion of Lagos-born Pearlena Igbokwe at NBCUniversal and Ngozi Ikonjo-Iweala’s role at the World Bank, Nigerians will soon be in charge of both the economy and the entertainment industry in the United States! – but we should also be devastated that it is other nations that our benefiting from our resilience, ambition and talent.

It is also proof that foreign governments trust Nigerian politicians more than we do! Joe Biden may trust a Nigerian to run his economy, but most Nigerians wouldn’t!

As research from the influential Pew Research Centre has shown, more than seven-in-ten Nigerians (72%) believe the statement “most politicians are corrupt” describes our country well.

What is worse, six-in-ten say it describes Nigeria “very well.”

Almost six-in-ten Nigerians say the statement “elected officials care what ordinary people think” is not accurate. 57% believe that things will not change for the people of Nigeria “no matter who wins an election”.

And who can blame them?

Just this week we saw the arrest of Abdulrasheed Maina, the fugitive former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team.

The influential intergovernmental economic organisation the OECD recently scored Nigeria 28/100 for corruption placing us in 136th position out of 176 countries surveyed.

When the former head of the President’s own taskforce on cleaning up pensions stands charged with 12 counts of money laundering you have to ask yourself if the OECD has been too charitable in its assessment.

In fact, when it comes to research into Nigerian’s opnion of politicians, the most positive figure I can find is from a 2017 survey which concluded 54% of Nigerians think ordinary people “can make a difference” politically.

What that survey – and those surveyed for that matter – forget however is that politicians are ordinary people!

The problem is that in Nigeria we have fallen into the habit of viewing politicians as some discrete class, completely removed from the rest of us – almost as if they were a different species!

At the digital democracy campaign I lead, we want to change that. We have created a free app called Rate Your Leader which is designed to stop local politicians from seeming remote and out-of-touch and to make them feel like real people.

The app does this by putting electors and elected into direct person to person contact. Instead of party political broadcasts, decision-makers and the people who put them in power can have direct, one-one-one conversations – building relationships, building trust and working together to make our communities better.

Nigerians need to feel that anyone can make it – whether in entertainment, business or politics. To feel it, they need to see it – and to see it they need to be in better contact with people who have made it.

And thanks to apps like Rate Your Leader – which also makes abusive communications impossible – this can be done using technology that almost all of us are carrying in our pockets at all times.

Our hope is that along with improved democratic accountability and transparency we can inspire people to consider political careers themselves, and to stay in Nigeria to do it.

No-one begrudges Nigerians having success overseas – far from it. It is also a huge symbol of national pride that no less than eight players with Nigerian heritage were picked by the top American basketball teams in last month’s draft and nobody is going to claim that the Nigerian basketball leagues are a better place to show off their talents to global audience then the NBA!

But if we are to advance as a nation, we need to prove to our most talented young people that Nigeria is somewhere they can thrive.

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian technology entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and creator of the Rate Your Leader app.

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