By Kayode Emola
“The only constant thing in life is change itself and with change comes either growth or loss.” I am sure many of us would have heard that phrase a million times or more by now, and one way or another change will mean something to us. As a people whose future is in disarray, we crave change: not just change for the sake of change but change for the better. As a child we always heard the mantra that Nigeria’s progress can be best described as one step forward and two steps backward. In the present day, it seems hard to see any forward steps taken by our society, yet there are indisputably many steps backward, nonetheless.
With so many backward steps in our development over the last six decades, it is not surprising that our economy has entered a deplorable state that has left many of our people vulnerable. Our vulnerability has been exploited by politicians of all shades and colours, offering us what appear to be policies that will bring about positive change, only for us to discover that their promises are not worth the paper they have been written on. However, I write to exhort you that we must not lose hope that one day the change we desire will come. We must now to redouble our efforts in bringing about this change, for it will not come out of politicians’ empty promises, but from the collective hard work of we ourselves as a society.
I have looked critically at our society, wondering why we are the way we are. What has led us to become the poverty capital of the world and the most terrorized nation in Africa? There is no denying the fact that our complacency as a people has led us to where we are. We are afraid to ask simple questions when we do not understand a matter. This attitude has led us to sweep so many pressing issues under the carpet, which has ultimately been to our detriment. We have failed as a people to evaluate the critical and most important factor that has led to our misery which is our earning capacity. If this is the overriding factor leading to our wretchedness, I believe we need to rigorously assess this common denominator.
In Nigeria today, the minimum wage is ₦30,000 per calendar month, equivalent to about $75pcm. Yet as meagre as this amount is, tens of millions of people do not even earn this much. When these two figures are compared side by side, when we look at what this sum can buy, we can see that there is no way we can run a viable country or economy on such pittance. In comparison, the minimum wage in the UK is £8.91 per hour: equivalent to about $95 for an average working day. It does not take a great leap of faith to imagine that the pitiful amount earned by the average worker in Nigeria is the main driver of corruption in this country. As people are driven to engage in many illicit operations just to make ends meet. Such practices employed to augment their income include kickbacks, bribery, in fact any practice to boost that income whether legitimately or illegitimately.
We must all realise that it is entirely possible to build a sensible environment where everyone can thrive and earn a decent living wage. It merely requires that we restructure our minds, moving away from our current mental paradigms, and begin to build a system capable of taking us out of our present conundrum. When I look at the way Nigeria has been organised, I do not believe it is capable of building that system. There is currently no framework for equitable distribution of talent, and neither our past nor present rulers have done enough to build that viable framework. With this in mind, we have to ask: can we, as the Yoruba people, ever truly get the change we desire whilst we remain in Nigeria?
Consider this: the last time a population census was conducted in Nigeria was in 2006, and that census itself was questionable in so many aspects. Therefore, we must look to other sources to give us an acceptable population estimate. These sources give us an estimated population for Nigeria of around 210 million people. Of these, the Yoruba people in southwest Nigeria, Kogi & Kwara States comprise around 50 million people. If Delta and Edo States were to join with the Yoruba nation to form one republic, the combined population will be around 60 million. This would be close to on par with the population of UK, estimated to be around 68 million people.
My personal calculations suggest that in order to construct any meaningful and lasting change, a change that would put our people in control of their own destiny, the income of the average person would need to be at least $1,000 monthly. This would ensure our people are able to provide for themselves and pilot the affairs of their own lives, without having to resort to the vices that have contributed to destroying Nigeria. I envisage that this should be achievable within the first five years of Yoruba land becoming an independent Nation. However, this will remain a dream rather than reality, unless the real work needed to deliver this outcome is done.
The first step in putting this action to bear, I believe, should be to systematically explain to our people how this great feat can be achieved. Especially for those of us who have been lucky enough to live outside the shores of Nigeria, we can see how more advanced countries have structured their economies so as to give them competitive advantage, giving their people the economic power that they need to rule the world. Permit me to use one sector of the economy for illustrative purposes to drive home my point, then hopefully this illustration can be duplicated in other sectors, thereby building a robust economy.
I have chosen to use the transport sector as an example of what is required, though this is not to say that the transport sector alone will be able to buttress a sound economy. If we have a viable internet system, many of the services we require can be completed online. This, coupled with a reliable postal service, can ensure that people can receive their bank cards, driving licence, international passport etc without having to queue in the bank or offices of all these government parastatals. How many hours are wasted waiting in the forecourt of, for example, the passport office? These hours could instead be used by people to focus their energies toward being productive at their jobs, and so grow the economy.
If we now consider the vehicular transportation system: in the year 2020 there are about 30.8 million cars registered in the UK. There is no reliable comparator figure as to the number of cars registered in Nigeria for that same period, nor for the Yoruba land area. So let us take a rough estimate of around 30 million cars registered in Yoruba land. We know that these car owners pay for the registration of their cars annually, each paying around ₦25,000 equivalent to about $60. $60 multiplied by 30 million vehicle users totals $1.8bn. This would then enable us to have between one and three vehicle and licencing authorities processing documentations, with the majority of the applications being completed online. The public may rest assured that their documents will arrive safely and securely through the post, instead of having to queue up in an office waiting to bribe a middleman to help them obtain said items.
If the licencing authority were to 10,000 staff to process all these documents and pay them $1,000 each per calendar month, in a year that would only amount to a total wage bill of $120 million out of the $1.8bn revenue generated by the sector. The remainder of this ($1.68bn) can be ring-fenced for the building of good roads that will last for decades without requiring large sums to be spent on repairs. With the tax paid by the workers on their wages, the government can then deploy these funds into the other services required by a functioning society.
This is just one example from one sector of the multitude of services that comprise our infrastructure and economy. Were this example to be replicated across all sectors, it is not difficult to see that we could form not only a viable and vibrant economy, but also a society that creates an exemplary standard of living for its citizens. No longer would we have to tolerate a broken infrastructure, especially roads that double as roller coasters with potholes the size of small lakes. The requirement to “grease the palm” of a middleman to execute basic functions of daily living, or a lack of basic amenities, financial stability and human dignity will automatically stop. We could build the society we desire, the country we desire and ultimately the change we desire, but that change must start with us. We need to become the change we desire.