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Development will evolve steadily in the direction of our imagination by Engr. ‘Tunji Ariyomo

Engr Olatunji Ariyomo (Imole), one of our forward thinking Engineers was the  Guest Speaker at the Trace event in Akure where the Governor elect, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN (named man of the year) and others were given awards.
At the NUJ Press Centre, Akure
Topic: Development will evolve steadily in the direction of our imagination[1] 
Engr. ‘Tunji Ariyomo
The theme of this lecture is Ondo State in 2017 and beyond, building a strong economy driven by 21st century technology and innovations. I know as many in the audience will agree that technology and innovations by themselves do not build economies. I have thus taken the liberty to refocus the central theme of my presentation to reflect the key issue militating against development – our mind. Of course, it must be quickly stated that both technology and innovations are themselves implicit indisputable products of the mind. Granted that chance and happenstance could yield some instances of good stories, some sparks here and there like the inconsistent performances of the nation’s football teams at world events - this, history has proven would amount to only momentary victories, momentary good outputs, momentary celebrations that are difficult to repeat improbable products of chance. Consistent marginally good outputs require and must be a product of consistent and deliberate fair best choices, among competing alternatives, targeted at specific issues of development. Ondo State is part of the larger Nigerian state. Invariably, issues that stifled development in Ondo State are essentially the same core issues that also afflict the entire country except with some variations due to local socio-political peculiarities.

Background information
In 1960 when Nigeria became independent as a sovereign nation, all the indices pointed to a great nation that would take the world by storm and become an emerging regional economic power. As the most populous black nation, expectation was high in anticipation of a black African champion-state that would occupy its rightful place among the comity of nations and remain a testimony and a fitting reference to the capacity of the black man to lead and excel. The art of state-minding requires organizational ability, proactive and visionary leadership and capacity to entrench functional dependent and inter-independent systems. These are however products of keen minds.
The Nigerian economy has had a checkered history. “In the period 1960-70, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) recorded 3.1 per cent growth annually. From 1970 to 1978, during the oil boom era, GDP grew positively by 6.2 per cent annually – which was a remarkable growth. However, in the 1980s, GDP had negative growth rates. In the years after independence, industry and manufacturing sectors had positive growth rates except for the period 1980-1988 where industry and manufacturing grew negatively by - 3.2 per cent and - 2.9 per cent respectively. The growth of agriculture for the periods 1960-70 and 1970-78 was unsatisfactory. In the early 1960s, the agricultural sector suffered from low commodity prices while the oil boom contributed to the negative growth of agriculture in the 1970s. The boom in the oil sector lured labour away from the rural sector to urban centres” (Ekpo & Umoh, 2003).

Regardless of the numerical value of GDP between 1960 and 2016 however, the nation has had a consistent pattern of struggling unsuccessfully to meet the most fundamental needs of her people. This has been matched by a consistent pattern of reckless profligacy, gravely deficient systems and institutions, inefficient allocation of resources, massive gaps in priorities and an appalling culture of wanton waste.

Figure 1: Nigeria GDP Growth 1960-2016[2]

What others did
Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia and the city state Singapore all had development paths that at some points on their development journeys had similarities to Nigeria. As at 1970, while still an emerging nation, Malaysia faced certain critical challenges that included economic uncertainty, ethnic strives, language identity, national docility in the face of aggression resulting into subjugation by other races, Malaysian Chinese business hegemony and absence of a natural enthusiasm for industry and entrepreneurship among indigenous Malays. These represented the core issues identified by Mahathir bin Mohamad in his work, the Malay Dilemma. Mahathir later became the Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1981. Most of the policies espoused in his book were in time adopted by the Malaysian government as new economic policy. Mahathir is credited as the architect of Malaysian’s economic success. 

In building Malaysia into a regional economic force and ultimately a global economic brand, Mahathir’s greatest assets were the quality of his mind, the power of his imagination, the strength of his resolve and his single-minded country-first determination – tools via which he could correctly envision a great Malaysia with a different destiny despite the odds and seeming internal contradictions. With these, Malaysia was put on a course that would see her deliberately built into a 21st century economy with 21st century infrastructure. 

Like Nigeria at independence with her status among world leading producers of cocoa, palm-oil and rubber, Malaysia was among world’s leading producers of three valuable commodities, namely - rubber, tin, and palm oil as well as being a major iron ore producer. However unlike Nigeria which did nothing to prepare for a future without commodity export while she was the world leader in cocoa export, the Malaysian development plans deliberately targeted reduction in Malaya’s dependence on commodity exports because it invariably put the country at the mercy of fluctuating commodity prices (this should still strike a chord with Nigerians).

Mahathir was also keen on gender by vastly expanding educational opportunities for Malay women – 50% of university students in Malaysia were women by year 2000.
The results
1.      Malaysian infrastructure is today one of the most developed in Asia and ranked 8th in Asia and 25th in the world.
2.      Malaysia is ranked 19th in the world for its land transport infrastructure quality (high quality roads), air transport infrastructure quality and port infrastructure quality.
3.      Malaysia is ranked 39th in the world in quality of electricity supply.
4.      Malaysia’s telecommunications network is second only to Singapore's in Southeast Asia, with 4.7 million fixed-line subscribers and more than 30 million cellular subscribers.
5.      Malaysia has seven international ports.
6.      Malaysia has 200 industrial parks along with specialized parks such as Technology Park Malaysia and Kulim Hi-Tech Park.
7.      Fresh water is available to over 95 per cent of Malaysian population.

Brazil is another development role model despite the recent recession. In particular references to “countries such as Zambia, which has seen positive growth rates that haven't translated into poverty reduction, or Nigeria, which has seen inequality dramatically widen over the past 20 years”, Prof. Armando Barrientos and Dr. Ed Amann, co-research directors of the International Research Initiative on Brazil and Africa at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom identified direct support to reduce poverty, investment in agriculture and political consensus as three core areas of interventions that have helped the Brazil experience. Beyond smart clichés, Brazil followed a path that saw deliberate remarkable well thought out poverty reduction actions in specific areas that could propel micro and macro-economic growth overall such as poverty reduction with the Bolsa Familia social assistance and the government's non-contributory pension schemes that lifted millions out of poverty. The former directly imparted over 50million individuals over a 10 years period from 2002 with less cost to the GDP at 0.5%.

The Brazil example also saw deliberate promotion of large agribusinesses as beneficiaries of generous government policies, ditto smaller family farmers. At the last count, family enterprises accounted for 84% of Brazilian farms and 24% of farm land.

Development is deliberate
Now, I will like to share with the audience the particular story of how Malaysia came to become a major producer of cars in Asia (we are no doubt familiar with the Proton vehicle brand). Proton was the first made in Malaysia brand that was using Mitsubishi engine. Mahathir upon ascension of power as the Prime Minister invited his Harvard trained Finance Minister and gave him a charge that he wanted the country to fund the acquisition of the indigenous technology that could enable it compete in automotive engineering – specifically in the production of made in Malaysia vehicles. Please understand that as at that time, China, Japan and a couple of other countries already had thriving assembly plants in Malaysia. Mahirthir’s vision nonetheless sought an opportunity to domesticate what was at the time an elite technology and dared to venture into a realm where Malaysia could earn more from her cranial assets relative to its natural resources.  The Minister of Finance, a Harvard trained gentleman however quickly corrected that high-tech production was not on the list of IMF approved ventures for Malaysia. In an epic response, Mahathir had directed that he resigned forthwith since IMF was apparently his employer! That gentleman got the message. The rest as they say is now history. By the turn of that decade, Malaysia’s vehicle brand was the highest selling new brand even in the United Kingdom. That was the strength of one man’s mind and the determination of strong resolve.
Our Ondo State
Ondo State is one of the component states of Nigeria. The fact of Nigeria’s state of health derives primarily from the component health of its constituents. The inverse of this statement should also normally be true. If Ondo State and sister states are poorly, Nigeria will be sick. If however Ondo State and other sister states are healthy, then Nigeria would be hale and hearty.

State of Ondo State

Figure 2: State of Ondo State 2015 (credit BugdIT)

Figure 3:  State of Ondo State 2016 (credit BugdIT)

Ondo State hovers on the verge of not being viable. Ondo State faces serious challenges that include the collapse of industries, unpaid salaries and pension and high level of unemployment among the youths and the general population. The ability of a state to continually meet its obligations is crucial to its survival and critical to the limit of its aspirations.
At the minimum, to remain competitive, Ondo State must be able to achieve the following in not too distant future;
1.      Gradually grow its stock of infrastructure to meet its current needs and make allowance for the future generation. Infrastructure within context refers to all critical social and public utilities across sectors that should equitably serve the needs of the common man (transportation, education, health, security, agriculture etc) and make life comfortable for the people.
2.      Confront the paradox of energy poverty and creatively fix what has become a perpetual national embarrassment. There are parts of Ondo State that have never witnessed 5 seconds of electricity in the last 7 years.
3.      For food security and gainful employment, embark upon a deliberate and ambitious agricultural revolution programmes with active support of the private sector that seek to make the state a frontline force and leading market and agro-business hub capable of taking due advantages of untapped opportunities in what should otherwise be parts of the natural agricultural value chain.
4.      Revisit and fast track the attainment of the original vision for the littoral part of Ondo State as represented by the abandoned Olokola FTZ project and its sub-initiatives that included a deep seaport, LNG plant and refinery. This will require adjustments to the original plan in view of extant realities and investment climate.
5.      Deliberately grow indigenous capability in technology and technology-enabled businesses through well-crafted initiatives that can spur the private sector onward as effective enabler of growth (MTN paid $285m for one of four GSM licenses in Nigeria in January 2001. Early 2016, MTN is reported $955m annual profit after $3.9 billion NCC fine).

The question
We must however ask the question - when is the right time for Ondo State to aspire big and unleash its creative capacities to attain such lofty dreams?  During recession? Wait for the next oil boom?

History is the best guide. While it is good and may be easy to achieve societal greatness during the period of surplus, history is replete with examples that showed clearly that nations and states rise better from the ruins of desolation and implosive challenges. Japan rose from the ruins of World War II to become an industrial giant. Ruins and desolation became catalysts and enablers of growth. Our current challenges are disguised opportunities that can catalyze unprecedented growth. Our development will evolve steadily in the direction of our imagination. It is a function of the patriotic disposition of the leader, the strength of his imagination and the extent to which he or she would love to engage the unusual in order to attain unusual results. Paraphrasing Pius Adesanmi, “elsewhere in the world, folks are getting closer and closer to sending human missions to Mars. Their imagination preceded their science for centuries. In science fiction, in film, they have been imagining man on Mars. They have been creating survival scenarios for man on Mars in their novels and films”. Man will eventually go to mass, not because it is the most auspicious or convenient trip, but because the psychologies of those who are and who will make it happen have been primed to envision and confront - no matter the odds.
In essence, for Ondo State, the time is now to envision and aspire and get it right.

For Ondo State to become a strong technology-driven economy from 2017, deliberate good choices must be made that seek to cater for the development gaps that currently stifle the state’s growth. From 2017, Ondo State subsequent budgets must reflect the development needs of the people.

Deliberate effort must also be made (as shown in the example of Malaysia) to grow indigenous capacities, especially in the areas of meeting basic local and national needs and being globally competitive. The current initiative wherein certain states and the federal government invite China for help in crucial areas is good as a temporary measure. We (like Malaysia) must however maintain a robust contingency plan for learning and acquisition of the required capabilities at international standard in other to prevent the country from becoming or remaining a giant renter-property of China, whereupon China rakes in dividends of wise investments on a yearly basis and our people pay rents in perpetuity on their own soil. 
I must commend the Governor elect for his vision in setting up a blueprint committee ahead of inauguration. This is an indication that the Governor elect is proactive and has no-go areas and that he is ready to hit the ground running as the People’s Governor from day one. It is my strong belief that the committee will come up with the right solutions. 

[1] Title inspired by thoughts shared by Prof. Pius Adesanmi, Director, The Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada
[2] The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Nigeria was worth 481.07 billion US dollars in 2015. The GDP value of Nigeria represents 0.78 per cent of the world economy. GDP in Nigeria averaged 87.05 USD Billion from 1960 until 2015, reaching an all-time high of 568.50 USD Billion in 2014 and a record low of 4.20 USD Billion in 1960 (Source: Trading Economics)

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