One of the most life-changing things I learned as an adult is that “human beings are irrational”. Fewer things have changed my understanding of the world than this sentence. It led me into a whole new world of paying more attention to our species; how we think, how we make judgements and decisions, how we navigate the world and ultimately, why we do the things we do. When I started learning to doubt human rationality, my brain pushed back, until the theory and the practical started to intersect too many times for one to ignore. Brings me to the “good old days” conversations I have been seeing on X this week. X is Twitter, after it started paying its users for being badly behaved.
I remember the “good old days”. I don’t know how old I was, but I remember wondering why my mum’s crate of soft drinks — we used to call them minerals — sold for N19/crate at the time, instead of N24. This was a question I pondered on because I just didn’t understand why each bottle sold for N1 and then a crate of 24 bottles sold for N19. The “good old days” when colour TVs were rare in homes and many children could only watch movies in the homes of a few privileged neighbours who had video cassette players. Those really were good old days, where power generators were as rare as NEPA’s power supply. Darkness was the norm. These rose-tinted glasses that afford us a nostalgic view of the past can be such powerful escapes at times.
The good old days. Always good in retrospect. We must be thankful for rosy retrospection. When the future causes anxiety and the present isn’t palatable, one can always remember the past selectively. That black and white world where things were much cheaper, and everyone could afford them, and the times were only but bright and beautiful. The world where we wanted all our leaders to stay, on account of their great deeds and policies and were always sad whenever they were removed by coups.
Rosy retrospection. This rearview mirror that ought to come with a warning, ‘objects are more beautiful the farther behind”. Even though the daily newspapers that captured those good old days make it look like they were far from good, painting the picture of the hunger, tragedy, and pains of the days. Making them look like they are worse than these days. But newspapers have always been wrong. It is why, despite what our papers say today, in the future, these times will be the future’s good old days. And when those days come, those in that future can take a rosy look at these times. You are living in the “good old days”, you just don’t know it yet.
OK. Let’s wake up. Opportunities abound within our country. There is an entire prospect of possibilities being literally built as we speak in Nigeria. I spent time traveling through Lagos Free Zone (LFZ) — appearing to suggest freedom from the craziness of Lagos — and the Lekki Deep Sea Port. The LFZ holds the promise of what’s possible, another Lagos example for the other sub-nationals to pay attention to. The Lekki Deep Sea Port already sets up as a shining light for port services in West Africa. We can be so obsessed with the Nigeria we know and see regularly, we are blind to the prospects we aren’t paying attention to.
Each project offers hope for what’s possible even in our country, collectively, they represent a development path for Nigeria. All I saw at the LFZ and at the Lekki Deep Sea Port were jobs and the prospect of jobs. You’d need about two weeks to clear your cargo at the Apapa Port, however, that same process is completed in 24 hours at the Lekki Deep Sea Port. This is before one speaks to other cost-saving measures, including the time it takes to clear customs whilst cleared cargo immediately benefits from the storage availability and capacity of the LFZ.
Often, for all its challenges, we are blinded from seeing what is happening in our country and what’s possible. The Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway will be a major value-addition to all the economic and social development currently on-going at that end of Lagos. Nigeria needs new cities; we need new economic hubs. Ibeju-Lekki, Epe et al could be the future of Lagos for instance. Like I wrote last week, we need to prioritize mass transportation. There is no Industrial Revolution without mass transportation.
There are also examples on the future of power for manufacturing. The LFZ is off the national grid. It relies on power generated from CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) with the PNG (Piped Natural Gas) element of its power generation plan currently in the works. Diesel has to be shaking in its boots, if this becomes the norm across the country.
The model of ownership of the port is also one to explore for other such enterprise in Nigeria. In this case, the Lagos State government, and the federal government (via the Nigerian Ports Authority) share ownership with Tolaram Group and China Harbour Engineering Company — the private establishments owning 75 percent of the company. This way, the inefficiency of the public sector allows for the agile proposition and effectiveness of the private sector to deliver value efficiently.
Nigeria’s challenge is not that it is not making progress. This country is making progress. Just not enough. The real challenge is that it is not progressing at the speed and scale that’d ensure its population and growth rate aren’t always ahead of the country’s development strides.
In that sense, we need a paradigm shift in our way of thinking and our delivery of development. The norms that got us here are incapable of taking us forward. Reminiscing on the past that never was will not change our reality either. We must open our eyes to where we are, be mindful of the opportunities the times are offering us and then take our destiny in our own hands.
Also published in the THISDAY Newspaper, 17th November, 2023