‘Shift in Mindset Will Be What Sets Nigeria Apart’

If we can harness the power of citizens to think creatively and critically, and aspire to take charge of their future, then each and every Nigerian can become an asset for development, and an agent for change, writes Paul Orajiaka

If you take a random sample of thought leaders across Nigeria, odds are you will find at least two types of mindsets: some optimistic about the future, others fairly gloomy about the country’s prospects. The truth is, a fairly strong case can be made in defence of either view. However, what both perspectives can agree on is that a shift in mindset, from seeing problems as obstacles that cannot be overcome to believing problems are for solving, will be what takes the country forward.

An example of this can be seen through a humorous moment in Nigerian history. A few years ago, a high-ranking official was questioned about his organisation on camera. It was an opportunity to speak with pride about the work being done. Instead, what emerged was his apparent ignorance – not knowing the website address for his own organisation; fumbling for a response, he said, “my oga at the top will know”. This turned into a national joke, with constant chortles up and down the streets referencing “my oga at the top”. Soon, shirts, mugs and hats were adorned with the saying and sold at traffic lights and log jams, with a studio single quickly following, using the embarrassed official’s line for its chorus (which didn’t win any awards).

The speed at which this funny moment was turned into a business opportunity of various guises highlights the entrepreneurial spirit in Nigeria. If we can unlock this mindset to nurture strategic ambition and ingenuity, and shape broader beliefs to see problems as opportunities, then the sky’s the limit. And I believe it all starts with good citizenship.

No pointing of fingers

Looking around Nigeria, it is easy to see examples of struggle. Although the country has made some socio-economic progress in recent years, there is a long way to go. In the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index – one of the most important measures of development – Nigeria ranked 150th out of 157 countries. Unemployment and poverty levels are high, and regional inequality underlies ongoing political instability and unrest. Recent high inflation has only added to these woes, rapidly increasing the cost of living for ordinary Nigerians, pushing more into poverty.  It would be foolish to pretend that these problems do not exist. And perhaps even more foolish still to say that the country’s leadership is not partly to blame.

However, a recent discussion hosted by the Henley Business School Alumni association with Tersoo Bossua, Executive Director and Head of Credit Analysis in Africa at Standard Chartered Bank, made me think about where we, as individuals, stand amidst all of this. He said, “all of the problems you see did not start today; they are the compound effect of years and years of citizen disengagement from leadership”. “Good leadership”, he went on, “comes from good citizens.”

His point was that an active citizenry puts fire under the feet of government. Too often we just wait for elections to come round then head to the polls with the belief that we are going to change the country. But what about the years in between those democratic intervals? Ongoing active engagement with government representatives and councilors is crucial to spur real change at the local level. Change will not come from the top; it needs to come from the bottom-up.

The #EndSARS movement, which began in 2020, protesting against police brutality, was an example of solidarity among Nigerians, especially among young people, showing a hunger for more democracy, not less. With more young people engaging with politics and offering new ideas on how to take the country forward, from addressing unemployment and security issues to posing fresh policies on energy and climate change, our democratic institutions will be strengthened to deliver long-term, sustainable, change.

Change, driven by you

Real change comes from the people, and this can be seen as much in business as in democracy. For example, Henrietta Onwuegbuzie, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at Lagos Business School, shared a story at the Henley Business School Alumni event of a young man who is launching the manufacturing of renewable energy parts in Nigeria. He started off with very little in life, but managed to secure an apprenticeship that took him to India where he learnt how to make solar panels.

Instead of just returning home to be another worker in a factory, his entrepreneurial spirit sought to connect with investors to establish a similar manufacturing setup here in Nigeria. A few years later, and now with government backup, he is on the brink of securing an agreement for government to buy much of the plant’s production of solar panels. An example of “you do well, the government chases you, not the other way around”.

This entrepreneur had foresight, and he saw that problems are for solving. He knows that renewable energy sector is now ready to take off and help lessen Nigeria’s dependence on oil and reduce carbon emissions to create a safer environment for future generations.

Other industry experts at the event, including Marilyn Obaisa-Osula, Associate Director, Environment, Social and Governance Services, KPMG, and Oluwasoromidayo George, Chairman of the United Nation Global Compact Network in Nigeria, shared similarly inspiring stories of young minds and innovative companies shaping a new Nigeria.

Companies like Auxano—the first privately owned solar photovoltaic manufacturing company in Nigeria—and Nayo Tropical Technology, that is providing solar inverter solutions, as well as manufacturing solar panels and other components for mini-grids, are helping to steer Africa down the right path at its green manufacturing crossroads, paving the way for more to follow.

This kind of shift in mindset, driven by young people can help ensure that Nigeria develops in a contextual manner, sensitive to the pressures of doing so through less carbon intensive means. It can help ensure that the country shift from ‘development for development’s sake’, to development within a broader, more sustainable, context of minimal impact on the environment.

With the impacts of climate change rising across the continent and with research from the University of Reading showing clearly that Africa is warming faster than other parts of the planet, this is a difficult problem to solve. But if we remember that problems are for solving, draw on the examples of success, and make sure that business owners who want to make money and entrepreneurs who want to solve problems are given the resources they need, why should we not solve it?.

Gary Schoeniger, founder and CEO of the Entrepreneur Learning Institute (ELI), says that “we need entrepreneurial thinkers in all levels of the society to deliver the needed change [in Nigeria]”. The key, he added, is for individuals and communities to create micro experiments like entrepreneurs testing for solutions, think creatively and critically, and aspire to take charge of their future.

If we can harness this power, then each and every Nigerian will become an asset for development, and an agent for change, ensuring that Nigeria can take its place as a major economy both in Africa, and globally.

Paul Orajiaka is the Owner and CEO of the Auldon Group and chair of the Alumni Association of Henley Business School in Nigeria. 

This article originally appeared in This Day Live, Nigeria

Photo caption: From Left to right: Marilyn Obaisa-Osula, Associate Director, Environment, Social and Governance Services, KPMG, Dr. Henrietta Onwuegbuzie, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, Lagos Business School, Oluwasoromidayo George, Chairman of the United Nation Global Compact Network in Nigeria, Paul Orajiaka, Auldon Group, Henley Alumni President, Ify Orajiaka, Program Administrator Pan Atlantic University and Tersoo Bossua, Executive Director, Head Credit Analysis, Africa, Standard Chartered Bank.

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