President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina has said Nigeria must start managing its diversity for prosperity.
This is even as the AfDP helmsman said the nation must drive for national cohesion, not ethnic nationalities.
Adesina disclosed this while speaking during the American University of Nigeria Convocation Lecture. Speaking on the topic: ”Building a New Nigeria: Imperatives for Shared Prosperity,” the AfDP president said Nigeria must address the fundamental reasons for agitations, by listening, understanding, removing prejudices and allowing for open, national dialogues, without preconditions, but with one goal: build one cohesive, united, fair, just and equitable nation for all, not for a few or for any section of the nation or religion.
He said a nation, unified by a sense of commonwealth, not a collage of ethnic nationalism.
Adesina also said Nigeria must be a nation driven by meritocracy, not ethnocracy, religiocracy or aristocracy to achieve its collective goal as a nation.
According to him, “Nigeria is blessed with incredibly rich diversity: of people, of cultures, of religions, of mineral resources, oil, and gas, an amazingly rich biodiversity, that should make us the envy of the world. We are blessed with abundantly diverse agro-ecologies, that should also make us a land of bountiful harvests with the capacity to feed Africa.
“We are a religious nation, so we should understand that God loves diversity. The diversity of rich and brilliant colours that we see in our forests, oceans, seas, and in flora and fauna, reflect the beauty of the Creator.
“Therefore, our diversity is not our problem. Diversity is our strength.”
Adesina said but when mismanaged, diversity becomes divergence.
He also said rather than unite the nation becomes splintered, with each entity believing that, somehow, it is better without the other.
He said Nigeria must manage diversity for collective good.
“Take Singapore as a case in point. It is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious society, made up of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasians. Singapore is a nation of diverse people and national origins.
“Yet, this nation was able to forge a unified identity that has powered its extraordinary economic progress and development.
“Think of it: Chinese represent 74%, Malay, 13.4%, Indian, 9.0%, and others, 3.2%.
”Think of their religious diversity: Buddhism ((33%), Taoism and folk religion (10%), Christianity (18%), Catholicism (6.7%), Protestants and non-Catholics (12%), Not religious (18.5%), Muslims (14%), and Hinduism (5%).
“There is religious harmony, not religious supremacy, or polarization. The people see themselves first as Singaporeans!”
Speaking further, he said at its independence in 1965, Singapore’s per capita income was just $517 compared to $1,400 for Nigeria at its independence in 1960.
He said today, the story is different as the per capita income of Singapore is now $60,000 and the per capita income for Nigeria is $2,250.
Adesina said Nigeria must learn from this experience and forge a new way of engagement among its diverse ethnic groups and religions.
He also said a nation, unified by a sense of commonwealth, not a collage of ethnic nationalism.
“One of the things that Singapore did well was to have four national languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Nigeria needs to put in place the compulsory teaching of its major languages in schools, from primary through universities, to ensure multilingualism, cross-cultural understanding, and to build a strong socio-cultural capital that unifies,” he said.
He also decried that Nigerians are not living longer compared to other countries.
“Life expectancy in Nigeria is only 60 years (2020), compared to 70 years in India, 81 years in the UK, 80 years in the US, 82 years in Norway, and 86 years in Singapore.
“Nigeria should build a comprehensive health care defence system, to secure its population against the impacts of the current pandemic and future pandemics. There must be equal opportunities for all. Health is wealth. We must ensure that all have access to health care, regardless of the levels of income,” he said.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has further revealed the weaknesses of Nigeria’s health care systems.
He stated that from diagnostic and testing centers, access to vaccines, and hospital infrastructure, the health care systems were overwhelmed.
“I commend the spirited efforts of the Federal and State governments, and the private sector, in mobilizing resources to tackle the pandemic.
“The African Development Bank provided $288.5 million to support the efforts of the Nigerian government in responding to the pandemic.
“But we must go further. Nigeria must manufacture vaccines locally,” he said.
Adesina said the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was a very good idea as it allowed graduates from tertiary institutions to have one year of national service, largely (ideally) outside of their places of origin.
“The real test, however, of “national service” is that it often revealed the lack of diversity. After one year of service the NYSC graduates are often not able to gain employment in governments where they served, simply because they are not indigenes of those States. That in itself, is an irony!
“The young graduates are strangers in their own country. A country they pledged to serve. opportunity is denied just because they were not born in those states! Even if they were born in those states, they are told to return to the States of their origin.
“Yet, their origin is Nigeria, not their States!”
He said in Nigeria, regardless of how long you have resided in any place, you cannot run for political offices in those states or locations, just because you were not born there.
He decried that state governments, therefore, largely reflect nativism, not residency, which further sends a message to non-indigenes that they do not belong.
He said over time, this has created greater insularism, splintering, a lack of inclusiveness, the promotion of ethnic and religious chauvinism, instead of promoting national cohesion, trust, and inclusiveness.
He said this needs to change.
Adesina also noted that governments must be open to representation based on nationality not on ethnicity, to build a society of mutual trust, where diversity is well managed.
“Unless someone can live in any part of the nation, work within the laws and not be discriminated against, based on religion, race or culture, or place of birth, they will always be strangers in the nation.
“I love the Nigerian National Anthem. My favourite stanza is the one that says, “to build a nation, where peace and justice shall reign”.
“I get emotional whenever I sing it. I remember when I was a Federal Minister, each time we gathered at the Federal Executive Council and had to sing, or at any other function strong emotions would well up within me, for a nation I love, serve, and will always serve, selflessly.”
He noted that Nigeria can be better than we are.
“We have everything and every reason to be.
“For Nigeria to be all that it can be, the youth of Nigeria must be all they can be,” he said.
He said the future of Nigeria depends on what it does today with its dynamic youth population.
“This demographic advantage must be turned into a first-rate and well-trained workforce, for Nigeria, for the region and the world.
“But 38.5% of Nigeria’s youth are unemployed. Lacking skills, economic opportunities, they are discouraged, angry and restless, as they look at a future that does not give them hope.
“We should prioritize investments in the youth: in upskilling them for the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past; by moving away from so called youth empowerment to youth investment; to opening up the social and political space to the youth to air their views and become a positive force for national development; and for ensuring that that we create youth-based wealth.
“From the East to the West, from the North to the South, there must be a sea change in economic, financial, and business opportunities for young Nigerians.
“The old must give way to the new. And there must be a corresponding generational transfer of power and wealth to the youth. The popular folk talk should no longer be “the young shall grow”, it should, rather, be: “the young have arrived”.
“The young shoots are springing up in Nigeria. Today, Lagos has its own Silicon Valley. Yabacon Valley has emerged as one of the leading tech hubs in Africa with between 400 and 700 active start-ups worth over $2 billion, second only to Cape Town,” he said.