The contours of tomorrow will be shaped by the ambitions that Nigeria sets for itself today

When asked about the kind of Nigeria he imagines, Muhammad Mubarak Abdulkarim, an Imagine Nigeria consultation attendee said he wants to see an accountable and just Nigeria, “where resources are employed to their full potential. A Nigeria where everyone has access to affordable and sustainable energy. A Nigeria united by a common purpose of national progress and development.” 

Like Abdulkareem, many Nigerians envision a different Nigeria, a better Nigeria to live and thrive in. Sadly, these visions and dreams remain just that. Africa’s giant has been through a series of political and economic turmoil since the green-white flag soared high on the 1st of October 1960. 62 years later, the story is not as endearing as hoped initially for all its citizens.

Worse still, while the country was recovering from the 2016 recession, a pandemic struck in 2020, putting the global economy to a halt. Wealthier nations were not spared, but the impact was severe on developing countries like Nigeria which had no wherewithal to contain the shock. Fall in oil prices, lockdowns, restrictions and disruptions to production and supply chains dealt a blow to the economy. Existing economic, political and social challenges within the country’s territory became exacerbated. The rate of unemployment increased, with more people pushed into poverty. Uncertainty became the new order. No one knew when the pandemic would end or what to expect afterwards. 

Against this backdrop, it was important for Nigeria to envision a new reality to avoid being caught off guard in the coming years. “The Nigerian government and the UNDP Nigeria began to ask questions and reflect on Nigeria’s post-COVID-19 reality. Afterwards, a decision to have a high-level panel to lead the process to reflect on the future of Nigeria was made, Dr Olugbenga Adesida, a lead advisor at Imagine Nigeria technical secretariat, told Ventures Africa in an interview. 

This birthed the Imagine Nigeria report – an exercise undertaken to paint pictures of alternative futures for Nigeria and summon all stakeholders to begin processes of building the desired future now.  

Dr Adesida, emphasises that such a report is crucial because reflecting on the future is important for all. “The future is not what it used to be. The rate of uncertainty and complexity has increased exponentially with constant change in all aspects of society. Traditional planning and decision-making tools are no longer fit for purpose. As such, strategic foresight exercises such as Imagine Nigeria provides the flexibility for decision-makers to reflect and make decisions. For a country like Nigeria, it is even more so for every citizen to be part of the effort to think and envision where our nation should be in the future and how we can collectively get there. We all have a role to play in building the desired future for all.”

Chatham House

In helping citizens with their imaginations, the report was documented in three parts. The initial part explores the challenges such as insecurity, unstable economy, deficient infrastructure, and bad governance in a country like Nigeria, where opportunities and potential abound.

The second part, hinged on current challenges and opportunities in the context of prevailing and emerging global trends, brings afore four future scenarios. These scenarios explore the future of Nigeria up to 2050 under varying conditions. Notably, the scenarios do not make predictions, nor even explore which future is most probable, but rather help decision makers think through how to better manage uncertainty and complexity in the near and distant future. 

Scenario 1: Fire on the mountain

This scenario explores a “me-first” governance approach in a closed technology environment. It is 2025, and a poor post-COVID-19 response amplified Nigeria’s social divide. In that period, the government was also busy combating the pandemic and insecurity. And with the cracks in governance, tech giants swooped into the country and made wealth from exploiting data. On the economic front, oil becomes undesirable due to the global transition to net zero. Amidst all this in 2045, new strains of COVID and a new pandemic plague the country. Conflict and economic divide intensify, resulting in rebellion. How will it end? Will the resistance gather momentum and easily take over power or will the powerful fight back, leading to an all-out war causing death and destruction on a scale unimaginable?

Scenario 2: Which way Nigeria?

It is still 2025 and Nigeria faces a cluster of security challenges, unrest, and secessionist moves. However, insecurity declines in 2035, thanks to emerging technologies. Data has become the new oil and data mining start-ups are thriving. But governance fails, and tech liberators emerge with the objective of revolution and the promise of a better country. As a counteraction, the government recruits outlaws to fight the rebels, and there was a full-blown cyberwar. It is not clear what will happen next: will the rebels facilitate the opening of the surveillance systems for oversight by civil society, which could lead Nigeria to a new kind of leadership that is accountable? Or could the government prevail, with the support of criminal elements who demand a greater share of revenues on data concessions?

Scenario 3: One chance

In 2025, tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (FAANG) choose Nigeria as their entry point to Africa, creating jobs for the people and generating revenue for the government. Infrastructure to expedite the growth of the digital economy is deployed. 

By 2035 extreme weather caused by climate change destroys infrastructure built by FAANG. A group of tech-savvy politicians opposed to FAANG’s deal rises. Also, information on how FAANG monetize data is leaked by rebels. By 2045, FAANG threatens to pull out of Nigeria and demand payback for their investments in infrastructure. Caught at the crossroads of an unknown future, Nigerians need to determine their path. Either the FAANGs will refuse to relinquish control or the government will be voted out, leading to the FAANGs being negotiated out of Africa, with Nigeria open-sourcing its data, encouraging a “million flowers to bloom.”

Scenario 4: Africa’s giant awake

Oil shocks and the COVID pandemic raise awareness of the imperative of improving revenue mobilisation in 2025. Tax revenue improves and allows for better governance. The buzz of change drives the teeming youth population to elect more reformist governors, building an exceptional political movement. There was an eventual rise of a youth-led party, and Nigeria experienced a new wave of reforms. The country thrives through its green and tech economy and grows to become respected globally for leading the African continent and pushing for better global governance.

For Dr Adesida, the main questions these scenarios pose are the possibility of having an “us” government that is inclusive and negotiated or a “me first” governance that is atomistic and insular. Will technology be open, inclusive and trusted or closed and monopolistic? Indeed, a noticeable fact in the above scenarios is that nothing came to fruition in disunity. Hence, the report shows that transformation is only possible if all sectors of society are involved and intentional about it. 

“Our focus as a nation is how to ensure that governance is geared towards “us.” This means that it is of the greatest good to the largest amount of the population. Governance and technology are critical factors that will determine the future of Nigeria. As such, our goals must be to build a governance system and technology that serves our national ideals and the needs of the population and to ensure that a culture of innovation permeates all we do as a nation,” he stated. 

Nigeria is a nation of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and the possibility of having a diverse Nigerian dream is inevitable. This begs the question of how we can create a common ground for collective, unifying progress. However, Dr Adesida stated that exercises like Imagine Nigeria aim to tap into our collective intelligence as a society or nation by jointly exploring the future so we can arrive at a shared vision. 

“Over 300 people from all walks of life participated in the reflection phase of the exercise. We had Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike provide inputs. The result is what we have compiled into the Imagine Nigeria report. We are asking Nigerians to participate in a national conversation using the Imagine Nigeria report as a starting point. We are asking everyone to join the conversation,” he said. 

Treading the paths to the desired future

Having reviewed the current situation and imagined alternative futures for Nigeria, the third section of the report identified five key areas of intervention the country can tread to create the desired future. 

For Nigeria to move forward, it must embrace innovation, an important determinant of long-term economic growth. Embracing innovation should be progressive and not a one-off activity. The role of the government in ensuring this is ingrained in the culture is essential because they are saddled with the responsibility to create the right conditions and conducive environment for innovations to thrive in the country. So there is the need to revive efforts such as the Science, Technology, and Innovation policy document of 2021 and the formulation of new ones in line with global tech trends. “We must transform our God-given endowment into wealth through robust and effective policies. We will not build an innovation driven society if we do not put effective policy frameworks and robust strategies in place,” Dr Adesida stated. 

Another crucial intervention is catalysing Nigeria’s green economy. The world is accelerating towards a carbon-free environment and the glory of fossil fuels – an integral driver of the Nigerian economy is waning. Early moves to go green will put the country at a vantage point of an emerging sector that could be worth $250bn from investment opportunities. Additionally, the effects of climate change like flooding, irregular rainfall patterns, increased heat, and many others which affect many sectors of the economy, especially agriculture, would be mitigated. 

Dr Adesida also explained that while we fight for a just energy transition, we must not be alien to what is happening globally. “Consumers are voting with their wallets and slowly going green. Similarly, major financial institutions have begun to refuse to fund fossil fuel companies or investments. Many cities have plans to phase out automobiles that use fossil fuels. Many of these bans will begin before the end of this decade. In light of this, we cannot be like the proverbial ostrich and bury our heads in the sand.”

“As a nation, we must have a strategy to ensure we are not surprised. That is why the report proposes catalysing the green economy as one of the pillars of transformation for Nigeria. We must formulate the strategy and take actions to drive the emergence of a green industrial economy in Nigeria. It may be too late to lead in solar or wind energy, but there are other elements of the green economy value chain that we can lead as a nation,” he said.

Achieving this requires encouraging all sectors of the economy to embrace green practices in their day-to-day activities, from industries to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), to individual persons. For example, a Nigerian automaker, JET Motor Company is already driving the future of mobility on the continent with its 100 per cent electric vehicle, EV. Domestic patronage from both public and private institutions should be encouraged. 

Also notable in the report is the need for Nigeria to work on leading the African continent. The country is tagged the ‘Giant of Africa’, but many indices prove otherwise, and it needs to do more to truly be deserving of that title. Besides the country’s vast human and natural resources, its robust economy, technological prosperity (unicorn startups), and cultural penetration (Nollywood, Afrobeats) into international borders put it at a vantage point to lead the continent if well managed. 

Reiterating the words of Ms Myma Belo-Osagie, a High-Level Panel member, Dr Adesida said, “if Nigeria succeeds, West Africa will succeed, Africa will succeed, and indeed the whole black diaspora will succeed. The alternative is unthinkable. If Nigeria fails, it will drag West Africa down and will have significant negative implications for the continent.”

Equally important interventions cited in the report include building trust in citizens and facilitating an all-inclusive national narrative that tells the story of who we are as a people, our values, and priorities that reflect a common vision. 

Every citizen needs to imagine Nigeria. This exercise serves as an inspiration for us to conceive the Nigeria of our dreams. It is imperative that the report is not only read by every well-meaning Nigerian locally and in the diaspora, but also by concerned non-Nigerians who believe in the African giant. The vision needs to reach people across all social strata. The next generation is counting on us. Let us imagine Nigeria.

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