Let me begin by stating that the name of the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy was not included in the header to this article because of any malfeasance or untoward behavior on her part. She is a well-regarded professional whom I have had the privilege of consulting for.
Since I started writing about the challenges confronting our dear nation, I have sought to domicile responsibility for solutions to particular ministries of the republic; otherwise the issues will be fatherless and motherless. Government is huge and the challenge of Nigeria’s image is multifaceted. Without domiciliation the topic will be lost in the byzantine maze of government. The scope of this article makes a facet of Nigeria’s image challenge a responsibility Mrs. Iweala can accommodate within her ministerial schedule. I seek to appeal to the peculiar advantage of her coordinating portfolio. I am very confident of Mrs. Iweala’s capabilities and I know she will do something. Of course I could have written her directly, but that would defeat the purpose of writing these articles. No doubt Government has the major role to play in solving our national problems but so do we as citizens. When we throw ideas into the areopagus we instigate national will and galvanize citizen responsibility.
Nigeria’s Yahoo Yahoo image is killing her economy. Things are spiraling out of control and sociological wreckage is being wrought. It has often been said that Nigerians are not loyal to their country and that they badmouth their nation. With this premise, the Department of National Orientation has run programs to inculcate patriotism in our citizens and direct our youths. The results are not empirical. Nigerian film producers and entertainers have borne the brunt of condemnation from certain quarters in government. They are accused of portraying their country unflatteringly in movies and lyrics. My thought on that is that we’re barking up the wrong tree. Art is what it is. It resonates more when it is a commentary on reality. Or else it becomes distasteful propaganda worthy of origination from the hermit kingdom of North Korea. When art takes on propaganda form it loses credibility. It cannot maintain an honest audience. Our Village Headmaster, the then longest running soap opera on TV disappeared into the fog of history when it became a megaphone of “national orientation”. So did the Masquerade. The Masquerade died! Civil servants must not write scripts for soap operas; neither must they dictate ideas. It is a mismatch of calling and capabilities.
Nigeria has a very bad image abroad. When a nation has a bad reputation there will be collateral damage and the first casualty is patriotism. Because a bad national image casts a dark halo on the citizens, they will not want to identify with their country. The image subtracts from their intrinsic worth. They are thus forced to rely on their personal equity in different situations and they soon begin to question the value of their country to them. Nations provide valuation platforms for their citizens. The man from Japan is rated highly in the eyes of the world because of his nation’s output as well as functioning state institutions and the prevalence of the rule of law. By the same token, a German is rated highly for the mechanical, ethical and legal output of his nation. Corruption is abhorred and the democratic and regulatory institutions function correctly. Our national identity cannot augment our valuation as Nigerians because of the negative reputation of our fatherland. This is because our primary output as a nation is apparently advance fee fraud, not oil, and our systems and institutions are deemed malfunctioning and corrupt. Our passport is thus a liability at customs checkpoints and the innocent are banded with criminals. This generalization takes a toll on patriotic sentiments. Citizens don’t idolize a nation that subtracts from their worth, or shuts the door of opportunity against them, or makes them a pariah at international borders. And when a Nigerian succeeds he feels he did it by himself and despite his country. Thus he owes his nation no allegiance. This probably explains why some international footballers of Nigerian origin refuse to play for their country, and why some don’t take the assignment as seriously as when they play for their clubs. They play for Nigeria not because they really want to but because they are afraid of national ill will. And for some there is no other national platform. You can’t get the best from such people. Their hearts and souls are not in it. That said, we must also state that there have been and there are very patriotic Nigerian footballers.
Are we by this article justifying lack of patriotism? Of course not! But we must ask the right questions in order to arrive at the right solutions. If you want to solve a problem you must truthfully examine the issues.
Nigeria suffers from four image afflictions (In my line of work we call them “brand eroders”). They are corruption, online credit card fraud (cybercrime), fundamentalist terrorism and kidnapping. These constitute the ordinance against the country.
The four can be broadly categorized into two classes – the violent class and the economic class. Kidnapping and fundamentalist terrorism belong to the violent class. They tend to play grandly on the national stage but cybercrime is the most democratized of these eroders. It is a huge retail enterprise, precisely because the barrier to entry is low. A cyber criminal can run his operations entirely from a business center. Anyone with a modem and a computer, or smartphone can launch into business. And it has gone industrial. There are now cybercrime factories – rows and rows of young men and women in huge spaces, dedicated to online criminal pursuit on computer notebooks. The damage to the nation has been incalculable. The problem with cybercrime is that whilst other crimes are domiciled within Nigerian borders, cybercrime is a global phenomenon. And irony upon irony, the movie and entertainment industry of the targeted nations have reciprocated our affection with inglorious mentions. The scriptwriters of popular television series like Law & Order and House have elevated our collective patrimony into the annals of cultural infamy. We are systematically being shut out of the global economic system because of the activities of these aberrant cyberpreneurs. Today Nigeria is not listed on the drop down menu of Paypal, the global online payment platform. Neither can we shop on Macy’s, Target, J.C Penney and Marks & Spencer, to name a few. We can’t even buy antivirus software for our computers. Kaspersky shut us out. We are suffering from economic blockade, not unlike Iran; it’s just that ours is the market driven variety. If truth be told, a 419er is an economic terrorist. He is waging an economic war against his country.
Trust is a global economic currency. Our young men and women cannot access cheap finance through credit cards for their business start-ups. They are not afforded the opportunity of “maxing out their cards” to get their dreams off the ground. The maxing out of credit cards is a celebrated lore of entrepreneurship. Even our debit cards are not accepted by international merchants! Debit cards! Once the transaction originates from Nigeria a virtual steel door clamps down. Those who take the risk of online transactions from Nigeria put us through such strenuous processes it defeats the very purpose of online purchase. And our internet transactions are being routed through South Africa with its attendant consequences on national sovereignty. We are running a huge national security risk piggy-backing on South African economic infrastructure. We are becoming a subsidiary nation. And this to people we liberated! Surely the cost of going through a national economic middleman is huge.
The elites have found a way round the credit card blockade. They simply travel abroad and use a foreign merchant card. They take care of themselves but how myopic! The elites constitute an insignificant numeric percentage of the national population. We have a huge mass of youths vying to join the global economy via the cheapest avenue possible (the internet) but they are shut out because of the nation’s bad reputation. There will be consequences. For one, the youths will become more desperate and take ever more unwholesome routes in pursuit of opportunities; our negative image is thus reinforced by an army of disenfranchised youths. Two, they will hate those that are privileged and their sense of rage will morph into other criminal activities against the privileged. Three, they will lose faith in the maternal instincts of the nation afterall the nation is not helping them. Four, as those who succeed by devious means flaunt their ill-gotten wealth and invariably take up the political positions they bought with their loot, a signal is sent into the generational pool that “making it” through criminal device is the way to go. Five, the youths will become a dangerous arsenal in the hands of the wrong commander-in-chief. When you extinguish hope there is nothing left. Six, crime becomes normative, expected and required. It becomes an affirmation of basic humanity.
What should be done? How can we redeem our image and remedy the situation?
We need a four-pronged strategy: eliminate, repair, discourage, prevent.
We must eliminate cybercrime factories. Government must erect an equivalent anti-cybercrime factory full of hackers and trackers and servers to fight online criminal pursuit. It is a national security risk. And by the way, setting up this factory will provide employment to many of our computer science graduates. If we are serious, we should see a major drop in cybercrime within 9 months.
We must also activate a discouragement strategy. First we must pass the cybercrime bill before our legislators. We must prosecute criminals under the law and make an example of cyber criminals. With the passage of the law, we signal to the international community that we are serious about curtailing cybercrime.
Our repair strategy dictates that we mend our relationship with the international merchant community. We need to undertake economic diplomacy. And this is where Mrs. Iweala can better deploy her skills, experience, network and portfolio. No ministry in government has the latitude to solely handle the cybercrime problem. It will take the coordinated efforts of several government departments to do economic diplomacy. The following ministries and agencies must be coordinated to deliver the repair solution: Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the EFCC, Ministry of Trade & Investment, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Science and Technology. In conjunction with representatives from the private sector, Bankers Committee and trade associations, an economic diplomatic offensive can be launched. This diplomatic collective must meet the major retailers and make a case for Nigeria. The amount Nigerians spend abroad on a yearly basis gives us economic clout. It can be leveraged. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will of course coordinate the nations politically. And that ministry has performed creditably in recent times. The Nigeria-South Africa deportation face-off is but one example. Our diplomats know a thing or two about diplomatic arm-twisting. The idea of a government/private sector diplomatic offensive is not new. Frank Nweke Jnr. as Minister of Information achieved a renegotiation of Premier League broadcast rights taking such an approach. And I know that the meeting with global merchants is feasible and will yield results because my company recently advised a bank client on this issue and there was a resolution.
But prevention is always cheaper than cure. We need to re-orient our youths and create opportunities for them. They must not feel entombed. In this regard the Ministry of Youth Development, the National Orientation Agency and the Ministry of Education have a role to play. So does the Ministry of Sports. We need a nationally directed mentorship scheme. The state must identify the people our youths look up to, the people they respect, for their values, their roles in society, their success, diligence and hard work. These must be promoted as youth ambassadors. Let the youths determine their mentors based on those parameters. That’s how it works in real life. The youths know their mentors. These people must share their stories. There’s nothing like a testimonial. The stories should be distributed using digital platforms. These kids live on the internet. Interactivity must be promoted. Cyber town hall meetings and mentoring sessions must be arranged. Offline empowerment and inspirational seminars must be organized. In addition, our school curricula must reflect our realities. We need to teach our kids to create jobs rather than waiting for jobs. I am aware that the Ministry of Education is planning to introduce entrepreneurship into secondary school curriculum. That is a step in the right direction.
Religious organisations have a role to play too. Our religious infrastructure (churches and mosques) is Nigeria’s social security system. They instruct our youths in righteousness, run drug rehabilitation programs, poverty alleviation programs, sex worker reformation programs, orphanages and hospitals, and they organize sporting programs for our youths. One or two have acclaimed football clubs and academies. Government must partner with them. It’s the sensible thing to do. They are doing what government should be doing.
And parents have a role to play too. As do our teachers. We must be worthy examples to our children. You cannot facilitate exam malpractice for your ward and turn around to complain about Nigeria. You are a hypocrite!
Society is a dynamic. We will never reach a point in which cybercrime is non-existent. The image of nations is not defined by the absence of negatives. It is determined by the positive exertions of its government and citizens. And with that I say over to you Mrs. Iweala!