Read the headlines from the Nigerian and international press, and it would be easy to think that Nigeria is in a perilous state.
A foreign exchange crisis that has seen the Naira plunge against the US Dollar, businesses and Government institutions hampered by stubbornly low oil prices and the persistent threat of militants are, to name just a few, some of the most frequently cited barriers holding back Nigeria. Whilst we cannot wave off these very real challenges, as Nigerians we must not forget the successes we have achieved as a nation, as well as the huge potential ahead of us.
My message is clear: we need to be bolder in communicating with the outside world why Nigeria remains Africa’s leading light.
Mark Zuckerberg’s recent trip to Lagos was a timely reminder of this. His clear enthusiasm for our innovation and entrepreneurship should put a spring in the step of those looking to drive our great nation forward.
That Nigeria was chosen by Zuckerberg, arguably the world’s most famous billionaire entrepreneur, as the destination for his first sub-Saharan Africa visit is hugely symbolic. Zuckerberg’s trip shows that our challenges do not eclipse our fundamental potential and that we already have much of which to be proud.
From a business perspective, there are a number of key reasons I also feel optimistic about Nigeria’s long-term prospects.
First and foremost, it is our people. It never ceases to amaze me how intuitive and entrepreneurial Nigerians are – from the microbusiness street vendor through to some of our multinational corporations, we have an innate ability to spot and successfully execute a business opportunity.
As you will have heard me say before, I am a firm believer in technology and the role it can play in improving our everyday lives. As a nation, we are increasingly becoming tech pioneers and in some instances, have been the harbingers of new solutions and innovative ideas in the market. I believe, much like Facebook’s founder clearly does, that the use of technology to help overcome existing barriers, such as our huge cash economy, will be one of the key foundations that the future success of Nigeria will be built upon.
Shifting societal trends within the context of a large population also gives me optimism. As a populous country of over 170 million, we have the literal human power that many other nations can only dream of when it comes to creating a powerful workforce. Furthermore, although a large number of people remain in poverty, over the long term we are seeing the tide turning, including the continued emergence of a middle class. One only has to look at China to see how, through economic development, vast swathes of its population have been lifted out of poverty and business has boomed, something we too can achieve. Obviously this won’t happen overnight, but if we play to our strengths this is entirely possible.
So although the current headlines may cause some concern, I urge Nigerians not to lose heart but to take comfort in the fact we have a positive future ahead of us. Our people, technological ingenuity and a large population are great foundations upon which to reverse the current narrative and to restore some of the ‘Africa Rising’ sentiment of yesteryears