Continued from last week.
Thinking off-grid – What to do with stranded youth power
I have suggested elsewhere that given the issues we have in our power sector, it is counterproductive to continue to throw money at a problem which is better reimagined. The other day a new power plant (Azura) was commissioned. The investment is $900million, just shy of a billion dollars. The entire input into the National Grid is 453MW. In spite of that investment – which will eventually translate into an increase in the debt burden around Nigeria’s neck (the necks of our children unborn) even though it is procured privately, very few Nigerians can claim to have seen an increase in power supply. And indeed electricity tariff in Nigeria under the new regime of privatized DISCOs and GENCOs, is becoming more expensive than in countries that work and where per capita income is considerable; because all the inefficiencies of the market are passed down to the final consumer.
So, the solution to our power challenges lies in going back to our youths – in universities and polytechnics, in a way to kill two birds with one stone… to ensure that the stranded energy and imaginations of those youths, are used to eradicate the problem of stranded power. In other words, the only way to solve our energy problems, like every other problem that we now have, is to do it ourselves. And the youths have the energy, the imagination, the passion, the innocence, the clear-mindedness. The youths have the power in short. The $1billion I mentioned above could as well have been invested in the youths across Nigeria, to challenge them to think, and to solve problems. Our higher institutions should strictly be a place where the youth think solutions, solutions, solutions… because Nigeria is indeed theirs to take care of. On the streets we will say Nigeria is their corpse to bury. We should quit deceiving ourselves that foreign investors will come and solve our problems here. We have been through too many decades of that self-deception, where we courted these so called ‘Angel’ investors and ended up with the short end of the stick. This is the time to depart and try something new.
What Bill Gates was saying about human capital development is not that we should learn how to speak better English in schools. It is not that all of us must attend universities. It is not even merely about pumping more money into education and health… It is about understanding the sheer importance of our youth to the emancipation of Nigeria. It is about inverting the process; wherein a larger percentage of our investment of the commonwealth will go to the vulnerable below – children unborn and children today – rather than what obtains today where senators and fat cat politicians, plus their big friends in the civil service and private sector cream off 90% of the commonwealth and leave the vast majority to fight like wild dogs for the crumbs. What Gates is saying is that we should show a whole lot more respect for the power of our children and youth, and of course the power IN them. What Gates is saying is that we have recklessly allowed too many people to wither and pine, when they should be lifting our country higher.
So just as we must do any and everything to end gas flaring, we must do everything to ensure we stop wasting our youth power! Just as we need to do everything about stranded power; electricity generated and lost to nothingness, we must ensure that our brains are not lost to nothingness, or even poached by those countries that are way smarter than us. Just as we must stop borrowing unnecessarily from elsewhere and jeopardizing the future of our young ones, we must also realize that indeed we have everything we need here. Just as we should stop importing experts to solve every little problem for us – like those waste managers that were imported from the UK through Dubai to come and keep Lagos clean, or the Malaysian consultants trying to solve our poverty problems – we should understand that now is the time to start creating our own experts. Just as we should stop expecting immediate results and building any and everything around election cycles just to shine, we should start thinking long term, for that is how experts are created. We should have a lot more youth locked up in incubation centers all around the country; eggheads, brilliant folks, whose chief duty is to think, think, think, and create, create and innovate and experiment solutions for all our problems.
In 2015 I wrote a small book titled Change is Going to Come. In it I detailed a simple strategy for the then new national government. I saw the vision that our quest for economic emancipation was never going to gain traction except we incorporate a plan that includes our youthful power. I recommended that the government should launch a program titled CLEANEST, SAFEST AND MOST ORGANISED COUNTRY IN AFRICA, and put our youth power behind that. This program would have harnessed youth power and created millions of sustainable jobs in the environmental, security and logistics sectors, while at the same time giving the youths the ownership of the county the way it should be. More importantly, the program would have led to a situation where money would have been put in the hands of the youths – for work done – making them more responsible early, thereby encouraging financial inclusion. Of course my suggestion was never bought, not even acknowledged. It is therefore to my considerable chagrin to see that a similar strategy was adopted by India four years ago, to build 75million new toilets, thereby banishing open defecation, cleaning up the environment and boosting local economies with the construction of millions of bathrooms in rural areas. The youths of India are the ones employed to enforce that project in every village, naturally. Meanwhile here in Nigeria, we are more interested in borrowing from abroad to build projects that are heading absolutely nowhere; projects we cannot maintain. If only a few of the decisions we had taken in the past had had any depth of thinking, we would not be here today. Gates said something about the folly of building physical projects we cannot maintain rather than building the people who will build the projects and maintain them.
Finally, the imperative of harnessing the investment in the youth and in our human capital in general is underlined by the fact that the top five companies by valuation today, are products of intellectual capital – brain work. Talk about Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook (which toggles the 5th place with Berkshire Hathaway). Some of these companies were created by mere teenagers in school dormitories but have grown to trillion dollar levels today. That tells us that what matters more than the crude oil and gold in the ground, is what our young and old people have between their ears. This resource is certainly impossible to quantify, because in value, it tends towards infinity.
And the great thing about this strategy is that this is not another vacuous talk. This is not another highfalutin jive. Indeed, we can start now. Nothing stops us at all. And what is more? I can bet my last one Naira that anything else we do in our quest for development, is in vain if we don’t take this route.
But first things first. Dear Nigerian Youth, whatever you do, make sure you don’t end up being flared away, washed into the river, abandoned and stranded. You’ve got the power in you!