The Ostrich Approach

I have lived (for a period of over 6 months) in 3 countries in my life. Each has its quirks and unique selling points and I wouldn’t dare categorically compare one to another. However, I have come to believe the economic and developmental positions of the three countries can at least be partly explained by their approach to solving problems.

Let’s start with Turkey. A “developing country” by all standards. I often felt that Turkey was approaching “developed” status but for one or two things holding them back (their politics is something else really). Life there was generally good, infrastructure and social amenities are available and barring politico-economic uncertainties Turkey was a nice place to live in. Turkey and Turkish people had a delayed proactive/early reactive approach to problems i.e. once a problem occurs or is very close to occurring, they do everything to sort it out before it becomes worse. From their famous protests (the Gezi park incidents, or this year’s coup resistance) to fixing portholes, the Turks throw the kitchen sink at issues and generally resolve them before they get bigger.

Then there’s the UK, clearly a wealthy, developed Western nation. The United Kingdom was first world before first world knew what it was. I have come to think there’s such a thing as too much debate. In issues as varied as Brexit or whether to build a runway at Heathrow or Gatwick or what to name a boat yet to be constructed (much less commissioned) , there is always a lot of public discourse before the decision is made. However, these discussions are the very definitions of proactive action. Usually quite long before the effects of a problems can be felt, UK organizations/systems start to plan for solutions. They often have quite amazing abilities to preempt problems and nip them at the bud. I remember learning in a class that the UK will have power supply problems in about a decade or so since some coal plants are due to shut down etc. and the government is trying to come up with low-carbon plans to forestall that. Likewise, London doesn’t actively need a new runway at the moment, but they’re planning to build one to accommodate future growth. All over the developed world, it’s likewise, they have researchers, academics and scientists predicting problems yet to come and devising methods to solve them.

Nigeria on the other hand, cannot even be said to have any form of problem solving strategy. I cannot use a maintenance analogy here because we all know that we lack a maintenance culture. How else can you explain the current economic depression? For a year or so, oil prices were at $100 a barrel, and the government failed to save. We could, and should however have seen the writing on the wall by late 2014. Before oil prices started to come down, certain fundamentals were showing that all was not rosy. The rise of shale oil coupled with the fact that prices remained steady despite increasing turmoil in the Middle East indicated trouble was on the horizon. Oil prices had actually started falling by election season, yet neither of our main parties and very few commentators brought up the economy as a matter of discussion much less predict or prepare for the brutal shock that was bound to come. From the Boko Haram insurgency to Niger Delta militancy in the near past/present, to the Biafra agitations and herdsmen conflicts gradually brewing. Like the anecdotal ostrich, Nigeria continues to bury its head in the sand rather than confront problems early on.

There is a story I’ve been told about a man who calls a relative to ask for some financial help, saying “my wife suddenly gave birth”. Of course the relative points out that the birth couldn’t have been so sudden, given that the wife must have been pregnant for around 9 months before the birth. This is the most fitting analogy for Nigeria, heavily pregnant with myriad social and economic issues, we fail to take any heed until we suddenly give birth to insurgencies and recessions. God help us.

This is definitely an over-simplistic analysis. Anyone who has thought about the problems in Nigeria knows that our issues cannot be pinned on any one specific cause. Somehow everything comes together to create the perfect storm of dysfunction that Nigeria often is. But a new approach to problems and solving them is something we need to develop to reach our potential as a people and as a nation.

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