In Nigeria there is an old proverb: preparing cocoyams for planting does not mean that they are already planted. It is a phrase that sums up much of our country's recent troubles, many of which have been underpinned by instances of unfulfilled potential. But with so much uncertainty, it is now more crucial than ever to ensure we do not leave the job of rebuilding Nigeria half done.
A couple of weeks ago, protests broke out in towns across Nigeria for the first time in recent memory. Citizens turned out in Lagos, our commercial centre, and in our capital, Abuja. Banners heralding the message #IStandWithNigeria filled the streets, held aloft by rowdy protestors marching under the heat of the midday sun. News reports have suggested in the time since, that protests were about the current political situation in Nigeria.
From the deteriorating security situation in the North or the recent xenophobic outbursts between our countrymen and our South African brothers, to the housing crisis in Lagos, where there is a housing deficit of more than 17 million units, it is clear that we face challenges. But taking to the streets won't fix anything. We are stronger when we are united.
As a nation, we face a choice about what we wish Nigeria to be known for, and I am concerned it will be for the wrong reasons unless we choose to act now. My fear is that our cocoyam proverb will come true: that from houses, to agriculture, from oil tenders to diversification and inflation to foreign exchange, we are destined to be known as a country that leaves the job half-done. Don't do business with Nigeria, the world will say, Nigerians don't finish what they start.
The route to progress is not protesting the government but working with it. Because even if the President is not in the country at the moment, his efforts towards change, however small and however slow must continue. Our current President identified a number of priority objectives when he campaigned last year, with improving Nigeria's security situation and diversifying our oil-dependent economy at the top of the list. I believe that responsibility for this last point falls to the people of Nigeria. Encouraging new businesses in new sectors is where we must stand together.
But because we have depended so much on oil, it has meant that thousands of our smaller and medium-sized businesses have gone ignored. This has also been true of our banking sector, which has neglected potential entrepreneurs, denying them the capital they need to start and build businesses. I saw a photo taken by a journalist the other day, it showed a street full of closed-down shops that once housed plant and flower stores right by the roadside. If our entrepreneurs can't find jobs in the formal economy and aren't supported in their own enterprises, then how can we expect to grow?
A diversified and resilient economy is a route to ensuring that a fall in the oil price no longer means a fall in government revenues, a rise in unemployment and a rise in hunger.
Well, hopefully, this may be about to change with the welcome introduction of the new Development Bank of Nigeria, a Goodluck-era initiative ably delivered by our current administration. The bank is a joint venture between the government and some international development finance institutions, which has set out to provide a lifeline or an incentive to SMEs. The project will act as a much-needed catalyst to diversification by distributing funds to our country's banking sector, who in turn will lend to the real economy, the real entrepreneurs.
A thriving business environment internally will lead to thriving and varied industries. This will be the ultimate reward for our efforts: a diversified and resilient economy. It is a route to ensuring that a fall in the oil price no longer means a fall in government revenues, a rise in unemployment and a rise in hunger.
#IStandWithNigeria doesn't mean exaggerating our differences, it means unifying around a shared purpose, a purpose that both government and private citizens, different industries, different religions, different nationalities and different ages can work together to realise. There is another proverb we often use: it takes a village to raise a child, and it is from this that we must define our identity. A unified Nigeria is a strong Nigeria. Encouraging each other, supporting each other and rebuilding Nigeria together is proof that we can finish the job.