By Orji Uzor Kalu, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Orji Uzor Kalu is a former governor of Nigeria’s Abia State and Chairman of the G37, a non-partisan group proposing alternative policy options for Nigeria. The views expressed are his own.
Reports this week that some economists predict Nigeria will overtake South Africa as Africa’s largest economy, in GDP terms, in the next several years highlights how the country is at an inflection point in its great history.
Over the course of the last few years, the country’s spirit of entrepreneurship has stood at the heart of its integration into nearly every sector of global culture, finance and trade. The country is blessed with a bevy of natural resources and aspires to take its place amidst the BRIC nations. And, notwithstanding the seemingly perpetual squabbling, the country is increasingly looking for leaders that can ensure the government works for the people.
However, despite the dream of a new Nigerian century, citizens from all walks of life scattered across the globe would tell you that there is overwhelming concern when looking at the country’s future.
Nigeria sits atop some of the largest oil reserves in the world, yet it is estimated to have lost $2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2012 alone, primarily because of oil theft and sabotage. Meanwhile, despite having as many citizens in-country as Brazil, Nigeria’s electricity consumption is only the equivalent of about 5 percent of its South American cousin.
Fundamental infrastructure needs are continuing to go unfulfilled in Nigeria, especially roads, factories and hospitals operating without proper equipment. The country faces a technology divide, where mobile phones have often become the sole source for modern communication as places of business and schools remain without computers and, in many cases, even a reliable source of power.
The fundamental root of all this? Nigeria has undermined collective interests in the name of private interests. It is out of necessity and an inherent Nigerian trait of continual ambition that we chose to form the G-37 movement. In recent weeks, there has been fervent speculation regarding the meetings of the G37 group, which was formed to tackle the myriad problems Nigeria is facing. But the group has been designed to be a non-partisan coalition, consisting of members from different political parties, as well as individuals belonging to no party at all, committed to seeing Nigeria thrive and prosper.
The G37 has tremendous hope for Nigeria, and a new Nigerian century that can be forward-thinking and not mired in the grievances of the past. But to make this happen, it is essential that the country summons the communal will to harness the people’s tremendous potential, generate opportunities and strive for fairness and equality for all.
There has been widespread trepidation among the international community in engaging in business and tourism here. Such hesitation only deepens poverty here at home. And, as former U.S. President Bill Clinton so eloquently noted while in Abeokuta, poverty can beget extremist indoctrination, creating a vicious cycle pigeonholing the country.
The onus is on Nigerians to pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps and redefine the country’s trajectory in order to entice and encourage much-needed investment from around the globe.
The average Nigerian should have their voice heard without fear or intimidation, sustaining the country’s growing democracy. I hope that the international community will finally be able to join us in taking part in a conversation about a new Nigerian century.