The President of the African Development Bank, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, told the audience at the 2023 BusinessDay Forum that, “For now, Nigeria is developing too slowly and well below its potential.”
He suggested that, “The prosperous future (that Nigeria yearns for) can only be assured by strongly supporting the private sector to unlock wealth that will lift everyone in Nigeria (out of poverty).”
Among the long list of Nigerians who know the problem of Nigeria and how it can be turned around within a generation is a gentleman who recently lost his father, Michael Balogun, whose friends fondly refer to as “Sure Banker.”
One of the legacies left by the late Balogun, founder of the First City Monument Bank Group and Otunba Tunwase of Ijebu Ode, is the Chief Executive Officer of Chapel Hill Denham, Bolaji Balogun.
Bolaji, a former CEO of his father’s City Securities Limited stock brokerage firm and former Chief Marketing Officer of Nigeria’s pioneer telecommunications company, ECONET, now Airtel, has more than demonstrated that he is a chip off the old Otunba Balogun block.
Though the ministers-designate are already being screened, Bolaji may just be able to assist the President to achieve his promise to double government revenue without necessarily imposing higher taxes on the citizens and their businesses.
The Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Revenue, Zach Adedeji, probably sensing the anxiety of a nation of citizens in doubt, and anxious about what the future holds for them, took time to explain, “Today, we collect less than N15tn as the total annual revenue.
“But our plan between now and the next three years is to double that revenue without increasing taxes and without bringing additional taxes. We just want to deepen our collection system, we just want to simplify it into this technology and data and drive the revenue.”
In an interview with Arise TV sometime in 2019, Bolaji provided a roadmap that the immediate-past Muhammadu Buhari administration either didn’t know about or simply ignored in its usual careless and lackadaisical approach to the governance of a modern nation.
His opening thought was that the Nigerian economy must go through some fundamental reorientation to deepen the domestic financing market, substantially increase domestic savings, focus less on the Naira, and develop the economy to cater for the more than 200 million Nigerians.
To develop the Nigerian economy, Bolaji suggested that the managers of the economy must adopt an economic development model “focused on investment in a sustained and rapid way into infrastructure.”
The four key infrastructure areas that he identified were power or electricity, transportation, gas and energy, and broadband or digital technology, which he described as the infrastructure of the youths.
One must also add security and guarantee of safety for the lives and properties of everyone living within the Nigerian geographical space. Even the 1999 Constitution recognises security as the first job of the government.
Bolaji explained that, “Investing in all of these four segments begins to catalyse significant investment activities by the private sector into a number of sectors. That activity will come into agriculture, mining…, SMEs, healthcare and education… and… security…
“You want to turn your agriculture from… a low value (to high value), you’ve got to invest in power,… you’ve got to invest in transportation networks. That’s what takes agriculture from a low-value base into an exportable high-value base.”
He concluded: “When you make those investments, all of those other investments come in. That’s what enables you to diversify your economy… When you then have the investments going in, there is a very simple thing that happens. You begin to create hundreds of thousands and millions of jobs.
“If you are going to be half of a billion people (by 2050), that is your most important priority as an economy. Foreign exchange would take care of itself when you catalyse investment activities (and produce enough to consume locally and to export to earn foreign exchange).”
Bolaji’s economic model is better than the controversial N500bn freebie that the National Assembly approved for the so-called vulnerable Nigerian households or the buses that some lazy economists suggest should be bought for the masses.
While the freebie should put money into the economy, the basic food items that it will only be able to buy will be imported. And the buses and the fuel and spare parts that will be needed to run them will be coming (with imported inflation) from other economies.
Of what use is that for the depressed and non-productive Nigerian economy? The best way to invest in buses for mass transit (which is applicable mainly in urban centres) is to buy or adapt old buses to run on gas.
In case you’ll like to know, Bolaji never met me, though he is a co-native of Ijebu Ode in Ogun State, Chairman of Lafarge Africa Plc, Africa’s leading cement company and Chief Investment Officer of Nigeria Infrastructure Debt Fund, and he is involved in several other successful business initiatives.
He was also a prominent member of the reality show, LionsDen, where he mentored and partnered with young Nigerian entrepreneurs with brilliant business ideas. His participation in the reality TV show indicates an individual who finds a creative way to unwind from his serious schedule.
Bolaji has built a successful business career after studying economics at the prestigious London School of Economics, the same university where his father obtained his law degree in the early 1960s.
These immense credentials should persuade any serious-minded government to listen to his contribution to the conversation for the turnaround of the Nigerian economy.
As you can see, Bolaji has the bona fides and proof of competence in economic matters. He may just be in a position to dream up a workable plan to bring what he has been talking about into reality.
Tinubu should pay more than a passing interest in Bolaji. Even if he does not want to bring him into his government, at least invite him for in-depth discussions, with the intention of taking the fullest advantage of his profound thoughts.
Let his thoughts not be like flowers whose beauty and fragrance are lost in the wild desert where no one has the opportunity to appreciate them. That would be a disastrous waste of great talent if such negligence was allowed to happen.
Even if Bolaji will not be the Minister of Finance, Minister of Economic Planning, or Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, let him at least be a member of a functional Presidential Council of Economic Advisers. That’s if he is not the chairman.
He seems capable to at least drive the conversation on what may be the prescribed direction for Nigeria’s economy if he will not be given the privilege to drive the economy. Everyone knows that it may be a tough call to squeeze him somewhere because Tinubu has nearly a surfeit of bright boys.
But if the President includes this extra cook in his economic team, the economic broth may not be spoilt. The broth should actually get more condiments for an inviting aroma and become even more wholesome.
May the President be inspired to choose right.