A country is never static. It is either growing or shrinking, rising or falling and, perhaps most importantly, its people are either prospering or languishing. Unfortunately, Nigeria, over the past decade, has been shrinking, falling, and has seen its people languishing.
In 2014, for instance, the country’s GDP per capita was $3,200. Today, it hovers around $2,000. As Nigeria prepares for its most consequential election (on February 25, 2023) in decades, millions across the nation are struggling to make ends meet. There is a cash crunch in the country brought about by the sudden government policy to update its currency. There’s not enough new currency circulating and it is dealing a blow to hospitals, the informal economy, and other businesses.
Also, fueled largely by the rise in poverty and lack of opportunity, in addition to its incessant fight with the terrorist group, Boko Haram, Nigeria is also facing security and kidnapping challenges in some parts of the country. This has resulted in Nigerians being more dissatisfied with democracy than they were in 1999, when the country transitioned from military to civilian rule.
Yet–despite these enormous challenges–Nigerians remain resilient.
In a 2022 Disrupt Africa Funding Report detailing startup investment activity on the continent, “Nigeria was the best-funded country in Africa for the second year running.” Around 180 startups (28.4% of total) in the country raised close to one billion dollars (29.3 of the total). These numbers represent year over year growth for the country’s startup ecosystem.
Furthermore, remittances to Nigeria are close to pre-pandemic levels.
Broadly speaking, even with all the challenges in Nigeria, the country still manages to function and its people continue to be hopeful.
But will the resilience of Nigerians ultimately reach a breaking point? And how might its leaders avoid that?
Growing up in Nigeria, there was a popular saying–when there’s life, there’s hope. It was a way many of us dealt with the day-to-day struggles of simply living in Nigeria. Many of those struggles, unfortunately, have intensified. But so has the average Nigerian’s ability to be resilient in the face of them.
In our research, we study how organizations can better select executives for different tasks. Our research suggests that a manager’s “school of experience,” defined by the sum of experiences they’ve had rather than simply possessing the “right stuff” attributes, is a better predictor of whether they’ll be successful in a particular role. In effect, the competencies that differentiate leaders are more often the result of accumulated experiences rather than formal development, and so it’s useful to think of business units as “schools,” and the problems that have confronted managers within these units as the “curriculum.”
Using the schools of experience theory to assess the resilience of Nigerians and how the country will weather whatever storms may arise from its 2023 elections, it becomes very clear that Nigerians have the right school of experience when it comes to resilience.
Last year, for instance, “20 million children did not go to school, the currency hit an all-time low, half of adults were under or unemployed, oil production — the lifeblood of the economy — fell to a 40-year low, and gangs of heavily armed bandits had free reign over large swathes of the country,” as reported by Bloomberg.
But what if this resilience were applied to more productive struggles and less to unproductive struggles? What if much of the country’s resilience were focused on transforming it to the food basket of Africa? Or the tech capital of the continent? It is possible. But leaders in the development sector must refocus their energy on productive resilience. For instance, what if Shubham Chaudhuri, the World Bank’s country director for Nigeria, assigns more funding to the innovation economy rather than the political economy?
Nigerians already have the most important ingredient necessary to innovate–resilience.
Development is difficult, but it is not rocket science. It is a mixture of innovation, humanity, and economics. It is in our humanity that we develop policies to foster innovation that will drive the economy. It is building a system where people have an opportunity to advance. To be poor is a terrible thing, but it is not the worst thing. To be poor and without hope; may be the worst thing.
“In some ways, the Nigerian economy has proved to be very resilient, certainly over the last decade or even over the last four decades,” states Chaudhuri. It’s true. But if leaders such as Chaudhuri don’t begin investing in Nigeria’s productive resilience, at some point, things will take a turn for the worse. For now, we can only hope they don’t.