Friday, 10 January 2014

Of oracles (and gurus)

In 2001, Jim O’Neill, the British economist and former Goldman Sachs bigwig, coined the acronym BRIC to identify the coming economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China (with the later addition of South Africa to become BRICS). By all accounts, he got it about right, although some of his fellow economists wondered at the gap between China and the rest. A decade later, he has coined MINT for the next big four: Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, and is now all over the BBC telling us about them. It seems that Nigeria was not on the original list until someone pointed out that South Korea, a smaller economy than Nigeria’s at the time of our independence in 1960, was in fact already developed, but then MINT is a more pleasing acronym given the object of the exercise.
The late inclusion of Nigeria is understandable. While the other three rank in the world’s top 20 economies, Nigeria languishes at 39.  Infrastructure (or the lack thereof) is primarily to blame, notably electricity, as Mr O’Neill readily acknowledges, with Indonesia, for instance, generating 24 times more than we do. Perhaps the Jonathan administration really will solve our power problem (his no less than the country’s), in which case we are assured that we will grow by up to 12% annually, in effect doubling the size of the economy every six years, but even without we are apparently growing at 7%.
The percentages may be as Mr O’Neill calls them, having spent 32 years ‘looking at a Reuters screen from when I got up at 6am in the morning until 9pm at night. Before I would go to bed I would predict what the dollar rate would be...’ Understandably, perhaps, he is enamoured of the man who predicts the naira rate, the ‘extraordinarily talented’ central bank governor, as well as the ‘charismatic’ finance minister, but then he had only eight days to measure the weight of this global economic powerhouse in the making (however many days he otherwise spent staring at the computer screen).
According to Mr O’Neill, the advantages all four countries possess are lots of people, good geography, abundant commodities (Turkey excepted) and ‘good inner demographics’. Nigeria is indeed a populous nation with abundant commodities and ECOWAS is ours for the taking but for the federal government’s tardiness in empowering our entrepreneurs who have, for instance, usurped France as ‘the leading supplier of imports’ to Ivory Coast, but what if most of your surplus young (no more so than in Nigeria) are illiterate? Whatever Awo’s faults, he ran the only government in this country which set about educating its children, with the then Eastern Region quickly following until this forward-looking enterprise was truncated by those who shun progress. Had they done the same we might by now be the South Korea which Mr O’Neill calls the only example in his lifetime of a country which went from third world to first (apologies to Singapore) on account of having ‘one of the highest levels of education’ in the world.
Mr O’Neill has been described as an ‘oracle’ (and sometimes a ‘guru’) on account of an acronym or two and perhaps he is, having successfully managed $800bn of other people’s money. He himself warns that his predictions are long-term – 30 years - so be careful where you put your money. He is also mindful of the scourge of corruption for which Nigeria is infamous, although he agrees with the overly-endowed central bank governor that this needn’t be the bugbear so often portrayed in the Western media since ‘[s]uch views are important to listen to, as an alternative to our often simplistic Western way of thinking’, to wit: ‘For many credible people in the Mint countries, corruption is a consequence of their weak past, not a cause of a weak future, and certainly not the number one challenge. It falls way down a list compared with the costs of energy and the breadth of its availability and, of course, infrastructure,’ although some might think that our energy and infrastructure problems were, in fact, the consequence of the corruption he so casually brushes aside. During his eight-day stay, Mr O’Neill was much inconvenienced by a delayed flight from Port Harcourt to Lagos, and was mightily relieved to be offered a private jet from Abuja to same, only a pity that he didn’t have time to sample the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, where he would have seen for himself the corruption attendant upon the busiest road in Africa.
A large part of Mr O’Neill’s assessment – surprisingly for an economist – is what he called the ‘wow’ factor, as in, ‘In Turkey, visits to white goods manufacturer Beko and Turkish Airlines, the world's fastest growing airline, definitely made me go "Wow", and in Nigeria, I was saying it all the time.’ He was less-enamoured of Indonesia because, ‘The country's challenges are as big as I thought and I didn't hear too many things that made me go "Wow" in terms of trying to deal with them. The country needs more of a sense of commercial purpose beyond commodities, and has to improve its infrastructure.’ It’s fortunate that we can ourselves peer at our computer screens all the hours God sends and gauge the gap with a country which we were also at par with half a century ago.
By all accounts, Mr O’Neill is a fanatical Man U supporter – his walls at Goldman Sachs apparently bore testimony to this, and he was once on its board – so it was perhaps fortuitous that he met his match (as it were) in the Lagos State governor, who allowed him to win a penalty shoot-out. And who knows? Nigeria may yet score in the economic league table although it won’t be because of oracles (or gurus) pinpointing a central bank governor who studied Islamic Law at the University of Khartoum, or a Harvard University graduate seconded from the World Bank. The pity of it is that dem no go let person drink water put cup down because of the oracle (or guru) who anointed them, but worse again is our own gullibility in the sordid enterprise. Nigeria will become great when it decides to become great, and will in the process re-write the rules Mr O'Neill is so enamoured of.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


  1. If you replace Mexico with South Korea all you will get is SKINT - and that can't possibly be right .......... can it ?


  2. Perhaps we are all being fucked in the you know where.

  3. After SAP! What else? Bull sh*t economics! We will grow when we are ready! Water! Lighti! Foodu! Housi! (basics) Wetin do dem? U mean u no no? -Fela Second bass jare!!!