From the ashes of military junta and political instability, Nigeria has proudly raised its head as a political and economic power in Africa. The country’s affluence and confidence is carving a unique and vibrant culture, and far from tracing the Western template like so many other developing nations, it is breaking the mould — bringing the colour and chaos to a vibrant society with big dreams.
The promise and excitement of a nation on the rise is starting to reverse a trend that has hit its development since the 60s when the country gained independence and emerging elites migrated abroad, mainly for educational pursuit.
Many of these young, Western-educated Nigerians are now returning home, and this rise of ‘repats’ is having a profound impact on the economic and social fabric of the country. The phenomenon was catalysed by Europe’s austerity – young people are constrained by tough job markets, unaffordable housing and high living costs, while their ancestral home offers opportunity, excitement and often, the promise of a more affluent lifestyle.
The dramatic slump in oil prices has also played a key role. The sector has made an undeniable contribution to the development of Nigeria in recent years, but it has arguably also held the country back. A mixture of foreign exploitation, corruption, and ‘putting all its eggs in one basket’ has created a mono-economy, which as evidenced by the recent collapse of the industry, and has left the country in a fragile state.
Repats are therefore looking beyond oil to other industries such as music and fashion, and nowhere is this creative boom more evident than in Lagos. When I return there, I can’t help but notice the big billboards with local artists lining the streets, or the number of new fashion boutiques that have popped up since my last visit — the entrepreneurial energy is contagious. The state is not only churning out a number of artists and designers but also attracting aspiring musicians and fashionistas from all over the country.
Agriculture is also proving to be a sector of interest amongst repats – long perceived to be a fruitless and feudal industry, it is now booming. Riding on the back of the government’s transformational agricultural policies and drive for subsistence, young repats are innovating in a previously stagnant industry with the potential for big rewards.
Government has been instrumental in spearheading the growth of the industry, limiting the import of staples such as rice to encourage Nigerians to produce their own food and support their local economies. This political incentive, coupled with the vast swathes of arable land, large workforce and abundant water supply, has made the industry an enticing proposition for the enterprising. Beyond agriculture, repats who have worked in Western service industries are also using the country’s fledgling meritocracy to their advantage by setting up new and exciting businesses in a fertile market with the potential for rapid expansion.
Economic diversification and social enrichment are transforming Nigeria for the better, tearing down inflated western perceptions of the nation as a hotbed for corruption and terrorist activity, among other things. With a progressive president, young fertile minds and an appetite for positive change but with a keen sense of Nigerian identity, the nation is in a prime position to lead the continent as a shining example of the Africa of the future.
While the country’s phenomenal progression is hard to dispute, there are still a number of deep-rooted issues to overcome, poverty and corruption being two of the key areas. Seven in ten (70 per cent) Nigerians live below the national poverty line, and while the new administration has made significant progress in ‘cleaning up shop’ within government, there is still some way to go. Nigeria’s ‘brain gain’ is a new resource that is likely to be a huge asset in tackling these problems — injecting new life into the economic engine and fresh, youthful ideals to tackle these problems and find solutions. Nigeria’s future has never been brighter.
Ibru is the Legacy Owner and Director, Aerocontractors company of Nigeria Limited
Source: Guardian Business News