In the global competition to win the future through technological innovations and education, what does winning the future mean for Nigeria? In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 22, President Obama told the world that for America to maintain a competitive edge over other industrialized nations, America must be geared toward “winning the future.”  Obama said that “to win the future, America must out-innovate, out-build, out-compete, and out-educate other nations.” 

While industrialized nations struggle to out-compete, out-innovate, out-educate and out – build one another, Nigeria struggles with political instability, internal security threats, and infrastructural decay. While these are all vital and important issues and require serious attention for Nigeria’s continued existence as a nation, Nigeria must also take seriously the global competition to win the future.  Otherwise, Nigeria will continue on this downward economic spiral.

Why should the competition to win the future be taken seriously, when there are so many other, seemingly more pressing problems to address?

Nigeria should take the competition to win the future seriously because according to President Obama, “the world … and the rules have changed.” The rules changed because of an increasing global economic interdependence. The world has come to a point in which a nation’s economy is no longer determined by its natural resources, but by its ability to innovate. So it makes sense that the rules have changed even more significantly for countries like Nigeria, whose economy depends solely on natural resources like oil. The competition to win the future is not a competition for natural resources; the competition to win the future is a world of ideas. As we have seen in the case of Nigeria, you can have an abundance of natural resources and, yet, remain one of the poorest nations in the world.

What must Nigeria do to make sure that the dream of remaining in the global economic competition does not die?

Nigeria’s leaders must measure their goals against global benchmarks. President Obama’s call for America to out-innovate, out-build, out-compete and out-educate other nations is the only option for any nation wishing to remain in contention in the global competition. To keep the future’s trophy within site, Nigeria must embrace these same goals.

Unfortunately, the world has not been waiting for Nigeria and Africa to get their political acts together. The world economy has transformed into one in which technological innovations determine the winner and loser nations. Therefore, any nation that aspires to out-perform in the global economic competition must leverage its potential to out-innovate, out-build, out-compete and, most importantly, out-educate others. It is common knowledge that education has been on a downward spiral for many years now. As bad as it is, what makes the neglect of education in Nigeria disastrous is that the rest of the world has placed so much emphasis on it as the only way to out-perform other nations. Instead, Nigeria’s emphasis is on restoring antiquated infrastructure. I am not saying that improving Nigeria’s infrastructure is unnecessary, but because the world economy has moved beyond that stage – America, China, Europe and India, for instance, have moved well beyond the struggle for a constant electricity supply and the kind of infrastructural update we are faced with– my warning is that we should also make sure that education becomes a clear priority. To argue that Nigeria should only focus on these updates is ignoring the current stage of economic competition.

Nigeria has become a consumption economy that has been abandoned by the rest of the world. The current trend in which local employers in Nigeria prefer people who studied abroad to people who studied in their own country is an indication of how global competition is affecting Nigeria. And yet our leaders are not alarmed. The fact that Nigerian leaders have not made education their utmost priority is an indication that they have no intention of placing Nigeria in sight of the global competition.

In a world where countries struggle to gain competitive advantage over others, it is backwards for us to keep defining winning the future in terms of political stability, a consistent power supply, good roads, and internal security.  While these are undoubtedly important aspects in making Nigeria a better country, Nigerian leaders should keep in mind that the rest of the world have moved beyond this stage. It is not the rest of the world’s fault that Nigeria has been stuck at this stage of development.

President Obama understands that winning the future requires a credible effort to out-educate other countries, and so should President Jonathan Goodluck.


Hamilton Odunze

Co-editor African Analyst

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