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Pass The Books, Hold The Oil

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Every so often someone asks me. “What’s your favorite country, other than your own?”

I’ve always had the same answer: Taiwan. “Taiwan? Why Taiwan?” people ask.

Very simple: Because Taiwan is barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off it even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction- yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence – men and women.

I always tell my friends in Taiwan: “You’re the luckiest people in the world. How did you get so lucky? You have no oil, no iron ore, no forests, no diamonds, no gold, just a few small deposits of coal and natural gas – and because of that you developed the habits and culture of honing your people’s skills, which turns out to be the most valuable and only truly renewable resource in the world today. How did you get so lucky?”

That, at least, was my gut instinct. But now we have proof.

A team from  the Organization for Economic Cooperation and  Development,  O.E.C.D, has just come out with a fascinating little study mapping the correlation  be- tween performance on the  Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, exam – which every two years tests math, science and years tests math, science and reading comprehension skills reading comprehension skills of l5-year-olds in 65 countries and the total earnings on natural resources as a percentage of G.D.P’ for each participating country. In short, ticipating country. In short, how well do your high school kids do on math compared with how much oil you pump or how many diamonds you dig?

The results indicated that  there was “a significant negative relationship between the money countries extract from national re sources and the knowledge sources and skills of their high school population,” said Andreas Schleicher, who oversees  the  PISA exams for the O.E.C.D.

“This is a global pattern that holds across 65 countries took part in the latest PISA assessment.”

As the Bible notes, added Schleicher, “Moses led the Jews for 40 through the desert just to bring them to the country in the Middle East that had no oil. But  have gotten it right, after all? Today, Israel has one of the most innovative economies . Tai and its population enjoys a  standard living most of the oil-rich countries in the region are not able to offer.”

So hold the oil, and pass the  books. According to Schleicher, in the latest PISA  results, students in Singapore, Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having high PISA Scores few natural resources, while Qatar and Kazakhstan stand out as having the highest rents and the lowest PISA scores  Saudi Arabia, wait, Oman, Algeria, Bahrain,and Syria stood out the Iran and Syria stood out  and same way in a similar 2007  Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or T1MSS, test, while, interestingly students from Lebanon, and Turkey – also  Middle East states with few  natural resources – scored better.

Also lagging in recent PISA  scores, though, were students in many of the  resource  rich countries of Latin  America, like Brazil, Mexico America, like Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. Africa was not tested. Canada, Australia and Norway, also countries with high levels of natural resources, still score well on PISA, in large part, argues Schleicher, because all three countries have established deliberate policies of saving and investing these resource rents, and not just consuming them.

Add it all up and the numbers say that if you really want to know how a country is going to do in the 21st  century, don’t count its oil reserves or gold mines, count its highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students. “Today’s learning outcomes at school,” says Schleicher, “are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.”

Economists have long known about “Dutch disease,” which happens when a country becomes so dependent on exporting natural resources that its currency soars in value and, as a result, its domestic manufacturing gets crushed as cheap imports flood in and exports become too expensive. What the PISA team is revealing is a related disease: societies that get addicted to their natural resources seem to develop parents and young people who lose some of the instincts, habits and incentives for doing homework  and honing skills.

By, contrast, says Schleicher, “in countries with little in the way of natural resources – Finland, Singapore or Japan – education has strong outcomes and a high status, at least in part because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills and that these depend on the quality of education … Every parent and child in these countries knows that skills will decide the life chances of the child and nothing else is going to rescue them, so they build a whole culture and education system around it.”

Or as my Indian-American friend K.R. Sridhar, the founder of the Silicon valley fuel-cell company Bloom Energy, likes to say, “When you don’t have resources, you becomes resourceful.”

That’s why the foreign countries with the most companies listed on the Nasdaq and Israel, China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, South Korea and Singapore – none of which can live off natural resources.

But there is an important message for the industrialized world in this study, too. In these difficult economic times, it is tempting to  it is tempting to buttress our own standards of  living today by incurring greater financial liabilieven greater financial for the future. To be sure,  there is a role for stimulus in a prolonged recession, but  “the only sustainable way is  grow our way out by givto grow our way out by giving more people the knowling more people the knowl- edge and skills to compete, edge and skills to compete, collaborate and connect in way forward,” argues Schleicher.

In sum, says Schleicher,   “knowledge and skills have  the global currency become the global currency of 21st century economies, but there is no central bank that prints this currency.  Everyone has to decide on their own how much they will print.” Sure, it’s great to have oil  gas and diamonds. They  can buy jobs. But they’ll weaken your society in the weaken your society long run unless to build schools and culture of lifelong learning. “The thing that will keep you  mov- ing forward,” says Schleicher, is always what you bring to the table liabilities your- self.” self.

Friedman wrote this piece for The New York Times.

 

Thomas Friedman

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Opinion

Nigerian Banks And Customers’ Burdens

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The banking system in Nigeria has been a burden to the banking public over the years. Some banks do not give adequate attention to their customers. They rather abandon the customers’ complaints or request without cogent reasons.
Customer complaints are inevitable, no matter how streamlined one’s business may look they must always be acknowledged and dealt with efficiently. By ignoring or dismissing the complaints or requests of customers, the bank is telling the public that their opinion and patronage don’t matter. Many business owners see complaints or demands management as time consuming and frustrating to an efficient system, whereas such complaints can be resolved quickly and easily.
When a customer first lodges a complaint, there is need for the authority to take bold step in order to tackle such problem confronting the complainant. It can be difficult to remain impassive in the face of criticisms, but an emotional response will only serve to irritate the customer further.
The authorities are expected to give their customers full attention as desired and carefully listen to the whole problem before responding. Put yourselves in their shoes, if you had a problem you would want someone to listen and solve it.
Appearing disinterested or attempting to argue to discourage the customer based on the complaint lodged will only exacerbate the situation. There is no need to jump the gun, rather one should deal with such complaints on a regular basis, of which many have handled similar cases before now. However, complaints of esteemed customers are usually unique to the bank staff because resolution of such often attract financial gratification.
Treating their cases as important individuals requires listening to their problems in full, which will go a long way to strengthen the relationship existing between banks and their customers only when attention is given to complaints or demands from customers at our various banks. It is easy to be defenseless, particularly if the management doesn’t believe they are at fault. However, they have to put themselves together and feel the pains of their customers, especially when they are at the receiving end of such experience; would they personally be satisfied? If the blame lies on a particular member of staff, it is often best to remove the customer from their presence.
Always use one’s initiative when dealing with customers’ complaints. This can defuse tension and emotion, and help customers to re-evaluate their anger.
However, never pass the customer around from person to person as each complaint or demand should ideally be handled by a particular staff. Therefore, such person should always ensure that the staff assigned to the case has the impetus to deal with the situation.
Once the customers had aired their grievances, the staff on duty should immediately give a sincere apology. Sometimes, apology is all it takes to placate an angry customer; sometimes, a complaint should be followed by a request for compensation, typically through a refund or a voucher. In this premise, the staff remains calm when dealing with a complaint or demand even if the customer becomes irate or confrontational, the ultimate aim would be to turn the\ bankers’ negative experience into a positive one, but arguing back will only make the situation worse.
Customer complaints should always be resolved as quickly as possible and allow sympathy to be the watchword once you have listened to their concern, in order to quell the heat of the matter for better result.
As a public servant, a bank staff should be able to create a bond between him and the customer, so that they know you have heard their concern and are going to work with them to resolve the impasse. The bank should offer solution to their customer’s burden, provide feedback to such problem and execute the solution, instead of creating more difficulties in the life of the complainants.
Customers are made to be treated with care, kindness, love and respect. The banking system in Nigeria should learn how to manage issues effectively, especially those that emanate from their banks, where they are expected to provide suitable machines that will accommodate the needs of the customers; example, the Automated Teller Machine (ATM), because the banks cannot function well without the customers’ patronage and contribution.
Customers are the reason for the banking system in Nigeria.

By: Kpobari Barizaa
Barizaa wrote in from Bori.

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Opinion

OurStateOurResponsibility: An Insight

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The slogan #OurStateOurResponsibility# is an eloquent government advocacy campaign for patriotism among residents and citizens of Rivers State. Flagging off the campaign on the 31st of July, 2019,the former Permanent Secretary of the Sate Ministry of Information and Communications and current Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, declared as follows: “Our Patriotism needs to be channelled to uphold our State, a lot of good goes on here, outweighing the bad, let us value it”.
The background to this declaration was the recognition that so much of negative narratives about the State were going viral in the media space. The opposition which never gave the state government, under the leadership of Nyesom Wike, a chance to succeed, contrived negative campaigns to wish away all the breakthroughs that the government of the day was making in the areas of infrastructure and human capital development. I recall that when the campaign train came to the Rivers State Television, the then Permanent Secretary Stated that the “people of Rivers State must see the State in the right perspective”.
According to him, this is a State where so much good have transpired in all sectors of development under Governor Wike’s Watch.
The vision and mission had a clear focus, as the state traded the New Rivers Vision which is a blueprint for sustainable development of Rivers State. The government of the day did not leave any one in doubt that it was ready and committed to provide the dividends of democracy to all parts of the State. The populace were therefore expected to show not only support but to speak well of the government as a show of patriotism and gratitude in the spirit of citizen-government reciprocity.
Most importantly, the message of the campaign was for all institutions, NGOs, individuals and the media to blow the trumpet very loud, that so much is happening in the state, so that good will ultimately outshine negative propaganda.
The ultimate message of #OurStateOurResponsibility# is that “there is a shared prosperity to protect”. Every stakeholder must stand up to protect the interest of the State in their respective endeavours. The campaign has moved to the doorsteps of all stakeholders in the public and private sectors including military and paramilitary organisations, that is, Army, Police, Nigeria Security Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC.
The vocal advocacy has also knocked on the door steps of religious groups, the Rivers State House of Assembly, as well as private and state-owned media, labour institutions including professional and labour unions.
Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, now the Honourable Commissioner for Information and Communications, has flagged off the second phase of the campaign.
We can see in him the vigour, zest and passion of the former Information and Public Enlightenment guru, Professor Jerry Gana, in his MAMSER campaign of 1987.
The Mass Mobilization for self Reliance and Economic Recovery was blessed with Professor Jerry Gana as Chairman and Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dr. Jonathan Zwingina and others as board members. There has never been a time earlier in Nigerian history that we have seen a gathering of eminent Nigerians for an ethical reorientation campaign.
The campaign was focused on a theme, “Shun Waste and Vanity, Shun all Pretenses of Influence in Life Style”.
MAMSER propagated the need for the citizens to eschew all vices in public life including corruption, dishonesty, electoral and census malpractice as well as ethnic and religious bigotry.
Professor Jerry Gana would say, if you are a Director, direct well, a Professor, profess well and like a “Troubadour”, he traversed all the corners of Nigeria with the sing song for all Nigerians to change their life styles and tastes in order to enthrone economic prosperity and reform the institutions.
Pastor Paulinus Nsirim in his second phase of #OurStateOurResponsibility campaign is riding on a horizon of vision, power, passion and compelling euphoria similar to Professor Gana, to reach the very essence of our psyche as a people, to handle our state with due patriotism.
It is expected of us as a people, who strive in our daily activities to earn a living, to realise and understand that no one pulls his house down because it is leaking in the roof. A sensible man mends his roof and keeps his home safe.
Rivers State is a prosperous State, a tourist’s destination with abundant opportunities and potentials for economic investments. The state has its challenges, and the most sensible thing to do is not to dwell on the negatives but to embrace all the prospects for a prosperous society, irrespective of political, ethnic affiliations and beliefs. The new phase of the campaign mantra #OurStateOurResponsibility has not lost the vibrancy of the first, but has new promises of reaching out to a larger space and focus.
The Honourable Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim while addressing journalists in his office reminded them that the initiative is aimed at mobilising persons who live and do business in Rivers State to promote the giant strides “recorded by Governor Nyesom Wike in the last six years”.
He expressed joy that in the last two years, there has been an overwhelming buy in by residents and people of Rivers State.
The second phrase promises a new vista as the Ministry has introduced a reward system to the programme for persons within the ages of 16 and 25 to propagate the essence of the campaign through Essay competitions, in the minds of the younger generation of Rivers State in a sustainable manner.

By: Bon Woke

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Opinion

Leakages In Nigeria’s Economy

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During his tenure as Nigeria’s head of state, retired General Ibrahim Babangida confessed that he was surprised why the Nigerian economy had not collapsed, with all the bashing and buffeting from various quarters. What the retired General did not tell us or express any surprise about was what roles the military played in the precarious state of the nation’s economy during his tenure. Anyone who has read Major-General Jibril Musa Sarki’s work: Born to Rule (1999), would appreciate the roles of the military in Nigeria’s current state of affairs.
While recriminations and pointing of fingers would not take us anywhere, it is needful that on-going leakages and profligacies in the Nigerian economy be examined with honesty. We should also remind ourselves of Oliver Goldsmith’s prophetic poem: “Ill fares the land, to hastening ill, a prey, where wealth accumulates but men decay”. Perhaps, it is too late to remind ourselves of our wrong doings and negligences of the past, because we are not predisposed to doing anything to correct them.
It would be unnecessary to remind ourselves that Nigeria has worn the sad tag of corruption, but what is needful would be to examine the subtle ways that it is practised. Corruption goes beyond taking and giving bribes to get things done or to escape justice. Rather, corruption would include taking undue advantage of the trust, confidence, ignorance, docility and loop-holes of the masses and the social system, to cheat by those who manage the affairs of the nation. Leadership is a trust and those who abuse such trust lack integrity necessary for leadership. Must leadership be synonymous with cunning?
It is corruption and failed leadership where those who lead the masses would grow pot-belly through gourmandism while the masses grow lean and die because of starvation and unemployment. Crime rate increases where the masses are impoverished, with no alternative means of earning a legitimate living.
So much had been said and heard about looting and plundering of the nation’s wealth by various clever people, which was why General Babangida expressed surprise at the resilience of the economy. Of all heads of state, it was late General Sani Abacha who was called a looter while others are innocent patriots. Even the loots said to have been recovered end up being relooted by some smart alecks and smooth operators. Surely, only a small fraction of the plunderers and looters of the nation’s wealth come to light or get penalised. There is also the politics of plea-bargaining and joining the party in power to have a clean slate.
The milk-cow providing the enormous wealth fit to be plundered and looted, oil and gas resources of the Niger Delta, also run into the lair of Ali Baba. Thanks to Land Use Act and the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the people of Niger Delta can be content with sharing 3% annual allocation of oil profit with other communities where oil pipelines pass through. Who would say that oil pipelines, as well as the oil and gas industry, are not clever sources of economic leakages in Nigeria? Are such leakages not facilitated by some technical and legal jargon and ambiguities too hard for other stakeholders to understand?
Leakages in Nigeria’s economy can be described as haemorhage with regards to profligate spending of public funds on non-profit-yielding foreign travels by state officials. From pilgrimages to medical tours, the ways that funds have been lavishly spent in the past have not been fair to the declining state of the nation’s economy. What can be quite annoying in this regard is the lip service we pay to the concept of patriotism and accountability, whereby those supposed to manage the affairs of the nation with utmost prudence become hypocritical.
Even more annoying is the attitude of political office holders in not showing genuine concern over the state of the nation’s economy, if we use the current exchange rate of the Naira as a measure. When Chrysler, a leading American company, was close to bankruptcy in 1980, chief executive of that company, Lee Iacoca, among other measures, reduced his salary and allowances by 90% as a sacrifice to save the company. Iacoca did not feed fat or engage in foreign travels when his company was in crisis.
Here in Nigeria, Babangida as a military President, introduced a similar sacrifice to save the Nigerian economy. He declared a 20% cut in his salary and those of state governors under his regime, but average Nigerians knew that the measure was a window-dressing. Today, there is Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBUL) in Lapai, Niger State, asking for increment of tuition fees. Neither is Babangida alone in the ownership of private universities. Yet, Nigeria ranks as second poorest in food affordability, according to UK-based Institute of Development Studies.
Next to profligate and unmerciful squandering of public funds is the scandalous and unjustifiable remunerations packaged for political office holders by the out-gone military regime (1999). According to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a Nigerian senator earns four times the salary of the President of the United States of America. Senator Shehu Sani disclosed that each senator gets N13.5 million monthly as running cost and N700,000 as salary, while there are several other allowances, plus N200 million as constituency allowance.
Then comes tax evasion and frauds by which the Nigerian nation loses enormous revenue annually. There are available research documents in various university libraries and archives, revealing clever ways that corporate tax evasions and frauds take place, such that even forensic auditors can be hood winked and out-witted. If the above listed sources of leakages and several others that we know little about are blocked, Nigeria may not go borrowing money here and there, as if we are a poor nation.
Honest and patriotic Nigerians are alarmed and uncomfortable about current borrowings and rising debt profile which place the future of this nation in a precarious position. What have we done with loots said to have been recovered over the years and what are we doing with the money being borrowed here and there? Perhaps, building of rail lines and feeding of school children take huge chunk of borrowed money and recovered loots. Meanwhile, the image of Nigeria and the current regime demand serious attention, with reference to pensions for governors, etc.

By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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