A former Vice-President of World Bank (Africa Division) and former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, has blamed the prevailing poverty level in the country on poor leadership and corruption in the public sector.
In a keynote address on the theme: “Literature and the creative economy”, she delivered at the opening of Port Harcourt Book Festival in Port Harcourt yesterday, Ezekwesili said it was sad that Nigeria, which should have blazed the trail of development in Africa and the entire Third World, was still struggling to survive after 53 years of independence.
She described Nigeria as the best example of an African paradox, adding that the enormous revenue the country had earned from oil has become a source of sorrow to the citizens.
Her words: “Nigeria is perhaps the best known example of the African paradox. It is a country which has struggled with the development process over the last 53 years of her independence. As the 6th largest producer of oil in the world, it has earned more than half a trillion dollars in oil export since the discovery of that commodity in the South-south region of this country where we are gathered today. Unfortunately, the massive revenue from oil has been a source of enormous sorrow to citizens due to poor government by our political elite over the many decades since its discovery.
“Nigeria has therefore tragically failed to translate rich resource endowment to improvement in the standard of living of her citizens hence we today have 69 per cent of over 100 million of our citizens in the poverty bracket, according to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics.
“Even though the last one decade has witnessed an increase in our economic growth rate to an average of seven per cent per annum, regrettably, this has not resulted in poverty reduction. The poor governance or its more virulent manifestation; public corruption, is of course the fundamental reason for Nigeria’s poor economic performance despite our globally acknowledged economic potentials to have become not just one of the largest economies of the world, but in fact, one of the most prosperous of those countries.
“There is no better saying of the governance failure in our nation than the relatively unchanged structure of the economy of Nigeria since our independence; and it is the rapid change of the structure of an economy that determines the level of economic growth, development and prosperity that would happen. In our case, it has remained relatively unchanged. It is the same story of quite a whole number of the African countries.”
The former minister called on African countries to seek new sources of growth to arrest the prevalence of poverty in the continent.
She said: “At 48 per cent of the continent’s population surviving on a mere $1.25 a meal, it is urgent that the economies of Africa should find new sources of growth.”
Ezekwesili said there was a relationship between economics and literature and challenged participants at the festival to come out with practical steps that would make literature an economic force in Nigeria.
“It is of course not an easy step. But let me remind you that as a matter of fact, economics is the heart of literature and literature is the heart of economics, because these are two fields that observe human individuals in action,” she said.
She commended Governor Rotimi Amaechi for creating the right atmosphere and promoting the existence of creative minds in the state in Nigeria’s emerging creative industry, stating that the governor’s remarkable effort had attracted most enterprising creative minds to the state.
Ezekwesili said economies gain more opportunities to succeed “by taking hold of the collective talents of a larger number of citizens connected to a broader, more reachable world than used to be the case. Creative industries are generally small businesses, self-employment and plenty of informality, deriving from networks and contacts”.
According to her, “For in the development of a larger and more integrated creative society and creative economy, the literature community benefits. It has been found that in societies where the cluster approach to the development of the creative industries has enabled a value chain connectivity of literature to music to film to fashion, there has been greater acceleration of value creation within that industry.
“So, in some of the economies that have gone ahead, there has been deliberate policy on the part of government to support through the cluster approach and the cluster approach has sometimes been about cities differentiating themselves as the place where the people that belong to that industry would like to live together, cohabitation, locating the resources and the utilities that the creative mind requires in order to be the best that they can be as often differentiated cities from other cities.
“To that extent therefore, I wish to congratulate the governor of this state (Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State) that Port Harcourt could be differentiated among all other cities in the country as a city that welcomes integrated talent of the creative industry (and for becoming UNESCO World Book Capital 2014)”.
In his address, Amaechi said the state would build a N3 billion Creative Village in the state to promote creativity.
He challenged creative writers in Nigeria to reflect present day’s realities in their literature to serve as a check on abuse.
“Look at boxing as a sport. It is also an attempt by rich men to sit somewhere and watch poor men beat themselves: Gentlemen just beat yourselves and I will reward you. He actually does after the fight. So, people go into the ring to be beaten and get paid, but nobody asks the rich man where he got the money that he pays them to beat each other. We need to reflect issues like this in our literature,” he said.
He said the state had commenced construction of libraries and would soon complete a cultural centre named after Nigeria’s former Miss World Agbani Darego.
“We are about to build a new library…We are building a creative village with library , a café, a writers’ residence and a theatre and I must say we want to build before the world book capital starts.”