As we expect life in Abuja to return to normal, hopefully for the better, I feel the urge to share my thoughts about the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Although security concerns and discussions were constant mentions at a Forum to discuss Africa's economy hosted in Africa's largest market (by population), that may as well not be a very bad thing when all is finally said and done.
This is because I find it difficult to imagine that any kind of serious economic activity can be sustained in an atmosphere of insecurity. So the focus on security may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise because I have always believed that the difficult times bring on an opportunity IF those who experience it look for lessons to be learned so that the difficult times never repeat themselves. That said, I will return to my WEF takeaways and they are simple things that have far-reaching consequences for us, depending on what we do.
Takeaway One Although I did not attend the forum, I followed closely as it was covered on Channels and TVC. One thing I noticed was that there were no opening and closing prayers in Christian and Muslim ways; or were they deliberately not broadcast? I doubt that this was the case. The more likely inference is that they were not part of the programme. The reason is that this was not a Nigerian event; it was a global franchise hosting in Nigeria. Think of how many minutes we have spent on prayers at economic and business meetings that are Nigerian. Now multiply them into hours and days and calculate how much productive time we have lost. My conclusion is that prayers and religion are necessary to shape values, they do not run an economy. It is serious people who do. I hope the lesson will remain beyond WEF. Takeaway Two Unless the broadcasters screened off all these parts, then I must have been the only one who did not see the introduction of our countless VIPs and them being ushered to the high table. I did not see sessions being interrupted to announce the 'late arrival' of a VIP who was being led to a front seat where somebody who is not a VIP, but who arrived on time, will have to yield his seat for a person who at best should have been kept out of the venue for tardiness or, at worst, given a vacant seat the BACK of the hall.
Takeaway Three Again, I repeat, unless the broadcasters were extremely ingenuous, I did not see any Ipad and camera-phone totting Mamarazzi and Paparazzi and their better equipped competitors standing in front of particpants and panellists in the 'Nigerian Way' and obscuring the view of the audience in the hall. In spite of this, the event was well reported on local and global television. There was also very generous print coverage and there were clear photographs. The lesson is simple. Our journalism practice can do with a massive dose of professionalism and the use of appropriate equipment, which will raise standards and EVERY journalist MUST either be accredited to cover an event or be politely asked to leave. The picture quality on the electronic platform was merciful to the eyes and pleasantly so. The WEF franchise will not have settled for anything less. Are we Nigerians going to keep these lessons? Takeaway Four If I was not living in Nigeria, I would be tempted to think that the Transcorp Hilton Hotel had always looked like that. Even the organisers, through one of their representatives in her closing speech, whilst thanking the hotel group let it slip that they "pushed" them to meet, what I believe she described as "Swiss Standards." Now that they have attained those standards, I hope they will not let it drop again. They must choose whether they want to be part of the global Hilton brand name or a bad imitation where all types of stragglers roam about the reception, lobby and even corridors of what should be a hospitality facility of the highest repute.
Takeaway Five One of the most important takeaways was also not directly economic, even if it has a consequential impact on the economic fortunes of individuals, families, states and nations. It is education. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a group of businesses committed $10 million towards achieving safety in 500 schools in Northern Nigeria. Why is this a take-away? Partly because the $10 million was not from our own tax-payers or oil money (we are yet to satisfactorily account for $10 billion as we await the outcome of an audit to look into the matter) rather it came from the private sector - and I believe it is foreign. $10 million is N1.63 billion and if you spread it across 500 schools, the per capita allocation will be roughly N3.3 million per school to keep schools safe for scores of children in each of those schools, if not hundreds of them. The lesson is simple. That money may not be a lot, but its message to all of us is profound. The problem is not that of foreigners - it is ours. We can have a lot of money, but if there are no ideas to pursue with the money, the value of money is not manifest. $10 million at N3.3 million per school can have an enduring effect if it is used to pursue the idea and ideal of safe schools, where our national budget may not have made a similar impact. I hope we will latch on to the idea and pursue it for its ideal, in the purest sense and not in a Sure-P way. In the end, it seems that the WEF has focused our attention on small things that have aggregrated to cause us big problems because we did not focus on them. It has shown us that we can be orderly, that we can cover and report events properly, that we are not sinners because we don't pray at business meetings, that we can keep time and most profoundly; that hotel brands like the Hilton and many other Nigerian brands can compete globally if they are challenged and supported. The forum has taught us that we are the ones who limit ourselves and that we do not need protection from competition; but rather a fair chance to compete and the inspiration to do so. I will conclude by issuing a caveat before the "Transformations" spin doctors begin to re-base this summit as their success. This is an acknowledgement of what WEF "forced" us to do. They held our hands all the way, they set targets and deadlines for us, they pushed and prodded. It need not have been this way; but it is. Now WEF has gone, we must prove that we can transform and make these takeaways and many others that I did not observe as a WAY OF LIFE that Nigerians can take for granted.
Fashola (SAN) is the governor of Lagos State