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Nigeria Will Not Develop Until We Fix This Problem

By Samuel Odunsi, Sr.  OCTOBER 1, 2022

What does development mean for Nigeria?

Development means that Nigeria will rise to meet the West and other developed countries as an economic equal. Like China has recently done. This is also what development means for other former colonies of the West that are now politically independent.

Why has Nigeria not developed? 

The single cause of underdevelopment in Nigeria is the failure of higher education (universities and technical institutions) to train graduates to operate their western economy as well as expatriates. Expatriates are people from the West and China who make things work in Nigeria. The companies and organizations operated by expatriates perform the best in Nigeria. E.g., oil and gas industry, construction industry, telecom, etc. If a large operation is running well, the chance is great that expatriates are the managers behind it, even if Nigerians own it. Without the managerial leadership of expatriates, the facility will deteriorate or collapse over time. That is what happened to the systems inherited from colonialism, such as utility services (electricity, water, mail) transportation systems (railways), social services, industries, and other sectors. Not to mention the deterioration of the currency from 1 naira to 1 dollar in the early 1980s to hundreds of naira to 1 dollar today. The failure of higher education to equalize the managerial performance of Nigerian graduates with those of expatriates has been the cause of underdevelopment. That is not a secret. What has been a secret is talking about it as we do here. 

What is the purpose of higher education in Nigeria?

In addition to imparting technical knowledge, the purpose of higher education is to train people to perform as well as expatriates in the role of manager, administrator, or entrepreneur in the public and private sectors so they can lead and supervise the rapid and continuous development of the country. If higher education in Nigeria could supply a steady and increasing stream of graduates who are as effective as expatriates, the country will quickly develop for real.

In numerical terms, Nigeria already has more than enough graduates and professionals to make development happen. But higher education has not been effective in that way. All that higher education has done is provide technical training, which benefits only the individual who might get a job in Nigeria or overseas. Technical training has proven useless for development when the managerial leadership of expatriates is not present. Higher education will not meet its purpose until every new graduate can reliably do what expatriates do. That will only happen when the type of curriculum change we recommend is implemented.

Can’t Nigeria just hire the expatriates it needs to develop the country?

It’s theoretically possible for Nigeria to hire enough expatriates to develop the country. But it’s not possible in reality because Nigeria can’t afford the financial cost. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year, if not trillions, will be required to pay the salaries of expatriates that can develop the country as defined. More likely, Nigerians probably can’t subject themselves to such a greater level of expatriate domination.

Postcolonial countries that are doing better than Nigeria, are stuck in the “middle-income trap” because they too can’t afford or tolerate the number of expatriates that will lift them to true developed status.

Yes, all postcolonial countries suffer from the failure of higher education. The so-called middle-income countries in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and South Africa are doing better than Nigeria because they have a much wider and deeper penetration of expatriates in their economies. Reduce the number of expatriates, and middle-income countries will deteriorate to what we see in Nigeria. Meanwhile, all postcolonial countries, including middle-income countries, show the symptoms of the failure of higher education

What are the symptoms of the failure of higher education in Nigeria?

The symptoms of the failure of higher education include persistent poverty, persistent corruption, persistent instability, persistently bad governance, the lawless violence of terrorism, the endemic malfunction of institutions, economic underperformance, and dependency on developed countries.

We have been led to believe that these symptoms are the causes of underdevelopment. That is wrong. Expatriates are in Nigeria with Nigerians, yet they do what Nigerian graduates generally cannot do. The symptoms don’t affect the performance of expatriates. The symptoms are incurable until Nigerians begin to perform as well as expatriates in the high numbers that expatriates cannot provide. 

The most ethical and corruption-free leadership has no means to address the failure of higher education. As a result, ideology, democracy, authoritarianism, free elections, anti-corruption laws, uprising, revolution, and wars do not address the symptoms.

Revenues from the export of oil and gas, raw materials, agricultural products, globalization, and foreign aid do not address the symptoms. Such revenue may provide tenuous prosperity or modernization and give a false impression that development is taking place. However, the symptoms of the failure of higher education don’t go away.

Why can’t Nigeria diversify its economy?

For a developing economy like Nigeria, diversification means import substitution. That is, producing at home most or all of the products that are currently imported. A small but important part of diversification is refining locally all the raw materials extracted in Nigeria instead of overseas refinement.  The majority of diversification is building and maintaining the infrastructure, supply chains, and institutions supporting import substitution over the long term with Nigerian managerial leadership. And then improving performance and output with continuous productivity enhancement and innovation. That is development in a nutshell. A country that can supply much of the nation’s demand for utility and consumer items at international quality will be a prosperous, truly developing country that will inexorably catch up with developed countries, as China is doing. But efforts to diversify the economy have failed because of the shortage of effective managerial leadership. 

The only system in place to systematically fill the shortage and which claims to do so already (according to speeches made at graduation ceremonies) is higher education. But over many generations, higher education has consistently failed to keep that promise. No other institution on our planet has failed to the extent and scale of “higher education for development” for so long without consequence or change.

So, without the leadership of expatriates in numbers that Nigeria probably can’t afford, five-year or ten-year development plans, Vision 2030, SDGs, knowledge economy, large-scale agriculture projects, and other development plans will not meet their goals. Previous development and diversification plans have not worked because of ineffective higher education. For the same reason, new plans will not work either.

Why is higher education effective in developed countries and not in Nigeria?

Higher education appears to work for developed countries. So, if it doesn’t work for developing countries, then it’s automatically assumed that something is wrong with the people of these countries. We reject this notion. Nothing is wrong with people. Instead, something is wrong with education. The fact is that culture, not education, is “working” for the developed countries.

The curriculum of western education that is in effect everywhere in the world, including Nigeria, does not contain the elements that will equalize the performance of graduates with those of expatriates in the course of acquiring higher education. Recognizing and including these elements in the higher education curriculum was never required for its effectiveness in developed countries. The western economic model, imposed on Nigeria by colonialism, is an extension of Western culture. A subset of Western culture. The West never had to deliberately connect its culture with an economic model imposed by a different culture, and still doesn’t know how to do so. 

As a result, western academia has never been able to explain how culture makes development happen in a manner that is teachable to others. Yes, the west has limited knowledge about its own development! The conceptual tools required for a teachable explanation, therefore, do not exist—until now. But we’ve moved past that. Not only have we provided the missing tools we have also devised a curriculum that will connect the native culture of the individual student with the western economic model that higher education represents. Read how culture affects development in a solution-oriented way here:

Why are China, Japan, and South Korea developed, since their cultures are not Western?

The answer is that these countries have cultural elements in common with the west. So, nothing extra is needed in the higher education curriculum to connect the western economic model to their culture. For the first time, we have identified the elements of culture required for development that have been universally overlooked. We’ve also devised the means to systematically impart and nurture these elements to full strength in the educational setting within the 4-year duration of higher education. Click here to learn about it.

Will development happen in Nigeria if the quality of education is improved?

The answer is no! Improving the quality of education will not make development happen because it does not address what is wrong with education. The quality of education in Nigeria was arguably at its highest immediately after independence from colonialism and has steadily deteriorated ever since. Better quality education did not make development happen back then because quality was not the problem. The problem is the academic curriculum itself. Specifically, what the curriculum is lacking. 

Again, standard higher education curricula originated in western culture for the people of that culture. So, the content of the academic curriculum is largely the product of western culture. The perceived effectiveness of this curriculum in developed countries and among expatriates is built on top of that culture. In a country where the western economic and institutional model was imposed by colonialism, such as Nigeria, the underlying culture remains separate, and the higher education curriculum has nothing to build upon. Instead, what is learned in higher education is segregated in the graduate’s mind as a series of protocols or technical skills. What is learned has a superficial connection to the native culture of the individual and cannot be consistently applied contingently or instinctively to practical challenges as the expatriate does. 

But higher education is conducted everywhere in our world with the underlying assumption that a connection between culture and the economic model already exists for all college-age students. The reasoning is, if the West did not have to make such a connection with its people, nobody else would need to. As a result, the higher education curriculum offers no provision for bridging the gap. 

Improving the quality of this type of education will not make up for what is missing in the curriculum, to begin with. Stated bluntly, our graduates will not perform as well as expatriates even if every Nigerian institution has the quality of the best universities in the West. This is why overseas graduates who return home have been just as ineffective as local graduates. There is no magic number of graduates that will suddenly make development begin in Nigeria at some unknown future date. Higher education that does not equalize the performance of the graduate with the performance of expatriates immediately upon graduation will not suddenly do so in the future. Increasing the number of such graduates in society will not make equalization happen either.

Can development happen in a unique Nigerian way?

Again, the answer is no. The suggestion that Africa or Latin America, or any postcolonial country may have an alternative development path is wishful thinking. Nigeria is a western economy that is malfunctioning. The economy of Nigeria has to be managed like the western economy that it is. Colonialism remade the economy of Nigeria’s territory in the image of the West, and there is no turning back. On Independence Day, the British handed over to Nigerians a working western economic and social model, complete with civil service institutions, a legal system, a military system, an education system, a healthcare system, a monetary system, commercial industries, and so on. Nigeria did not abandon any of the institutions imposed by colonialism. But to operate properly, these systems require the foundation of self-sustaining economic diversification and increasing productivity led by the competent management of many thousands of Nigerians with higher education in both the public and private sectors. The continual failed efforts to operate these systems without the required foundation, without the required managerial leadership, is what makes underdevelopment permanent. 

At the same time, the traditional methods of old can’t support a much larger population and the contemporary aspirations of the Nigerians of today. Hence, pining for those traditional methods or trying to revert to them is a waste of time. 

So, like other postcolonial countries, Nigeria is stuck with an institutional and economic system it cannot properly operate with no way out. The only way out of this “pain of underdevelopment” is to open the door wider for expatriate domination. The alternative being promoted here is for indigenous Nigerians to make their western economy work as it should with the efficiency of expatriates.

There’s a system to train young Nigerians to do that. It is the system of higher education. But higher education has consistently failed to meet that goal. So, the only unique aspect of making development happen in Nigeria and elsewhere in the global south consists of the new ideas needed to make education meet its goal. The ideas are now here.

Do Nigerians have what it takes to graduate higher education and immediately perform as well as expatriates?

The answer is yes. There are numerous exceptions whereby Nigerians have performed and served with distinction as effective and conscientious managers, administrators, supervisors, and entrepreneurs. But the meaning of persistent underdevelopment is that the exceptions don’t make a difference overall. There have simply not been enough exceptions to make development happen for the country. Our solution promises to make every graduate exceptional in this manner.

The problem is not a lack of intellect or motivation on the part of Nigerians. Individual Nigerians, like humans everywhere, possess and routinely demonstrate the minimum capacity for making development happen at the level of the developed countries. Higher education simply does not know how to tap into this inborn capacity.

We have identified this capacity (presented here on FB). We have also identified the required steps for integrating it with the western economic model to which Nigeria is now bound with irresistible force. And it can happen in the time it takes to get a degree. The proposed solution is the Implicit Curriculum of Higher Education. The Implicit Curriculum is available for implementation on a test basis among small groups on a few campuses or all at once for the entire nation. When properly implemented, the result is guaranteed and measurable. Learn about the proposed Implicit Curriculum here:


We’re NOT advocating the replacement of expatriates in Nigeria or any other postcolonial country. A truly developing economy will add capacity at a rate that will quickly consume available managerial and entrepreneurial talent, expatriates included. The goal of development is to expand the economic pie to the size of the developed countries. The goal is not to replace expatriates, but to have a lot more people do what expatriates do, in more areas of the economy, at an increasing rate. We’re advocating a lasting measure, not gimmicks.

What happens next?

That depends on you. But note:

1) Underdevelopment is the most intellectually stagnant area of study in history. Despite billions of dollars spent worldwide for solving the problem annually, no progress has been made in over 60 years.

2) Anything you read or hear about solving Nigeria’s problems is more-of-the-same unless the elephant in the room is addressed: the ineffectiveness of “higher education for development”

3) Nigeria is on its own. Despite their mandates and pronouncements, the Development Space (World Bank, IMF, Academia, and their support systems) don’t believe Nigeria can develop through the efforts of Nigerians. Read more:

You have more power than you realize. Your role is to do everything with that power to notify authorities in government and in the development space that there is a new solution to try. Poverty, despair, human degradation, and hopelessness of most Nigerians need not be permanent. Learn about the proposed solution here: 

Clarify the solution or learn about the full extent of Nigeria’s plight with these methods:

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