FROM THIRD WORLD TO FIRST: CAN NIGERIA MAKE IT?
By AKIN OYEBODE
The world is currently undergoing incredible transformation. Phenomenal advancement in science and especially information and communication technology has resulted in the shrinking of the globe such that the peoples of the world are coming closer and closer. Unlike in the recent past when there were vast distances between continents and countries, the science and technology revolution has narrowed the gap between countries and peoples so much so that it can truly be said that we now inhabit a global village.
Today, happenings in any part of the planet are transmitted in seconds to other parts, thanks to the global news networks such that the limits of sovereignty have been stretched to the uttermost. The migration of people across frontiers, whether as tourists or refugees has attained unprecedented levels in spite of the efforts by the more industrialized and advanced economies to erect fortresses against ‘invasion' by citizens of the less developed areas of the world who wish to take advantage of opportunities available in those countries for their personal development and self-actualization.
The move towards regional economic integration which has also become a feature of the contemporary world has compelled even the poorer countries to examine the prospects for pulling resources together in realization of the truism that if they did not hang together, they might suffer the fate of being hanged separately. For the developing countries, the approach has been actuated by South-South cooperation and collective self-reliance.
Notwithstanding, the success of a few countries of the so-called Third World in transforming their societies from the nadir of poverty, ignorance, disease and squalor into what has since become known as "newly industrializing countries" through the sheer foresight and iron resolve of their political leadership within a few decades has, undoubtedly, become an inspiration to countries that have remained mired in self-doubt and underdevelopment. The example of the Asian tigers is a notable one and an inspiration, especially to the African countries in relation to what can be achieved, given existing variables.
It is within this conjuncture that we are being invited today to examine Nigeria's prospects for rapid socio-economic and political development. Specifically, we shall ponder over where we are coming from in order to establish where we are now and come to grips with where we want to be and how to get there. In other words, our diagnosis of the Nigerian condition is predicated on unraveling the symptoms of our malaise so that a worthwhile prescription can be made and a prognosis attempted.
Antecedents of the Contemporary Situation
It bears re-stating that Nigeria was a colonial creation, bearing all the hallmarks of imperialist design and purpose. It is in this sense that the characterization of the country as an artificial entity or "a geographical expression" must be understood. It must be emphasized that Lugard and the Royal Niger Company had their own motives for yoking together the multifarious ethnic communities and nationalities that populated the territory without paying any credence to their wishes or right to self-determination.
It needs also be remembered that the colonial encounter was brisk but impactful. The shenanigans that led to political independence in 1960 have left an indelible imprint on both the Nigerian psyche and political development in the country. The lop-sided federation created by the British was so rickety that barely had the scaffolding been removed than the bottom fell through and for upward of three decades, the country was compelled to chafe under military dictatorship.
More important, under the military, the country lay prostate such that political development was inconceivable while the economy achieved, at best, minimal growth and marginal development. The military years have been, quite rightly, described as the years of the locust, with the unconscionable consequence of distortion and corruption of the nation's socio-ethical values. It is hardly contestable that the ‘settlement' syndrome, introduced by one of the military regimes has since become a bad patch on our people's consciousness.
The military took us back by many years and the big "If" is whether Nigeria would not have fared better or made so much progress if we did not have the misfortune of being under the khakistocracy which combatants in government symbolized. Nearly everything the military touched, they desecrated, with the result that Nigerians have imbibed a pavlovian reflex, deferring to authority and becoming generally unaware that those in government were actually their servants, who they can always hold accountable.
The post-mortem on military rule must, therefore, include a resolve by Nigerians NEVER AGAIN to accept unelected, authoritarian rule. It is not enough to mouth the shibboleth of the worst civilian government being preferable to the best military junta. Nigerians should be made aware that a people ruled by the military endure the worst conceivable form of punishment by being subjected to power without responsibility and governmental control by those armed at taxpayers' expense to defend the polity. As Churchill once observed, democracy might be the worst form of government, aside from all the others; accordingly, under no circumstance should unruly soldiers be ever allowed again to invade the hallowed portals of political office. Not only are they untutored in the art of governance, they evince a negative Midas touch symptomatic of a bull in a china shop.
However, if the uniformed members of the ruling class generally had a bad influence on the political development of the nation, their civilian counterparts, like the Bourbons of old, have neither learnt nor forgotten anything. Aside from their venality, evidenced in their accepting to run for office in 1999 without even sighting the operating document of the dispensation, their performance over the last decade has left a lot to be desired. Their rapacity and greed have left the people wondering whether civilians were indeed a better alternative to the militariat. The upsurge in corruption in the country under the watch of the so-called people's representatives has robbed them of legitimacy, with many people once again yearning for a messiah.
The Situation in Nigeria Today
To the extent that social reality is very much a function of the economy, to that extent can it be said that Nigeria is steadily egging toward a depression. Despite the euphoria over consolidation in the banking sector, recent developments suggest that all is not well in that sector. With a number of directors facing prosecution for the reckless way and manner in which they had granted loans as well as their flamboyant lifestyles while majority of their compatriots are only eking out an existence, no tears are being shed for the decisive, if brash efforts by the young CBN Governor to clean up the Augean stables.
The amnesty programme in the Niger delta, procured in a bid to increase petroleum export and garner more foreign exchange earnings in order to meet the ballooning government expenditure, would seem to have exhausted its possibilities. The threat by some militants to resume their activities could indeed become a potent threat to the grandiose plans of the Yar'Adua administration, especially its promise to achieve 6000 megawatts of electricity by the end of this month.
Now, this is particularly serious in view of the centrality of power in the scheme of things. As most Nigerians realize, if power generation, transmission and distribution can be enhanced, that would have made a significant impact on the entire economy instead of the spread-eagled, so-called 7-Point Agenda which has today become more of a shibboleth than anything else. As we speak, it is hardly in dispute that Nigeria is unable to guarantee 24 hours power supply at any place in the country. And, as if that was not enough, the powers-that-be are threatening to embark on removal of some phantom oil subsidy in favour of deregulation of the downstream oil sector at a time when the country lacks the requisite refining capacity for the national economy and it is even toying with the idea of availing itself the facilities of a poorer country like Senegal in a bid to meet the shortfall. One of the most invidious aspects of the Nigerian economy being its ‘disarticulate' nature, that is to say, an economy that consumes what it does not produce and produces what it does not consume. Accordingly, except, until and unless we are able to bridge the gap between production and consumption, we would only continue to go round in circles.
The deregulation policy in the oil marketing sector is truly a recipe for chaos and the impoverishment of the masses who believe that even the current supposedly subsidized prices of petroleum products are unjustifiably high and constitute a tax on them for the gross inefficiency and corruption of the NNPC. If indeed the government is not part of a conspiracy against the poor and does not want to increase the misery of the underprivileged, then it has to be reminded that petroleum products are macro products whose prices affect the prices of all other products. Accordingly, a situation where a butcher's family is compelled to eat bones or children of a tailor dress in rags is, quite frankly, counter-productive and well-nigh dysfunctional.
In the education sector, the portends are equally not altogether bright. Public institutions, from primary schools right up to the universities, are struggling for continued relevance. Most parents would rather send their children and wards to private kindergarten, primary and secondary schools as well as universities in the belief that private was inherently better. The abandonment by the state of its obligations to the population in the area of human capital development just as the Federal Government is doing in the area of utilities and public infrastructure bespeaks a harebrained, thoughtless vote for the market at a time when some of the leading capitalist countries are revising their assumptions regarding the market. In this era of stimulus packages and all manner of refurbishment and bail-out arrangements, it is ridiculous that our policy-makers have stubbornly refused to think out of the box.
It does not require a rocket scientist to inform the government of the critical role education plays in any endeavour to achieve social transformation. Without education of the masses of the people, all the expectations to develop the country would only amount to a pipe-dream. With so many jobs waiting to be done, it is simply inexplicable that Nigeria has not learnt the elementary lesson of the necessity of putting its money where its mouth is. The harsh reality is that education is what separates us from the industrialized world. The advanced countries generally know how while we remain ignorant and unthinking. For as long as we refuse to grasp this truth, our development plans would continue to go awry.
The denial of basic needs to the vast majority of the population constitutes a blight on their right to democracy and good governance. Indeed the failure by the state to empower the masses by ensuring that their votes count is a telling indictment of the Nigerian state for its failure to adhere to the tenets of democratic governance. Where and when the fine points of democracy such as freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary, sanctity of the ballot-box, the right to dissent, etc. are in place, it is but a short step to good governance. Regrettably, abject poverty, mass unemployment, insufferable corruption, compromised electoral bodies, partisan security agents acting generally with impunity, collapsed or non-existing social services such as health, housing and pension and other social security benefits characterize the current socio-political architecture of Nigeria. In such a situation, it is mere wishful thinking to envisage any amelioration in the existential circumstances of the preponderant majority of the population.
Nonetheless, the festering sore of corruption which is steadily gnawing at the foundations of the country and threatening to grind Nigeria to a halt has complicated the tragedy of poverty of the masses in the face of incredible wealth of the nation. As public resources continue to find their way into private pockets, the excesses of the buccaneers in power have become a clear and present danger to the survival of the country as we know it. The rapacity of the looting class is speeding up the birth of the grave-diggers of this formation and if any indication was required concerning the dire straits in which the country has found itself, the upsurge in all manner of criminality that now characterizes the nation's landscape is an eloquent testimony.
Accordingly, it becomes imperative to transcend this scenario if Nigeria is to make any progress. Unfortunately, the much-trumpeted game plan for socio-economic and political transformation, otherwise known as the Vision 20-2020, is not only disconnected from the people, it is a product of do-gooders from abroad, totally lacking in authenticity and, therefore, possessing marginal utilitarian or heuristic value . Perhaps we need to interrogate the matter a little further.
The Paradigm for Nigeria's Development and Transformation
The Nigerian ruling class is notorious for dreaming grandiose dreams without ensuring the wherewithal for implementation. Right from Stompfer's observation in the 1960's regarding our penchant for planning without facts, right up to today's chimera of catapulting Nigeria to the stature of one of the world's most advanced economies, our policy-makers seemed to have been seduced by the desire to launch the Nigerian people and nation along the path of self-delusion in the name of utopian pursuits of Eldorado.
The suggestion by the New York investment bank, Goldman Sachs a few years ago that Nigeria could join the BRIC nations by 2025 if the country can maintain an annual growth rate of some 12 percent and an investment of about $800 million every year in infrastructure as well as other deliverables was unabashedly appropriated by the Obasanjo administration with little to show for it aside from reduction of the target date by five years and establishing talking shops on the theme, thereby transforming the whole idea into a gravy train for some members of the country's elite.
The Yar'Adua administration has not fared better. The wild goose chase called the Vision 20-2020 has since become another search in wonderland, very much like the penchant for the rule of law and the 7-Point Agenda, both of which seem to have generated more heat than light. We are being told that the Vision 20-2020 has now attained the approval of the Federal Executive Council and is to be enacted into law in a bid to ensure that it survives this administration. However, as we all know, no administration can bind its successors and if any lesson on this was needed, one need not look too far. The experience of Better Life for All by the Year 2000 and the Vision 2010 is there for all to see.
While there was nothing inherently bad in dreaming dreams, it is, quite simply, unconscionable and dishonest to deliberately lead the people into a cul-de-sac. The perspective plans of the 1960's, at least, set goals which appeared realistic in comparison with the outlandish promises of today which, prima facie, are bereft of any chances of realization. The apparent failure by Nigeria to meet any of the much-vaunted Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is sufficient to cure promoters of our current adventure of their delusion of grandeur. In practically every department of human endeavour, Nigeria has evinced abysmal failure and a lack of capacity to deliver. The level of the country's underachievement is such that many conscious Nigerians are already giving up on Nigeria.
The collapse of the stock market, the state of our educational institutions, the Boko Haram incident, upsurge in robberies, kidnapping and sundry acts of malfeasance and anti-social conduct would seem to suggest that those who had forecast the demise of the country in the foreseeable future, might not be altogether sadistic or ill-intentioned. The signs of a failing state are quite discernable in the socio-economic and political landscape. The imminent collapse of the socio-economic formation known as Nigeria is, therefore, not a result of the machinations of forces that do not wish us well but a consequence of our own managerial deficiencies and incapacitation.
The long lines of young Nigerians at foreign embassies and consulates in search of visas are indicative of the fact the country no longer offers any hope or attraction for our younger ones. This would have been a wake-up call to a responsible and focused government but under present circumstances, we are being told that the export of the young ones was not necessarily a bad thing. In our own time, as most people here present would recall, we had travelled to far-flung corners of the world in search of the golden fleece but upon successfully accomplishing the mission, we promptly returned home to contribute our quota to the country's development. Today, our doctors, engineers, computer professionals, footballers and even commercial sex workers believe in searching for a greener grass abroad. Except for incurable optimists who still believe that we can somehow muddle through, many observers, both local and foreign, have apprehended the grave danger that Nigeria confronts and unless we face the matter head-on, Nigeria might soon be referred to in the past tense.
In view of the foregoing, there is an urgent need to convene a meeting of stakeholders to address the national question, the comatose economy, insecurity and, most important of all, the fundamental law that is to order our inter-personal relations and rules of engagement for group dynamics and equitable sharing of national resources. This is a task beyond the legislative houses as constituted at present, comprising mostly men and women of dubious legitimacy and who are mostly enamoured of private agendas. The big family meeting being advocated should comprise representatives of the over 400 ethnic groups and nationalities that populate Nigeria and whose deliberations and recommendations would be subjected to a national referendum, thereby guaranteeing legitimacy of the ground rules for our co-habitation as well as the modalities for socio-economic and political transformation of the fatherland.
Towards a Better Nigeria and Possible Re-positioning Within the Global League
The exploits of leaders like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Dr Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia in changing the economic infrastructure and political landscape of their societies within a relatively short span are indicative of what is achievable, given a disciplined, insightful and committed leadership. With a core of dedicated and well-schooled leaders, imbued with the requisite ability to elaborate achievable blueprints for socio-economic and political transformation, underdeveloped formations can put in place policies and programmes that would lead to the level attained by the more advanced societies within a couple of generations.
The consignment of the socialist alternative to limbo by ideologues of free enterprise capitalism, notwithstanding, the developing countries must feel free to continue to explore novel and different forms of social organization in their bid to develop and transform their societies. Admittedly there is a large body of opinion that pooh-poohs non-capitalist solutions to socio-economic problems in contemporary times, the truth of the matter is that it is necessary to explore all cost-effective precepts and optimal approaches without being bogged down by ideological put-downs. This is the lesson to be learnt from President Obama's current efforts to navigate out of the crisis of capitalism, masquerading as the global melt-down through all manner of stimulus packages, buy-back arrangements, including take-over of toxic assets created by the carefree financial managers on Wall Street. Same can be said of his efforts to extend health care to poor Americans which right-wing forces have been deriding as trying to turn the US into a socialist economy, forgetting that capitalism was, after all, socialism for the rich!
Admittedly the problem with Nigeria is both structural and managerial but it seems to me that since fish starts getting rotten from the head, Nigeria's multifarious afflictions would not be effectively treated until a correct leadership is firmly in place. The matter becomes more compelling in view of Nigeria's manifest destiny and leadership potential on the African continent. With over a hundred universities and endowment of practically all the elements on the Mendeleev table, it is simply staggering to imagine what the country would be if it is possible to effect a synergy of all of this in an effort to transcend our current limitations and inadequacies. The truth is that Nigeria's greatest affliction is the poverty of mind and intellect of those in charge of its destiny. The recent encounter between the Venezuelan ambassador and one of Nigeria's more loquacious ministers speaks volumes on the diffidence and lack of consciousness regarding what needs to be done and how to do it, even at the highest levels of policy formulation and policy implementation.
Yet, as our people say, awareness of a problem is indeed a problem half-solved. The virulent anti-intellectualism that pervades government circles and the level of superstition and ignorance that attends the populace generally would tend to suggest that we are indeed further from the solutions to our problems than we seem to realize. Without doubt, the key to the cocktail of issues begging for resolution in contemporary Nigeria, as stated earlier, lies in education and more education. When we are able to ensure mass education and human capital development generally, it would become most difficult, if not, in fact, impossible for government to discountenance the population or ride them like horses. Their being taken for granted is as a result of their disempowerment, self-doubt and impotence of the people so much so that they have to consign their difficulties and existential privations to their Creator.
The yearnings of our people for a betterment of their circumstances would be difficult to achieve until, unless and only to the extent that the leaders that thrust themselves on them share an identity of interests with this vast army of urban poor and rural disinherited. Yet, the prospects of the nation's transition from the labyrinths of poverty, squalor and disease and join the rest of the advanced world depends very much on the capability of the nation's leaders to apprehend the gravity of the current situation and formulate the blueprint for navigating out of the present quagmire.
In the final analysis, the possibility of transiting from the third world to the first is predicated on the resolve of the country's political leadership to galvanize the people so that they can buy into the rescue programme devised by their leaders. The disconnect between the leaders and the rest of the population would need to be corrected before the prospects for socio-economic and political transformation can become so much enhanced.
As Dr Mohamad reminded Nigerians a couple of weeks ago, the leader or Head of State must be more knowledgeable than the men and women that surround him. More important, he must be competent and efficient so much so that if found incapable, he should not shy from throwing in the towel. In his own words, "Nothing is more debilitating than a lack of decisiveness on the part of a leader. He must accept that if he makes a mistake he should be willing to take the blame and even to quit. There is no shame in quitting but there is a lot of shame in trying to stay on after having failed…" In other words, under no circumstance must a leader put his personal interest above those of the nation. That is what patriotism is all about.
Accordingly, modern government, especially in a society that intends to shorten its transition to the status of a developed one exacts tremendous demands from the leaders, much more, in fact, than in the relatively more stable advanced societies. The challenge of transition makes leadership a most critical factor in the success or failure of schemes to transform developing countries from their niggardly circumstances to the affluence and comfort zones of the industrialized world. Developing countries like Nigeria must be ready, willing and able to pay the necessary price of transition from the third world to the first which, inevitably, calls for a change in the mind-set of both the leaders and the led.
Nigeria is, undoubtedly, poised for great accomplishments in the years ahead, given its incredible endowments in both human and material resources. However, it needs be emphasized that greatness is not to be conjured into existence but a product of painstaking and dogged pursuit of well-thought out national goals and objectives. The formulation of a game plan for societal growth and development containing clear benchmarks which would facilitate the prosecution of the roadmap to transformation is not something to be mouthed like a mantra or talisman but an articulate and all-embracing programme and course of action towards the agreed goal and objective.
If Nigeria is to succeed, like some of the Asian tigers, in shortening its transition from the third world to the first, then there is an urgent need for a re-thinking of the modalities for managing the nation's political economy. The country's leadership would have to be rejuvenated so that Nigeria's latent capabilities can be speedily unleashed in order to achieve the vision and mission of national development. That is the least the ruling class owes a much maligned and longsuffering people.
The first decade of the 21st century would appear to have been lost to the miasma of corruption, diffidence and inaction. What is now called for is a new resolve by its leaders and people to lift Nigeria up from its current self-doubt and underperformance. Nigeria is so richly blessed that it definitely has no business with poverty and underdevelopment. All hands must be on deck to ensure that the nation actualizes its promise and attains high level of development and well-being which the world expects of it. The time is long past for alibis.