In 1881 the author Joel Chandler Harris wrote a book, Uncle Remus, which has become a favourite of children everywhere and the inspiration for the Disney classic “Song of the South” film in 1946. This story, derived from the tales of the wily Anansi of Ghanaian origin, tells of the fox that fabricates a doll made of tar; dresses it in clothing, and leaves it for Br’er Rabbit to find. Br’er Rabbit, when encountering the Tar Baby became so incensed by its refusal to observe the polite niceties of conversation and proper manners, hits the Tar Baby. His paw gets stuck. In his efforts to extricate himself all his limbs become entrapped by the Tar Baby. It is only Br’er Rabbit’s cleverness which saves him by enticing the fox to throw him into the briar patch where Br’er Rabbit is able to free himself from the Tar Baby’s embrace. The story of the Tar Baby exemplifies a difficult problem which is only aggravated by attempts to solve it; a problem that gets worse the more one struggles against it. Of course, in the U.S.A. this story also was later complicated by the ascribing of a racist interpretation to the story but that was not its original intent.
There has been speculation in Nigerian press and political establishment as to why the visit of U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Africa does not include a visit to Nigeria. The answer, although never spoken out load, is that for U.S. politicians and businessmen Nigeria is a Tar Baby they are anxious to avoid. There have been a whole host of scandals in Nigeria which involve U.S. major companies; scandals which have caused a lot of political problems for these companies in the courts and legislatures of the U.S. This is an election year in the U.S. in which every act and statement of U.S. politicians is analysed and discussed in detail. Nigerian politics are, as viewed from outside the country, in a bit of turmoil. The lack of a positive program by Nigeria in dealing with topics like Halliburton, Boko Haram, Wilbros and the fuel subsidy business (for example) poses a challenge to politicians desperately eager not to have controversy or be associated with one. The general feeling in the U.S. political circles (and, no doubt elsewhere) is that there is no one in charge in the country. There is no one, other than the usual suspects of profiteers, rentiers and political chancers who operate with ever-increasing impunity, in charge of Nigeria’s economic and political development.
They may not realise the danger which is threatening Nigeria but others, outside the country, certainly do. With the fall of oil and gas prices, the drought-induced price changes and reductions in supply which are coming in food availability and price, Nigeria has not prepared itself for these challenges. The excess crude account has disappeared. The currency reserves have been squandered. The usual problems of the infrastructure and power have only gotten worse. Now, the burgeoning oil and gas discoveries in East Africa and in ECOWAS threaten to restrain the growth of the Nigerian oil sector. This will cause major problems in the country over the next few years and no sensible politician from outside wants to be associated with the social disorder this is likely to engender in the country. In short, Nigeria’s problems have already been discounted in the economic and political markets.
The world is in a deep recession and it is growing more intense as the Euro completes its death-spiral in the coming months. Who then can help Nigeria? Without a proper leadership, a program to curtail the excesses of what Obasanjo called the 400 thieves and armed robbers (and the governors and the other politicians), and the Nigerian culture of impunity, who dares associate himself with an immensely wealthy country where more than 100 million people are helpless and living on less than a dollar per day. The list of villains was described in detail by Edwin Clark yesterday in his “2012 State of the Federation Lecture.” He cited those who promised to make the country ungovernable. The notion of a movement to impeach President Jonathan does not add to anyone’s confidence in the future of the country.
So it shouldn’t be surprising to see Nigeria being viewed as the Tar Baby of Africa. One can only hope that the Nigerians can use the cleverness of Br’er Rabbit to find a way to escape the wolf which is stalking them. Surely it’s time that the vast majority of the clever, educated and enterprising Nigerians turn their attention to actually cleaning up the system which oppresses them. Time is running out.