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THE ECONOMICS OF DEVELOPMENT: Tribute to Prof Sam Aluko

By Adisa Adeleye

Last week-end, the body of Professor Samuel A. Aluko was laid to rest in Ode-Ekiti, a rustic small town – with its natural serenity yet undisturbed by the vagaries of modern life. Professor Aluko was a Professor of Economics at the University of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife in Osun State.

He was a distinguished teacher and commentator on public affairs, especially on Political Economy and he was also an Economic Adviser to many Heads of Governments including the late General Sanni Abacha.  Way back in 1959 (more than 50 years ago), I and a friend visited the Senate House of University of London to check on examination results.

There we saw, pasted on the wall, the name of S. A. ALUKO, marked with ‘Distinction‘, the results for the M.Sc (Economics) degree.  We were exceedingly happy to see that a Nigerian could perform so brilliantly in that examination of London University.

It should be recalled that the late Professor Aluko had earlier passed the degree of B, Sc (Economics) at home in Nigeria as an external student before he obtained a scholarship from the old Western Nigerian Government to read for higher degrees.

He later obtained his PhD degree from the London School of Economics before he returned to Nigeria. His exploits in Nigeria in the teaching of Economics and advisory roles have all been well chronicled.

Now that Nigerians are busy discussing the problems of deepening poverty and mass unemployment in the country, it would be relevant here to recall the views of Professor Aluko in his article titled THE CASE FOR RAPID INDUSTRIALISATION IN NIGERIA, in the Quarterly Journal of ADMINISTRATION, published by The Institute of Administration, University of Ife of April 1970.

*Late Aluko

In that article, Professor Aluko noted that the most effective solution to the problem of poverty was an industrial and technological one. ‘Industrialization‘ he noted, simply means ‘the transformation of crude commodities into refined and sophisticated products.

For Nigerians to adopt industrial mentality there had to be changes in attitudes; large – scale investments in education; efficient use of capital (domestic or foreign) – a more ‘rigorous and frugal use of available funds.

Professor Aluko argued that the difference between the developed economies of the Western world and the developing economies in the past was the application of Science and Technology in the transformation of resources through changes in basic attitudes and the positive impact of technical education.

He added, ‘the lesson for a country like Nigeria which wants not only to modernize but also to industrialize is clear.
A modern, widespread and variegated educational system, far from being a luxury is more of a necessary cost which must be incurred if progress is to come about. ‘For, ignorance begets poverty while knowledge begets wealth‘.

The success of the country‘s adaptation to industrial age would depend on the attitude of entrepreneurs to innovation.  Professor Aluko noted that ‘First, is the degree of adaptation of the labour force to industrial discipline, both of which are functions of the existing level of literary and technical skill.

Secondly, the readiness with which entrepreneurs and national leaders use, and enjoy the use of the new machines; how willing they are to study the new machines and reproduce them and their spare parts locally, in the same way as the Japanese did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, how able and willing is the population to take over the techniques already employed elsewhere and start to produce the major goods that are hitherto imported for the home market, even if the period of absorption of the techniques will be long.

Thus, in 1970 Professor Aluko was advocating for the strengthening of the domestic industry to cater for the hitherto imported simple commodities and goods, which at present, dominate the country‘s import bills.  It is unfortunate that what Professor Aluko saw in 1970 (about 4 decades ago) as the draw back to our economic expansion is what we are still battling with today.

He wrote, ‘It is impossible, however for industries to become widespread and grow until there is a reliable and efficient system of electrification throughout the country, the provision of an efficient network of modern roads, railways, water and ocean transport and efficient system of postal and telephone services.

The state can further assist private and public industrial efforts through fiscal favours, assignment of labour, patents or exclusive sales privileges, guarantees of industrial raw materials, technological advice, loans at low interest or no interest rates at all, outright subsidies or some combination of all these‘.

Professor Aluko called for massive investments in economic infrastructures and easy access to funds from banks and other similar institutions, and also, co-operative ventures between private and public sectors.  About 40 years ago, the erudite Professor (Aluko) noted that, ‘It is a fact that as long as so large a portion of the labour force, as exist in Nigeria at present, is concentrated in the low producing agricultural sector, for so long will it be difficult to expand the demand for industrial and commercial goods and squeeze savings and taxes out of the population.

Mechanization of agriculture is essential to raise sufficient food production, but agricultural mechanization is a bye product of industrialization. I am convinced that Professor Aluko was not making a choice between Agriculture and Industry, but rather, he was analyzing logically the relative emphasis of certain sectors on overall economic development.

He advised that, ‘we must reject the appellation that our country is essentially an agricultural one and that our major development effort should be concentrated in agriculture; it is an appellation of doom, of inferiority nexus, of hewers of wood and drawers of water, designed to continue to satisfy the needs of European and American industrial expansionism while we retrograde.

To Professor Aluko, ‘unless we take measures that will prepare us for a technological and industrial revolution, before too long, the Nigerians of the 21st Century will become much more inferior to the 21st Century inhabitants of Europe, America, Japan and Oceania than our forefathers were to their imperial masters in Europe in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries‘.  This seemed to have happened, unfortunately.

Fortunately, Prof Sam Aluko lived happily, and died peacefully and has left a Blueprint for Economic Development as a befitting legacy to the nation.  It is left for the country and its visionary Leadership to seize the opportunity of making Nigeria a prosperous and peaceful country in the midst of plenty.


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