Owei Lakemfa

September 19, 2016

Our failings as a people

Nigeria as a killing field

Map of Nigeria

By Owei Lakemfa

OUR political seas are rough. Our economy, experiencing a tsunami. Yet, the two leading political parties; the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which are expected to lead us out of a serious crisis, have dug trenches from which they throw missiles at each  other. Publicly, they beat their chests on who can better  hurl  insults at the other.

Politics has become a religious dogma with the two parties operating like divergent faith organisations.  To the APC, all that is evil, is PDP, and to the latter all that is bad in Nigeria, is  APC.  In between the two dogmas, the truth is clobbered into a coma. That is the real tragedy we are experiencing.

Like two jealous wives in a polygamous setting, they try to outdo or undo each other when common sense dictates they unite to build the  family.  Subsequently, debate has become toxic and  some self-respecting Nigerians with brilliant ideas have chosen silence so as not to be labelled or insulted.

However, an African proverb says an elder cannot just sit and watch things go bad. This might have prompted the intervention of Alhaji Ahmed Joda. Now in his late 80s, he was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information in 1962,  Chairman of the 1979 Transition Committee from  military to civil rule, and  played the same  role in the 2015 transition from the Jonathan to the Buhari administration.

He says the economic crisis in the country cannot be blamed on the past administration, but rather on “What we failed to do as a nation. ” And what we failed to do as a sovereign state since 1960 is there for everyone to see. This includes our failure to build basic infrastructure and diversify the economy which could have propelled us towards development.

Despite our oil wealth since colonial times, we failed to build an industrial base or  maintain the rail system we inherited from the colonialists. Although we produced our first medical doctor of  Western medicine, William Brougton Davis  in 1858 (158 years ago)  and the second, Dr. James Beale Africanus, ten months later,  our people still throng countries like India for medical care.   Our education remains grossly underfunded and  roads, dilapidated.

The last time we built mass housing across the country was thirty three years ago during the Shagari administration. Today, things are so bad that even pregnant Nigerians and their children are undertaking the suicidal crossing of  the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

Alhaji Joda’s  analysis is that our crisis is the result of the  “character of the country which consumes without producing.” The basic point here, is that irrespective of the party in power, a country which merely consumes, cannot  but be in crisis. A country that cannot feed itself can only be dependent on other people.

He tells us more  truth:  “We were pretending, given our character as a consumer country ; even the oil and gas we are not producing; if we are to tell ourselves the truth. We have four refineries. We can’t refine; we are importing. ”

He says we are so inefficient  that we cannot even manage the process of importing petroleum products as “ We don’t have enough facilities to import the quantity of fuel that we require. We are badly managing our affairs, we are destroying our economy. ”  Given these, he says: “I’m not surprised that we are in this situation. I’m only surprised that we are not even worse.”

Part of his criticism of former President Goodluck Jonathan is that he gave presidential approval to virtually  all his aides brought to him. For me, this also raises the issue of presidential powers in a  federal system. I am convinced that many of the excesses that have come to light would have been avoided in a Parliamentary system with parliamentarians alive to their  duties.

Even now, almost all the  solutions being proffered by analysts are a mere rehearse of the  International Monetary Fund 1987 Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, which sapped our economy and people. A particularly disingenuous campaign today  is that the private sector should take over the running of the country safe for direct governance. The cry for the private sector control of the country is nothing new; it is simply a recycling of moribund ideas.

The fact is that, except for the Lagos Crown Colony, it was the organised private sector – under  the conglomeration of British companies called the Royal Niger Company –   that colonised  Nigeria. The private sector which has been virtually in charge of the country for so long,  has been so efficient that today, it cannot successfully run a single airline.

Historically, the basic infrastructure of developed countries were  built by the public, not the private sector whose primary motivation is profit.  China, the fastest growing economy in the world  is run by the public sector.

As capitalist-oriented  as Switzerland is, it would not allow the private sector  run its basic needs like the power sector. Handing over  the Nigerian  economy to the so-called private sector to run is like a god made of clay clamouring for a bath at the river side.

For too long have we  abandoned basic governance  to the unelected and unelectable market place; no serious people will leave  their governance and development to foreigners and their business partners. We cannot be serious about economic revival, yet allow our currency  a free fall like an object tumbling from an aircraft.

We cannot hope to build a developed country when we have no control over what comes into our country, what transnational companies like Shoprite sell and what we eat or drink.

We have to restore the confidence of the people, their faith in their ability and the  country, cure their sense of marginalisation  and engage the youths in meaningful production. Also of importance is to discipline the elite by ensuring that no one is above the law and that we are all equal before it.

What is most important for us is to examine our past, see where we began to fail and why, and how we can rebuild our country. We need to follow a new path.