By Yinka Ajayi-BOOK REVIEW
Nigerians have every reason to be worried as they have been over the nation’s dwindling fortunes. From the colonial times to her early days at independence, she showed promise of greatness. Well-endowed in human and natural resources, it was far ahead of all its peers of then, and then the military struck and like a thunderbolt, she lost those giant strides of promise, her beauty, focus, pride, prestige and most importantly, her resourcefulness, dignity and progressivism.
The nation’s discovery of oil in commercial quantity further compounded matters for her; instead of having it as a blessing, it turned out a resource curse. Easy foreign exchange earnings from oil turned the once buoyant agro-economy into an oil mono-economy.
As easy income from oil quadrupled so did the people abandon their farmlands and mining fields for the cities to seek a share of the new found national wealth. It became a nation of rent seekers, where people do not want to work but sought easy money to acquire wealth and live well.
Along with this new false sense of economic rebirth implanted in the people, the military altered the nation’s political structure. It dumped the parliamentary system of government inherited from its colonial overlords with the more expensive and opaque presidential system and the nation’s competitive development-inducing fiscal federalism with a unitary system for a country globally acclaimed as one of the most ethnically, culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse on the surface of the earth. The centre became all powerful and the other federating units weak and hapless.
The elites took commanding heights, corruption bathed, and everything about the nation, its economy and resources inclusive were hijacked. Over 90 percent of the masses of the country live at the mercy of the tiny ruling class, their friends and cohorts, A soaring away endemic poverty and unemployment festered, infrastructure decayed and with development virtually stalled, the roads became death traps just as efficient public power and water supply were jinxed. Social services, including education and healthcare were not spared, in fact, they barely existed and health and education tourism became pastime for the elites.
Fears were that unless something urgent was done, particularly about the social malaise that have set in, including the challenging problem of nationhood, threatening to dismember the nation, the consequences of this abysmal degradation of a nation once a global development pacesetter would be catastrophic.
From these appalling background, Sam S.O. Afemikhe, a Chartered Accountant of no mean repute, in trying to unravel in this book how the nation found itself in this cesspit and proffer probable solutions to it all, has benchmarked the country against nine other countries- India, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Ghana, Botswana, South Korea, Brazil and Indonesia, who were its closest peers with comparative history and levels of development at independence. Regrettably, however, 56 years after Independence, as the book revealed, Nigeria has badly retrogressed while most of those countries have progressed tremendously, some of them leap-frogging from third to first world nations within the period.
It has carefully catalogued its findings, illustrating clearly with data and graphs, using the annual metrics and indicators generated by international organisations to rank the socio, economic and political performance of countries worldwide.
Erudite lawyer and scholar, Prefessor Itse Sagay, who wrote the Forward, clearly captured the enormity of the work done by the author when he stated: “It is a most compelling and detailed study of the socio-economic condition of Nigeria .. certainly the most detailed and painstaking I have ever come across… also the first multifaceted study of the tragic story of Nigeria, in which past and current data are subjected to rigorous analysis, giving us a clear picture of where we are today in terms of human, social, economic and political development.”
Hope Rekindled: A Comprehensive Analysis of Nigeria’s Nationhood Challenges and How to Overcome Them, is a voluminous book of over 800 pages organized into four broad sections – A Nation on His Knees, Reversing Economics of retrogression, The Quest for Justice, Equity and Peace and Rebirth of a Nation – of independent modular chapters that time-pressed readers could flip through as their interest dictates.
The author was unsparing in the first part of the book in which to be precise he described Nigeria in the first chapter as “a sleeping giant,” noting with regret that “the country is still ranked as a developing country with many indices of development abysmally looking downwards and getting lower. To all effects, the education system has collapsed. The hospitals are more harbingers of death than solace due to the lack of equipment and the required resources to run them and the infrastructure are deteriorating. Today, the young men and women are neither barely-educated nor skilled, and as a consequence, embark on crime as a means of survival.
“Aside becoming tools in the hands of mischief-makers, they also constitute a safety and security challenge to the nation. Some external commentators have called Nigeria a failed or failing state. Nigerians know that the public school systems have failed, the transportation system is inadequate and the power supply is unstable, which in itself is indicative of severe challenges faced with development because no nation can develop without constant energy supply.”
Part 2, titled: “Reversing economics of retrogression” is divided into three chapters – Garbage in Garbage out, In a Global Village and Breaking the Cycle. In Chapter 4, the paradox of growth, without development is discussed, with economic freedom highlighted as a panacea for enhancing economic growth, reducing poverty and improving the standard of living.
Chapter 5 treated the elements of competition, particularly as global competitiveness is imperative in economic growth of nations. Chapter 6 traced the economic history of Nigeria with one of book’s distinct remarks in this section, declaring: “The Nigerian leadership needs to free itself from the numerous constraints which make people think more of sharing the national cake and less of the baking.”
Part 3 (Quest for Justice, Equity and Peace) comes under four chapters– Grappling with the Structural Defect, Political Misadventure, A Deadly Venom and Please, Help, We Are Drowning. On what it terms the nation’s structural defects, the book argues that the multiplicity of states has only succeeded in increasing the cost of government “with more and more resources of government devoted to recurrent expenditure.” In the author’s opinion, with less and less to spend on the people, the nation’s human development index has dimmed negatively.
Part four of the book with three chapters – A Nation of Contradictions, Do the Right Things and Do Things Right and Return to Go-envisions how to achieve a new Nigeria, capturing it all in these words: “The Phoenix’s ability to be reborn from its ashes implies that it is immortal. Nigeria is the Phoenix of our time. If Nigeria, in the condition where nothing works, can grow economically to have the largest economy in Africa, then, the height to be attained when the country moves positively in the right direction can only be imagined. The trillion-dollar economy is not far away.”
The country’s leadership, the author stressed, must take charge and chart a vision for Nigeria that will liberate all citizens and unleash their innate capabilities. Then he proffers solutions to the nation’s troubling political and economic challenges, among them he argues strongly for a re-adoption of the parliamentary system to end the high cost of governance, to enhance accountability and reduce corruption, all of which have ballooned negatively under the current presidential system in practice.
The country, he went on, has no option but to embrace fiscal federalism, wage total war against corruption by building strong institutions and using systems to enhance transparency just as he would want the elites to move away from their extractive tendencies to support the creation of an inclusive and pluralistic society to allow for socio, economic and political rebirth of the nation. He charged the people to jettison the wide spread political, socio, cultural and religious contradictions that seem to hold them down while calling for a total overhaul of the country’s justice system to strengthen the rule of law and property rights.
Along with these, government would need to urgently embrace the doctrines of economic freedom and ease of doing business to enhance competitiveness, economic growth, employment, poverty reduction and general improvement in the standard of living of the people.
In bold white and beautifully laid graphics, this 804-page book is a must read for all lovers of this great country. The author has consolidated on the achievements of his three previous books – The Pursuit of Value for Money, Budget Implementation and Value for Money and Public Procurement Procedures and Practices.