By Owei Lakemfa
THE Nigerian elite leading the country to the February, 2019 general elections have reduced the contest essentially to personal squabbles and a contest of insults rather than ideas. This is not unexpected as in almost all cases, the colonialists created for us, zombies as elite. An elite class incapable of basic reflection, one that accepts foreign dictation and is alienated from the people it leads. In turn, the people are alienated from the state; they do not have the same attachment or loyalty they had to their pre-colonial societies. So a corrupted culture has developed in which people see the elite from their communities who loot the national treasury, as heroes bringing back their share of the ‘national cake’. In many cases, the thieves are given chieftaincy titles, turbaned or knighted.
As for the elite, when they loot the national treasury; it is to them, not stealing, it is to amass a war chest. Where any of them is caught, it is still not stealing; they are merely engaged in ‘money laundering.’
A water tight case can be made against the Nigerian elite in many areas. In politics, they privatise the national treasury and compromise the electoral system. It will be uncharitable to say the political elite are not growing up; they have grown from snatching ballot boxes, to rigging elections, and now, turning the political system into a market. This electoral trade is like capitalism where you have so-called “Willing (vote) Buyers, and Willing Sellers.” In the Nigerian parlance, it is called “See and Buy.’
In education, they have destroyed the education system we inherited from the First Republic where public schools were well structured, funded and were the best. The public schools produced world class brains who could hold their own in any part of the world. The elite started by destroying the primary schools and encouraging inferior private ones. Then they moved to destroying the post-primary schools. These they replaced with private ones that are costly and run generally, by inferior teachers, producing students incomparable in quality with those of the old public schools. Now, they have graduated to starving the public tertiary institutions of funds, destroying and replacing them with private ones which are very costly, unaffordable, manifestly inferior. Ironically, the private universities rely mainly on moonlighting lecturers from the public institutions.
Post-Nigeria embarked on the path of developing along the road of the colonial masters. It forgot that unlike Europe, it has no free labour which Europe got through the slave trade; it has no colonies from which to loot resources; it has no colonised people to produce its cash crops, or vast markets to impose its goods. We forgot that unlike our colonial masters, we have no military might to impose our interests and no colonies where the elite will do our biddings. Also, that we do not control, and therefore, cannot manipulate the international finance institutions like the IMF and World Bank, the trade institutions like the WTO and the transnational banks. We also do not add value to our exports while Europe and America dictate the prices of commodities which Africa relies on.
Nevertheless, Nigeria began in its immediate post-colonial period, producing some goods. Then from the 1970s, proceeded on the path of indigenisation, technology transfer and infrastructure development. However, from the 1980s, the elite in the name of ‘Market Forces’ ‘Trade Liberalism’ and ‘Free Market’ – the same slogan used to destroy our pre-colonial economy – embarked on the path of destroying our economy.
While ALL advanced countries developed on the back of public ownership and public development of infrastructure, the Nigerian elite began to dismantle and hack down the public sector. They demonised it, claimed government has no business in business, and sold public assets to themselves and their foreign partners. In the name of ‘privatisation’ they auctioned off the banks, telecommunications, the national airline, the national shipping line, steel rolling mills, flour mills, distilleries etc. In the name of market forces and trade liberalisation, they opened our borders to all manner of goods including junk and in the process, de-industrialised the country. This led to the complete collapse of many industries including the textile, footwear, battery and motor assembly plants like the Volkswagen and Peugeot.
The elite who crooned the neo-colonial song that ‘the private sector is the engine room of the economy’ in most cases, proved utterly incapable of running basic private companies. They ran down the airlines and many companies. The banks they took over, have to be constantly bailed out with public funds. The same for the electricity companies they greedily sold to themselves. The electricity case is so scandalous that five years after its privatisation, they cannot even provide meters for customers, cannot sustain the pre-privatisation levels of power supply and are constantly being bailed out with public funds. Yet, they will not allow a review of the privatisation racket, not to talk of a reversal.
Nigeria began commercial oil production in 1957; three years before our flag independence. Eight years down the line, the elite abandoned all other sectors and transformed Nigeria into a monoculture. Even at that, oil production is fully in the hands of foreign companies, and the Nigerian elite are so inept that they cannot even measure the amount of oil produced, add value or refine local needs. Additionally, it introduces corruption by paying trillions of Naira as phantom ‘subsidies’ for unverified fuel imports. Contrast Nigeria with Norway which discovered oil in 1969, 12 years after Nigeria. Rather than see oil money as free money to be spent recklessly like the Nigerian case, it decided to save almost all of it. By 2017, Norway’s savings from its oil revenue alone, topped the $1 trillion mark which could go round its five million populace at $200,000 apiece. The Nigerian elite not only spends all the oil revenues, but also borrows heavily to mortgage the future. Our elite also flare gas rather than utilise it; in the process, they pollute the waters, land and air. Despite this, they do not clean the polluted environment. The part they agreed to clean with foreign funds from the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, is Ogoni land. But two years after the programme was flagged off, there is dispute on any work done. In many respects, the Nigerian elite has transformed its oil into a criminal enterprise in which all is game.
In the main, our elite who produce the country’s Captains of Industry and political leadership is inept, uncreative, unproductive, parasitic, unpatriotic and manifestly corrupt. Nigeria would benefit more if it can auction off its elite class; but the tragedy is that it is virtually useless and no serious investor would want to put any value on it.