By Tabia Princewill
OUR contemporary national life and politics is a continuation of a disastrous trend etched out during colonisation. Why was Africa colonised? The short answer: competition between European nations in the late nineteenth century, juxtaposed with economic depression in Europe. Europe needed both natural resources and markets for its products. For the avoidance of doubt, Africa wasn’t colonised because it was “inferior” or needed to become “civilised” through the “kind” efforts of its colonial masters.
Africa had wealthy cities, traders and infrastructure: British explorers visiting the Benin empire in the 17th century said its streets were safer and better planned than the streets of London. When Mansa Musa, a Malian king travelled to Saudi Arabia, he brought so much gold with him, the price of gold crashed. Arab explorers visiting sub-Saharan Africa from medieval to early pre-modern times spoke of cities with drainage and conveniences which disturbingly seem to surpass what obtains in today’s urban dwellings.
Records of colonial policy
The erasure of Africa’s past began as a means to justify both slavery and colonisation: hence the centuries old tale about black people’s inability to manage their own affairs. However, the history of how we got here is less well known, yet the records of colonial policy are accessible to the public. In the British library for instance, one finds documents by colonial administrators whose discourse strikingly mirrors today’s politicians’ ethnic chauvinism.
Nigerian leaders, like the colonial powers they replaced, for the greater part of our history have neither had an interest nor a need to build a country unified by anything other than profit for those at the top. By design, or through inadvertent submission to global market forces, our leaders and business people groomed to take over post-independence, embraced a Faustian pact: import dependency was practically written into our economic policy.
Kano, without mechanisation, produced 10 million pairs of sandals in 1851 according to estimates by European explorers; it produced the leather goods used in Europe. Today, how much locally produced leather is deemed good enough to be used by foreign consumers? How many Nigerians wear made in Nigeria shoes? We’ve also forgotten the prosperous 1960s, when Indonesia and Malaysia came to study Nigerian agriculture, our palm oil in particular.
Malaysia created the Federal Land Development Authority, the biggest oil palm planter in the world, with the specific aim to eradicate poverty. Malaysia chose “bottom up” strategies for economic development, focusing on elevating the poorest to move the country forward. Nigeria preferred the “trickle down” approach, using crony-capitalism, creating private enterprises concentrated in the hands of politically exposed persons, who’re given tax breaks and monopolies, or sometimes exempted from paying taxes entirely.
They, therefore, rob the state of income, hoping to create employment, which it does in the short term, while reserving crisis and instability for the long term, when oil prices crash as they have now. We didn’t invest in education or health care when we had the funds, creating an underclass of dispossessed individuals, who had no fair minded, non-discriminatory government to depend on, and therefore turned to supporting violent, parochial interests for survival.
We have a choice, in the coming elections, between two ideologies: one which produced crises at home and abroad by cutting government spending on the poorest, while cutting corporate taxes, privatising strategic assets in favour of the same group of people. This led to frustrations and protest votes which enabled a resurgence of far-right, xenophobic politics in America and Europe.
In Nigeria, pastoralists and sedentary populations lived in relative peace based on integration between the economies of livestock producers and sedentary agrarian populations. Under colonial rule, deliberate restructuring of what would become today’s local government areas, forcing some people out and moving others in, giving power to some and not to others on the basis of ethnicity and religion (a script future politicians had no reason to change given the political, power driven benefits of violence) disrupted historical economic transactions which should have been encouraged and modernised.
The politics of ethnic boundaries and segregation, the “sabon gari”, outsider or foreigner zones which mark out indigenes and settlers, the state of origin and zoning configurations, are throwbacks to the colonial era which can never produce lasting peace and development. I’ve said many times in this column that the “restructuring” Nigeria needs is more fundamental than reviewing how politicians “share” our resources, after all, without solving the deadly problem of corruption, the same individuals would simply have more leeway to steal our commonwealth.
What we need is first of all economic restructuring: sustainable development won’t be achieved in Africa unless governments focus first on vulnerable groups through their actions and not just their words. After all, who will be the world’s dumping ground if Africans resuscitate manufacturing capacity? Neo-colonialists want to cancel loans for traders and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs. They would rather a system which allows our banks to crash due to the greed and joint irresponsibility of private and political interests. In 2009 Nigeria lost N5.7 trillion to the banking crisis.
When AMCON released the names of 105 debtors owing N906 billion last October, where were the protests? Bear in mind, Nigeria’s budget for education in 2018 was N605.8 billion. Why do we prefer to fight social investments such as a meal a day for indigent school children? Unbridled capitalism has destroyed our society: why are herdsmen not ranchers and businessmen if not because our system only invests in the rich and not the poor? Why is our agriculture still dominated by subsistence farming? Violence and poverty are quasi inevitable in such an arrangement.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari recently wrote: “This was the inherited culture of government – ‘to those that have, give more’ – that we have challenged, a culture where every declared reform was in fact a disguise to privatise profit and leave the rest of us with all the risk…they (the West) have their own subsidies to protect key strategic interests, their farmers and steel plants, but condemn our own efforts to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from an unregulated market for food, transport and housing, or to create and protect space for new opportunities and innovation to flourish which begs the question: is there a difference between what suits Nigeria’s real national interest and what suits the interests of the Great Powers?”
Nigerians must reflect on our national interest and vote to save Nigeria from the countries who predicted our disintegration in 2015, who hoped it would happen for their own selfish purposes, and the puppets they’ve used to do their bidding.
Independent National Electoral Commission
FAILURE was already written into a process with 93 parties on one ballot. The Commission couldn’t proceed because it was engaged in over 600 lawsuits by parties and candidates who couldn’t agree on their legitimate candidates. Possibilities for sabotage are inbuilt into a process where card readers, virtually every element needed, is imported.
Many protested INEC’s budget proposals but weren’t worried when the Senate delayed its passing. We ignore the root of our issues. Our system creates conditions and excuses for repeated failure. Is it time to revisit Option A4 and accept our current infrastructural development doesn’t allow complex strategies? At least for now, which isn’t to say things won’t change in the future.
THE President authorised the police to “deal with” anyone caught snatching ballot boxes, and not “shoot on sight”. But there’s a lot of hypocrisy and deliberate misunderstanding from those who birthed Jibril from Sudan.
Perhaps it was Jibril who said it.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.