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TIP of a New Dawn: Democracy won’t solve all our problems without socio-economic restructuring

By Tabia Princewill

The system is rigged against the average Nigerian. By saying this, one runs the risk of being labeled a populist. Yet, many of the states where violence and insecurity occur in Nigeria often have the highest poverty indices or the most job losses.

While many agree that ethno-religious conflict is a product of competition over scarce resources, few in the Nigerian political economy have done much to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities coupled with increased production of said resources.

Our political elite very often stands in the way of the development of our indigenous industry and one could do a study on the de-industrialization of the North and the parallel rise of religious fundamentalism, terrorism and kidnappings.

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Interestingly, it isn’t just the state in Nigeria which exhibits predatory or unproductive behaviours. The private sector which many hope will solve all our problems takes advantage of the poor regulatory framework and extorts both workers and consumers.

In fact, going by the number of failed banks and companies taken over by AMCON every few years, it is safe to say that the same people who steal from government are the same set of people who force private enterprises to collapse under the weight of mismanagement and elite consumption.

It’s quite revolutionary to state, in Nigeria, that the poor are not the problem. After the elections I was inundated with emails bemoaning stomach infrastructure and the influence of money on our politics.

Some even went as far as hoping that one day the right to vote in Nigeria would be tied to income or individual level of education. We often think it is the poor who are not democrats but the elite in Nigeria is not as democratic or supportive of social justice as many would like to think.

When the poor receive “stomach infrastructure” and proceed to “vote their conscience” we see this as a fluke. We lament their acceptance of financial inducement while simultaneously being quite complacent about the dollar bribes and financial misappropriation going on at the top, so long as it benefits groups or persons we perceive as deserving of privilege. Corruption is an unacknowledged privilege, while stomach infrastructure, going by middle class understanding, is the real crime.

The Nigerian system encourages winner-takes-all-dog-eat-dog behavior. So, the poor when approached with token gifts, in a system where they receive no other benefits, are simply acting according to their rational, best interest by accepting them.

I’m not defending stomach infrastructure, I’m simply questioning the elitist rational that makes most Nigerians see the poor as the problem while they ignore the part the middle class and the elite plays in upholding corruption.

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The middle class in particular does not realize just how much the system is rigged against it, something the poor have no misgivings about. We’re all subtly encouraged to be predators and seek out our best interest with a very narrow, short term view.

When we speak of rigging in Nigeria, we’re usually talking about elections: rarely do we pause to consider the many ways in which our economy and our society are rigged against ordinary people, nor do analysts pay much attention to the real effects of politics, outside of discussions about the successes or losses of calculating individuals.

We agree, in principle, that democracy is good and desirable, yet we fail to adopt democratic attitudes, which is why we talk about job creation without mentioning economic inequality or the privileges associated with certain status groups, thus making sure that no matter the individuals or parties in power, poverty remains and perpetuates itself in families for generations, while on the other hand, wealth is continuously accessible to some.

Popular culture tells us rising up the ladder is simply about “hustling harder”: this does us all a great disservice. One often hears “do they have two heads” in reference to those who are able to “make it” in Nigeria.

The appearance of success is only part of the story, it also doesn’t acknowledge the number of outwardly successful people who’ve “achieved” or “triumphed over adversity” only by cheating the system or conforming to the thuggish behavior it requires and celebrates. Curiously, poverty attains a sort of “natural” quality in Africa: we accept some people will always be poor and only a chosen few will escape.

This stops us from analyzing risk taking behavior for example, from governors or bank managers who gamble with public fortunes and walk away scot free, no matter the disastrous results for shareholders and citizens.

We can keep arguing over individual politicians and calling ourselves “fans” or loyalists while nothing really changes. In the end, even the activists collude with the system and make money from stating half-truths and banalities.

The situation is not hopeless, despite the picture I’ve painted. The more people are awakened to the fundamental issue, which is not about the amalgamation of different ethnic groups into one entity but rather about the urgent necessity of economic restructuring, the closer we’ll get to achieving a measure of social justice. After all, these conversations are becoming the norm around the world. Why not Nigeria?

Femi Falana (SAN)

He recently criticized Nigerians’ willingness to support people accused of corruption by wearing “asoebi” during their trials. He also criticized the “bad lawyers” who frustrate trials and help people get away with destroying Nigeria.

“Here, out of the money you have stolen, you get a bad lawyer who will adopt all manner of delay tactics to get the state frustrated from prosecuting you. In England, if you file a motion that is meant to delay the case, you are disciplined by the law society”. He asked why a foreign country was able to find James Ibori guilty, something a local court couldn’t do.

“When he (Ibori) got to England, he pleaded guilty. You know why? When lawyers saw his defence, they told him it was a sham and they couldn’t go on with the case. He asked if they could file an appeal, and they told him, ‘We don’t do that here.’

They told him that if they went on and he got convicted, he would get the highest punishment. They told him they were afraid they would also lose their licence to practice law, because they would be charged for wasting the resources of her majesty’s court.

Our country has been destroyed to the point that we now celebrate those who are corrupt. When you charge a big man for stolen money, abroad, the lawyer will have to apply to the court to be paid for defending somebody who is charged with corruption. But here, you pay the lawyer and bribe the judge. The judiciary cannot operate outside the Nigerian system.” There’s not much to add.

Tunde Bakare

The Overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly, says Nigerian universities are “glorified secondary schools”. He is right. We need to stop creating new universities without remodeling existing institutions and making sure they are up to a certain standard. Mr Bakare also prayed Buhari would choose competent ministers in his second term.

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This is the prayer of all Nigerians. Beyond balancing ethno-religious interests and zoning calculations, government won’t deliver on its promises unless merit is the primary reason for appointment. Ethno-religious balancing is the formula the political elite uses to trick Nigerians into believing their interests can only be served if represented by a member of their ethnic group. Competence isn’t the deciding factor.

This balancing act rationalizes and give order to otherwise brutal political power play. These rules only work for politicians not for the majority. Mr Bakare also said: “We have neglected the greatest asset of any nation, human capital. Our educational system has gone down the drain; we need to revive it.” These common sense recommendations are often repeated yet poorly adhered to by successive governments. President Buhari in his second term has the opportunity to do something different.

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.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.