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NIGERIA-Colonialism and the Mythification of Government : The Aversion for the World Bank and Economic Liberalization

“Why” you ask yourself, ” are Nigerians so distrustful of the World Bank and those connected to it? ” It is simply amazing that Nigerians,individually such inveterate capitalists and profiteers,are put out by any suggestion that the government might be embarking on a liberalization program.Many Nigerians just seem to believe that “those policies do not work here”.The policies in question being the liberalization and privation recommendations promoted by the World Bank.Such was the reaction that greeted Ngozi Okonjo-iweala,former World Bank Managing Director and present Nigerian finance minister,during the latest installment of Nigeria’s fuel-subsidy induced protests,as she tried to make the case for subsidy removal.

Even more striking,is the fact that this distrust is not limited to the uneducated or provincial.Well educated urban  sophisticates are just as guilty.In fact more so,as any one who reads Nigerian newspapers,online or off,can testify.You would struggle to find many commentators,outside of government retainers,who are supportive of liberalization.Instead,you will find plenty of commentators who are quite convinced they are better economists than  “these Harvard-trained World Bank so-called experts”. What is driving this trend ? Is it just the well-known Nigerian “bad belle”,sour grapes ? The tendency to decry every government project,and tar every top government official as a thief just because one is not part of the government ? Or is it just healthy distrust of a government with a huge reputation for corruption ?

While lack of trust and sour grapes have something to do with it,i believe there are two main reasons for this aversion.First,because they are locked into a transactional relationship with the government,Nigerians believe that it is the duty of the government to supply all their needs.According to this view,it is not necessary for Nigerians to make any sacrifices,as the government has all the resources it requires to achieve it’s aims.This view of the government as an omnipotent monster reflects it’s colonial roots.The emergence of government under colonialism,with it’s seemingly magical ability to create value by fiat,”the white man’s money”,left  the impression on the native mind that the government was an alien money-minting patronage-dispensing machine.It is this myth about bottomless government coffers that drives the popular mantra that Nigeria is “rich”,a viewpoint which scornfully disregards Nigeria’s paltry per capita income.

When Nigerians complain about the government,they do not mean that the government is incompetent because of it’s failure to rise to the challenge of leadership by personal example or it’s inability to provide an enabling environment for greater productivity.No.They complain because the government is not providing them with everything,all for nothing..This failure is naturally put down to the government’s wickedness.The prevalent thinking is this : “if only the government were not so wicked,it would  make every Nigerian a millionaire,without any one having to lift a finger,for it certainly possessed the necessary resources.” Feeling had done by,it is no surprise that Nigerians resist any liberalization programs which,naturally,require considerable short-term pains in order to secure future gains.Especially when Nigerians do not believe in that future.

Which leads to the second reason : skepticism about Nigeria’s future. With all the uncertainty surrounding Nigeria,and it’s direction,it is perhaps no surprise that Nigerians are loath to harken to calls for any immediate sacrifice for a future,about which they are very doubtful.And immediate sacrifices are what privatization programs are all about.Why would any one defer today’s gratification in favour of a future that may never arrive ? In stead people would rather borrow from tomorrow to pay for today’s indulgence.This is something the government has to grasp.It would be difficult to implement critical economic reforms without a nod to political restructuring.This is where the Sovereign national conference comes in.We need to sort out the “Nigeria” question.When Nigerians are confident of  Nigeria’s future,then,and only then,would the idea of  sacrificing for the future be embraced by them.Or make sense.

“ONE NIGERIA ?” : “YEP,BECAUSE OIL IS THICKER THAN BLOOD.”

At the close of the Nigerian civil war(1967-1970),the victorious Nigerian government launched a program of reconciliation and reconstruction,under the banner of  “one Nigeria : no victor,no vanquished”. The idea was to conciliate the vanquished Biafrans and ease their re-entry into Nigeria.42 years later,Nigeria is still one.In that regard,the reconciliation program has to be adjudged a success.However,it would be naive and dangerous to take the continued corporate existence of Nigeria as one country,for granted.For,Nigeria’s continued existence is not a given.It’s question is still unsettled.Various groups continue to harbour strong resentments about it’s structure.Some of these groups are apparently now,willing to resort to extreme measures to press their claims.Think “Boko Haram“. Or “MEND”,the movement for the emancipation of the Niger Delta.

Stitched together by the colonial master in 1914,to promote their interests,Nigeria boasts some 250 ethnic groups and 510 languages.Majority of these tribes had nothing in common : not language;not religion;not culture;not ancestry and not history.Nigeria started life as a mere “geographic expression”.And has largely remained so.Mutual suspicion,distrust and recrimination are the norm.Which is why you would struggle to find many “Nigerians” on it’s  streets..Instead,what you will find plenty of,are tribesmen and indigenes.Everybody is self-identified as an indigene of some tribe rather than as a citizen of Nigeria.Apparently no meaningful relationship,social or professional,can be contemplated without the all-important question “where are you from ? “,being posed,and satisfactorily answered.

Nigeria may have remained one,but it’s various peoples have not achieved oneness.And with good reason.Nigeria is not historic.It is  man-made.It is not a “natural” country,with national borders that are coterminous with racial,ethnic and cultural barriers.”Natural” countries are founded by the people themselves or their kings.Nigeria,instead,was “created” by colonial fiat;by rank outsiders without consultation with,and approval of,the natives.People woke up one morning,only to be told that they had become “Nigerians”,overnight.It should not come as a surprise  therefore,that “Nigerians” have no emotional attachment to Nigeria.To be emotionally attached to any nation,it’s citizens usually have certain things in common : ancestry,language,culture or history.

Created unilaterally to further colonial  commercial interest,Nigeria has remained a community of interest.Today,that interest is the exploitation of it’s oil.Since the discovery of oil,the attitude of the powers-that-be has been that as long as the oil-money continues to flow,Nigeria’s tribal and religious differences are irrelevant : “After all,who needs blood-ties when you have oil ? ” .Even ordinary Nigerians subscribe to this view : they would put up with anything as long as their “right” to “cheap” fuel is guaranteed.Witness the upheaval that trails any attempt to breach this “contract”,as Nigerians take to the streets every time the government tampers with the fuel subsidy.I agree that blood-ties are overrated as the basis or life-blood of a nation,as the USA has proved.But oil is an even more dangerous substitute,simply because it cannot be sustainably supplied or managed.Nigeria needs more.Something guaranteed to last.

Something that makes Nigerians enthusiastic about Nigeria,even without racial and cultural affinity.Something like an idea.Even without blood-ties,citizens can still enjoy a unique bond with their country,if it embodies an idea,one that resonates with them.This is usually the case when differentiated groups,having agreed terms of association,choose to unite together,in a federation.For a clearly defined reason.To be successful,a federation has to be based on consensus,and clear definition.The people themselves must be the only ones to determine the structure of the country.The absence of consensus and definibility in it’s founding,is the main reason Nigeria continues to flounder.Government should heed the calls for a sovereign national conference,SNC.The debate is already raging on Nigeria’s streets.

Every day,every where,people are discussing Nigeria’s fate.The diversity of  “solutions”,unsurprisingly, reflects the Nigerian spectrum.The only group absent from this discussion is the government.In it’s absence,groups such as Boko Haram are beginning to dominate the discussion.The danger is that otherwise peaceful groups may conclude that,in order to be heard,it is necessary to engage in the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent citizens.To avoid this,government should do what governments are designed to do : organize and coordinate.Government should take charge of proceedings.That simply means moving the debate from the street to the conference hall.Make no mistake about it,the “debate” is already here.The question is whether the government would acknowledge and regulate the process,by convening the SNC or ignore the debate,which then remains on the street unregulated,with likely disastrous consequences for Nigeria.The coffee is already on the fire,government should wake up and smell it.

Nigeria-Education:Ending the Brain Drain and Capital Flight

The latest fad amongst Nigeria’s new elite,is securing expensive foreign education for their children.Apparently,owning a bigger Mercedes Benz car than your neighbour no longer confers bragging rights.Keeping up with the Joneses  now means being able to say,”my children are also over there.They are doing their A levels in England.” Even if you end up “drinking Garri” at night.And,therein lies the problem : a practice which is usually the preserve of the upper class has gone mainstream,with dire consequences for Nigeria.As we all know,Nigeria may have enough for everybody’s need,but certainly not enough for everybody’s greed.A society where middle-class greed rivals upper-class privilege is heading for trouble.

Every normal society has a parasitic upper class,which is highly privileged.But because this class is usually tiny,it’s excesses are not so harmful to society.The rest of society can afford to ignore the antics of it’s members.Nigeria is abnormal in that every graduate is a would-be Lord,the result of the “indigenization” of colonialism.Instead of ending colonialism,we “indigenized” it,by replacing privileged white colonial officials with black ones.Our education system was primed  to produce black “Englishmen”,rather than workers.The resulting sense of entitlement means every village boy who makes good(only just),turns up his nose at the same Nigerian schools that produced him; he now wants to send his children to “Eton“. For secondary education,no less,for goodness sake.Outrageous.The usual excuse is that ” our  schools are dire.They have become  so bad”.An excuse used by even those,who attended poor village grammar school,usually near-barefoot,and on a breakfast of  “dry-garri and palm-kernel nuts”. Were those grammar schools really so great? .Give me a break.

Sure,the state of Nigerian schools leaves much to be desired.But,we will not solve the problem by promoting brain-drain and capital flight.Make no mistake about it,no matter how good their foreign education,most of these privileged kids are not coming back to work in Nigeria.So no skill or technology transfer on that front.Second,because their parents are comfortable,these kids will not remit a dime back to Nigeria.Instead,their parents will fund their education with money made from Nigeria.Nigeria gains absolutely nothing from their education,and loses everything in terms of human and financial capital lost.If these kids ever come back,they come as expatriates.An example is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.Although Nigeria needs her skills and know-how,and i believe she should be paid what she is worth,for all her “Nigerianness”,we might as well have  hired an American or Chinese economist.

Every serious government ought to be worried by this turn of events.Nigerian can ill-afford the loss of it’s youth on this scale.Certainly we cannot afford to continue to lose these millions of education-dollars each year.Our schools are derelict and teachers poorly-paid.If we invested some of these millions here,our education system will the better for it.By far.To redress the situation,government needs a mix of “carrot and stick” measures.To rebuild confidence in our school-system,government needs to invest heavily in education,not only by improving infrastructure,but also by making the working-conditions of teachers attractive.This is the only way to attract top teaching-talent.In addition,if it is okay for government to levy tariffs on imports,why not certain exports ? Government should impose a levy on anyone going abroad for secondary education(O and A levels).Something like 150,000 dollars a year per child.Now,this would certainly concentrate minds,and,in combination with better schools from which to choose,would deliver the change we crave.

Nigeria-The “Anambra” syndrome: Bringing back the middle class

Most Nigerians would probably agree that Anambra is the most dysfunctional of Nigeria’s many states.And,with good reason.Since the installment of Nigeria’s latest republic,Anambra’s lot has been the near-unremitting reign of impunity,as various thuggish and unsavoury characters have taken the state  and it’s administration hostage.This,in spite of it’s pedigree as the home-state of some of Nigeria’s most illustrious sons.The problem of course is that a lot of those sons are not resident in the state.The troubles in Anambra are symptoms of a malaise: the absence of a resident middle-class.With most of it’s educated elites living and working outside the state,in such places as Port-Harcourt,Lagos or overseas,a leadership vacuum emerged,which has been poorly filled by a merchant-class that is ill-equipped and ill-trained to provide enlightened leadership.

This malaise afflicts all Nigerian states,save possibly Lagos,which has a critical-mass of resident elites,which probably accounts for it’s success in producing able governors and administrators,even under the military.However,Anambra stands out,because,unlike the other states,it boasts a merchant-class that is so wealthy,it has the confidence to aspire to the political domination of the state.Because members of this class are ill-educated, ill-trained and ill-equipped to lead,it should be no surprise that their methods are crude or that the result of their stewardship is so,well,Anambra.As everyone knows,you can not give what you do not have.There is a good reason why the middle-class is regarded as the repository of democratic values.Not only because of it’s education and enlightenment,but also self-interest.For,more than any other segment of society,the middle-class benefits from effective and accountable governance.

Most societies are segmented into an upper-class,a middle-class and a lower-class.In Nigeria,with weak institutions and poor governance,the system is seemingly rigged to facilitate the plunder of national wealth,by a few well-connected individuals.These people,members of the upper-class,would have no incentive,to see an end to a system that enriches them;they would have very little desire for effective governance. “Surely,a poorly governed country would impose costs on them in the shape of poor infrastructure,bad schools and an even worse health-care system.?” No problem.The rich can afford the best power generators,foreign education for their kids and medical treatment abroad.They  have co-opted police officers as their private security detail.At the other pole of society,are the poor,members of the lower-class.Largely uneducated,and enervated by the daily “chore” of survival,the poor have not yet come to terms with the notion of “rights”.They do not really believe that “government” owes them anything.They demand nothing and they expect nothing.They basically just exist.

In between the upper- and lower-classes,lies the middle-class.It’s members are professionals,such as doctors,engineers,lawyers,members of the information industry,typically people who have obtained tertiary education and have white-collar jobs.By economic definition,these are people who have at least a third of their income left over,after catering for their corporeal needs and shelter.This left-over,discretionary income,can then be used on such things as their children’s education,as well as creature comforts.These people crave good schools for their kids,decent health-care system,regular power-supply and good roads.They have had a taste of the good life and want more.They are educated and enlightened enough to know how people live in the Western world,and want no less for themselves.They have developed a sense of entitlement,even.They want to” live”,not exist,unlike the poor.

However,unlike the rich,they do not have enough resources to provide these facilities themselves,individually.They can only do so by pooling their resources.The resulting community is then well-placed to provide the necessary services.This is why it is in the overwhelming interest of the middle-class to have good governance.For,only an effective and accountable government can provide the enabling environment,necessary to promoting the good life.Members of the middle-class understand this,which is why they would do anything to enthrone good governance.Why they are politically aware.Any society boasting a critical-mass of educated and enlightened people,would also have a high degree of political consciousness,a prerequisite for enlightened governance.It is no co-incidence that in established democracies,West-Europe and America come to mind,the vast majority of the populace is middle-class,where as in the mostly poor third-world,democracy is still “on the stand”.

It is clear that there is a correlation between development and the emergence of a middle-class,with the one boosting the other.Where people are enlightened,leadership or the supervisory capacity of the community can only be strengthened,leading to sustainable development,which in turn boosts enlightenment.It is no accident,that the bulk of the Nigerian middle-class is concentrated in Lagos,with a sprinkling in Port-Harcourt and Abuja.There is,in fact,a good reason for this: jobs.Good jobs.It is the availability of good jobs in Lagos,and it’s non-availability in other states,that has turned it into a magnet for the Nigerian middle-class,leaving the other states short of the acultural influence of the middle-class.Given the clear connection between the middle-class and development,you would think state governors would prioritize investment and job-creation.Nope.Instead,they are  busily engaged in diversionary gimmickry,carrying on as if a governor’s job is limited to painting roads and planting flowers.

Now planting flowers is not bad,but it should not be the primary focus of government.Creation of jobs should.While working to create jobs,our state government should also keep the rural areas in mind.Every effort should be made to spread development to the rural areas,to solve the twin-problem of over-crowded slum-towns and deserted villages.Anyone conversant with Nigeria knows that our villages are desperately deserted(except at festive periods),as the able-bodied and the ambitious have all run off to the towns to seek their fortune,leaving the weak and the elderly behind.With the able gone,the elderly are to left to their own devices.You can only imagine the loneliness.We desperately need an injection of life into our villages.Injecting life into the villages,does not mean that the government gets to tell investors where to site their industries.No.

There is a reason companies cluster.Network effect; the greater the number of people using a service,the more valuable it becomes.Like the pudding which proves it’s tastiness by the speed with it is eaten,business locations prove their business-friendliness by the number of businesses they host.The number of businesses hosted by a cluster constitutes it’s credentials as a location for business.The more businesses a location hosts,the more attractive it is to potential investors.Usually clusters would have certain characteristics: access to markets,labour as well as consumer; availability of a good road network; proximity to a pool of service-firms.Given the absence of these conditions in the villages ,it is no surprise that investors are not exactly flocking there.Still,the government can make a big difference.

First thing government needs to do is to create conditions that conduce to investment.Second,it should spread development to the rural areas by providing good roads,electricity and security.Finally,it should craft a housing policy that makes it difficult to build in certain areas of the town.If land-developers find it difficult to build in the towns,and the rural areas have decent infrastructure as well security,guess where the developers will go? Yep.The villages.If the villages have decent housing and infrastructure,workers would think nothing of commuting 30 miles to work,if they can do it in some 30 minutes.Why not.You might not be able to  displace the cluster,but you can channel some of the workers,and their income,closer to the rural areas.Our governors should get to work.The hungry do not admire flowers.

Nigeria-Is it Time for “the” Sovereign National Conference?: The North and Federalism

“Truth is bitter,”  goes that well-known aphorism.And,no wonder.For like medicine,which is also bitter,truth boasts great curative power: it can save you,it can turn your life around and it can set you free.To benefit from that power,however,requires a willingness on the part of the concerned person,to accept the truth and imbibe the lessons that it teaches,just as an individual profits from medicine,only after an ingestive encounter with it.The first step,in effecting a positive change in any life,is to do an accurate,truthful,diagnosis of that life.Only then,can efficacious remedies be proffered.But,this is easier said than done,and for good reason; as we have noted,truth after all is bitter.Given that bitterness,it should come as no surprise that truth is,most of the time,mightily resisted.And,what goes for individuals,is also applicable to societies and nations.

The average Nigerian believes that Nigeria is broken,and in need of radical surgery.He also believes that the political class resists this truth,for the simple reason that a broken Nigeria lends itself to plunder,the preferred occupation of Nigerian elites.The truth is that,finding it too bitter to even contemplate giving up it’s “right” to plunder,as would be entailed by radical surgery,the Nigerian political class instead resorted to gimmickry and fudge.In place of that surgery,it instituted zoning,an arrangement ostensibly designed to ensure geo-political “fairness” by rotating the presidency between the South and the North,but which in fact seems more of an attempt to bring “order” to the “feeding frenzy”,in order to avoid self-destruction by a loot-crazed political class,by  rotating power between Northern and Southern members of that class,in a clear rejection of the principle of meritocracy,and to the detriment of ordinary Nigerians.

Radical surgery,in the opinion of the average Nigerian,would entail drastic restructuring of Nigeria,resulting in either true federalism or balkanization.Most Southerners believe that the main stumbling-block to restructuring Nigeria is the North.According to this view,given that Nigeria’s oil is concentrated in the South,the North,realizing that restructuring would be attended by the significant loss of  it’s oil-receipts, is opposed to any significant restructuring of the country.Cited in favour of this analysis is the fact that between 1967 and 1999,when the North had almost unbroken domination of Nigeria,it did everything to keep Nigeria a de facto unitary state,with centralized control of it’s oil resources.The evidence so far would seem to suggest that Northerners are die-hard unitarists.That is misleading.If we re-examine the evidence,we might find that,on the contrary,Northerners are unrepentant federalists.

A clue of the North’s innate federalist instinct,emerges from an examination of it’s behaviour when it is not in power.Once out of power,the North’s innate fear and distrust of the unitary Nigerian state emerge.It is this fear that finds expression in violent and provocative behaviour.Consider the evidence: when General Aguiyi-ironsi,a Southerner,promulgated the unification decree of 1967,the North erupted in violence,during which Southerners were massacred; when Olusegun Obasanjo,a Southerner,become president in 1999,the hard-core Northern states petulantly responded by adopting Sharia law,in flagrant violation of the constitution; and now that another Southerner,Goodluck Jonathan,is president,the air itself is thick with chants and threats of violence.The North fears that a unitary Nigerian state outside it’s direct control,would lead to the imposition of secularism,Westernization.And with Westernization,Southern “domination” of the North.

And,make no mistake about it,the North may loathe the South,but it also fears it,and it’s education,in equal measure.The truth is that the North would like nothing better than to be shot of the South or at least put itself in a position,where it can more fruitfully resist Southern “domination”.It this fear of the South that is “forcing” the North to flirt with Islamism: the North’s recourse to the Sharia law is an attempt to ward off the “rampaging” South; the fervent Northern support for Islamic banking is another example of this phenomenon.I believe the North’s fears can only be allayed either by a federal arrangement,which gives it the power to make far-reaching laws for the itself or perpetual leadership of  Nigeria.In other words,the North would opportunistically subsume it’s federalist instinct only when in power,as we saw between 1960 and 1999.It is this “my way or the highway” thinking that is described by  Southerners as the  “born-to-rule” mentality.

Now that the South is no longer willing to keep the North happy,by  “bribing” it with the leadership of  Nigeria,what happens? If the victory of Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 presidential election proved anything,it is that the hard-core Northern states are in no position to elect anybody to Nigeria’s presidency.This means the prospects of a “Northern” president in the next 20 years are dim.If that is so,the North can only get progressively unhappier.And with good reason.Despite being in power for over three decades,the North lagged the South in development.Out of power,and still analphabetic,what are it’s chances? Southern “domination” threatens.And the “highway” beckons: balkanization or true federalism. We can choose the smart option,true federalism based on resource control,by sitting round a table and “talking”.For it’s “freedom” from looming Southern “domination”,the North,in my view,would be willing to pay a huge price: the loss of it’s oil-receipts.I believe the North is ready for a parley.But is the South also ready? That is the question.

Transformational Leadership and the “Nigeria” factor:Tapping into the Power of Suggestion

I must confess that my reading of the Nigerian situation is mechanistic,as i believe that Nigeria’s problem is mainly down to poor mechanics.Although Nigeria claims to be a federal state,the reality is that it is in fact,as befitting a trust-fund state,long on the unitary form of government,and short on federalism.In my own view, “Nigerianess” would largely be  predicted by any state subject to Nigeria’s mechanical limitations.An arbitrary colonial joinery of many and various,mutually distrustful tribes,Nigeria proved early on that it was sheer folly to take it’s cohesiveness as a country for granted,by fighting a brutal 30-month civil war to end the secession of the Eastern part of the country.The formal end of the war did not however,bring an end to the distrusts,suspicions and doubts with which the average Nigerian viewed Nigeria.You only have to look at Nigeria’s politics,where choices are driven by the short-termism of immediate gratification,to see that.Like rats on a sinking ship,people are focused on securing their “own” before the “inevitable” happens.

It is my well-considered opinion that until Nigeria is a federalism-compliant state,one that is founded on resource-control and subsidiarity,it would struggle to achieve it’s full potential.Having said that,within the limits of our current arrangements,Nigeria could be much better,if our people were driven by the dynamics of patriotism and self-esteem.Make no mistake about it,a people who suffered colonization by another race,could not have avoided developing a sense of inferiority.In Nigeria’s case,this sense of inferiority has been deepened by the decades of corruption and mis-governance that followed independence.A people who have been told by successive governments over the decades,that access to regular power,good jobs,decent health-care,standard education and social security is beyond them,have come to accept as “normal”,a life of misery and privation.This second-rate existence,has conditioned Nigerians to see themselves as second-class citizens.And second-class people must necessarily subscribe to second-class standards.

Thus,our attachment to mediocrity.Mediocrity does not only now seem normal,it has become normative; it is now our defining standard.Decades of contemptuous governance have left Nigerians bereft of any self-esteem.We have come to accept a state of ineptitude,incompetence and quackery as normal.This deeply ingrained inferiority complex has given rise to an even deeper cynicism.The average Nigerian is so cynical that he does not believe in virtue,he does not believe in it’s attainability.To him,the pursuit of excellence is something that happens in other worlds,not in Nigeria.Instead of excellence or virtue,Nigerians are in  full flight,in the pursuit of vice.We pervert and corrupt every process.This aptitude for perversion,this talent for travesty or bastardization has come to be known as the “Nigeria” factor.Everywhere you look this factor is at work,no Nigerian process is safe from it’s grubby reach.No area of national life is sacred: in government,the institutionalization of impunity; in politics you see the bastardization of the electoral process; in academics,the wholesale merchandising of grades; in sports,the over-celebration of “youth” trophies,usually “won” by over-aged cheats.The list goes on.

Given our structural constraints,a transactional leadership would struggle to make a meaningful impact on Nigeria’s development.A transactional leadership is one in which the leader has a give-and-take relationship with the people.In other words,the people wait for the leader to do things for them.In contrast,transformational leadership motivates the citizenry to take greater responsibility for it’s fate.Through his vision,the transformational leader brings about positive change in the people,eventually turning them into leaders,too.President Jonathan best bet,if he really wants to succeed,would be to turn a lethargic Nigerian citizenry into one that is engaged and motivated.If he can turn the majority of about 150 million people into leaders,half his job is done.For as individuals,we can do so much more,if only we would take responsibility.Every Nigerian can make a positive independent contribution to Nigeria,every one has something positive to offer,given the necessary inspiration.

What is not fully appreciated is that Nigeria is the aggregation of our homes,offices and playgrounds.Make a positive difference in any of those,you make a difference to Nigeria.If Nigerians “decide” to dispose refuse responsibly,our streets,roads and environment would be cleaner and healthier,to our benefit; At work,people can “decide” to be more responsible by being more punctual and committed,thereby raising productivity and with it an increase in wealth for all.Even at play we can make a difference. If the president of a country club  “decides” to behave more responsibly,he would not only hire coaches,but would also ensure decent pay for them,thus creating jobs.Replicate these efforts across Nigeria,and we would see a massive difference.But to “decide” to act more responsibly,Nigerians would need the inspiration of a transformational leader.A leader who will rise to the challenge of leadership by personal example.A true role model-leader,one who would always aspire,by word and deed,to the high-moral ground; one who would always  strive for excellence,and would consequently challenge the people to reach that moral-zenith.

Nigeria needs a leader that would free the Nigerian psyche from the bondage of mediocrity,by “suggesting” to the Nigerian mind,by word and deed,that excellence is attainable,that mediocrity is not inevitable.It is a choice.We discount the power of suggestion at our own peril.

Nigeria-The North and the “Almajiri-Armageddon”:Ending Feudalism through Education

“Almajiri” is a word borrowed from Arabic for someone who leaves his home in search of knowledge in the Islamic religion. In Northern Nigeria today,the only “education” that seems to be on offer to the children in this position,to the “untutored” eye,is indoctrination into a life of poverty and violence.Without any formal system to take care of them,these kids end up on the streets as beggars.As a result,the word “Almajiri” has come to stand for street-children.As street-children,without any form of parental care,they easily fall under the sway of any one who is willing to “provide” for them.This is how the Almajiris came to be instruments of sectarian violence,biddable pawns in the hands of mischief makers.The impression has taken hold that this army of mendicant urchins,was being tolerated,if not remote-controlled,by Northern elites,as a useful addition to it’s arsenal,in it’s adversarial rivalry with the South.

In numerous,episodic and seemingly unprovoked,attacks in the North,these Almajiris have been freely unleashed against Southerners,and their interests.Whether freelancing or under the direct orders of extremist groups such as the “Boko Haram“,these agents of violence know only to kill,burn,maim or destroy,talents that have been turned frequently against Southerners.Until now.Following the announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the 2011 presidential elections,certain parts of the North erupted in violence,during which many Southerners lost lives,limbs and properties.So far,so predictable.But for the first time,certain elements of the Northern elite-class also became targets,as the homes of prominent Northerners,including highly-placed traditional rulers,were torched by the mob.It is this twist in the tale,that is concentrating minds,now.

For the first time,questions are now being raised about the “Almajiri” problem,within the Northern elite-circles.Disappointingly,however,the focus seems to be on security measures.I recall that,following the out-break of electoral violence,the internal affairs minister,Mr Iheanacho,was suspended.We are fixated on security; every body is talking about improving security,about bringing perpetrators to justice as a way of sending a clear signal to would-be rioters,of government’s determination to interdict mob-violence.And,improving security is good,very good.But police measures alone will not solve the problem.To be effective,police-measures must go hand-in-hand with social-dynamics,that set of socio-economic tools, with which a society can be nudged in a given direction.In particular,education should be emphasized.And i mean “functional” education,which some “impolitically” or “ignorantly” call “Western” education.

Whatever it is called,it must play it’s role as a predictor of future success,to enable the root-and-branch overhaul of the Northern socio-economy,and to secure the approval of the Northern masses.The reason the average Northerner regards education with such contempt,is because he sees it as a foreign past-time of little value.He does not see it as a predictor of future success.And no wonder.For,most  successful Northerners,including professors,engineers and doctors,are children of privilege.Most of them are sons and nephews of  Sultans,Emirs and other traditional rulers.As a result,their success is seen by the average Northerner,as deriving from privilege,rather than education.It is not unthinkable,that the average Northerner sees education as an accomplice of privilege,designed to perpetuate the gap between the nobility and the peasantry.And indeed,that gap is so huge,so feudal.

Make no mistake about it,any society that boasts of such social and economic polarization is feudal,as feudalism thrives on the rigid hierarchization that enshrines privilege,by enriching the patrician at the expense of the peasant.Through out feudal Europe,penury was the natural condition of the peasant.One of the reasons for this,was because economic-skills could only be transmitted from parent or guardian to child or ward.In other words,one could only take after one’s father or guardian.This was the case for both patrician and peasant;while the noble learned the ways of nobility,the peasant learned the trade of his peasant-father.This ensured that children of farmers,gardeners,butlers and cooks could only end up as farmers,gardeners,butlers and cooks,from one generation to the next.They could not aspire to become doctors,engineers,lawyers or professors,because their parents could not transmit skills that they did not posses.This system kept both classes apart for centuries.Until the invention of schools.

As a means of transmitting ideas,knowledge and values from one generation to the next,the parent-to-child or guardian-to-ward “education” system was beset by two major drawbacks.First,given that parents or guardians could only give what they had,their children or wards were condemned to re-live their fates.Second,some children either had only irresponsible parents or guardians or none at all.Schools were invented to address these short-comings.The school system was designed to pool the knowledge-resources of the society together,for meritocratic allocation to students,such that the impact of circumstances of birth would be significantly reduced or eliminated.In other words,schools were founded to create a level-playing field for all children,by ensuring equality of opportunity,if not of out-come,for them all.As you can imagine,the idea of creating a level-playing field for all children,irrespective of class,was a death-blow aimed at the heart of feudalism.

In time,the wall between peasant and patrician crumbled,as children of peasants could now aspire to become economically successful,by training to become doctors,engineers,lawyers,teachers and scientists.All they had to do was go school to acquire the necessary education; whatever career took their fancy,they could now “buy” at school.Properly defined,therefore,a school is a market-place for the buying and selling of knowledge,with the teachers doing the selling while the students do the buying.But,to ensure equality of opportunity for all children,the currency of purchase must be denominated in diligence and intelligence,not Naira and Kobo.That is to say,that moral and intellectual mettle,rather than wealth,should be the decisive factor in determining educational and career out-comes.Otherwise,the purpose of education as a leveler,would be defeated,as the wealthy would continue to prosper while the poor continue to be denied.

If the Northern nobility must avoid the fate of the Russian aristocracy,in this case an “Almajiri-armageddon”,especially now that adherents of “Boko Haram” have,allegedly,added bomb-making skills to their arsenal,it must plump for a more meritocratic society.Such a society can only emerge when the masses have been lifted up through education; education that empowers the poor and brings hope to the oppressed; education that turns the “Almajiri” masses into a population of stake-holding doctors,engineers,economists and teachers,rather than malcontent-terrorists and -human-bombers.An education system that is capable of doing this,no matter that it is called “Western”,would win the approval and support of the Northern masses.Let us not forget that “Western” education owes much to early Arab-scholarship.It is not “Christian” education.Muslims in such places as Malaysia and Indonesia have proved that Islam and “Western” education can co-exist,as have Yoruba Muslims of South-Western Nigeria.Resistance to “Western” education is not about religion;it is about the manipulation of an ignorant population by feudalists.Has always been.The “Almajiri” problem is a ticking time-bomb.Tick,tock.

Nigeria-Made in Nigeria: “E no easy,dem try”,the Mediocrity-Apologia

The average Nigerian is an apologist for mediocrity.And knows it,too.Very rarely will you hear,”that is very good”,with regard to any Nigerian process or product.Apparently Nigerian products or processes fall into two categories only: “nonsense” or “e no easy ,dem try”(ENEDT).”ENEDT” has become a euphemism,for that grey zone between very-bad and not-so-bad.Phrases like “ENEDT” are used to describe things that Nigerians consider better than bad,but not good enough to be termed “good”.Nigerians can identify mediocrity when they see it,but because they are unwilling to face it squarely,and deal with it,they prefer not to call it by it’s rightful name.Instead,as a sort of denial,phrases such as “ENEDT” are employed to make it seem better than it is.Thus morally sedated,people can do things that they would not normally be able to justify.This explains how well-educated sophisticates can do things that their education,exposure and background do not predict.

A society that is unwilling to make to a distinction between good and bad is in deep trouble.A people that can find comfort in such fudge,obfuscation and outright denial are morally bankrupt.A culture from whose lexicon,the word “good” has been expunged,cannot be exercised by considerations of excellence.Such a people,strangers to the word “good”,would be wedded to mediocrity.And no wonder.The other day,i saw a broadcast on cable television,where Amaka Igwe,one of the heavy-hitters of the movie and television industry in Nigeria,was been interviewed.In response to the interviewers question about the movie industry’s “progress”,she aggressively defended Nollywood,the Nigerian movie industry,by trotting out the usual excuses about lack of finance and poor infrastructure.But what really caught my attention,was her attempt to justify Nollywood’s mediocrity by pointing out that the industry ,”is just 16 years old”.And that is so typical.

Every time you criticize some Nigerian  practice,no matter how objectively,there is sure to be someone to remind you that,”Nigeria is only 50 years old as an independent state,America has been independent since 1776.In time we will get there.” This argument is so infuriating.Yes,it is true that it took the West a long time to get to their present position.But that is because they had no role-models,no one from whom to learn.They had to discover or invent everything themselves,and of course they made a lot of missteps and took many wrong-turns as a result.But we are not in the same position.We have the benefit of their experience,we are heirs to some 30o years of written history.It is not necessary to exactly re-enact the trajectory of their development,by repeating all the mistakes they made,including some they did not even make.The irony is that Nigerians are early-adopters,of consumer goods.Where the acquisition of the latest cars,phones and fashion accessories is concerned,Nigerians are at par with Europeans and Americans.

But when you insist that the Nigerian process be subject to world-class measures,Nigerians complain.Please do not mis-understand me.I make a distinction between product and process.No one pretends that the Nigerian “product” should be of the same absolute quality as the West’s.What we can insist on,however,is that the Nigerian process be compliant with acceptable international norms,that every effort be made to do things properly.It is gratuitous self-violence,to leave undone that which we could easily do,just because Nigeria is not a million years old.I do not expect Nigerian movies to be of the same absolute quality,as Hollywood’s.However,i expect that the Nigerian film-market would be intelligently enough regulated,as to make it quality-sensitive.It should be able to differentiate between bad and good movies;any one who supports Nollywood,by buying or renting it’s movies,knows how frustrating this lack of differentiation is.Such a “simple” thing can make a big difference.And,throughout the Nigerian reality.

Certainly,we do not expect our infrastructure to be of the same quality as that of the West,but is that any justification for the state of our roads and power-supply? What about our schools and hospitals? Given our natural resources,human and material,should we not be able to match the standards in the West-African sub-region,if not the Middle-east? If we cannot match the level of probity,accountability and transparency of Western governments today,is that a good reason for the institutionalization of impunity ,by our various governments? Can we not justifiably hold our leaders to higher standards? The 2011 elections were not up to the standards of the West,but they were much better than what we were used to.And all because the president “chose” to give the electoral commission boss a free hand.We can do much better,today,but only if we liberate our minds from the bondage of mediocrity,increasingly fostered by our language.Phrases like “ENEDT” constitute the language of mediocrity,of moral-timidity and under-development.Mind your language!!!

Colonialism and Corruption:”Paper-ification” of Value,Deification of “Paper” and Bifurcation of Morality

Nigeria is renowned for corruption,and it’s people for a lack of work ethic.Not a day goes by,without some politician or government official being pilloried in the media for one alleged financial misconduct or another.The perception on the street,is that government officials work only to fill their own pockets.But not only public officials,private ones too.The impression has taken hold that every Nigerian sees his office as a prebend: a place to collect his share of the spoils rather than to work.This attitude to work is expressed in the “this is not my father’s work” syndrome,a malaise which afflicts a society with a work-culture that does not esteem commitment or responsibility.How did Nigeria come to this pass,Especially considering, that Nigerians are very hardworking and religious people? Colonialism.Colonialism heralded the bifurcation of morality into personal and public strands,whereby,in their personal dealings with family and friends,people are held to an absolute standard of morality,a standard that is not expected to be matched in their public roles.

This dichotomy  resulted from differences between traditional and western societies,in their perception and definition of work.Traditional Nigerian society subscribed to a value-system which was very different from that of the west,especially with regard to work.Traditional society judged hard work by the  amount of physical exertion involved.A man could not become wealthy,unless he was willing to put in years of hard work,farming or fishing.There simply was no short-cut,to acquiring wealth or riches.Absolutely none.The appearance of the white man and his paper money changed all that.Imagine the quantum leap.All of sudden a man could become wealthy,not by sweating it out on the farm,but by  “loafing” in some square building,called school,in the mission house for a few years.For spurning farm work, in favour of schooling,these lucky few were rewarded with the white man’s money,which enabled an exotic life style: white man’s house,white man’s car,white man’s authority.

Paper- or fiat-money is money that has value only because of Government authority.Unlike paper-money,commodity-money has value because it is made from a valuable commodity.Gold is an example.In the West,Gold was accepted as money because Gold was a valuable substance.Eventually when Gold evolved into paper-money,because people could relate that money to Gold,it was possible to tie the value of money to the economic process.In Africa,there was no such transition.People woke up one day to behold the colonial-master and his pieces of “paper”,with it’s tremendous purchasing power.Given that access to this “paper” was conditional on the possession of other papers,called certificates,which could only be obtained by “loafing” in the white man’s school,it became clear to a community steeped in superstition,that possession of the white man’s “paper” was the height of magic.White man’s magic,government magic.

Paper-money made it’s appearance,in Africa,in a way that did not suggest a direct relationship with the productive process.It was this seeming alienation from the productive process that people saw,and concluded that the possession of the white man’s “paper”,was part of a magical process: possession of this “paper” had nothing to do with hard-work or merit.If it had nothing to do with hard-work or merit,then it had to be completely divorced from traditional concept of morality.The message,to a  farming or fishing community with it’s traditional definition of hard-work, was simply that one did not have to work hard to become rich anymore.In addition,given that the the possession of the white man’s money was divorced from traditional notions of morality,the quest for it could not be subject to same morality.Therefore,it became justifiable to steal,cheat or kill in order to become rich.Thus developed a unique,autonomous “paper” morality,according to which the end justifies the means,which was distinct from,and contrary to,the traditional morality of absolute right and wrong.

The native mind,which denominated value in such tangibles as barns and fishing boats,was turned by the idea of the “print-ability” of value,the “paper-ification”of value;the native mind came to identify work with the generation of “paper”,not honest effort or creation of value. Thus began our obsession with,and deification of ,”paper”,whether as money or certificate.With the pursuit of “paper” based on the autonomous morality of “result only”,the principle of hard-work was duly overthrown.Henceforth,no one would really want to work,whether for money or certificate.This is encapsulated in the “this-is-not-my-father’s-work” syndrome.It is this syndrome that is responsible for our bureaucrats,civil servants and administrators being an army of file-pushers,dedicated to the generation of paper in the shape of office-files and -forms,rather than the creation of value.That paper again!!! It is this love of paper that explains why my village transformer in Atta,Ikeduru,cannot be changed without a paper-trail snaking it’s way all the way to Abuja.We do not work to create value,but to generate mountains of paper.

People love big positions,but are loath to take responsibility.Every body wants to go to school,but not to acquire knowledge.No.Just to grab those certificates,by whatever means necessary.This aversion to real-work,finds it’s fullest expression in the attitude of government workers,especially those in elective offices.Our politicians are the worst culprits with regards to the pretend-work malaise.Reprising the distance between the colonial official and the natives,but not the work-ethic of the white colonial official,our politicians show scant regard for the interest and well-being of the people.The impression given by most of them is that they are in office for the service of self.It is this contempt for the people,that perpetuates the distance between the government and the governed,and cements the impression,in the people’s minds,that our national and state capitals may as well be colonial London,Paris or Lisbon.So far removed are our governments from the legitimate aspirations of the people.And so alienated are the people from government.It is this mutual contempt that drives unaccountability,and with it political corruption.

Nigeria-The “Nigeria” Question:Balkanization,Federalism,Subsidiarity and the Passion of the Village Square

Events in Nigeria,in the last one year,from the near-country-wide bombings to the murderous exertions of the “Boko Haram” in the North,culminating in the orgy of violence in the same North,that greeted the announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as the winner of the 2011 presidential election,have given fresh impetus to the question as to whether the Nigerian people are best served by remaining within a united Nigeria or going their separate ways.On one side are the irredentists,who argue that Nigeria has irredeemably failed,and as such it’s constituent tribes should be allowed to go their different ways.In support of this balkanization option,they cite the progress made during the first republic,when Nigeria practiced regionalism.On the other side,are the nationalists,who hold the view that,apart from the practical difficulties of splitting Nigeria into “compatible” ethnic groups,a united Nigeria has certain advantages in  scale and diversity.

Nigeria’s problem is not so much that Nigeria is not homogeneous.Nigeria’s problem stems from the fact that Nigeria is artificial,a colonial creation.And our people being indigenes at heart,cannot relate to it viscerally.There is no gut-wrenching reaction to anything Nigerian,in the same way we react when our tribes are taunted by outsiders or racist remarks are directed at us.That sense of belonging or ownership that we have with regard to our tribes,is not felt for Nigeria.We are still basically tribesmen: Igbos,Yorubas,Hausas,Ijaws,etc living in a space called Nigeria.But we were not the only people colonized.Much of the Middle-east and Asia suffered colonization too,in one shape or another.The difference is that most of those countries are historic: they were already existing in a state similar to their present form.This  difference is of crucial importance.

In much of the Middle-east and Asia,the template for citizenship did not change with colonialism.The people lived within the same borders and related to each other,as well as the state,much as they had done for thousands of years before colonization.The only difference was that the king or emperor was subject to the influence of the colonial master.After colonization,they did not need any re-indoctrination to become citizens of their country,because nothing had changed.Their kings or emperor simply went back to ruling their “nations”,as they had done for millennia.The people and their kings did not have to get used to a new geographic contraption,no.It was still the same country to which they had paid allegiance for antiquity.Unlike Africa.Where colonialism meant lumping together mutually distrustful and  independent tribes into new,and arbitrary unions,dictated only by imperial politico-economic rivalry.

It is this difference between African and Asian colonial experience,that explains the contrast in the quality of leadership between the two regions.Asian leaderships have a legacy of Nationalism: they can draw from a tradition of leadership,which viewed the entire country as the primary constituency of the king or emperor.You might have noticed that Middle-eastern or Asian dictators generally tend to be benevolent.While they may not have had perfect human rights records,they still developed their countries,unlike African dictators.This is because there existed a tradition of  “national-scale” leadership.This contrasts with our experience,where leaderships,lacking such a legacy of “national-scale” vision,fall back on “tribal-scale” myopia.Our leaders are mere clan-patriarchs at heart,unable to provide the necessary leadership on a national-scale,because their vision cannot seemingly transcend tribe.

It is because the irredentist understands this leadership-limitation,that he advocates balkanization,believing that leadership within tribal enclaves would be fairer and more accountable.Not because of hatred of other tribes.The irredentist’s sovereignist enthusiasm is therefore functional,not necessarily sentimental.It is about living in a space where one feels comfortable not only physically,but developmentally;It is about not being afraid that one would be  stabbed in the back: literally through sectarian violence or metaphorically in the shape of discriminatory government policies.It is about responsive governance,and an engaged citizenry.Understanding that the irredentist’s true craving is for good governance,should give hope to both nationalists and  irredentists,that balkanization of Nigeria need not be inevitable. The question to be asked is this,”can we  secure the same governance and security that the irredentist craves,while retaining the advantages of scale and diversity that come with a united Nigeria?”

We definitely can,like the United States.But to do this would require,like the United States,faithful adherence to the principle of federalism.Although the United States is geographically,numerically and economically several times the size of Nigeria,it is much smaller administratively than Nigeria.This is because the Americans apply the principle of subsidiarity: the idea that things are better done at the lowest competent level of government.Most of the things that matter to Americans are handled locally.In contrast,in Nigeria,you cannot change your electricity meter,without reference to some bureaucrat in Abuja.There is too much power and money concentrated in Abuja.This is what frustrates,and alienates the citizenry.If we want to see a Nigerian citizenry animated by the passion that characterized the typical African village square,we need to bring back the village square.To do this would entail extensive decentralization,true federalism and resource control.

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