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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Nigeria-Leadership,The Old Woman And The Basket

Street Trader

Like the captured agencies they are,Nigerian governments,at every level,are in thrall to various client and business groups.They exist only to award contracts for projects,that are mere boondoggles,in favour of their contractor-friends.When they are not directly sharing money of course.They are not at all exercised by the needs and interests of the ordinary people.They are always unprepared to meet the needs of the people in any emergency;whether it be sectarian violence,cholera or some other out-break.Every thing they do is subordinate,directly or indirectly,to the imperative of self-aggrandizement.
Like the proverbial frail old woman,a mere bag of bones,made uneasy by any mention of the word ‘basket’,these people are xenophobic about any sort of criticism in the foreign media,no matter how justified.They see critics every where.It is so annoying when you hear government agents complain that Nollywood,the local film industry,is giving Nigeria a bad image abroad,because of some tame ‘love’ scene.Who judges America by it’s pornographic industry?The things that define and that demean us,have to do with the way our country is run.No one can respect us given the level of corruption,ineptitude and mediocrity exhibited by our governments.It is governance,stupid.
Our leaders should focus on governance,not mere prettification:artificial,fake and insubstantial beautification.In other words,sweeping dirt under the carpet otherwise known as governing through bans.Government wants to ban okada or pure water or street trading or this or that.For me bans simply demonstrate bureaucratic or intellectual laziness.There is a reason people are out there on the street,selling pure water or riding okada.We need to understand that there is an inverse relationship between the formal economy and the informal,the informal here defined as incorporating all those legitimate activities performed outside the regulatory and tax framework.
The bigger the formal economy,the smaller the informal one.In other words,there are so many people out there hustling on the street because the formal economy is not providing enough job-opportunities for our people.And that is because government is not doing it’s job.Instead of banning these activities,the government can bring them into the formal economy,by regulating them.This is a win-win situation,because the government benefits from the attendant tax-take and these guys get to keep their jobs.The question is whether our governments are bothered enough about the welfare of the people,to put in the required time and effort,necessary to crafting the sort of intelligent regulations that would bring about this happy state of affairs.
I am pretty sure those street hustlers would rather have their own shops.So what stops the government from midwifing an arrangement,probably with private sector investment,to provide these guys with market stalls on rental basis?As to the okadas,while we may bemoan their safety record,let us remember that they only came into existence as a result of the inadequate road network.Building an adequate road network is an issue of governance.And that is my point.Bans are a lazy option.If you stop the okada today,you will be faced with another antagonism tomorrow.We can never get away from the imperative of committed governance.The economic and social environment will always promote business models that are in line with the prediction of it’s characteristics.It is unscientific to expect a banana tree to bear oranges.
To get the respect of the international community we need to raise our game.We have to show that we are worthy of their respect.Nigeria needs to become a serious nation.To do this will require committed leadership,not cosmetic foolishness.The international community does not look down on us because of the street traders and okadas,they do not rate us because governance here is comical.Countries like Mexico,Brazil,India and China have plenty of street traders,bikes,rick-shaws,home-made trucks,and yet they are highly respected.Because they are seen as making the necessary effort at self-improvement.No one will denigrate you for being poor,only for being stupid and lazy.

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Nigeria-China,Open Society and Mass Action

The Chinese have confounded democracy scholars by their success in opening up the economy,while managing to keep China a closed society,contrary to the predictions of these experts.While embracing the market economy,they have kept at bay western-style democracy and it’s attributes.While providing standard public goods such as public transportation,public health,primary and secondary education,which are needed for economic growth,they have restricted democratic freedom by muzzling civil and political rights.These rights,such as freedom of the press,freedom of expression,freedom from arbitrary arrest,freedom of movement,right of association,right of peaceful protest,together with access to higher education constitute what are known as coordination goods.

Coordination goods are necessary for political involvement and competition.To be politically effective,people must be able to associate,to choose their leaders freely,to take part in peaceful protests,to give expression to their political views,to raise funds and so on.Without these rights it would be very difficult to coordinate political actions or to mobilize people.Unlike China however,which is rich in standard public goods but poor in coordination goods,Nigeria is poor in standard goods but rich in coordination goods as,Nigeria scores quite well on such parameters as freedom of the press,freedom of speech,freedom of association,freedom of movement and access to higher education.

And yet for all it’s wealth of  coordination goods,and contrary to the predictions of the theory of strategic coordination,there is a deficit of activism.Sure,Nigerians curse and abuse their leaders on the pages of newspapers and online forums,but there is very little action in the shape of concerted efforts to facilitate change,whether it be economic,political or social.With so much wrong,and in need of fixing,why are our people so lethargic?Why are we not moved to act?With all these revelations about public funds being misused,wasted or just plain stolen by those in power,you would expect Nigerians to be out on the street protesting.I believe there are three main reasons why they are not.

First,because of the ethnic/religious divide,virtue is relative in Nigeria.Especially for people in public office.No matter how bad a public official is,you will always get people of the same ethnic or religious persuasion who are willing to make excuses for him or her,by simply pointing at some other official of a different ethnicity or religion with a similar,or worse,record.As a result,it is very difficult to achieve cross-tribal consensus about the performance of any official,present or past.And without this consensus,it is impossible to mobilize people to mount sustained pressure,in other  to effect change.Any such protest would vilified by members of the incumbent leader’s kin as a witch-hunt.

Second,Poverty.Because many Nigerians are in the informal sector,read self-employed,with very low pay,they have no savings.They have to work everyday to eat and take care of the needs of their families the next day.Any day they are unable to work,for whatever reason,means debt or starvation the next day.You have to remember that there is no form of government welfare support in Nigeria,for the poor or indigent.People in this position,even if they wanted to,just cannot afford to take any time off work.They just cannot afford to camp out on the streets for days or weeks,to protest whatever.Especially given the lack of a tradition of mass political protests.Until they are pushed to the absolute wall,of course.

Finally,given that we practice resource capture rather resource control,people do not feel that the billions being wasted,belong to them.They would feel differently if those billions were their taxes.In stead,most Nigerians are hoping for their chance to be part of the “winning” team,so they can grab their share of the loot.And Nigeria being in such a state of flux,most people believe that,if it is not their turn today,it would be their friends’ or children’ turn tomorrow to grab  their share of the “national” cake.When people complain about corruption,what most of them are really saying is this: corruption should stop,unless they are made part of the “winning” team.This explains why people who appear clean,while out of government,would turn out to be just as disappointing,as others,when in office.Nigerians may not love corruption,but they certainly do not give the impression that they hate it.

Nigeria-The Jungle,Enforcement,Moral Suasion and Society

The basic condition for humanity is a sense of fairness.Lose your sense of fairness and you lose your humanity.You are dehumanized.This is what the jungle does.The jungle dehumanizes because it recognizes only the imperative of survival.The jungle has room only for the person who comes out on top,by trampling others underneath.The basic characteristic of the jungle is the survival of the fittest.The fittest being the person who steals,kills,cheats and lies the most.There is absolutely no room for morality.This Darwinian selection ensures that  the immoral succeed,and at the expense of the moral.

Any society that rewards lawless behaviour,will be dominated politically and economically by people of scant integrity.Since you can not give what you do not have,there will be a deficit of integrity,further promoting and idealizing lawless and immoral behaviour.You have to remember that every one wants to succeed.When people realize that those who cut corners ,bent every rule,broke every law,undermined every convention,forged or bought educational qualifications, are celebrated by society,instead of being stigmatized,prosecuted and jailed,they are encouraged to do the same.Gradually,a value-system that esteems only money and position will emerge.When this happens people have lost all sense of morality.

Moral suasion is simply about appealing to somebody’s sense of morality or recommending an ethical standard to another.The problem is that appealing to someone without a sense of morality is not very helpful is it?Complaining or cursing them will not do it either.What is required is enforcement.We need to make laws and enforce them.The Bible says in the book of Romans chapter 4 verse 15,that without the law there is no transgression.This simply means that if the laws are not enforced,then there are no crimes.Anything goes.Impunity reigns.The reason public officials have a healthy contempt for us is because they know,they can not be made accountable for their actions.

If  laws were enforced,not only would people watch their conduct,but more importantly,we would get a better breed of politicians and officials,as only people who want to serve society would seek public office.Enforcement has a normative function,in that by interdicting certain attitudes,people are encouraged to do the right thing.If people see that breaking the law in any way,shape or form is attended by prosecution and possibly imprisonment,they will be persuaded of the benefits of law-abidingness.Zero-tolerance of criminal behaviour across the entire society,at every level,will lead to positive socialization.Moral suasion is beneficial,when it complements enforcement.Without enforcement,society reverts back to the jungle.