“Many members of the so-called elite group monitored the National Assembly elections on television, from the comfort of their homes or from far away, abroad. It will be a useful exercise to check how many Nigerian CEOs and captains of industry went out to vote on Saturday, April 9. The truth is that as Nigerians go to the polls, many Nigerian “big men and women” have since travelled out of the country. They won’t return until the elections are won and lost and they are sure that there is peace in the country. These are the same people whose businesses will be affected by National Assembly legislations. They would be quick to complain should there be unfavourable legislations affecting their businesses, and yet on election day, they’d rather stay at home, and allow their drivers, house-helps and bricklayers to be the ones to decide how Nigeria votes. In other parts of the world, it is the middle class and the elite that take the driver’s seat in determining the future of the country. In Nigeria, the rich are often too lazy to vote except when the election is like a business enterprise for them, that is a direct source of livelihood.”
The observation,quoted above,was made by Reuben Abati,in an article he published on a Nigerian website,the Nigeriavillagesquare.com.Any keen observer of Nigeria,would have noticed the same thing.The Nigerian elites live in Nigeria,but Nigeria does not live in them.They are like ex-territorial citizens,seemingly above Nigeria’s constraints.They are so detached from Nigeria,they are like expatriates:they do not send their children to Nigerian schools;they do not use Nigerian hospitals when they are stricken by sickness;they would rather bank their money abroad;they only live in Nigeria to make money.A few years ago,an expatriate acquaintance,a Dutchman working for one of the oil-companies in Port-Harcourt,told me a very revealing story.As a member of his company’s negotiation-team,he was privileged to attend meetings between representatives of the government,the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC,and those of the oil-companies.He said one of the bitterest complaints made by the NNPC guys was that,”expatriates do not invest in Nigeria;they do not use Nigerian schools or hospitals.” when he finished speaking,he looked at me,and we both started laughing.How funny.
Now,it is right that expatriates invest in Nigeria.But how can you make this point,when the top echelon of the government and the NNPC do not send their children to Nigerian schools or use Nigerian hospitals? Should they not lead by example? Nigerian elites are engaged with Nigeria superficially,and that through their economic activities,only.For them,Nigeria is useful,only for the rent-seeking opportunities it provides.As long as the government remains a captured agency,which exists only to award contracts and share the oil-money,the gravy-train will continue to churn.So why should they worry about which party “captures” power?They know that there is very little difference between our politicians,irrespective of party;these are the same politicians who jump from one party to the other,on the basis of expediency not ideology.They know that whoever wins,regulatory capture will ensure that business continues to be very lucrative,for the connected.
Of course you can argue that this indifference has a cost,as the resulting bad governance has consequences,in poor security;bad schools and hospitals;poor infrastructure and even worse power-supply.A cost that affects everybody,including the elites.Sure,it costs a pretty penny to pay for the foreign schools,medical treatment abroad,24 hour generator-power at home and at work,private security.But this dysfunctional system is contrived to ensure even greater gains for the connected.Far more gain than it’s cost.I recall that when the GSM mobile phone started in Nigeria,one of the companies claimed that,given the poor power-supply situation in the country,it had to buy 9000 generating sets to power its system,on the basis of which it went on to charge,probably the highest phone rates in the world,with the condonment,if not the connivance of the regulatory authorities.Just a couple of years down the road,the company had netted billions of Naira in profit.This is a typical business scenario here;in collusion with government regulators,businesses pass the cost of doing business in an uncompetitive business environment,on to the consumers,who are without any form of consumer-protection.
What is sad about this situation is not just the huge amount of money sent out of Nigerian each year,in the shape of medical or school fees,but the human capital-flight involved.Although Nigerians abroad repatriate millions of Dollars each year,most of these Nigerians sending money home are not children of Nigerian elites.These are people from ordinary homes who are sacrificing so much,in order to send help to those at home.Children of the elites,on the other hand do not send a dime home.They do not need to.Instead,they live on money sent them by their parents,money creamed from the Nigerian people.And as we all know most of them do not come home to work after concluding their studies,choosing to remain abroad instead;so they repatriate neither money nor skills.As far as Nigeria is concerned,sending them abroad to study is a total loss,a financial as well as a brain drain.
What is most distressing about all this,is that members of the middle class,those on $60000 or less a year,are getting in on the act.Any one in the oil-industry will attest to this fact.It is the rage now for even low-level staff,to plan for a foreign university education for their children. Where they cannot afford to send their children to Europe or America,they opt for Ghana.Imagine how much money Nigeria loses each year as it’s best paid professionals decide to hand the money over to foreigners?Think of the opportunity-cost of such huge sums.Consider how much better off we would be,if we invested such sums in our education system.If we all want a better Nigeria,scrambling for the oil-money,and then handing it all over to foreigners is not the way to go about it.