“Nigeria’s problem is mental; and it is this hurdle that Nigerians must cross if it is ever to achieve its political and economic goals.”
On the 14th of February, Nigerians will take to the ballot boxes to select a new (or old) president. Current president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is the candidate from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and former General Mohammadu Buhari is the selection of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In March of last year, the APC launched its manifesto to counter the PDP’s (the publication date of which is mysteriously unclear). Reading through both parties’ offerings the starkest observation is that in neither case are there itemized inputs and outputs by which to judge the practical feasibility of achieving almost any of either side’s political objectives. There are no time tables, and most importantly there are no costings.
No amount of clever number shifting is going to get us out of declining foreign reserves, rapid capital flight, and an over reliance on a volatile oil commodity.
Last week, Nigeria’s former Central Bank (CBN) governor, Charles Soludo, wrote an article in the Nigerian Vanguard, in which he alerted the public to the fact that neither party had documented how it would pay for any of its promises. Soludo went further by suggesting that even if the parties and their presidential candidates had paid the most basic attention to the minimal requirements of writing a manifesto, Nigeria was currently languishing in an economic morass that could not be exited without the Nigerian public making some tough personal sacrifices. No amount of clever number shifting is going to get Nigeria out of declining foreign reserves, rapid capital flight, and an over reliance on a volatile oil commodity. That Nigeria’s political parties needed to take this opportunity to prepare the population for a tough road ahead was Soludo’s advice to the party candidates.
There are many parts to Soludo’s rather smug accounting of the state of the nation with which it is easy to object. By his telling – his time as CBN governor under former President Obasanjo between 2004 and 2009 saw Nigeria become a veritable member of the global economic high fliers club. Let us be clear, there is no point in Nigeria’s post-colonial past where that nation has surpassed itself either economically or politically and there is no qualified economist worth his salt that would suggest otherwise.
In the period of what Soludo considers to be his and Obasanjo’s high economic achievement, Nigeria’s poverty headcount dropped by a mere 2.4% from 48.4% in 2004 to 46% in 2010. This is compared to a 27.4% poverty reduction in Kazakhstan in a similar time frame and an 8.5% drop in poverty in Senegal, also in a similar period. Depending on which source you use, Nigeria’s 70% poverty rate was already in place on Obasanjo’s and Soludo’s leaving office.
many Nigerians not only want their petroleum to be subsidized but they are unwilling to move into sustainable areas of economic growth like agriculture and manufacturing, and those that are already in these sectors have been ignored for so long it is a wonder they remain in their jobs.
In any case, Soludo’s advice that it was up to the leaders of the PDP and APC to alert Nigerians to what will be hard economic days to come has been taken by some as scaremongering and too little advice too late. Many Nigerians have asked in response to Soludo’s article: why did he not say this before? That it had not occurred to anyone in the last nearly 300 days – including the thousands of business entrepreneurs Nigeria claims to boast – that neither party manifesto had a single Dollar or Naira sign in it (to borrow Soludo’s words) is a ghastly admission.
And yet, not only did Soludo’s advice not go far enough, it slightly missed the mark. The problem Nigeria seems to be mired in is not fundamentally an economic problem. If the nation works hard enough – and it is a nation of hard workers – and gets the right economic policies for its environment and circumstance, Nigeria will eventually be economically solvent. For example, 70% of the Nigerian work force is in the agricultural sector and despite being the backbone of any self-sustaining economy, government after government in Nigeria has only seen fit to implement policies that mean that the contribution of agriculture to GDP is a mere 30.9%.
In the period of what Soludo considers to be his and Obasanjo’s high economic achievement Nigeria’s poverty headcount dropped by a mere 2.4% from 48.4% in 2004 to 46% in 2010.
Further, the problem Nigeria is mired in is not fundamentally political. It takes decades if not centuries to build unshakable bureaucratic structures that enable the political machinery to work more or less like clockwork regardless of who is in political office at any given point in time. It is why London will by and large be alright whether or not Boris Johnson or an actual duck is mayor. Nigeria’s problem is mental; and it is this hurdle that Nigerians must cross if it is ever to achieve its political and economic goals.
It should not need Soludo or any political party to tell us that with a population of over 170 million, a heavy reliance on a single natural resource commodity, and heavy subsistence and food imports, almost zero exports in non-volatile petroleum markets will sink the economy. This is not new news. Yet, many Nigerians not only want their petroleum to be subsidized but they are unwilling to move into sustainable areas of economic growth like agriculture and manufacturing, and those that are already in these sectors have been ignored for so long it is a wonder they remain in their jobs.
Nigerians want to be Dubai. Cheap flashy money, quick.
It did not take Robert Bates’ analysis of the Nigerian economy in the 1970s to tell us that much of Nigeria’s inability to maintain a productive agricultural and manufacturing sector was the fault of bad and self- serving government policy. However, it appears that many ordinary Nigerians are themselves essentially uninterested in calling for the government to pay closer attention to growing these more sustainable areas of the economy. Once in while, the word agriculture is thrown into a question directed at the British High Commissioner for something or other, but there is rarely ever any passion in the questioner’s voice. And when the loudest street protest in recent years is the call to bring back the oil subsidy, there is depressingly little left to do but to wonder.
Ask most seemingly intelligent people what an economy like Nigeria’s needs most – not Dubai’s economy which has an entirely different structure, but the Nigerian economy – and most people say foreign investment. This, despite the fact that we know that the ability of most of the Asian economies to achieve high growth rates whilst maintaining modest levels of inequality, as well as the recovery of the Latin American economies after the collapse in the 1980s relied on significantly rolling back a reliance on foreign investment and increasing the role of national capital. These are economies with demographic and political environments that look more like ours. But no, Nigerians want to be Dubai. Cheap flashy money, quick.
When The People Lead From The Front
Nigerians are looking for a leader. But not for a leader who will make us work for the things that we believe in. We are not looking for a leader who will force us to fight when our rights are abridged. We are not even looking for a leader who will call upon us to think independently about who we are, what kind of lives we want to live and how we can best achieve our goals together. And we are certainly not looking for a leader who will call upon us to carry out this work together and by ourselves. We are looking for a leader that will, with the wave of a wand, and without us having to lift much of a finger or take time out of our day jobs, erase away our problems like flies in the night sky.
You may be voting but if you are being led from the front and not from behind, you may be in an elected oligarchy but you are not living in a democracy. There is no democratic leader that is the saviour of hers or his people.
To be sure, every successful revolution needs a leader or, to be more precise, a group thereof. But this group has been nothing without the women and men who by and large are tasked with the hard work that sees the revolution through.
In any case, Nigeria is not attempting the overthrow of a system. It is still in the process of transitioning into one; of moving from its recently found comfort with electoral democracy to a deeper democracy. So its requirements for a leader are somewhat different. What many of us seem to have failed to understand is that democratic leadership is leadership by the people. If the people are not leading then you are not in a democracy. You may be voting but if you are being led from the front and not from behind, you may be in an elected oligarchy but you are not living in a democracy. There is no democratic leader that is the saviour of hers or his people. A democratic leader merely puts into place that which is first demanded of him or her by their population. So when Nigerians ask why do we have such bad leaders it might be worth taking a moment to wonder what exactly we are demanding of them.
Leaders in democratic states or in any state for that matter do not exist in a vacuum. It ought to alarm us that from 170 million supposed angels only devils keep rising to the top.
We demand – actually demand – so very little from them. Time and time again they prove to us that like any other leader in any country they will do whatever they can get away with. And we let them. Make no mistake, many Nigerians talk a good talk – they is a no more avid complainant than a Nigerian bemoaning the uselessness of her government. But we continue to carry on in the same old modes of behaviour. We do not protest in large numbers about pretty much anything. Sometimes a near genocide happens in a Nigerian state and not only will many either pretend as if it hasn’t happened but some will go so far as to completely bypass our own government and immediately cry foul play by the international press and foreign governments while even our own national newspapers fail to cover such tragedies.
Many Nigerians pretend to want economic change, yet continue to expect hand outs from the federal budget while engaging in activities that literally drain the life blood out of the domestic economy without putting anything back in. The fact that public taxation contributes a mere 4.8% to GDP is mind boggling.
Leaders in democratic states or in any state for that matter do not exist in a vacuum. It ought to alarm us that from 170 million supposed angels only devils keep rising to the top. It is shameful for a country Nigeria’s size, a country that keeps producing globally notable men and women even in the face of extreme adversity— it is too shameful for such a country to keep itself mired in a state of mental delusions. We are looking for a saviour to lead us but have consistently refused to look to ourselves.
I am not, of course, suggesting that we do not need to elect a president. Nor am I suggesting that we do not select whichever of the two candidates we believe would do a better job at implementing government policy. I am, however, incredulous that many Nigerians seek a change by way of the next government and yet we – by and large – cannot be bothered to ask each party just how it is going to accomplish its objectives by forcing them to produce credible and costed manifestos.
It is not surprising that so many people missed the absence of costings in the PDP and APC manifestos. For to have caught the flaw would have required us to be prepared to demand that our government or future government know from the very start that it has to be, that it simply must be, accountable to us or else we will not let it rest while it is in office. We will not simply bide our time till the next election comes around to vote them out as most of us have done with our current president, Goodluck Jonathan. We will make their lives hell for the 4 years they are in office and we will neither rest nor will we be afraid. We will be prepared suffer so that we can stop suffering.
To spot the glaring and obnoxious flaw in the party manifestos would have been to take on a frame of mind where the next president of Nigeria was not looked upon blindly as a saviour but simply as a Nigerian citizen who was merely one among millions called upon to implement policies that we as the Nigerian populace had demanded and made necessary by the work we had shown ourselves prepared to do in carrying out our own transformation. That would be to begin to save ourselves.
*This article was amended on 23/12/2015
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