Nigeria: The Limits of Asceticism and High Morality


By Jon West

In a defining scene in the classic cult movie “The Third Man” based on the survival of the fittest reality of post Second World  War Vienna, Austria, the villain character, portrayed by the inimitable actor, Orson Welles, confronted the hero of the movie in a cynical defence of his actions. In trying to justify his immoral, black-marketeering activities and its effect on life in the devastated city, the villain  alluded to the disparate results of a previous political and social era. “In Italy under the regimes of the Borgias dynasty, there was 300 years of wars, mayhem and instability , but the period produced the Renaissance, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci; Meanwhile in Switzerland, they had 500 years of peace and brotherly love and what was the result? The cuckoo clock!!”
Such self-serving justification for moral apostasy is  condemnable, but there is some truth hidden in the details. Asceticism and high morality, even if true, may not always produce the practical dividends that engender sustainable nationhood.

In China under Mao and the Cultural Revolution,tens of millions of Chinese starved or were worked to death in an apparent effort at drastic population control. However, such an unacceptable out come was tempered by the rise of “counter revolutionaries” like Deng Xiaoping, the revisionist and reformist Communist Leader who precipitated communist China’s shift to disguised capitalism and tremendous economic progress. Perhaps one of the defining results of the great sufferings of the Cultural Revolution was the adoption of the one child policy by the Chinese Government and people , in order to ensure that never again will the nation experience the debilitating effects of over-population. Again “evil” has resulted in some good.
Rewind to the USA in its early years; the buccaneering and carpetbagger families of Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and JP Morgan et al, were known as the Robber Barons, but they built the railroads, petroleum industry,  financial systems and the road infrastructure that launched the United States into the commanding heights of the global economy and world technological domination that subsists till this day. Same could be said for the Japanese kinreitsus, the Korean Chaebols and the Indian economic princelings of Tata and the Ambani Brothers. In Nigeria, their equivalents are the budding Dangote, Adenuga, Elumelu, Obiejesi and Otedola dynasties, spawned by decades of military rule and civilian sweetheart business deals.

During the 16 year “misrule’ of the Peoples Democratic Party, especially the Government of the hitherto shoeless son of the Otuoke canoe-carver, Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, there was unbridled corruption and debauchery in the polity, leading to the current disclosures of corruption on a scale last seen during the disastrous military regimes that ruined the prospects of Nigeria as a developed nation and shining light of Black and African Renaissance. However, this period of unmitigated and wanton corruption, instigated and sustained by factors that are beyond the scope of this article, produced the Great Leap Forward developments of privatisation, deregulation, banking consolidation, a vibrant stock market, pro local auto manufacturing  policies, local content legislation for the petroleum industry, the Bureau for Public procurement ,Treasury Single Account, IPPSS,Electronic wallet for  fertilizer distribution, Excess Crude account, Sovereign Wealth Fund, Asset Management Company of Nigeria,power privatization and deregulation , Petroleum Industry Bill, and a defining National Political conference  among several other developments, amidst the moral decay engendered by corruption, Boko Haram, Northern Moslem irredentism and Southwest’s angst at perceived political marginalization.
The instant gratification infused mentality of the Nigerian populace did not allow for the correct perception of this very reforming agenda of the Jonathan and previous PDP Governments that produced a myriad of ideas in such a short time, considering the fact that 16 years is a short time in the history of a nation, and in the words of a Deutsche bank advert “Ideas are capital, the rest is just money” and Tom Peters’ (the intellectual capital and excellence guru) assertion that “The man with the Idea is the hero”.

In trying to reform the apparently unreformable (apologies to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) Jonathan and his very creative and ideas-profused ministers, incurred the wrath of a significant proportion  of the Nigerian population, already inflicted with the instant gratification mentality that assures that the future is devoid of strategic planning and therefore destined to fail and fail woefully. Perhaps this is a hold-out of the several decades of debilitating military rule, where policies and events are ordered into place with immediate effect and “automatic alacrity”, whatever that means. The people are therefore not adaptable to the serious debates and patience required for the evolution  of new policies and processes. It seems odd that in spite of the almost permanent maligning of the previous Government, all the policies enunciated by  “discredited” PDP Governments are the foundation, cornerstone  and superstructure of the APC Government of President Muhammadu  Buhari.
If rampant corruption can lead to such prodigious profusion of ideas that drive the nation forward, perhaps the current subtle campaign by a large section of the populace to “Bring Back Our  Corruption” has a basis in reality. While severely condemning the reckless and profligate stealing of public funds during the PDP’s tenure and its consequence of sub-optimality of Governance and the national economy, it appears that the apparent discomfiture of the APC Government with the way forward for the reformation, transformation  and revival of the national economy, in the light of the previous reality and the current oil price and production level slump, shows only that there is a limit to ascetic demeanor, grandstanding on high morality and “anti-kwaroption” rhetoric as a panacea for the resolution of pressing national problems.
It may well be said in coming decades , that the 16 years of the “discredited” PDP Governments, during which there was blatant corruption on an unimaginable level, produced some of the most defining transformative governance in Nigerian history, while the “kwaroption-free” Government of the APC saw the demise of the Nigerian economy and the descent to anomie and national perdition.

Lord Bernard Shaw, the great philosopher, once posited that “A reasonable man tries to align himself with the world, while an unreasonable man persists in trying to align the world with himself; therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. It is apparent that the unreasonable men and women of Nigerian politics, many of who found their way into the “mess” of the PDP, may be the real heroes of the failed state that Nigeria is apparently headed to , under the cluelessness of the APC Government. At the least, they endevoured, warts and all, to leave their imprints on the sands of Nigerian and African development. Perhaps we may in future forgive them and actually look back to these 16 years as the watershed years of the road to national salvation. As alluded to by the  Orson Wells character in “The Third Man”, perhaps there is a limit to asceticism , high morality, stability and holier-than-thou posturing, as the basis of governance in the challenging  sociopolitics and economics of the globalist 21st century.

It would make better sense to incorporate the progressive ideas of all shades of political and economic opinions, and then weld them into a mosaic of development, using the glue of institutions, policies and processes that will ensure progress, while severely denying opportunities for the blatant corruption and descent to mediocrity that has perennially hamstrung the final breakthrough of Nigeria to sustainable development and perhaps the realisation of its perceived role in the African renaissance.
––Jon West,Gwoza, Borno State