The country must free itself from the primary commodity trap that has held it back for decades, writes Kingsley Ogbonda
Like most of the world, I hear many in Nigeria have been left with an overwhelming sense of despondency following Trump’s victory in the America presidential election. Mr Trump’s implausible journey to become the de facto leader of the political world has left many, particularly political pundits aghast. It was not meant to happen. The shock was, how did Mr Trump’s rhetoric if they can be so sensibly defined, which went far beyond the accepted boundaries of normal presidential behaviour lead him into the White House? This was a revolting man who bullied and intimidated his opponents; called them names, and at his rallies incited his supporters, mostly racist white working class (the basket of deplorables – as Mrs Clinton called them) to use violence against his hecklers. There was no social group that escaped his hate speeches and there was no stereotype he did not resurrect. Unashamedly, he racially bashed the Latinos and blamed the ‘other’ for America’s problems earning him the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, the odious white supremacist group. Perhaps, more shocking was his threat to the basic tenet of American liberal democracy in suggesting that if he were to lose he would challenge the outcome because he and his supporters would have been rigged out. American democracy has endured on the settled principle of free and fair election on which a loser must accept the outcome. It was incredible watching a single man’s ambition threatening an old established order as America. It is hoped that Mr Trump’s method would not find itself in political campaigns advice manual.
Though worried about a hubristic man, his temperament and apparent disdain for people and society; equally disturbing is the acceptance of the narrative Mr Trump constructed to ascend to power. If all the intellectuals and commentators that have proffered reasons for his electoral victory are to be believed, Trump’s victory has been attributed to his and his supporters’ rejection of the neo-liberal consensus on globalisation, multi-culturalism, tolerance of multi religion and free expression of sexual preferences. His success has also been attributed to his appropriation of the language of the progressives in analysing the problems with America. In this, he managed to cast aside his elitist image and appropriated a populist stance, and became part of ‘the us’, in the them and us socio-economic divide. The attraction of an isolationist and economic protectionist America has left the world very concerned and fearful.
Many may have begrudged America’s long dominant role in the world. But it occasionally represented a force for good. All the oppressed advocates of democracy in the developing world have relied on America’s influence to pursue their case. In Nigeria, in 2015 presidential elections we noticed the influence it exerted on the reluctant PDP to concede when beaten by the APC. This is a role that will shape for good our attitude to elections. Human rights would not have advanced, and most international organisations would not have achieved much without America’s backing. For those who might be attracted by the alternative of multi polar powers, I would argue that a world dominated by Russia, China or both offers fewer prospects for individual liberty and freedom.
Sadly, we need to view what Americans have done in electing Mr Trump not in isolation, but as part of the new nativist movement spreading across most of the developed white nations. In the UK, this was illustrated with the vote to leave the European Union in June 2016, where the leave campaigners laced their language with racist undertone. In France, Germany and Austria all the nationalistic parties are striding the streets with bolstered air of arrogance.
The implications of these developments in Europe and America for Nigeria and Nigerians are many. On individual level, whether Mr Trump makes good or not, of his virulent rhetoric there would be a more stringent entry visa conditions. There would be increase in border barriers and in overt racism. On the national level, we would experience more trading barriers and depressed prices for our less attractive raw materials. All bilateral agreements that do not demonstrate clear benefits to America, as they would define them, are likely to be reviewed and renegotiated with American interest having primacy. There would be less echoing of John F. Kennedy’s call for collective efforts in fighting some of the common enemies of humankind – disease, poverty and ignorance.
How then is Nigeria to fend for itself and provide for its citizens in an evolving hostile world? Having spoken with a number of well-meaning intelligent Nigerians, and some who have resigned from expecting much from the country, I was reminded that Nigeria’s lack of progress is not due to lack of advice but in its willingness to fulfil its pact with the association of never do well.
Therefore, it seems those who are more eminently qualified to provide some advice on what the country needs to do now may be reluctant to do so. But as an active citizen I feel duty bound to state some points, albeit the obvious. We must start learning how to love Nigeria. Particularly, by those who pull the levers of power. If you are still in doubt about this, let the events in America and parts of Europe provide the reason. We must consume what we produce and produce what we need. If we require the templates for this, we can borrow and if necessary steal them from China, Singapore or India. We must release ourselves from the primary commodity trap that has held us back for decades. The attempts to increase agricultural produce are laudable but without us developing the ability to add value to the produce we will remain poor. President Buhari’s method of fighting corruption may rile some; even as a candidate Buhari supporter, I too, have my misgivings with his method. But we must agree that we have been left wretched by relentless executive stealing. Regardless of our misgivings the fight against corruption must be supported. Marching in solidarity with looters particularly, by the ignoramuses in the National Assembly displays gross irresponsibility that continues to diminish the country in the eyes of right thinking societies. Those characters should seek tutoring in ethics/morals.
Internationally, we need to cultivate relationship with willing partners in Africa and across the world for mutual benefits. We need to strengthen existing good relationships. Our ambassadors should increase their abilities in gathering relevant information from their host countries to feed into informed policies in dealing with different countries. Accurate predictions or even good guessing of social, political and economic directions of countries should be seen as part of the primary duties of embassies. The pretence that the partnership with the Nigerian diasporas is not needed in building the country must stop. I think the country can find better value to place on its citizens outside other than their foreign currency remittance value. Or, ready to get soaked in the cold winter rain in preventing candidate Buhari from being disgraced at Chatham House by PDP’s hired mobs. Both in private life and in work, I have met an incredible number of talented Nigerians serving the society in different capacities. I am aware that some returnees have quickly joined the system or have not met the expectations in their performance. This raises many questions that are not intended to be addressed here, but I would simply ask this: what tools have been used to prior check the credibility or lack of, for those who say that they believe in the Nigerian project? Perhaps, this is a test that should be used for all Nigerians.
Though we rightly ought to feel concerned about Mr Trump and the forces around him, paradoxically if we can collectively think, he has provided the impetus we need in the making of strong progressive Nigeria.
Ogbonda wrote from London