OUTSIDE THE BOX
By Alex Otti
“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort” Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It was one lovely Saturday evening on November 1, 2014. I had just declared my interest to contest for the governorship of Abia State about a week earlier. I was invited by one of the wealthy political stakeholders in the state for a chat in his sprawling Victoria Island mansion in Lagos. As is customary, I brought some drinks and kola nuts along. I had struggled with this practice as what I was used to was that when visiting someone, the host would be the one to offer drinks and kola. But my friends insisted that in the “business” of politics, it was the guest that provided these things. Of course, the host may also offer his own compliments, if he wished. The difference was that the drinks and kola from the host would be in such quantities that would be consumed there and then, while the one brought by the guest would be in fairly larger quantities for storage and future use. It may be a carton or two of choice wines and some pods of kola, and oftentimes, ‘wedged’ with cash. I was learning very fast. Shortly after the exchange of pleasantries, my host took me to an inner sitting room for private discussions. To my chagrin, my host went, “you know you are a very good candidate for the role you are aspiring to and as such, I will go straight to the point”. He then fired, “one thing that will determine whether the stakeholders would support you or not is your preparedness to continue with the tradition of the “blood tonic” which select stakeholders receive every month from the government”. I was initially confused. Blood tonic? I may not be a medical doctor, but the man did not look anemic to me and even if he did, I didn’t think he needed the intervention of government to treat it. The more I thought about the concept of this blood tonic that must be administered monthly, the more confused I became. I was later to understand that the man was talking of the sharing of public money to the political elites in the state, a practice which, sadly, continues till today.The way it works is that after receipt of Federal Allocation from Abuja, the state shares a certain percentage of the money amongst its listed elites, before providing for salaries and other government commitments. So, the blood tonic is, believe it or not, a first line charge, before any other expense is considered by the state. By sharing public money amongst them, the silence of the elites would have been bought, so that those administering the state would have a field day to do as they wished. Any wonder why, no matter how bad things become, you will hardly hear anything from these “stakeholders” and even when you did, it would be the singing of praises of the administration or the making of excuses over why things are going bad. Sometimes, the excuses would go from blaming previous administrations to blaming the populace itself for being difficult to govern.
The despicable blood tonic practice compares largely with what, in Economics is referred to as “primitive accumulation”. In Classical Economic theory, as propounded by the father of Economics himself, Adam Smith (1723-1790), primitive accumulation which he actually called “previous accumulation” of capital, refers to the buildup of capital as a factor of production to promote division of labour. The theory assumes that there must have been some capital that pre-existed and predated division of labour.
He argues that “the accumulation of stock must naturally be previous to the division of labour, so labour can be more and more subdivided in proportions only as stock is previously more and more accumulated”. For instance, “a weaver cannot apply himself entirely to his peculiar business, unless there is capital beforehand stored up somewhere, either in his own possession or in that of some other person, a stock sufficient to maintain him, and to supply him with the materials and tools of his work, till he has not only completed but sold the output of his web. This accumulation must, evidently, be previous to his applying his industry for so long a time to such a peculiar business”. More current thinking was to contend with Adam Smith’s theory, insisting that even before the concept of Division of Labour, particularly in the hunter gatherer era, some exchange no matter how crude, was actually existing. In the era in question, bows and arrows were not made by the hunters themselves and their “products” were not consumed strictly by the hunters and gathers and their families.
It was not until 1867 that Karl Marx (1818-1883) came up with another argument which did not outrightly dismiss the concept of “previous accumulation”, which he rechristened “primitive accumulation”. He departed from Smith’s operationalisation of the concept and insisted that since labour was the only factor of production that can transform inputs into outputs, both capital and land were not factors of production as it is only when labour is applied to them that value can be created. His argument went further to explain that primitive accumulation only serves to alienate labour from land and Capital for the purpose of promoting Capitalism. According to Marx, “the process which creates the capital-relation can be nothing other than the process which divorces the worker from the ownership of the conditions of his own labour”. Thus, the “so-called primitive accumulation … is nothing more than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production”
A more contemporary scholar, Prof. Issa Shivji, a Law lecturer at the University of Dares Salam, Tanzania described primitive accumulation as the act of reaping where one did not sow or reaping without sowing. This author traces primitive accumulation in Tanzania and concludes that land expropriation particularly by white South Africans for the purpose of using black labour for farming purpose and also for industrial production cannot be justified under any guise. To him, primitive accumulation is simply stealing from the poor by the rich actively promoted and supported by state and its instrument of coercion.
Coming back home, the blood tonic syndrome is simply analogous to primitive accumulation. A set of political elites gather themselves under (pun intended) a platform for the purpose of looting the treasury and in return, pretend to provide support to the politicians. In some cases, politicians who have lost touch with the electorate or have become unpopular based on their poor performances rely on these so called stakeholders to either coerce the electorate to vote for their benefactors or make themselves available as instruments of rigging and perpetuating electoral fraud in their different areas or spheres of influence. Some of them are organized as “Council of Elders”, “Senior Citizens Forum” or “Leaders of Thought”. With those highfalutin and sweet-coated names, they tend to mask the fact that they all belong to the ruling political parties and instead command unwarranted respect from the populace. Thus, as you get to the states that have this kind of subterranean arrangement, what you see are ‘strong men’ empowered by the State, existing alongside very weak institutions. Because many of them are so myopic in their thinking, they don’t pause to ask a few salient questions. Sadly, what happens thereafter with the government does not concern them. They insulate themselves from the reality that having received their potion of the ‘blood tonic’, the dispenser of the tonic will naturally appropriate a larger share to himself, his family members and his pathetic cronies. They fail to understand that once this kind of attitude is encouraged, they take away their right to ask questions when things are going wrong in the State as they invariably would. They don’t understand that they have not only lost their voices but that they have also sold their conscience, if indeed they had any. They are ignorant of the fact that sharing of the resources of the state would result in unpaid salaries, untarred roads, poor healthcare facilities, ill-equipped schools, unhygienic environments, lack of potable water and electricity and so on. You will hear most of these ‘blood(y) tonic’ recipients sermonizing publicly about stamping out corruption when in fact, they are Corruption personified.
My response to our political stakeholder was simple. I told him I would not continue with the “blood tonic” practice. He wouldn’t let me land before he went on a tirade. “ I can see that you don’t want to win the election”. In fact, you are not serious and I have no time for unserious contestants”. In spite of his objection, I continued by informing him that my understanding of the blood tonic was akin to “primitive accumulation” and that instead of that, I would rather promote a policy of “wealth creation”. How would that happen? I explained that instead of the blood tonic, I will create an environment where businesses will thrive, where investments would be attracted such that qualified stakeholders would be appointed to boards of those companies. Such companies would employ their children who were then, and even now, mostly unemployed. I promised to create conditions for our children to be properly trained in well-equipped schools with qualified and highly motivated teachers, who would not only be adequately compensated but would be up to date with contemporary developments in the ever changing world rather than those who today regurgitate antiquated thoughts. I informed my host that I would introduce educational curricula that would be consistent with the modern world of robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing rather than the jaded study of pinhole cameras in the 21st century. I also promised to empower our children to acquire relevant skills and knowledge that would make them confident to challenge their peers in other emerging societies like China, Turkey and India. I promised to eradicate the ignorance and docility which would make our youths live on handouts and grow up to expect their own blood tonic. Based on my sincere belief that health is wealth, the blood tonic syndrome would be eliminated if we invested massively in a functional healthcare delivery system. Combining all these would make our people become financially independent of state resources and make the wanton sharing of public funds unattractive and reprehensible. I talked about massive rollout of infrastructure amongst several other issues. I’m not sure our stakeholder heard what he was expecting to hear, but my sense was that what he heard, he had never heard in his entire political scavenging journey. I am sad to state that my experience is not unique and that there are many other states where the same blood sucking practice is still active and thriving today! I believe it is time to confront these monsters who have constituted themselves into ‘political stakeholders’ and force the transition from primitive accumulation to wealth creation. It is important for all men of goodwill to join in this solemn assignment.
TO OBIANO AND BIANCA AT 61 & 51 RESPECTIVELY
The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, turned 61 on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. He had made history on November 18, 2017 when he was re-elected for a second term in office. He won in all the 21 local governments in the state including the local governments of his opponents in an election adjudged as one of the freest and fairest ever in the country. This victory was not just handed over to him on a platter by the very discerning Anambra people. It was actually a reward for his superlative performance during his first term. He has started his second term on a very high pitch and from all indications he is determined to dwarf the stellar performance of his first term. One thing that makes the difference between him and others is that he comes with a vision and a road map. Government under him is very serious business and must conform to an already-agreed strategic plan. He is clear on the destination of the various pillars supported by the enablers. Like the saying goes, “If you do not know where you are going, any way takes you there”. This is one governor that sure knows where he is going and knows the way that will take him there. We salute Governor Obiano at 61 and wish him greater success in his assignment.
The quintessential Queen Mother and the matriarch of the Ikemba family, Chief Mrs Bianca Odumegwu Ojukwu née Onoh, turned 51 on Sunday, August 5, 2018. Bianca who was Nigeria’s Ambassador to Spain and Ghana and before then, Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora Affairs, can be described with the three Bs. She is bold, beautiful and brilliant. It is a combination that hardly occurs in one individual, except for Bianca and another lady who is Bianca’s look alike. Her name is Mrs. Priscilla Otti, but hers is a story for another day. Mrs. Ojukwu, in her younger days won the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria Pageant. She was also Miss Africa and the first African to win Miss Intercontinental. Bianca is a lawyer by training, having studied law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She has a post graduate degree in International Relations and Diplomacy.
Achalugo, as some of us call her, got married to Ikemba Nnewi on November 12, 1994 and the union is blessed with three lovely children. She lost Ezeigbo, her husband in 2011 and has since then dedicated her life to training and looking after the children, and serving society through her political and philanthropic activities. She is a prominent member of the Board of Trustees of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) Party. She is a great asset to the country and community and we felicitate with her on her 51st birthday and wish her happiness, long life and good health.