Nigeria, 30 Years After Berlin Wall



The socio-economic and political significance of last Saturday’s 30th anniversary of the Fall of Berlin Wall should resonate beyond Germany.

It was on that day in Germany that the physical and ideological wall erected between the east and west portions of the city of Berlin fell. The wall was reduced to rubbles to pave the way for the historic German unification.

Until then, Berlin had the singular reputation of a city hosting the capitals of two countries – the capitalist West Germany and the socialist East Germany – in ideological contestation and belonging to different alliances.

For 28 years, the Berlin Wall was the symbol of the cold war between the western block led by the United States and the eastern one by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which itself collapsed two years after the Berlin Wall.

Echoing their western inspirers, the sing-song here in Nigeria among the liberal elite was that “communism is dead,” although no one has said that he actually attended the funeral of the ideology!

In the most banal of form of revisionism, the great historical achievements of socialism in human development were denied because of the grave errors made in the socialist experiments in the USSR and Eastern Europe. No one could, of course, obliterate from history the human development and people’s welfare achieved under socialism. Neither could the role of the USSR, in particular, be denied in the anti-fascist war and the support for the anti-colonial struggles. Fascism and colonialism were indeed great challenges to democracy and freedom in the 20th Century.

Western scholars led the triumphant chorus of liberal democracy. Indeed, it was in 1989 that the American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, wrote his famous essay entitled: The End of History and the Last Man. It was subsequently developed into a book which virtually became the catechism of enthusiasts of liberal democracy globally.
Fukuyama declared magisterially “the unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism,” which in his judgment would mark the “end of history.”

For the erudite scholar, a combination of free market and liberal democracy would be the apogee of human civilisation. Fukuyama didn’t, of course, envisage the rise of right-wing populists and demagogues who are now threatening western civilisation in 2019.

The same hubris is embodied in the memoir of the celebrated former chairman of the American Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, entitled: The Age of Turbulence. The eminent central banker and economist tells the story of how American and other western experts, investors, bankers etc. flooded a prostrate Russia in the days of the ebullient Boris Yeltsin, condescendingly offering advice on how to build capitalism.

Like Fukuyama, those free market evangelists never imagined that a Vladimir Putin would one day rise from the wombs of KGB to restore the national integrity of Russia.
Putin too now says “liberalism is dead.”

It is also remarkable that no sovietologist ever predicted that the cold war would end with neither the U.S. nor the USSR employing a nuclear head. Neither did any of those who made a career of strategising for the military industrial complex project such an outcome for the cold war.

Just as the socio-political and economic reverberation of the fall of the wall was felt in Nigeria of 1989, the retrospection into what happened to the Berlin Wall 30 years ago is relevant to the present condition of Nigeria.
The ideological influence of the global wave of “democratisation” was unmistakable in Nigeria in 1989.

Scholars, policymakers and public intellectuals in Nigeria took their cue from the western declaration of victory in the cold war.
In that year, the military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, was upbeat in his studied experiment to recast the Nigerian political economy.

The absence of freedom was an issue in the society. Babangida’s predecessor, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, was released from detention only months before the Berlin Wall fell. That was after more than three years of incarceration. General Olusegun Obasanjo spoke loudly and courageously against the detention of Buhari. Years later, Obasanjo himself got incarcerated by General Sanni Abacha on allegations of coup plotting. So, a streak of unfreedom ran through that era.

It is also a lesson about transience of power.
In the Nigeria of 1989, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was in the full swing with the signature tune of “there is no alternative.”

With market fundamentalism as the gospel truth, any economist who didn’t preach privatisation, liberalisation, deregulation and a “private sector-led economy “ was considered an illiterate in economics.
The influence of Milton Friedman of the Chicago school of economics loomed large in policy circles in Nigeria.

The politics of 1989 was called the “Transition Programme.” To pave the way for the “new breed” politicians, the “old and discredited” ones were banned, unbanned, and banned again.

It was in 1989 that two parties were formed by the state with their constitutions, programmes and emblems given to the members.
Despite the serial humiliations, politicians and the people earnestly hoped for the eventual growth of liberal democracy as the outcome of the long-winding transition. However, military rule continued in the most odious form under Abacha.

It was only Abacha’s death in 1998 that paved the way for the restoration of civil rule under his successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, in 1999.
Globally, the 2008 financial crisis shattered the illusion that market forces needed no regulation. The limit of market was proved by the recklessness of financial capitalists and the resultant mother of all bailouts. For on October 13, 2008, some American CEOs were summoned to a crisis-management meeting by the treasury department on how to save their too- big -to -fail companies.

Since then, the hubris on the right has been relatively tempered.
Books are being published in the West on how to rethink capitalism so that it could find answers to the urgent questions of poverty and global inequality. Liberal and progressive scholars are already refuting Fukuyama saying that it seems “the end of history has been postponed,” at least for now.
However, it is not yet so in Nigeria.

The faith in unrestrained market forces remains unshaken. After over 30 years of selling public assets largely to those who engage in asset stripping, many brilliant economists are still preaching more privatisation.
It is time privatisation was audited in qualitative terms to determine its impact on Nigeria’s development since 1986.

The other day, some experts even proposed that government’s shares in , perhaps, the greatest success story in Public-Private Partnership (PPP), the NLNG, should be sold to finance an annual budget.
Maybe, the day the vast estate of Aso Rock is put up for sale to “bridge some fiscal deficits”, Nigeria would finally come to the end of privatisation.

This akotileta economics still dominates policy-making. (By the way, akotileta is the Yoruba word for the squanderers of the family estate). The experts do not tell the people that some of the foreign investors being invited to buy assets in Nigeria are actually publicly owned companies in their countries of origin. Neither would they bring up in the debate that in some western capitalist countries the public sector still remains a significant portion of the economy.

Yet, if any lesson is to be learnt in the economic history of Nigeria in the last 30 years, it is that market doesn’t have the solution to ALL Nigerian socio-economic problems. You cannot rely on market forces to solve the huge problems of public education, universal healthcare, social housing, electricity, roads, mass transportation etc. It amounts to optical illusion to do so.

In a socio-economic climate of mass poverty and frightening social inequality the public sector should be made more efficient to deliver public goods rather than relying on some phantom private sector.

The debacle arising from the six year-old privatisation in the power sector, the chaos that has followed the concessioning of the ports and the decay in the social sectors especially education and health should compel a fundamental rethink of Nigeria’s development strategy beyond neo-liberal shibboleths.

Matters of Freedom
The most urgent message of 1989 is the socio-political question of human freedom.
Ten years after the Berlin Wall went down, Nigeria launched another experiment with liberal democracy in 1999.
The current wave of detention of persons without trial, egregious disobedience of court orders and brazen arrogance of power are factors threatening the success of the liberal democratic experiment.

Those who wield political powers in Nigeria today should ponder this: 30 years after Fukuyama proclaimed “the end of history,” a book by two other liberal scholars was released into the market a few weeks ago. It is entitled The Narrow Corridor : States, Societies and the Fate of Liberty. The authors, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, are well known for their widely acclaimed Why Nations Fail.

The basic argument of Acemoglu and Robinson is that to maintain stability in the narrow corridor of liberty citizens should “seek to create and re-create the balance of power between state and society, between those who are powerful and those who are not.”

Intriguingly, the first chapter of the book is entitled “How Does History End?”
Beyond economic statistics, human progress is also measured by the freedom of the human person.
Since Nigeria claims to aspire to building liberal democracy, the 30th anniversary of the Fall of Berlin Wall should be marked by the immediate restoration of the freedom of all persons unjustly held.