Nigeria’s Faulty Foundation

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It is time to review the foundation of the nation by strengthening its structure, argues O. Jason Osai

The founding fathers of this nation built a strong foundation on which they erected three floors. Given the economic enablement of that substructure, the nation thrived and achieved landmarks that put the French behind us in television broadcasting and we led Africa in other areas of human development; we were the reference point for African development. It was such that, at independence, the colonial masters adjudged Nigeria as one of the developing economies the world should watch. They rated Nigeria at par with India in terms of development capacities and prospects of emerging as a great nation. Then the founding fathers put one more floor and it was okay because the foundation was strong and had the load-bearing capacity to carry such superstructure.

In 1966, a group of misguided and ill-informed men in uniform took over the reins of state and, in response to centrifugal forces, they extended the floors to 12 and, rather unfortunately, they dealt the nation a mortal blow by weakening the foundation; that singular act added the concepts of “commonwealth” and “national cake” to the lexicon of Nigerian politics and heralded the slide down a slippery economic scope. Thus, Nigeria degenerated into a “baaabiyalla” (beggarly) federation. Consequently, heightened disintegrative nationalism took the center-stage of our national discourse all in the quest for a share of the national cake and in response to this, we further increased the structure bit-by-bit to 36 floors and a penthouse on the same faulty foundation; and that is why we are where we are today. At a point, we even toyed with the idea of furthering the floors to 54. This was a product of having idiots and tribesmen instead of citizens (in the Greek sense of these words) at the helm of affairs.

Departing from the metaphor of an engineering structure, the truth remains that Nigerians were systematically dispossessed of their land through a string of ill-conceived land use acts. Having been so dispossessed of their basic capital and therefore incapacitated, the people streamed in their droves into government, which became the highest employer of labor and the only thriving subsector of the national economy. Resultantly, the private sector became comatose and the nation degenerated into a government-driven economy. It was only a matter of time before Nigeria acquired the ignominious status of poverty capital of the world.

Now that the youths who are the major stakeholders in Nigeria’s future have woken up from their slumber and docility, it is time to review the foundation of this nation. Decisive and progressive steps must be taken to burrow beneath the faulty foundation and strengthen it such that it is able to carry the humongous superstructure we hoisted on it as a result of disarticulated and narrow-minded leadership that yielded to unremitting disintegrative nationalism.

As a Niger Deltan, I feel pained to the marrows by the double standards of vesting the rights to the gold in Zamfara State in the state while the oil in the Niger Delta is vested in the federal government; this is an insult and assault on the psyche of the oil bearing communities. However, as a patriotic citizen (in the Greek tradition) of Nigeria, I think that that is a step in the right direction though it stopped short of hitting the necessary target; it is, therefore, a half measure.

Unbridled kleptomania and squandermania coupled with government’s obvious inability to punish culprits since they all live in glass houses indicates that vesting the resources in the state (federal, state or local government) is modus vivendi; that would simply move the point of profligate pilfering from the national treasury to the state treasury. The French economist, statesman and author, Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), averred thus: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time, they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

The above statement is a very apt assessment of contemporary Nigeria; it is as relevant to the recent show of shame in NDDC as it is to every sector of the Nigerian economy. Malfeasance and maladministration are entrenched in every sector and segment of our national life; nepotism, cronyism and the resultant mediocrity have become the order of the day; the new norm. Go to NNPC, the four refineries, Ajaokuta Steel Company, you name it, the story is the same if not more mind-boggling. At the risk of being repetitive, I shall paraphrase Batiste thus: plunder has become a way of life for a micro-mini minority group of men in Nigeria and over the years, they have created for themselves a malleable system that tolerates it and a base moral code that glorifies it.

Government should give back the people their land, which it stole through dispossesional laws. The land owners in Zamfara State should be empowered to mine their gold; the people of Igbeti should harness their marble; the people of the Niger Delta should extract their oil and the peoples of various communities in this prodigiously endowed nation should be allowed to harness the resources of their land and pay tax to the various levels of government, which should concentrate on its regulatory role. At this, government will become lean and unattractive for bounty hunters while attracting only those who desire to serve their community and the nation; do-or-die politics will be a thing of the past and the political firmament will become cool. Granted that this thesis has the propensity of creating systemic imbalances and socioeconomic disparities, these can be ameliorated through instituting a discriminatory tax regime such that the agricultural sector pays minimally while the other sectors pay carefully and objectively determined and graded percentages.

I travelled to every continent of the world except Australia before I turned 28 years. Coming home in 1980, I travelled by road and low-altitude aircraft throughout Nigeria. What I saw was (as it still is) a massive mosaic so richly endowed that it has no business with poverty; it was that I averred that no nation on earth is more endowed than Nigeria. This nation is so amazingly gifted it can be what London and Rome are for Caucasians, what Mecca and Medina are for Moslems, what Jerusalem is for the Jew and much more. Nigeria has abundance of natural and human resources to lead Black Africa if only it hadcitizens at the helm of its affairs.

In his 1776 economic classic titled Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith offered that the wealth of the nations lies in building the capacities of the people and positively engaging them in economic activities; this is the kernel of this thesis. With an economy that is driven by a robust private sector, productive employment will be ensured for the people, business will flourish, tax payers will acquire the capacity to demand accountability from authority figures and government will, inevitably, jettison its iguana syndrome and acquire functional ears. This foundation is the elixir for unbridled kleptomania, illiteracy, mass unemployment, poverty, social unrest and the innumerable malaises that bedevil the Nigerian economy and society; its essence is the capacity to give the private sector a shot in the arm, empower the people and ditch the ignominious status of poverty capital of the world.
––Osai wrote from Rivers State University, Port Harcourt

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Zamfara State should be empowered to mine their gold; the people of Igbeti should harness their marble; the people of the Niger Delta should extract their oil and the peoples of various communities in this prodigiously endowed nation should be allowed to harness the resources of their land and pay tax to the various levels of government