I have heard thrice now from people at the top of the Nigerian hierarchy, that for our population--of over one hundred and fifty million--we don't make enough money from oil to satisfy our needs. It seems as though this was a talking-point distributed to our illustrious managers, for they all said it in the same way--without shame. In days past I used to sit with my friends and we would argue about this, that and the other. Primarily, we were concerned about the direction in which our beloved nation was headed and we each had our own solutions to the problem.
This was in the 90's, and even back then I realized that at some point there would not be enough money from oil to do what must be done for a productive nation. Coupled with the scale of corruption in Nigeria--what with the incessant "lifting" of oil by warlords and their cartel--this lack only begins to tell the story of why insurgencies grow by the day, fueled by a disbelief in the Nigerian system. It is no rocket science to suggest that a well-diversified economy is advisable for a state the size of Nigeria. I remember laughing in shock when I heard that Jordan, a nation of five million people, had poverty. And yet their king could feed everyone in that nation every day till his dying day. So why is there poverty in Jordan?
But Jordan is merely a caricature of Nigeria, where our abundant natural resources are left untapped while big men fight for the spoils of oil, doing whatever is necessary in order to gain their share. Some have called it a resource-curse, though one has to wonder how it came to be that such a blessing as oil has now become a curse! To the people of the Niger Delta, it would have been better if Nigeria did not have oil, at least not in that region. They are far worse off than they would have been otherwise. It is a conjecture, but a fair one, for we have seen no movement, no urgency from our leaders, with respect to diversifying the economy in order to account for this out of control and burgeoning population.
What do the people of Nigeria want? The Nigerian people want the ability to determine their own destiny. They want the government to provide an enabling environment for commerce and leave the rest to them. This "enabling environment" is a euphemism for electricity and water. Can you imagine, just imagine, how productive Nigerians would be if we had twenty-four hours of electricity each day without recourse to the gen? I predict that if Nigeria ever reached a threshold where there was a constant half-a-day supply of power, we would surpass any econometric yardsticks that are indices of development.
Our people are perhaps the most creative on this planet, and this is seen in its negative light as our criminals go to work worldwide and secure this reputation. Time has come for the honest people to, as well, secure our reputation as a creative and productive people. We need light. And that is the first thing we need.
To be certain, the issue of electricity is a long-term one. I followed President Obasanjo's government very closely on this issue and I will be the first to say that there is an evil spirit behind Nigeria's power woes. Despite a detailed analysis and breakdown of the work done to fix the "state of emergency" in the power sector, no SUBSTANTIAL progress could be reported by that administration--save to say that they commended themselves for slightly increasing output over eight years. No one else commended them. One of the biggest issues facing Nigeria's power sector is that of the cost of parts and spare-parts and the cost of the infrastructure required to transmit the power. As we will discuss later on about farming, power transmission can be prohibitively expensive in a nation that does not have access to its own spare-parts. And hence the need for the next thing we shall discuss.
Iron ore. We need iron ore in order to generate steel, the workhorse of modern society. Steel is used for everything and in everything and no society can manufacture what is needed for its survival without steel. We use it in construction, roads, cars, electronics, the power grid, and so on and so forth. The way things work, these days, there are those nations that have allowed their population access to iron ore, and there are those nations that seek to purchase the things made with iron ore by those nations that allowed their population access to iron ore. So, while it is true that at independence Nigeria and India were struggling for primacy one over the other, today India has left Nigeria in the dust, and largely due to a "Cottage Steel" industry which allowed even the smallest players access to this basic raw material of industrialization.
Within a few years, India has built its own car. And I have said it before, as I say it today, just one car validates the creativity of a people. The car requires schools, engineers, designers, musicologists, even medical personnel in order to be built. It justifies the educational system because graduates can now find jobs in an enabling environment, building with their hands the gift that God gave them as their soil into wondrous constructs that become exports, and a rising standard of living for the relative Indian.
Most importantly, a nation that cannot feed itself soon becomes enslaved. And yet large-scale-farming is prohibitively expensive in a nation that does not manufacture its own implements. We import tractors from India, and they are the cheapest we can get. Why can't we build our own? Is this really just an inferiority complex? We can pose with Kim Kardashian, but we can't fight for the right to feed our own nation with our own manufactured implements... and probably because we are too busy trying to keep up with the Kardashians instead of learning how to be as business-savvy as they are. Farming requires indigenous manufacturing for it to be viable, and no nation can be said to be a viable entity if it must continually import all its food, as we tend to do in Nigeria.
Not having iron ore accessible to Nigerian manufacturers is akin to a painter not having the tools of his trade. What he will produce is merely doodling, as compared to the sort of masterpiece he was trained to express. One would think that with the Peugeot assemblies we had in the earlier days, we would have thought to move one step ahead of assembling into actual manufacturing. But thanks to our dependence on oil this has not come to be. So we continue to chase that oil, instead of lobbying for mineral rights reform so that, like India, our creators can begin building the things that we will need to export in order to be a viable entity.
We cannot continue to import everything, oil included, and it is a crying shame that we must. Alas, I feel no sense of urgency from our illustrious managers, who realizing that the oil money is not enough to go round, then fail to conclude that more money is needed from somewhere else. Instead, another commission is convened, another committee set up, with their wonderful per-diems, in order to determine "the way forward" for Nigeria. The way forward, Sir, is iron ore and it is found abundantly in Nigeria. Not, like oil, to be exported and refined, but to be used as raw material here in Nigeria and developed into finished manufactured goods.
The third thing we need is the rule of law. Nigeria is a notoriously undisciplined and corrupt country, and this "rule of law" is applied unevenly. I am yet to be impressed by the EFCC and its prosecutions, for I see it as an avenue for scores to be settled. Furthermore, it seems par for the course that should anyone try to attack the rich and corrupt, they will find themselves sitting on the hot seat, risking their lives and freedom. When President Obasanjo was asked if it was a failure of government that caused Nigeria's problems today, the man gave a response that reminded me that our leaders have always been delusional. It is because with one hand they have taken from the honey pot and with the other hand they must be statesmen.
So they never correlate the failure of government with the state of the country. The rule of law must be applied from the top, and the president is an exemplar of this. He it is who must demonstrate uprightness and justness in carrying out his duties, that his subordinates too might be inspired to do likewise. With a tradition of cleanliness in office, it is easy to apply the rule of law for if Oga is clean, there is no excuse for his underlings. More importantly, if Oga is clean—and thus abides by the rule of law—it is imperative for all under him to do the same. Instead, our presidents are known to run around with young boys who somehow own millions of dollars and boast about "great" political parties--seeing as only in Nigeria can a political party be called the greatest on its continent because of the size of its war chest.
Politics is a game, in this country, and it is the game of death. What kind of leader shall be produced who sees nothing in ideology to stand for, except the size of his political party's funds?
The most important aspect of having the rule of law applied evenly is that of judicial redress. In Nigeria today, all we hear is that if you want to get paid for work you were contracted to do by the government, you will have to "wash" the hands of a few people. And so people carry out contracts and do not get paid. Having true recourse to an independent judiciary in such cases employs the constructs of common sense in ensuring that, since it is a two-way street (a contractor can be sued for breach of contract), contracts are always carried out in the interest of the people. Today, contracts are merely a source of funding for the corrupt aiding in the eventual underdevelopment of the nation.
To be sure, much has been made about Africa’s seemingly rapid “growth” spurred by private equity investment, but let me burst that bubble real quick; without an active manufacturing base in Nigeria, and without a meaningful supply of electricity, and without a leader because of whom the rule of law is applied uniformly, all private equity will eventually benefit the foreigners who came to invest, and leave marginal development for the people. It is called independence, the ability to use indigenous resources to solve indigenous problems and Nigeria is toying with perpetual dependence on the West the longer this charade continues.
It is not much we are asking for; but denying us these things will lead to a crisis. Already, the rumblings are beginning, and the dissatisfaction is turning into meaningful explosions. There is only one way out from this steady drumbeat that is leading to a much larger conflagration. And the Nigerian President is that way, the truth and our life. No man bringeth Nigeria into the world community of productive nations but the president himself. He must be a man of urgency, a man of vision, a man of foresight and most of all a man of integrity.
I am not passing judgment on our current president, Goodluck Jonathan. Time will come for that. But if anything that is said here falls on the ears of those who can do something about it, please consider that Nigeria is like the agbaya who continues to ride a keke elemu whilst his mates are buying private jets. It is time, sir, for Nigeria to rise. This is what we want.
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