Olusegun: Five Monsters Nigeria Must Conquer

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Dr. OLUSEGUN  MIMIKO

I like to proceed by taking a largely critical look at Nigeria’s development crisis and attempt to proffer some solutions to our more obvious challenges. I anchor this on what I refer to as the five monsters that Nigerians must tame if we must move out of extant development crisis

Nigeria officially became a sovereign state on 1st October, 1960. We started off with a lot of enthusiasm and promises; as of a country ready to live out its manifest destiny of greatness. We had a robust federal system that promoted healthy competition among the federating units, and thereby pushed the country on the path of development. Recall that in some of the critical theatres of development, our own Western Region was actually ahead of some of the countries of Europe of the era. Our people were full of confidence on what the future held in store for them; and there was no question about the desire of Nigeria to lead, not just West Africa, but indeed, the entire continent. We actually fantasised with the idea of promoting the interest of the Black person anywhere and everywhere in the world. At some point in the mid-1970s , we were widely regarded as belonging in the exalted group of the Newly Industrialising Nations (NICs) of the world, sharing the same platform with countries like Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, etc.

Somewhere along the line, the bubble burst; as the country got overwhelmed by a slew of challenges, among which were, an emergent culture of electoral heist, intense and unhealthy inter-ethnic rivalry, sectarian violence, military coups and counter coups, a civil war, evident governance, capacity, and integrity challenges, and acute public trust deficit.

When you juxtapose the earlier years of independence with what eventually came to define us, you cannot but declare, with all sense of responsibility, that we have not done well as a nation. The reality becomes starker yet, when you compare our socio-economic status with that of some of the countries with comparable status, with which we started out on the development trajectory in the early 1960s. While some of these contradictions will become apparent in the course of this discourse, I hasten to draw some inferences from South Korea, aptly described by the CNN anchor-man, Fareed Zakaria (2018), as ‘the most successful nation in the world’ in economic performance terms.

Economics:

We claim to have the largest economy in Africa, but with less than half a trillion dollars GDP; and as someone pointed out recently, what is the worth of a dwarf claiming to be taller than another dwarf; and I add, in the community of giants? We are a country of more than 200 million people, but with a GDP under 400 billion US dollars, while South Korea with a population of about 52 million has a GDP of 1.7 trillion US dollars, as at 2023. These translate to GDP per capita of $33,170 for South Korea, against Nigeria’s $1,750. Yet, ‘by 1960, GDP per capita (current US Dollars) in South Korea was $158.24, while in Nigeria it stood at $92.96’ (World Bank, 2019). As a matter of fact, GDP was higher in Nigeria in 1962, at $4.91 billion, as against South Korea’s $2.42 billion, in 1961. What is more, today, all the Asian tiger economies, with a population less than 90 million – about half of Nigeria’s – have a combined GDP above three trillion US dollars. Above all, we are a heavily indebted nation, which according to the World Bank, spent in 2022, 96.3% of its total revenue on debt servicing.

To elaborate a bit on the Nigeria-South Korea narrative; if you live in South Korea instead of Nigeria, you are likely to, among others,

live 21.6 years longer. In Nigeria, the average life expectancy is 61 years

be 77.2% less likely to be unemployed.

be 64.1% less likely to live below the poverty line.

be 98.8% less likely to die during childbirth.

be 94.9% less likely to die during infancy. (www.mylifeelsewhere.com, using data from World Fact book, National Tax Office, South Korea; and Federal Inland Revenue).

For emphasis, using human development indices, Nigeria is no better vis a vis South Korea. Life expectancy here is 61 years, compared with South Korea’s 83! Furthermore, we are a nation with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world; the poverty capital of the world, with about 63% of our population regarded as multidimensionally poor; and more than 40% unemployment rate among the youth, who constitute more than 60% of the population. Yet, more Nigerians are entering the poverty pool in Nigeria, with the figure being some 10 million in 2023, according to the World Bank. The second highest number of women, globally, die in pregnancy in our land. To all intents and purposes, Nigeria remains what OXFAM referred to as a profoundly unequal nation, where the combined wealth of its five richest men ($29.9b in 2021?) would end extreme poverty at the national level.

National fragility:

As at 2017, Nigeria was ranked 13th (out of 178 countries) in the Fragile State Index, by U.S think-tank, Fund for Peace. The Fragile State Index is based on 12 social, economic and political factors, which include mounting demographic pressures, massive displacement of refugees, erecting severe humanitarian emergencies, widespread vengeance-seeking group grievance, uneven economic development along group lines, severe economic decline, deterioration of public services, suspension or arbitrary application of law, and widespread human right abuses. This seems to define Nigeria of today (Mimiko, 2018). The only countries higher than Nigeria in fragility are some chronically challenged conflict-infested ones like South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Insecurity:

As recorded in the Vanguard newspaper of May 20, 2023, 63,111 persons were killed in Nigeria in the eight years of Buhari’s government! It was also indicated that some 2,423 people had been killed, and 1,872 kidnapped in the eight months since May 29, 2023! (Daily Post, January 29, 2024, quoting Civil Society Joint Action Group). The Punch editorial of January 1, 2024, provided relevant contextual comparison, to the effect that in the 30 year-long insurrection in Northern Ireland (1968-1998), 3,500 deaths were recorded. Even so, as alarming as the Nigerian figures are, these may be gross underestimates because of under reporting of low-profile cases.

Most of our solid minerals’ exploitation is carried out through unregulated artisanal mining. At a February 1, 2024, ECOWAS Conference on illegal mining in the sub-region, its Speaker, Mohammed Tunis, disclosed that Nigeria loses 91% of its revenue from the mining sector to illegal miners (Punch, 2 Feb. 2024). May I just add, for the sake of emphasis that illegal mining due to amongst others, lax oversight by the Federal Government is one of the drivers of mindless killings in our land, solid minerals being on the exclusive legislative list in our ‘Federal’ constitution. This much has been attested to by the nation’s Minister of Solid Minerals, Dele Alake (BusinessDay, Dec. 12, 2023) recently.

III. The ‘potentially rich’ narrative

What has been established so clearly in the foregoing paragraphs is that in social and economic terms, Nigeria is a miserably poor, insecure, unequal, and fragile nation. Even looking at the ‘potentially rich’ narrative, which should ordinarily encourage us to strive to be actually rich, our leaders, perhaps because of this narrative, exhibit a mental construct that predisposes them to wealth entitlement, and make them less empathetic. This, arguably, was what informed a federal legislator to imagine that an Innoson SUV is not good enough for his duties. This may be the mind-set that has informed the management of what was meant to be humanitarian intervention in such inhuman way, as we have seen in the Humanitarian Ministry saga! To be sure, there are a legion of similar/worst heist in our economic development history.

In any case, I posit that almost every nation is potentially wealthy. Biblically God has provided everything we need to prosper, with responsible leadership and knowledge prioritization. As Pastor E.A. Adeboye (Daddy G.O.) recently pointed out, the leaves that transformed the water of Marah from bitter to sweet, as narrated in Exodus 15: 22-25, had always been there; but it took leadership and knowledge of what to do, to effect the transformation that took place.

Djibouti is notably poor in mineral resources and agricultural land unlike most African countries, but it’s strategic position at the connection of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden has given it an immense advantage in international maritime trade, which is being translated to wealth. With a GDP (PPP) per capita of 5,893 USD in 2022, it is wealthier than many resource-rich African countries like Nigeria (5,680 USD), and Democratic Republic of Congo (1,337 USD).

These indices apart, our everyday experience tells the same story. For example, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in this part of the country, there were no commercial motorcycles. There were taxis everywhere. The present spectacle of a motorcycle (okada) transporting a whole family of five, in some cases, including new borne babies, was unimaginable. The living condition (accommodation and feeding) of our undergraduates in government owned tertiary institutions is beyond imagination, as attested to by the 2012 report on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities, facilitated by the Federal Government.

IV. Interrogating extant reforms

Perhaps the most talked about element in the unfolding reform agenda of the new President Bola Ahmed Tinubu government is the removal of fuel subsidy; and of course, the floating of the Naira.

Subsidy regime:

Let me emphasize here, that there is nothing basically wrong with applying subsidy for desired economic outcome. It is only our experience as a nation with fuel subsidy that has tended to give it a bad name. My take on this greatly contentious subject, therefore, is that subsidy removal may be desirable, but follow-up palliative action on the part of the Government, would seem to have been a bit slow in coming, and could definitely admit of greater coordination.

The back-and-forth movement on the exact nature of the palliative measures; seeming confusion about the issues of minimum wage; students’ loan, etc., are all indicative of this tentative responses to current challenges on the part of government. And a thorough pre-subsidy removal consequences-study should have been undertaken to put the entire programme on a surer footing. Talking about the structures of implementation, the prompt manner in which Government responded to the embarrassing report on incipient mismanagement of critical funds in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs is quite commendable. It was a fist critical step, and actual practical expression of the readiness of the government to confront the challenge of endemic corruption in the public sector headlong.

That said, grant me the indulgence, to further interrogate the subsidy framework in a more holistic manner. What has been bad about fuel subsidy is not necessarily the concept per se, but our inability to deploy the requisite administrative capacity and integrity quotient to run it well. To be sure, every of the developed nations and the emergent ones, including the Asian tigers have had to deploy the subsidy tool as part of the overall industrial policy or redistributive mechanism. Even now, in this emergent era of has been dubbed, ‘neo-protectionism,’ ‘de-globalisation,’ or receding globalization, the subsidy regimen, in different forms, are on the block. Talk about America’s (USICA and Chips for America Act, where $52 billion has been earmarked as incentive and subsidy package, for evidence. As it is in the US, so it is across Europe. The truth, therefore, is that there is no way Nigeria is going to avoid having to subsidise some sectors of the economy – food production, energy development, etc. – but in all cases, in a manner that is most efficient; and as a catalyst to expanded production and overall national development.

Poverty reduction:

It is also my considered opinion that in our effort to combat poverty, emphasis should shift from narrowly targeted measures to generally universal ones. On this, I posit, with all sense of responsibility, that what befell fuel subsidy management is exactly what is befalling targeted palliative measures, emblematized by the apparent rot in the Humanitarian Ministry. Many development scholars would rather we put our palliative resources in universal sectors, rather than narrowed targets, especially in a developing terrain like ours, essentially because of the triple realities of administrative cost, competence, and corruption. As noted by the UN Research Institute for Social Development,

In many successful late industrializers, it became self-evident that where poverty was widespread, targeting would be unnecessary and administratively costly. Thus, the universalism in many countries was in fact dictated by underdevelopment—targeting was simply too demanding in terms of available skills and administrative capacity (unrisd.org).

In addition, the agency argued that,

One well-known fact is that the policies that have the greatest impact on poverty are not necessarily the most narrowly pro-poor, targeted ones. Indeed, in many cases, the focus on pro-poor policies has diverted attention from policies that have the most broad-based and sustainable effects against poverty. The success of the late industrializes of Northern Europe in conquering poverty was not by explicitly addressing it but by addressing a whole range of issues that positively impacted on poverty or impeded the poor from bettering their situation—economic development in a broad sense, investment in human capital and equity were crucial to rapid eradication of poverty (unrisd.org).

It is, therefore, much better to invest our savings from subsidy removal on more universal policies like increased income, food security, affordable education, affordable quality healthcare, and universal support for MSMEs etc rather than the type of things going on in the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry, which made funds easily susceptible to mismanagement.

V. Where do we go from here?

It bears emphasis that the people of this land are going through very stressful times, accentuated by recent economic reforms packaged as subsidy removal and foreign exchange rates unification. But the truth is that a lot had been wrong for far too long. Reference policy frameworks like the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), currency devaluation, premature de-industrialization, deepening poverty, unemployment. These are all by-products of neo-liberalism, and a compliant national leadership that has straddled our public space for so long. It is also trite that our problems date back further than this modern era of neo-liberal triumphalism. A proper dimensioning of all of this would therefore touch on issues of our mental state as a people, the structure of the state structure bequeathed us by the colonialists, as well as the agency of leadership.

Mental state:

400 years of slavery, more than a century of colonialism and enduring neo-colonialism have definitely taken their toll, not only on our physical development, but also our mentality and our mind set. As Nathan Nunn, Harvard University Professor of Economics, put it, the evidence accumulated ‘suggests that this historic event (i.e., colonialism) played an important part in the shaping of the continent, in terms of not only economic outcomes, but cultural and social outcomes as well’. Thus, to move forward, we must liberate our minds from ‘mental slavery.’ We must go through what I referred to in my Chairman’s remarks at the Elizade University Convocation lecture in 2022 as a ‘risorgimento of mental dignity and confidence.’ We must reject tokenism in development. We must reject metrics of development delusion. We must seek the cure for irresponsible illegal acquisition by our leaders, and their unbridled elite greed. If we agree that we are not sub-human, we must strive to equal other humans, other races in endeavours and accomplishments. We must sing a new song for a new generation.

Structure of African nations:

African nations were carved out for the economic exploitation convenience of our colonial overlords. This was a major accomplishment of the Berlin Conference of 1884/1885. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) at its debut in 1963, in its wisdom, endorsed the sanctity of the colonial boundaries. Anything short of that would have been a harbinger of sustained conflicts among the newly independent entities.

Even so, it is true that the arbitrariness of these physical boundaries is doubtlessly one of the drivers of multiplicity of conflicts in Africa since independence, in the form of perennial unrest, military coups, genocidal conflicts, civil wars, spilling across national boundaries. As Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley), the iconic Jamaican reggae singer, guitarist, and songwriter sang, we have come to epitomise a state of:

War in the east!

War in the west!!

War down south!!!!

War, war …!!!!!

Yes, war in the Horn of Africa; war in the Great Lakes region; war in the Sahel. It’s war, war, everywhere!

The ‘Silencing the Guns in Africa’ by 2030 is a flagship initiative of the African Union (AU), as encapsulated in Agenda 2063. It aspires to ending all wars and conflicts, preventing genocide, and stopping gender-based violence. Unfortunately, the guns have since been increasingly louder, giving scant hope of respite! For a moment, think of the resources Africa has expended in conflicts; add to it illicit financial flows facilitated by neo-colonial economic arrangements, vampirism, and arrant lack of imagination by our leaders, then you behold the exit passage of our development.

Let’s look at Nigeria’s structure, for specifics. The Yoruba are comfortably spread across national boundaries in the West African sub-region. Ditto for the Fulani, and Hausa, etc. So, in the case of Nigeria, as in most other African nations, we have cobbled together a nation of various ethnic nationalities with different histories, different life values and perspectives. After a brief period, post-independence, Nigeria has been running essentially as a unitary government, with profound implications for diversity (mis)management and economic development. We are by nomenclature a Federal Republic, but to all intents and purposes, a unitary republic. Well, we are, for instance, the only federal republic of this status, with a centralized Police Force; with implications that are now too obvious in the dysfunctionality of our policing charge.

It has been argued by pundits that the Asian Tigers, which have developed in the past five decades or so, each is essentially ethnically homogeneous. South Korea is 90% ethnic Koreans, Taiwan and Hong Kong are 90% ethnic Chinese, and Singapore is 70% Chinese. So, if we cannot create new nation-states out of our country, RESTRUCTURING, with ethnically homogenous sub-nationals with reasonable degree of autonomy, within a broader federal structure, is not just imperative; it is an act which time has come!

Visionary leadership:

One thing that is so obvious from all of these is that these times call for new vision. They call for creative thinking out of the neo-liberal paradigm box, and out of the box of international organizations structured to continue to hold us down. The good news is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The Asian Tigers that have broken out of this box and enacted impressive development in recent times hold out lessons for us. A look at Japan and China also tells the same tale.

We have to look inwards and leverage on our strength. We must be disciplined and creative. Through leveraging on initial demographic advantage, cheap labour and aggressive export with creative Import Substitution, subsidy administration, general protection of local industries, sequenced financial liberalization, reverse engineering (even at times, breaching intellectual property regulations), Japan, China, the Asian Tigers and the emerging Asian Cubs have been able to post phenomenal developmental strides.

It bears repetition again, that creative, locally driven economic development paradigms with massive investment in relevant education and skill sets, is the way to go. Think of it for a moment. After so many years of producing world class engineers, we can’t deploy indigenous know-how to build the second Niger bridge, or any of our major motorways for that matter. After so many petroleum engineers, we can neither build refineries nor maintain existing ones built for us by foreigners. In spite of all year-round sunshine, so many engineers and abundant natural resources, we import solar panels from countries with just three months of sunshine.

After so many doctors, and midwives, we have the trophy of the second highest number of pregnant women dying in pregnancy. Our top professionals are voting against our dysfunctionality by ‘JAPAing,’ and we seem to be helpless.

US President J.F Kennedy, in 1960, gave vent to a vision of landing human beings on the moon. In 1969, a year short of his target, the mission was accomplished. But beyond landing humans on the moon, the Apollo programme sparked innovation in aeronautics, nutrition, material science, electronics, software and other areas. We can make do with our own moon-shot vision now!

Still on leadership; one thing that has become obvious over the years is the convoluted leadership recruitment pattern that our country seems wedded to. The outcome has been the crises of governance, which has defined the Nigerian state in the past few decades. We, therefore, need to encourage a conversation on this, with a view to engendering a leadership recruitment process imbued with the support base requisite for legitimacy, without which government cannot be effective. It is trite to aver that this cannot be achieved unless we clean up our electoral process in such a holistic manner as to inspire confidence at home and respect abroad.

Market forces:

I conclude this section with a look into our fetish of ‘market forces,’ ‘government has no business in business,’ ‘subsidy distorts market,’ ‘ease of doing business,’ sacrosanctity of foreign direct investment (FDI), and other neo-liberal jargons, packaged and delivered as drivers of development. These must be properly interrogated and creatively applied to our current situation. We must think like the children of Issachar, ‘that have understanding of the time.’ The high priests of neo-liberalism and globalization are gradually moving in the direction of Industrial Policy and protectionism. As noted earlier, the USICA, Chips for America Act, Buy America policy, etc., are some of the initiatives speaking to this new thinking among former patron saints of neoliberalism. And so, the question, what are we waiting for?

In conclusion, I argue that for us to get out of our present miserable level of underdevelopment, we must tame the monsters of the crisis in a holistic and composite manner.

I emphasize that this must percolate from top down, in a manner that is encapsulated by the popular maxim, that a nation rises and falls on leadership?

–Tame our Palate for imported goods and elite greed. So, the popular saying goes, we should consume what we produce, and produce what we consume. This will not come about through admonitions. In today’s interconnected liberal economy, with the rules skewed against us, through international institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), we need deliberate financial, industrial and trade policies to accomplish the goal of creating the necessary nexus between local production and consumption.

–Tame our Procreative Proclivity. The growth of our population continues to outstrip our economic growth. We have grown from 45 million in 1960 to about 230 million in 2023 (more than 500% growth). For context, UK, which was 53 million in 1960 (bigger population than Nigeria), has only grown to 67 million today, a meagre 126% increase. Depending on our development paradigm choices, this large and youthful (more than 60%) population of ours can benefit from what demographers refer to as demographic dividend or demographic bomb! With the present level of youth dependency and restiveness, manifesting in the widespread agitations of #EndSars, and recent sporadic protests against rising cost of living, time seems to be ticking. The choices we make today will prevent the coming explosion. In a development milieu of creative Industrial Policy, financial targeting and aggressive investment in education and skills-set, and vastly increased governance integrity quotient, we may yet escape the bomb detonating.

–Tame our Penchant for Corruption. Need I say anything further on the monster of corruption, how it fundamentally constrains development possibilities on all fronts, and the need to deal with it in a decisive and sustained manner? Conceived as ‘abuse of entrusted power for private gains,’ by Transparency International (2023), ‘corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis’ (Ibid). There is the commonality of opinion among the citizens of Nigerian, civil society, and development partners – practically everyone that the country has zero chance of development as long as the State continues to be the platform for primitive accumulation and rent seeking in the hands of its privileged elites. The need to deploy more of technology than admonitions in attacking corruption from the roots cannot be overemphasized. This, indeed, should rank high among the priorities of all governments, going forward.

– Tame our Political Structure. We have mentioned our defective structural birth, our defective 1999 Constitution (as amended), which are some of the drivers of economic mismanagement, underdevelopment, and insecurity. Now, a national consensus has more or less been developed on the need for multi-layered policing architecture to tackle insecurity. All that government has to do is emplace actionable RESTRUCTURING PLAN, short to long time; say, from Executive Orders and legislation on security, up to a new constitution. To my mind, this is the main challenge before the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration; and I shouldn’t have any doubt that going by his political antecedent and trajectory, Mr. President should have the clarity of vision, courage of conviction and determination to move our most tortured country to this desirable and rational end-state. My admonition is, let’s get started while there is still time!

Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, CON, Governor, Ondo State, 2009 – 2017 delivered this

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