Building a Homegrown Economy: The Politicians' Energy or The Public’s Synergy?

In order to answer the question where do we as a nation go from here we must honestly ask ourselves where we are now. In our 47 years of existence the gun has ruled us for nearly twenty years. Poverty, diseases, high rate of unemployment, corruption, inadequate tertiary schools to absorb secondary school products, just to name few, is where we are. Governments after government has never been able to bridge the cleave between promise and fulfillment.

Those whom the individual citizens have used its little resources to train at the polytechnics and at the universities, the country cannot find job placement for them. We keep on hemorrhaging our professionals to England and United States day by day, month by month and year by year. Nearly 90% of all Nigerian graduates have attempted at one point or the other to travel abroad. Nationalism and national pride in us a nation has tragically ebbed low.

We appear not to appreciate whatever is made in Nigeria. We do not accept ourselves as Nigerians. Our shoemakers having designed and made good shoes and sandals label it: MADE IN ITALY for the fear that should it be labeled as MADE IN NIGERIA it will not get the required market. Our rice import is around one hundred million dollars which is more than the total budgetary allocation to Ministry of Agriculture. It appears no one is listening to Dan Lawtey’s concept of domestication.

For forty seven years in existence our reliance on foreign support continues to grow in strength. A massive dose of foreign assistance has been given to us in the form of loans, grants and technical assistance has brought to us its undesirable conditions. This continual over dependence has caused us to condition our psyche that without the white man’s assistance the plant of growth cannot even grow bud and not even to talk about flower. We look back in the year 2000 when the total donor support for the fiscal year fell below the anticipated level, caused the economy to wallow in a valley of despair. Ethnic conflicts have littered some parts of the country particularly the restive Niger Delta region. Tribal acrimony seethes in our nation. We spend more time and money on the dead patriots than the potential living pride.

Day by day, week after week we spend millions of naira organizing seminars and workshops and we fail to implement recommendations from such gatherings. Our per capita income is $640. That of our contemporaries-Singapore is $ 21,810, that of Malaysia $ 3,480, South Korea $ 8,680 respectively. What were we doing? Did we go on hibernation? Did we sleep as Rip Van Winkle?

It is a face-glaring fact that we have not developed at a fast pace as we should. Given our immense endowment of human, natural, agricultural and mineral resources Africa and Africans are still wallowing in abject poverty. We still live in squalid conditions of hunger and desperation. This is not the result of our stupidity or lack of intelligence.

Individual persons of Nigerian descent are able to master every complex concept and excel when given the opportunity in different environments. Why could we not display such excellence in our own environment?

The structure and the institutions of governance and modern states are alien to us. We did not have the time to internalize the art of modern state-hood at the time independence was granted. We lacked and still lack the traditions and ethos of nation-hood. These traditions and ethos evolve with time. These structures were never tried nor tested. Though our founding fathers would like us to believe that we were ready for independence, an objective analysis reveals that we were not. Yet we admire them for fighting for independence for the white man would not have surrendered power at his own volition. Like soldiers however, because we were ill-trained for independence, we are in danger to ourselves and our comrades or in this metaphor, to our citizens and neighbors.

We are not poor intellectually. Nigerians when given the right system function creditably anywhere. The classic examples of Emeka Anyaoku ,Jelani Aliyu, GM’s new design star, Wole Sonyinka, Ibrahim Gambari, Philip Emeagwali and Chinua Achebe, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Akin Olajuwon, (of NASA) are adequate proofs. Besides Emeka Anyaoku Nigerian trained medical practitioners, nurses, accountants and a host of others with critical skills are selling their skills the world over. It is simple because the system in which they are employed outside Nigeria works. Individual Nigerians are like skillful and talented soccer players with a lot of potential. Because well managed football teams do not exist, let alone proper national soccer leagues, they display their skills elsewhere. What Nigeria needs are the teams and the professionally managed leagues, the players would come home. In Nigeria now a citizen can obtain a driving license without stepping in any motor vehicle Driving School. It takes for ever to register a land. These occur because there are no operative systems in place.

We need to acknowledge that the system as they exist in our country is not working. This is not a poor reflection on our ability. It took the British many years (since 1215) to establish parliamentary democracy. As intelligent as we are, it would take us more than 50 years to internalize such practices. Even Haiti which has been independent for more than 200 years has not tried and tested good governance. Same can be said about Nigeria. But when Haitians arrive in the USA, with little command of the English Language, they not only survive, but triumph as well because the system works in the USA. Time per se is not the most critical variable, the willingness and commitment of our political leaders and elites is more critical. If time alone is so critical, Haiti would have been more stable than Botswana or Liberia more developed than Zimbabwe.

It is not time to change the past. We in Nigeria at least are on the right course. We need to establish systems that would stand the test of time so that a typical Nigerian can perform in Nigeria as he does in Australia or Japan. The PDP Administration under President Yar’Adua has introduced a feature to Nigerian political landscape. This is the so-called Nigeria Think-Tank Assembly. This concept and idea needs to be nurtured and expanded. Regions and Local Councils, Urban and Rural Assemblies, Traditional Councils and State Houses of Assembly should all open their gates and encourage ordinary citizens to observe and ask questions. Such a feature could be Nigeria’s answer to the weekly Question Time of the British Prime Minister in Parliament, my pet NGO; Nigeria4BetterRule does that. I live in a small town in Oyigbo-Rivers State. I have attended council meetings on numerous occasions when council members listen to the pros and cons of allowing certain businesses to establish in the town. The views of affected property owners are actively solicited before the Council takes a decision.

Contrary to what some very venerable and eminent citizens (including our Traditional Chief(s)) want us to believe, our bellwether democracy is under withering attack NOT from the men in uniform (i.e. the military) but from our recklessly opportunistic and phenomenally corrupt political leaders. The awful truth is that they continue to turn our values and the time-tested principles of probity, accountability, sunshine, transparency and shared sacrifice into verbal sawdust. How on earth do we expect to build a viable democracy on false hopes, outright lies, deceit, half truths, stupefying arrogance, blind partisanship and in-your-face intimidation?

For example, while the President and his cabal talk about “servant-leadership”, they heartless take their per-diem whenever they travel outside the country, buy themselves 90,000-dollar exorbitant jeeps; recklessly pay them $15,000 two weeks vacation “chop money”. Is that the brand new meaning of “servant-leadership”? The simple question here is;! why should the system support the extravagant lifestyle of the people in power, while majority of our people are drowning in abject poverty and finding it tremendously hard to put food on the table, pay their wards schools fees, attend to their urgent health needs, live in squalor etc; etc? And oh, can anybody make sense of their rush to create a wholly unwarranted and financially ruinous 30 more constituencies at a time when our hospitals, public schools, roads etc are crying out for financial assistance? By the way, are our 200 parliamentarians performing efficiently?

Haba! What smirking arrogance and total lack of sensitivity on the part of our political elite! Are they aware that such heedless acts undermine the confidence citizens have in their government?

Let me try this for bluntness: We can pontificate all we want about the values of “democracy”, but the simple truth is that there is practically no way the current system is going to survive in the midst of extreme poverty, squalor, humiliation and deprivation brought about by years of senseless corruption on the part of our political leadership. Do I need to be an economist to understand the connection between corruption in high places and the objective conditions on the ground?

Therein lies the astounding disconnects between the political elite and their “subjects” which disconnect invariably fuels the political adrenalin of military adventurers. In fact, so far as the political elite blatantly refuses to address this disconnect, the spectre of coup d’etat will continue to haunt us. What is most disquieting is that these economic lowlifes calling themselves “the people’s representatives” and their cronies are allowed by our bankrupt system to enjoy their ill-gotten boot! y with impunity. Isn’t it the sacred duty of those in power to faithfully prosecute the laws of the country without fear or favour? For how long is our government going to shrug and look away while individuals within its rank continue to commit breathtaking economic crimes? We should never forget that our criminal justice system was created not only for cassava and goat thieves but most importantly white collar criminals!

For some awful reasons, Nigerians oversea have not been able to significantly establish business projects that actually produce made in Nigeria goods. My fellow Nigerians, we need and have to get away from the buy and sell consumption economy that creates jobs for everyone but us. Our economy will not be propelled by the reckless and environmentally insensitive extraction going on as we speak. We are flirting with economic disaster if we continue to nurture our soaring appetite for overseas goods. As much we can, we must produce the goods that we consume at home. For example, given the brilliance of our small wear makers at Aba, Onitsha, Kano and Ogbomosho, why must we continue to import shirts from overseas? These shirts that we import shamelessly are made in third world countries just like Nigeria because of labour cost. Why can’t we export shirts to other African countries and the world at large? What is really wrong with us? The investors are not going to Nigeria because the miasmic economic conditions there are not the best for investment. The onus therefore is on us. We are the only ones who can ignore, if not cope with, the serious anti-investment hurdles that our zany politicians continue to foment. Who will do it if we don’t? Perhaps we know the terrain better than others.

Lastly, we need leadership to make this work. What we have lacked over the years and do now is a need for commonsense leadership that achieves results. We need selfless leaders who are able to merge public and private interest in a way that creates positive economic synergy predicated on love of country and economic wellbeing. We need a visionary who is willing and able to model exemplary behaviours geared at making our economic dream a reality. One who will place nation above partisanship and tribe. We need a leader who will convince our people to challenge the basic assumptions that underlie the worldview that they entertain. Finally, we need a leader who has enough sense to understand that political freedom is meaningless so long as it is divorce from economic freedom. We have achieved a level of political freedom. Now, we must take seriously the nagging and elusive problem of economic emancipation.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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