Health Warning: This article contains an inordinate amount of what Sarah Palin derisorily calls ‘hopey-changey’ stuff. Observe the neccesary amount of caution.
Of all the missed opportunities [and there have been many] Nigeria has had in the 50 years since she took charge of her own destiny, none sticks in the throat like the successive failure of leadership. Like a crack cocaine addiction, seemingly no Nigerian leader has been able to kick the habit.
And what might have been if we had had a leader who knew where he was going other than a desire to remain in office for as long as possible?
This successive failure of leadership has of course manifested itselft in the chronic poverty that holds our people down. So powerful is this poverty that even when it has ruined the lives of one generation and seen them off to their often early graves, it simply moves on to the next generation who, even though they can clearly see it coming, are totally powerless to do anything to stop it.
And of course, the man who has been comprehensively routed by poverty, of the pocket and the spirit, soon begins to look on his tormentor, manifested in the form of inept leadership, as a God sent.
Look no further for the definition of a vicious cycle.
I have a weakness for numbers so let’s look at some. According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators website, from 1960 – 2008, the chart below shows the countries with the highest rate of Per Capita Growth.
Now what’s interesting is the ranking of these countries according to how much democracy was practiced in those countries over the time period. The ranking was done by Polity IV.
From the list above, it’s painfully clear to see that with the seeming aberration of Cyprus, none of these countries happened to be a true democracy over the period in question. Our excuse of military rule, if anyone still considers that to be an excuse, just got blown out of the water.
But that’s only half of the story. How about the worst performing countries using the same Per Capita Growth rates from the WDI? Table below.
Once again, the 10 worst performing countries when it comes to lifting its people out of poverty were also autocracies or dictatorships on average over the same period of time.
If these numbers are to believed, and the World Bank is perhaps as believable as they come, then we have a pretty good answer to why we are the way we are.
If the same kind of government produced the 10 best results and the 10 worst results; the only difference could have been the quality of the leadership. It’s redundant to attempt to point out where Nigeria falls in all of this….needless to say we are nowhere near the top.
As much as our leaders would like to provoke a bout of navel gazing among Nigerians as they seek to deflect blame from themselves, there is nothing uniquely wrong with Nigerians that makes it impossible for the country to have made desirable progress in the last 50 years. The people have just never been led.
A lot has been said recently about Peter Cunliffe-Jones’ BBC article comparing Nigeria’s progress with Indonesia’s progress over the same period of time. One point that has mentioned repeatedly by those seeking answers as to why both countries took such divergent development paths is that Nigerians are docile and the people deserve the leadership they get.
It’s interesting that such arguements fail to note that General Suharto in spite of his brutality, spent 32 years in office from 1967 to 1998. In that time he committed pretty much the same crimes committed by all of Nigeria’s maximum rulers put together and then some. And yet Nigerians, seemingly to their credit, have never tolerated any leader longer than the war extended 10 years given to Yakubu Gowon….including taking to the Lagos-Ibadan expressway to register their displeasure at the last of such rulers we had.
So if Nigerians are docile what does that make Indonesians who tolerated Suharto for 32years? Or perhaps a better question to ask would be; Why did Indonesians tolerate him for so long?
The answer, taken from Mr Jones’ article can be summarised in the quote below
While lining his pockets handsomely, amassing a family fortune estimated at up to $35 billion, Indonesia’s Suharto had tasked his economic advisers with keeping him in power. What he feared most was a popular revolt.
For decades, spurred on by Suharto, the economists ensured the economy grew fast enough to lift millions out of poverty.
The army – which bloodily suppressed rebellions in some regions – was used to build roads and bring electricity to the poor in the Indonesian heartlands.
The economy was diversified and oil money was used to build sectors such as agriculture and fisheries, tourism and manufacturing, to provide jobs and income. Indonesia, which was once a minor player, is today the world’s largest producer of palm oil.
Do not let anyone lie to you that there is something uniquely wrong with the Nigerian. His needs are the same as anyone else. When he bleeds, it is just as red as any other human being on the planet. He, like the average Indonesian or Bhutanese, wants to get ahead in life and enjoy a decent existence as far away from poverty as possible.
Indonesians were willing to tolerate a brutal and corrupt dictator as long as he satisfied their economic needs…quid pro quo.
Take the reign of the facetious gap toothed General who ruled Nigeria from 1985 to 1993 [a man who should not be left in charge of a car wash without being supervised]; other than being used to quell riots or brutalize Nigerians, did you ever see soldiers being used to construct roads or any infrastructure for that matter? How can we not expect different results when the way in which the different sets of leaders saw the world and future of their countries is so glaringly different?
And judging by the number of people who will fall over themselves to promote his candidacy in the coming months, perhaps he wasnt even the worst of the hopeless bunch who have ruled us clad in khakis or agbada.
But there’s hope yet for Nigeria….hope in the way that Yorubas refer to it as ireti. This time offers us an opportunity to turn our backs on 50 years in which we could have done so much better and say to the future; we can do better than that….no, that was never our best shot.
If we, me and you, fail, then there will be something to be said about Nigerians being a uniquely weird bunch of ne’er do wells.
No matter how terrible your past has been, your future remains spotless. You and I havent failed yet. Dont listen to those who say the coming generation are just as bad as those who have gone before. It is an argument for the elongation of the tenure of those who refuse to leave the scene.
Chronicling the American agricultural revolution which began in late 18th Century America, the economist Milton Friedman observed that just before the revolution began, 19 out of every 20 workers in the country worked in agriculture just to feed the country. 200 years later, only 1 out of 20 workers was needed to feed a much expanded American population. Such was the scale of change that had occured. And what did the extra 18 hands find to do? They went on to power the Industrial revolution.
The good news is that we dont need 200 years to power our own agricultural revolution. Those who have gone before us have charted the course for us. Not a single developmental wheel needs to be reinvented.
So you are reading this and you fall into that crucial age bracket spanning 30 to 40 years of age. It will be your turn next I tell you. You will soon be called and asked to take charge.
And what a tragedy it would be if you took the wheels and drove the car exactly the same way the former guys drove it.
I feel nothing for the Obasanjos and the IBBs and the Buharis who seek to have another bite of the cherry one way or the other. They are damned by their records, to a man. And a bloody nose is what they deserve at the coming polls….fast tracking their journey to be with the dinosaurs who eagerly await their arrival.
So on the 1st October 2010 as they gather to celebrate their collective failures drenched in a naira rain, look at it as a sendoff they have organised for themselves.A drunken orgy of money spending that seemingly has no end or beginning for that matter.
So while they party, it’s ok to bite your lip and clench your fists and kick the doors and punch the walls and shake your head at what might have been. But not for long. You are useless to the country when you are angry like that.
They got 50 but you own the next 50.
You need to get dressed and get ready.
I swear you will be called next. And then you will need to show that you have been worth waiting for.
And if you fall in that category of Nigerian who has been battered to disillusionment and you have now turned your back on the basket case of a country; what if you are wrong? What if this country, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, just isnt finished and there is some life in the old dog yet?
The even better news is that there will be no vindictiveness in the future. No one will accuse you of deserting the country when it needed you the most. But do give it one more try. I have my doubts and I cannot give anyone any convincing reason as to why they should put their hope in Nigeria. This comes straight from the gut.
God bless this country which He has already blessed even beyond what it deserves and in spite of itself.
Angrily, Frustratingly, Irritatingly but Proudly Nigerian.
*The charts used above were borrowed from William Easterly’s blog here