Big Governments and Small People

A couple of different things that have happened in Nigeria in the last week have left me with a few questions. So I am writing this to sort of crowdsource answers to these questions in my head.

 

Makoko

On Tuesday July 17th 2012, the Lagos State Government began demolishing dwellings in the Makoko area of Lagos. According to the letter sent to the residents by LASG, the structures constituted an

Environmental nuisance, security risk and an impediment to the economic and gainful utilisation of the waterfront and undermined the megacity status of Lagos

Dont laugh, that’s not why we are here. I think we can agree that it’s not beyond the powers of a government to destroy property sometimes. It’s part of the package we all sign up to when we decide we want to be an organised society with central authority.

Sometimes govt might decide that it’s worth dislocating a few people so as to benefit the majority. It’s ok to do that. We might need a new road built or a train track laid so we ask a few people to leave an area so the majority (including the displaced people) can have better infrastructure. There’s no better way to do this other than democratically. Here in London for example, some people are going to be displaced by the Crossrail line due to come on line in 2017 as an example. So they will need to move elsewhere.

What is important is that because the underlying reason for the dislocation is the need to extract better value from the land, the current users should always get compensation. It’s the decent thing to do and ensures that people are treated like human beings. Before construction could commence at the new London Gateway port in Kent, 350,000 animals (including 600 snakes) had to be ‘relocated‘ to new habitat. So you dont even need to be a human being these days to have your rights protected.

In short, the govt doesnt need to declare something as ‘illegal’ before having a reason to get rid of it as long as it’s for the benefit of wider society. So I am curious; what does LASG want to use the Makoko Waterfront for? Will this be something that will benefit Lagosians given that the demolition is being done in their names? Bear in mind that it is estimated that half of the fish eaten in Lagos is produced in this same Makoko that has been declared an ‘environmental nuisance’.

If LASG has better plans for the waterfront, why not just tell the public and let everone be convinced of the need to move the people away from there? Why the need to portray the place as a den of thieves where people can be electrocuted at any time as was done by one Adesegun Oniru who wears epaulets designating him as Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development?

So, does anyone know what better use LASG wants to put the Makoko Waterfront to and if indeed there is such, why werent the people compensated and allowed to move on?

Or is this just a typical big government flexing its muscles against small people who cant fight back? I would have thought that if the criteria was just ‘illegal structures’, LASG could go on a demolition spree in Lekki and Victoria Island and not finish in the next 5 years even. 

By the way, did the current government receive any votes from this ‘illegal’ settlement in the 2011 elections?

 

Cassava Bread

Even if you’ve been living inside a cave in Nigeria for the past 1 year, it’s hard to imagine how you would have managed to avoid all talk of cassava bread as a national issue. Mr President has eaten it live on national TV and has fed it to his deputy as well as decreed that no other type of bread should be served him from the Aso Rock kitchen. Again, this is not a problem at all.

But so great is the Cassava evangelism currently sweeping through our government that they cannot wait for us to start eating this bread in the name of local content or whatever it is. While government has promised the establishment of a Cassava Bread Development Fund which will be used to train 400,000 ‘master bakers’ across the country in the art and science of cassava bread making, like a man who is rushing home to use the toilet, the govt has gone ahead to slap punitive tariffs of 65% on imported wheat.

The Agric minister, Akin Adesina has even resorted to using strident language like calling wheat importers ‘unpatriotic’. Perhaps some of these importers will be shot before the next elections?

All of a sudden the sky is falling, Nigeria is about to collapse under the sheer weight of the wheat import bill. Something must be done. This is something. Therefore it must be done! We are also told that this cassava bread is ‘just like’ wheat bread and people will not be able to tell the difference. This might beg the question, why not just put it in the market and let people buy it and gradually move away from wheat?

Dr Adesina has a PhD in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University. I dont imagine you can get a PhD from there without doing some real work to earn it so perhaps, like many before him, he has simply sacrificed his principles on the massive altar of political expediency that the Nigerian govt offers.

Economists know that there is no such thing as a ‘solution’. Everything in life is a series of trade offs no matter how appealing and ‘perfect’ it looks. Cassava bread is not a ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of wheat bread (a problem sometimes has to be manufactured to fit a pre-determined solution you see). It is nice to build a 10 lane highway to link Lagos to Ibadan as an example. But this might also mean that future generations have less bitumen at their disposal to build roads when they need to if we use up a lot of bitumen today. So we decide to build the road now using the bitumen perhaps hoping that the road lasts long enough so future generations dont need it to build roads anyway.

To be fair, this is not a uniquely Nigerian problem – the tendency to find ‘solutions’ to problems. Take the issue of ‘green energy’ as an example. It was only a few years ago that windmills were all the rage. What could possibly go wrong? Just stick a mill in open space and let the wind blow it and generate electricity in the process. Ignoring the amount of concrete that needs to be used to get those windmills in place in the first place, the things dont actually work. In America today there are 14,000 abandoned wind turbines scattered across the country. Nevertheless, those who think it is a ‘solution’ to energy ‘problems’ continue to be seized by religious like fervor in their belief in them.

Taking their cue from the govt – cabal alert! – The Association of Master Bakers of Nigeria have come together to decree a 20% increase in the price of bread for everybody. In any normal country this kind of behaviour will be 100% price fixing and punished accordingly but the govt doesnt even have time to protect the consumer. It is too busy feeding us with cassava bread and in any case it has a stated aim to get wheat bread more expensive to force us to eat the preferred cassava bread.

Who elected a government and gave it the power to tell us what to eat? To the point where the govt is now throwing its weight around and punishing people financially for daring to eat something they have been eating all their lives?Is this cassava bread so perfect that there couldnt possibly be any side effects from eating it especially in a country where garri, akpu and other cassava derivatives are already all the rage for the majority of the people?

But the most important question I want to ask is this – who the fuck does Dr Akinwunmi Adesina think he is that he can prescribe a diet for 160m people? Why doesnt he quit his govt bully pulpit, open a bakery and sell his wonderfully glorious cassava bread on the open market and let the market tell him where to get off?

 

FF

 

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4 thoughts on “Big Governments and Small People

  1. Soon, when the cassava cabal falls out of favor, the corn cabal shall rise and corn bread will be shoved down our throats…

  2. I love love love reading your posts! They are very insightful, thought provoking and inspiring. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom so selflessly. I just hope a few leaders from Nigeria will bookmark this page on their mobile devices! It will do the country a lot of good.

    Now on to my comments re: cassava bread.
    From a public health perspective, Nigeria should probably be thinking of how to reduce consumption of cassava and not the other way around. True, there are no real data on obesity and other chronic illnesses in Nigeria yet but the general consensus is that Nigeria (like many African countries) is experiencing the double burden of diseases and the rates of chronic diseases are rising quickly.
    Been creative with our home grown crops is certainly a step in the right direction but doing so to the detriment of people’s health is likely not a good idea.

    I certainly agree with you that Nigerians should have the choice to determine if they want cassava bread or not. This freedom of choice will also create some incentive for the master bakers or whatever they are called to make sure they are producing the highest quality bread and at affordable prices. I thought this was common sense.

  3. The problem with the Maroko argument is that they were illegal occupants to begin with. None of the displaced people can validly claim to hold title to the land they occupied. The entire ‘development’ was illegal. Could the government have done better by giving the displaced people some sort of “soft landing” or pretended it cared about the social cost of the evacuation though? Yes.

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