By Victor Nick Gai
The nation of late, has been subjected to political, economic and social problems that threaten its existence. The latest is the new wave of militancy in the volatile Niger Delta region and the secessionist agitations by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
Earlier on, the nation had contended with the Islamist rebel and terrorist group, Boko Haram. Kidnappings all over the country, Fulani herdsmen attacks nationwide, communal clashes between neighbouring ethnic groups, and so on were also prevalent.
Politically, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has been engrossed in internal leadership crisis in the wake of its victory at the polls. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) too, is not left out. Presently, various factions of the party are jostling for the soul of the party, and its survival as a formidable force, is clearly in doubt.
Above all the factors militating against the health of the nation, is the economic factor. The fall in the price of oil, which is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, in the international market, has produced a negative multiplier effect. Against this backdrop, the nation has suffered a humiliating scarcity in Premium Motor Spirit, commonly known as petrol.
Prices of goods have skyrocketed and in some instances, these goods became unusually scarce. Lately, the FG had to swallow its pride and did the inevitable- succumb to pressures by the IMF and World Bank by deregulating the economy. It did this by removing subsidy on petrol and the latest being the liberalization of the forex market.
In the face of all these crises, Victor Nick Gai, analyzes the causes of the crises the nation faces, drawing his lessons from the historical, sociological, political and economic realities of the nation.
I will be guilty of over- emphasis if I start to mention the economic endowments of this nation, and I may bore you if i begin to mention what these endowments mean to us because Nigerians are tired of being reminded of the riches they are sitting on without a corresponding impact of these potentials on their livelihood. Perhaps, Nigerians could be more at ease with a proper diagnoses of the problems and a likely solution to them.
The question is, how did we get ourselves enmeshed in all these crises mentioned above? Was it by divine providence? Are we the cause of our own misery? Were external forces responsible? How did we get to where we are today?
A lot of scholarly works have made us to believe that history was to blame for the misery Africans have found themselves. The works of Walter Rodney-How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Franz Fanon’s, The Wretched of the Earth, suffice at this point.
But the present Nigerian situation has given us every reason to repudiate the works of these scholars, although not completely, especially if one would consider the relative economic and social stability of sister countries like Ghana and South Africa, which also had a similar historical antecedents like Nigeria.
The seeming complexities of Nigeria has been identified as the reason for our numerous problems. Even though it is true that complex organisations and societies need equally complex and strategic modes of operation to run successfully, which we didn’t have, our failure as a nation should not be blamed on our size. Rather, the failure of the leadership to manage the complex nature is an indictment; it is a question of will power. The question is, how come complex societies like India, Mexico, Indonesia and USA; some of which have similar antecedents as ours and which are less endowed than us, were able to withstand the shocks and move ahead? Agreed, these nations are having their own unique and peculiar problems.
Sociologically, conflicts and social problems are a natural part of every modern society. A little dose of these problems can be accommodated, because without these problems, there is no way we can understand the society and its dynamics. But where these problems have assumed an intolerable dimension and threaten the survival of a society calls to question the integrity and ability or commitment of our leaders.
Every society is suppose to move towards equilibrium. In its movement, there is the right dose of problems it can accommodate in order to remain functional. When it is subjected to so many problems, beyond that which it can cope, it becomes dysfunctional.
In political terms, we call such societies, ‘failed states’. We have such failed states like: Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan and so on. Factors such as weak governments, corruption and weak economy are factors responsible for such failure. Nigeria, at one time risked being labelled a failed state for the single reason of its corrupt status.
To be fair to all sensibilities, the problems of this country were as a result of colonialism, negative culture and traditions, poor leadership, bad political culture, the over- reliance on oil and neglect of agricultural and solid mineral potentials. But the very phenomenon that is largely responsible for our present situation is the issue of corruption.
The phenomena of greed and corruption are like two sides of the same coin and they influenced the terms of trade between the colonialists and the natives. The civil war of 1967 and the coups that took place in 1976, 1983, 1985 and so on were either influenced by greed for power or wealth.
But how can one differentiate between power and wealth? They are synonymous!
It was recently estimated that, over 400 billion US dollars were stolen in Nigeria since Independence. A greater percentage of this sum was stolen by elite- politicians, business moguls, public servants and players in the economy.
These resources that could have been invested in providing infrastructure, employment, food and education, simply went into private pockets.
Consequently, these greedy persons are indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of Nigerians who died either as a result of accidents on bad roads, lack of drugs and hospitals, hunger, disease and ignorance.
Another indirect effect of corruption is the Boko Haram insurgency that claimed more than 20,000 lives, the Niger Delta militancy, and the secessionist agitations by the Ibo’s. Don’t ask me about the connection! The attributes of the actors, their agitations and the circumstances should tell you everything.
Corruption as a phenomenon in the Nigerian case is quite complex to deal with because there is a cultural link to its causes. It is true that politicians steal in order to enrich themselves; they also steal in order to maintain social status as defined by the society. Unfortunately, the society that is left at the mercy of greedy politicians is the one that defines social status and places expectations as well. For instance, it is normal for a politician to ride in very expensive cars and have the best of houses, while it is unusual for them to live normal lives like other citizens. But which human conventions or divine ordinances say prosperous persons cannot or should not live normal lives like ordinary citizens! Have western leaders not been able to show us good examples?
In essence, the society places high expectations on the politicians as providers for the masses. The cherished African value of being ‘our brother’s keeper’ has been abused and misconstrued. It has become a ‘mentality’ of sorts, which has reduced siblings, friends, and political jobbers to permanent dependents. Such category of persons have become lazy and resort only to begging from these politicians in order to survive. Expectedly, since the normal earnings of these politicians is inadequate to cater for these demands, these politicians are forced to look for illegitimate ways of acquiring money to meet those demands. That is the connection between corruption and our culture and traditions.
If we can change our culture of dependency, which makes politics the most vibrant industry, and embrace self -dependence, then the politicians would not be under much pressure any more. If they are not distracted from their work by pressure, they would be focused to do their job well and the society would be better off.
When our leaders are focussed on delivering on their mandate, then the masses who are a burden and a source of instability to the society, would be engaged meaningfully. When the economy is buoyant and infrastructure is available and the majority is satisfied, then there would be little or no cause for instability.
I believe that by now the politicians should know the futility of ‘Stomach Infrastructure’ or ‘Amala politics’, which seeks to empower the masses through ill-gotten wealth.
The previous administration was ignorant of the consequences of its actions. Caution was thrown to the wind. The economy was better at that time and money from oil was flowing and you know, one is most vulnerable when he is comfortable. The vulnerability showed in the type of policies the regime floated.
For instance, the floating of a social security safety net like ‘YouWin’ under the PDP- led government was rather elitist and did not consider the realities on ground. It empowered just a few- with some taking up to N10 million per individual, when such an amount could have empowered 200 persons with N50,000 each. No wonder, the teeming masses which the policy did not favour, ganged up and removed the heavy- weight PDP- backed government of Goodluck Jonathan.
However, having learnt from the past, the present APC- led government evolved a social security policy which indeed looks promising because it is progressive, people- oriented and humane. It adopts the classical bottom- up approach of planning. Whether it is sustainable in the face of the economic crunch, remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, the previous government, out of a misplaced priority, went ahead and established 10 universities, when the existing first, second and third generation universities were grappling with poor infrastructure. In fact, University of Jos, a second generation university is still operating on its temporary site. What a corrupt and unwise way to run a society!
Truly speaking, it is almost impossible to have a society without social problems. All nations have their peculiar problems. The issue is, such problems should not be more than what the society can bear. The reason why societies and nation states cease to exist is because they have been overwhelmed by internal crises. If we are to go by reasons for the breakaway of nations; the issues of poor governance, corruption in high places and wars were responsible.
Therefore, do we as Nigerians, need to go to soothsayers to tell us the inevitable path we are treading? Do we need to depend on Christian prophets who nowadays inundate us with predictions that often come to pass? The signs are there for us to see and a window has been opened for us to take caution.