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No private sector, no reliable infrastructure

By Francis E. Ogbimi   |   16 February 2017   |   3:17 am

Mechanised farming

In my earlier submission titled, “Lack of knowledge doing more harm than corruption,” on Monday, January 9, 2017, I described Nigeria’s persistence in thinking and doing things that do not promote rapid progress as a consequence of lack of knowledge. In another one titled, “No economic growth, no democracy,” on January 31, 2017, the introduction paragraph read: ‘Virtually all those who study Western social sciences and related fields (political science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, education, administration, law, etc.), are brought up to think that mere elections are all a nation needs to promote democracy; Nigeria has been democratising since 1999, because the nation has had many elections since then. Western education and related fields of study are devoid of a sense of history. It is for lack of sense of history on the part of the Nigerian expert especially lawyers and political scientists that Nigeria made the grave error of adopting the British type parliamentary system in 1960 and the less responsible American type presidential system in 1979- – -‘The two articles taken together suggest that Nigeria is stagnating economically and politically because of lack of understanding of the development process on the part of those who have been planning for the development of the nation. For lack of knowledge, Nigeria’s development planning has always been based on fallacious claims. For example, Nigerian leaders admire the strong private sectors in the industrialised world but sadly, they believe that the strong private sector may be established through mere erection of structures. This is why Nigerian government adopted the African Structural Programmes (SAPs) in 1986, largely to privatise public enterprises so as to establish a private sector. Also the Nigerian intelligentsia and intellectuals believe that a nation may borrow large amounts of money and erect complex infrastructure overnight. The true situation is that the strong private sector and reliable infrastructure are fruits or aftermath of industrialisation. That is, it is only industrialised economies that can have strong private sectors and reliable infrastructure. A strong private sector and reliable infrastructural system cannot be wished or decreed into existence. No industrialisation, no strong private sector, no reliable infrastructure.

History teaches that European and Asian nations toiled for 2000-3000 years before they achieved the modern industrial revolution (IR) and began to produce the uncountable scientific products they now produce. European and Asian nations were poor for that long, no parts of their economies functioned efficiently and effectively, no strong private sectors, no reliable infrastructure. European intellectuals still do not understand the science of the development of nations (DE-Fleur, et al., 1977). No one gives what he/she does not have, so Western intellectuals cannot teach their African students the science of development.

The Harrod Domar Model (HDM), Rostow’s stage growth theory and some others like them constitute the set of theories social scientists called the Modernisation theories. The evolutionary, neo-evolutionary and modernisation theories are mechanistic and a historical perceptions of the human development experience. These theories claim that Western Europe in the 16th century achieved the maximum level of development for human societies, believing that Europeans achieved the modern industrialisation, uniquely. The theories then classified nations into two categories – simple (primitive) and complex (advanced).

African and Latin-American nations were classified as primitive nations while Western nations were classified as advanced nations. The evolutionists and modernists proposed that primitive people and places may be made modern by transferring resources especially capital and technology from the rich West to them. This is the origin of International Technology Transfer (ITT) in its various forms as the main development strategy for African and Latin-American nations.

It is for this reason that Nigeria and other African nations under the pretext of developing the continent have been practising ITT- they have merely been loading complex hardware in ocean liners in the industrialised world and shipping them to Africa to erect and throw money at every problem before thinking. They have also been borrowing indiscriminately to finance highly inflated contracts for building roads and bridges, railways, electricity generating plants and distributing networks, airports, seaports, etc., so as to transform their agricultural/artisan economies into modern economies overnight. The consequence of this naïve approach to development is high indebtedness, inability to pay the few people employed in the nation, bad infrastructure, poverty, high level of crime and a general feeling of hopelessness. The foolish nations of Africa, for lack of understanding of the development process of nations, lament that it is for the scarcity of money that the ever failing-infrastructure cannot be restored to service.

Babatunde Raji Fashola, minister of Power, Work and Housing, recently lamented that paucity of funds is a major challenge against 2016 budget implementation. The minister said N456 billion was appropriated for the three ministries; N301.850 billion budgeted for work on roads.N140 billion (53%) was released for the Work Ministry with about 200 projects on-going in the nation. Why has the Federal Government of Nigeria have about 200 projects on-going with the very harsh economic situation in the nation? It is because Nigeria and other African nations are trying to develop infrastructure the wrong way. All structures are Depreciating Assets (DAs). Once acquired or erected, they immediately begin to depreciate in intrinsic value with time and use. So, a nation focused on erecting or acquiring many structures invests on decreasing functions or may be likened to one trying to fill a profusely leaking tank with water. The nation does not develop, it experiences increasing stress.

Wise nations on the other hand focus on creating increasing intrinsic values through learning – education and training. Hence the learning people are appreciating Assets (AAs). European and Asian nations neglected education and training for about 2000-3000 years. The intrinsic value of the learning-person can be expressed in a quantitative manner. In a nation where learning – education and training, is emphasized, there is continuous build-up of knowledge, skills and competences (KSCs). As the learning process continues, a point is reached where each type of KSCs begins to enjoy the supportive impact of all others and all of them form an invisible KSCs-network, a sort of problem-attacking front. The nation at that point achieves Industrial Revolution (IR) – a technological puberty (Ogbimi, 1999).

Productivity and production improve dramatically, the nation achieves economic diversification – various sectors of the economy begin to perform efficiently and effectively, the strong private sector and all that is associated with it become established, the competence for a nation to sustain reliable infrastructure is established and more. The economic transformation described as IR, may be likened to that which the spider achieves when it combines many of its silk-threads to make its web. The single silk-thread the spider spins, is a relatively weak structural material which fails readily under any stress regime. However, the web which is made from the combination of many of the weak silk-threads catches the small creatures on which the spider feeds. In a like manner, no individual person solves the problems of a nation, but a combination of many millions of knowledgeable, skilled and competent people transforms an agricultural/artisan economy into an industrialised one.

Ogbimi teaches at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.

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