When the cart is before the horse
There is a timeless idiom: “Putting the cart before the horse.” A cart is a vehicle of two or four wheels that is pulled by a horse and is used for carrying loads. Usually, a horse is placed before a cart to enable it move. If, contrary to common sense, the cart is put before the horse, there shall be no movement, it is an oddity. Such action is ridiculous because it stagnates.
This is the reality in politics. In every sphere of life, the right and fundamental step comes first. In law, investigation precedes prosecution to attain justice. And a medical doctor’s diagnosis is the appropriate prelude to surgery. Also, in the Scriptures, Our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, counselled: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things shall be added to you.”These examples emphasise the essence of doing the fundamentals. Nigeria is not developing, growing or changing. Our priority is not right. Nigeria is static in all strata. It is because our political leaders refuse to get their priorities right; in governance, there is the necessity for prioritisation.
However, one of our leaders stands out of the crowd. On November 25, 2016, The Guardian reported Prince Tony Momoh as admonishing government: “Put development before politics.’’ In my understanding of that statement, he was not commenting exclusively about the Federal Government, but also on the state and local governments. Putting development before politics equals to putting “the horse before the cart.’’ There is the sense in placing development before politics for effective growth.
He made the remark as the chairman on the occasion at the presentation of the book Hope rekindled. Indeed, I am inclined to believe that hope is actually rekindled for a change. In his further postulation, he said that other countries of the world were wise to put development first before politics and this elevated them to a strong economic and political pedestal. His words: “The problem of Nigeria is not economic, but political. Nigeria is the only country in the world where democracy is put before development. We must put development first and then we can have what we desire. Why do we have full time parliamentarians?’’
Tony Momoh, former Information and Culture Minister, went down memory lane. “In the First Republic, it was part-time. Those who were part-time lawmakers then did more than ones who are full-time now. A councillor now earns more than a Supreme Court justice. The President also has loads more than any other President in the world. Do we want to kill the man?’’ In my heart Nigeria has long put politics before development. This is saying that shortly after Independence in 1960, the country patently derailed politically and economically. My argument is irrefutable. There was Economic Development Plan that was put in place by the Tafawa Balewa administration. That initiative was in line with development economics.
Prof. John Black, of the University of Exeter, defined Development Economics as “Economics applied to the problems of less developed countries. Its main special feature is the need to devote attention to the aspects of the economy, including the institutional framework, provision of infrastructure such as power and transport facilities, and problems of population and agriculture which in advanced economies can often be taken for granted”. The intra-party crises of the Action Group in 1962 caused the derailment. If the then Federal Government of Balewa had left alone the Western Regional Government, without identifying itself with any of the party’s contending leaders, the Action Group would have solved its internal imbroglio.
The Development Plan could have enhanced the nation’s economic growth. But the then ruling Central Government considered that the crises created an opportunity to weaken the progressive and disciplined Action Group and remove its leadership from the national scene.The FG’s undue interference torpedoed the nascent development plan and put cart before the horse. The long-drawn national conflagration that ensued was an ill-wind. Ignorance of its consequences was bliss to Balewa administration, prompting Chief Anthony Enahoro’s prophecy on the hallowed floor of the legislature:“We are starting a chain of events, the end of which nobody knows”. So, since the early 1960s, our cart has been before the horse. The military administrations in 1966 also re-enacted the scenario of putting cart before the horse.
Of course, this trend can be reversed. Tony Momoh proffers some suggestions: “We should decongest the centre. We have 80 per cent of our resources going to the centre. That is where the problem lies. When we reduce their earnings, nobody will sell his father’s house to be in politics. Only retired people will beg to be councillors or any position at all’.’ Well said! However, that is not all.
I have my own suggestions. Nigeria is a creation of Britain, nurtured on British parliamentary system, unlike American settlement of Liberia since 1821, which became an Independent Republic, in 1847, fostered on American presidential system. Nigeria’s British parliamentary system was check-mated in January, 1966, just after five years, followed by nearly 30 years of military rule, without allowing for the maturity of the British system. The differences between the two systems are that the U.S. system is more expensive as Federal Ministers and state commissioners are appointed from outside the legislatures, contrary to our inherited British system of appointing ministers from elected members of legislature.
Further, the U.S. system gives room for corruption and profligate spending. Politics can be made less attractive by reverting to part-time legislature as it was in the First Republic. Also, the country can adopt uni-chamber legislature, instead of the bi-cameral format which is financially wasteful. Besides, bi-cameral legislature is meant for political patronage. In the First Republic, every Nigerian was a “parliamentarian” aware of politics because of the lucidity of the British System. The country must learn to put development before politics to get out of the woods.
Oshisada, a veteran journalist, writes from Ikorodu, Lagos.