A thousand years of servitude
Happy New Year. When I said that to a friend of mine, his response was; what is happy about this New Year? I reminded him the greeting was aspirational. People of faith have to be people of hope, I told him. But he got me thinking. Between Christmas and New Year, I was in a country in the throes of hope after two frightening decades of a cult of power that became a mindless dictatorship, Gambia.
Some of the things I said to their leaders also got me worrying about the need to challenge us on our current conditions in Nigeria and regarding some grave dangers of a future challenged. They amount to the fact that a window of opportunity is closing on our desire for progress.
This is particularly important because of our contemporary culture’s obsession with instant gratification which may blind us to the terrifying danger, for the long term, of extant ways.
The world is entering a new age, the fourth Industrial Revolution. When Artificial Intelligence kicks in with the rush of its current surge most of what is work today will disappear. With hardly any robotics in its current form in place, nearly a third of our educated youth and more than half of the untrained are unemployed or in disguised unemployment. Imagine that that time is less than a decade away.
Already many are drowning in the Mediterranean trying to get into countries in which their leaders are thinking about the competitiveness of their country’s economies and how to provide jobs for their people in the brave new age of the fourth industrial revolution. As we suffer this global humiliation of a country being deserted by its citizens who end up as slaves in Libya, we are not even able to gauge where the trends are pointing.
All you see from the power elite is hubris, pure and adulterated. The price of oil, raising the oil benchmark price for the budget, sharing the booty and such rent opportunities continue to define us when the temperature in New York is being compared with that on Mars.
What sours my New Year soup is that if extant reality persists the window of the new age will close on us and Nigeria will effectively be responsible for 1000 years of servitude for the black man. Has anyone been listening to the pain and anger of the repatriated former slaves from Libya. I can see a few more Boko Harams of the non-religious nature brewing from their ranks.
The coming Anarchy which Robert Kaplan foresaw and the road to Somalia I forewarned about do not seem anymore like eschatological forebodings. In the middle of all these the arms of government are discussing things that make the heart bleed. Hubris. Amazing hubris in the face of crisis the moral equivalence of a big war. The crisis of leadership in Nigeria has reached a point where you wonder if polite conversation still makes sense. As India and China harvest a demographic dividend and we shepherd our youth into servitude we almost assure ourselves serial crises.
A few months ago, I watched a highly regarded public intellectual describe the Nigerian state as a criminal enterprise on NTA morning show. It spoke to the frustration of the season.
It was not the comment that surprised me. I cannot swear that I have not said similar in private conversation with close friends. What shocked me was that the panel of four other notables including a former CBN Deputy Governor, did not bat an eyelid. It was like we had accepted that as a consensus of what we are. For me it was a huge statement about the eroding legitimacy of the Nigerian state. When polite conversation becomes meaningless the bush wars that produced the likes of Paul Kagame and Youweri Museveni seem inevitable. You would at such a stage expect different kinds of conversations in the National Assembly. But nothing is happening. What brought our public institutions this far down? When public life is reduced to obsession with excessive comfort for self-culture reaches rock bottom. But a generation being denied opportunities for self-actualisation through an uncompetitive economy, impunity of political actors dependent or manipulation to sustain state capture, ultimately invites revolt from its youth.
On New Year’s Day I enjoyed the pleasure of the company of a few Octogenarians and one 91 year old fully alert former bank chairman. Talking old times in such times are inevitable. Unfortunately for me I became target. What have you people done to our institutions, they charged at me, as point of reference for a different generation. A sampling include: in 1960 if you wanted to teach English you went for the Hansard documenting discussions in parliament where the MP’s included the Amanze Njoku’s of this world and so many first class minds.
In those times, I was reminded, as if I had forgotten, the Professor of medicine earned much more than Prime Minister. How can you compare what today’s Senator takes home compared to the Professor of Medicine? I have to confess, that I even fear, following reports from manufactures Association and some diplomats that some companies have decided to withdraw from Nigeria because of shake downs from legislature in the name of oversight.
How can we save Nigeria? Should we just wait for the inevitable coming Anarchy which no army can contain, to finally manifest, with the unfortunate consequence for the black man in history? I had warned that this coming about a year ago when I asked in an OPED piece: Is Nigeria the next Haiti? In that I had told the often-shocking story of how Haiti went from the world highest per capita income in 1789 to the poorest country in the western hemisphere by the middle of the twentieth century. Haiti had sleepwalked through the first industrial revolution after being a champion plantation economy as the absence of leadership in contemporary times is positioning Nigeria to do, with its obsession with oil as the fourth industrial revolution advances.
In many ways the current migration crisis vindicates a position I argued before editors of the Christian Science Monitor in Boston in January 1997 as I canvassed support for the International Criminal Court. I argued that Africa, because of the kind of people that have dominated its post-colonial leadership arena had become a burden to the world. That burden at the time was distant in views known as Afropessimism, the Hopeless Continent etc. But I assured that those troubles would spill across continental boundaries unless the world from a point of view of human solidarity, or even self-interest, helped Africa rid itself of the kinds of people that have captured the state. They said my views were utopian and that the court was unlikely. A few years later the Rome treaty brought the court into being. To day all those things I predicted in the early 1990, have come home to us.
Utomi is a political economists and professor of entrepreneurship and also the founder, Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL).