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The politics of housekeeping


Frederick Lugard

The motivation for this essay partly derives from other, more classical works in philosophy and politics. I will concede that the first could be an adaptation of Proudhon’s philosophy of poverty. But Karl Marx, in the polemics of the time, gave it the short-shrift with the flying riposte that the work epitomised the poverty of philosophy.

The second and immediate source of influence is actually a lecture by Monday Mangvwat, formerly vice chancellor of the University of Jos. It was delivered in 2009 but I read it only recently and found it quite engaging and relevant to the purpose I hope to serve here. He argued rather forcefully that the primitive accumulation of capital in Nigeria has peculiar characteristics, with its possible blessings but that its pattern could also be a curse. He, therefore, posited that the Nigerian incidence needs to be analysed against the critical backdrop of the general model of capitalist accumulation. In brief, the specific pattern of accumulation of capital in Nigeria may have disarticulated the purpose of political governance.

I am practically enamoured of Mangvwat’s efforts and agree that our country is in the vortex of existential crisis. He and other Nigerian thinkers have relentlessly striven to examine the nature and character of the crisis and bring the policy options to the attention of the various strata of leadership. I shall simply add my voice and emphasise the point that the current political practice in our country is seriously weighing us down.

The prime causative factors of the Nigerian crisis appear so obvious. Yet, we are too often inclined to be misled or rather we habitually elect to look the other way. A fundamental causality of the humbling Nigerian condition, I shall contend, is intermeshed with and thus, resonant in the opportunity we have lost. Briefly, we had the chance to transform our country to become the superpower of the Black people of the world. But we do not seem to have measured up. The result is that unlike some other races, we are yet unable to proclaim that never again will the Black person be a slave.

Of course, Nigerians and other African people who stream across the Sahara desert and climb into crude dugouts to fare the seas get enslaved. In barely useable, inflated water-balloons some drown in the process. Others die of thirst and hunger in the Sahara desert. So, the Mediterranean Sea is littered with the corpses of Africans who go down daily when the water dinghies capsize and the Sahara is replete with Nigerian corpses fossilised by the heat and aridity of the desert. To be more graphic, Nigerian corpses rank high in the nourishment of the fish and other marine animals of the Mediterranean Sea and constitute the bulk of the supply of victuals for the vultures and foxes of the desert. Although not a cause to celebrate, those who successfully get to land on the other side end up as household slaves in Arabia or petty manual labourers toiling in the dingy holes of Europe or leading the lives of plain tramps. Many of our daughters are plying the sex trade in the iniquitous alley ways of the world and many of our sons are stealing and running illicit drugs errands for criminal gangs everywhere else.

Thus, our country is increasingly underprivileged and in a poor report in the community of the people of the world. But we are too familiar with the assault on the dignity of the Black people that we have become virtually inured to the shock and shame. And so, what has been aptly typologised as the modern slavery is not the concern of this essay.

Rather, we are interested in the essentials of the crisis of Nigeria and what it portends for our people. The varied impact of the crisis may appear sufficiently established. Nevertheless, it is worthy of this interrogation against the background of the chain of causality of the current economic crisis.

I hold that the bane of our country is the poverty of politics. Perhaps, I should reframe the point and clarify the matter a bit further. The motivation to create Nigeria was not politics. It was economics. Right from the appointment of Consul Beecroft in late 19th century, through the Tubman Goldie commercial forays and unstinting banditry in our shores to especially, his recruitment of Frederick Lugard to superintend and extend the Niger Company and later, British commercial interests, the guiding principles behind the task were economic. In fact, it is safe to state that politics or the colonial administration was much later superimposed on the seized economic structure. Therefore, the purpose of the colonial administration was to aggregate the resources and employ the indigenous people mainly through corvee labour relations to enable European traders to enjoy the freedom to exploit and eventually, empower the foreign rulers.

Another basic drawback in our country has been related to the peculiar manner of the decolonisation process was ab initio, tied to the colonial purpose. As Chief Anthony Enahoro succinctly put the matter in 1985, Nigeria seems to be the only country “in the entire history of the anti-colonial struggles … in which those who fought for independence were not those who had the privilege and the historic duty of meeting the challenges of independence…

The truth of the matter, which determined efforts to falsify history cannot forever conceal, is that the nationalists who were prepared to work, to fight, to risk, to dare – to die if need be – so that a new and democratic nation might be born, lost control of the situation and were displaced or succeeded by those who had remained untouched by the unifying and modernising flames of the new nationalism… When independence came in the fullness of time, neither the goodwill of progressive forces… nor our trade unions, nor our youth could prevent the inevitable course of events when those who were least disposed towards democracy became the official guardians of our fledgeling democracy.”

Anyone would agree that the historicity of the decolonisation process also exemplifies the kind of animadversion that has trailed our politics. But I shall be content to critique the present and thus restrict myself to the reigning arguments in our polity. In other words, I am of the view that the brickbats and grandstanding whether between the organs of government or arrayed in the habiliment of the uncritical engagement with the symptoms of our failings border on pollyannish celebration of disillusionment. That is to say that the current course of politics in our country may not be in the right context to yield the fruits for sustainable being in the present or help with the future tasks. For that matter, the contents of our political character actually endanger all of us as Nigerians. And so, national politics needs to be redirected for the next generations. In its existing form, politics in Nigeria is progressively tending towards counter-development. This could be interlinked with other factors if we integrate the historical into the extant combination of class failure and the abnegation of the intelligentsia. These have rueful implications and thus challenge regular arm chair intellectualising.

In a few words, our country has been ensnared in the politics of housekeeping. The work of government has been reduced to haggling in the national market of accounts allocation. This is another way of stating that the authoritative allocation of values and resources has become similar with dispensing the household disposable income between the kitchen needs and a subscription to the Recreation Club. This manner of living in the pot of soup and a splash in the swimming pool afterwards should be greatly worrisome to all patriotic Nigerians. It should be more frightening in the face of the benumbing inability to structure concrete national templates for the creative application of the energy and resources of our people.

But Nigeria was not always like it is, currently. For instance, the colonial rulers while serving their primary purpose of material wealth extraction also hesitated to develop Nigeria along the peripheral economic lines like Kenya or Cote d’Ivoire. The colonial modelling of Nigeria that was peculiar should be understandable given the complexity between the traditional and competition with the modern segments and the futuristic need to create cohesive economic organisations. Thus the colonials recognised that the awful policy repercussion of a totally dependent, peripheral capitalist state in Nigeria. They then took counsel that such a structure held obvious scary auguries for the unity of the Nigerian state. In fact, they seem to have reasoned that unmitigated peripheralism could threaten the future prosperity of the country. Hence, the colonials although, sometimes pretentious, but rethought the entire economic architecture.

This was evident in the parent national development plan of 1946 and the visible efforts to maximise the economic potentials of our country. In the second plan of 1955, the decentralisation of economic opportunities was raised to new heights and enabled momentous changes to be wrought in our country.

The indigenous Nigerian leaders who were just being entrusted with real governance by 1955 recognised and accepted this point, that Nigeria was an economic asset. They sought to multiplicate the plausible fruits in the localised economy in order to extend benefits to their constituents. Indeed, the first set of indigenous leaders grabbed the concomitant opportunity of competitive economic interchanges with both hands. The culmination of the federalisation of the centres of economic action accordingly, predicated the cocoa boom, groundnut pyramids, palm oil and rubber plenitude. In point of fact, while some of the agricultural inputs like rubber, cocoa and some species of cotton may have been introduced from outside, the Nigerian producers leveraged the foreign inputs to develop an autochthonous production system.

In addition, between 1955 and 1966, Nigerian leaders invested the proceeds of agricultural production not only in physical infrastructure but also, in cognising the path to modernisation and, to wit, the extension of educational and other social welfare needs of the people. At least, at the subnational levels, the economy yielded incomes to feed the treasury. As in the forefront of aspirations was the economy, so, the concern was a life more abundant, as the slogan in Western Nigeria captured the thrust of the ambitious policy. That was over fifty years ago. How further have we moved our country to stellar heights!

We have already noted that the peculiarities of the colonial exit from Nigeria, which may have also constrained the replication of the regional gains at the national level. But that is precisely the point. Nigeria’s economic engine works best at the grassroots level; it is the local energy that fuels our economic growth.

The relocation of resources to the central level in the late 1960s through early 1970s was chiefly due to the civil war and the need for reconstruction of the economic assets devastated by the war. And in every war economy, resources are centralised to successfully respond to the problems generated by the concrete conflictual situations. In the historic case of Nigeria also, it was such similar gathering of the resources of all at the centre that entailed that she did not borrow to fund the prosecution of the war. But again, everywhere else there was the centralisation of individual assets for the purpose of national emergency such as a war, the status quo antebellum is restored upon the resolution of the conflict. On the contrary in our country, the concentration of the economic assets at the centre was retained. The resistance to a return to the model that once worked has almost become impervious to logic. And the centripetal and centrifugal arguments are locked in combat state, each side almost uncannily immovable like the Stonehenge.

To be more exact, Nigeria still has a war economy with all resources conscripted and relocated at the centre. Paradoxically, while the soldiers who were similarly conscripted or subtly persuaded to partake in the civil war were demobilised; some enjoyed a pension, others paid compensation for the loss of limbs, the animating economic levers compulsorily realigned are still held hostage to the ghosts of the civil war. The Nigerian economy is still in a state of war. It is counterintuitive that the political combatants wrangle and highlight devolution of power whereas the real issues of economic resurgence are scoffed. In brief, the current debate should be redirected at clarifying the profile of economic responsibilities of the constituent parts of our country. This seems the most reasonable way to negotiate our interrelationships, underpin and power a reasonably useful new constitutional order.

This brings us to the significance of what we had alluded to and widely accepted as the characteristics of the pre-colonial economy. There were products of competitive advantage in the spatial economic geography of what became the Nigerian nation. One example is cotton, a product that was in abundance in Kano and environs, northern Yoruba country and in the deeper reaches of the former Benin Province. The colonial regime tried but failed to modify the indigenous Kano cotton variety. The attempts at its suppression and replacement by the Ugandan type also came to grief. The northern Yoruba native cotton species which products include the adire thrived within the ritual culture of celebration of birth and death alike but suffered greatly from the colonial policy of dumping of cheap fabrics from overseas, which has been exacerbated by the current practices.

The Ishan cotton of the present Edo State, Nigeria was smuggled into Egypt in 1830 by Jumel, crossbred and modified in cultivar multiplication, and resulted in the modern Egyptian cotton. Perhaps, it may sound unfamiliar to many that a part of the Ishan cotton of Nigeria forms a strategic component of the military arsenal and nuclear weaponry of the United States of America.

The point is that we have stopped to think about what makes our country tick. Rather than thinking creatively of employing our endowment in the most beneficial manner, there has been less economic visioning. In fact, Nigeria has been reduced to a political kitchen. Politics has trumped economics in our country so much that to be in power now tantamount to being given the key to the cave of Ali Baba and the forty thieves.

Some scholars like Akindele, Chijioke and Feridun infer an innate class character in the opportunism that has taken the centre stage in our country. They state that it relates to the leadership elite made up of the petit-bourgeoisie, “more interested in the leading positions of power and privilege than in effecting a radical transformation of the state and the society around it.” The class character could help to explain the failure to interrogate the non-commensurability of the set of free market theories informing the masking of the economic crisis in Nigeria.

We can afford to dilate on this point a bit and relate it to the example of Candidate Muhammadu Buhari. During the 2014-2015 political hustings, Buhari came across as an economic nationalist. He disavowed the prurient claims, on live television programmes, about the oil industry. He was more emphatic that Nigeria needed to return to production-based economic activities not only in agriculture but in the continuation of efforts at processing of local production and leverage towards secondary industrialisation. But there was a noticeable policy vacuum in the teething days of the Buhari presidency. And seizing the chance, the remnants and stragglers of the ancie regime goaded the Buhari government to accept and regurgitate the failed policies of the World Bank and IMF. The Naira was consequently devalued and the petroleum industry unhinged. Still, two years after, the fundamental drawbacks of the economy are not close to being resolved. Worse still is that the perceived expert advisers of yesterday have become the most virulent detractors of the so-called Buharinomics today!

To bring the point home, the otherwise sensible economic programmes of the Buhari presidency seem to have yielded the way and could, as a result, become victims of cheap political brinkmanship. Sadly, a coterie of his opponents has conjugated with a faction of his ostensible acolytes to despoil the present economic prospects and arrest the future prosperity of our country.

In summary, the creation of Nigeria was motivated by economic considerations, not politics. Only a return to sensible economic thinking would redeem our country. I recognise that this position presents dialectical binary options. The elite failure to take cognisance of the drawbacks in the present local economic environment may have elucidated the nature and model of the crises in our country, both in context and trajectory. But the implications of everyone folding hands in siddon-look and watch the leadership elite while the rot putrefies and seeps are dreadful. Everybody sitting on the fence will only help to disaggregate the role of the general run of the elite as the modernising segment of the population.

That is to state that it is not only the failure of Nigeria’s leadership elite to conceptualise development that should be troubling. But also, the consequences of non-commitment of the patriotic segment of the intelligentsia to the moral good of our country would continue to leave our country open to distortions and gruesome intervention of untoward foreign interests.

It is the time we all return to the barricades of the struggle to reclaim our country, regain the lost grounds and thus end the current de-incentivising politics of housekeeping. In other words, we need to seize the currently inviting chance to reorganise the economy of our country and situate it within production-based activities. Nigeria has an unshirkable destiny to fulfil in the world. She even has an abundance of opportunity to put the Black person on the Moon in a decade or two and it is our duty to patriotically boost her chances to do so. Every Nigerian owes the duty of the redemption of the Black race to our motherland.

Dr. Ebhohimhen lives in Benin City.

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