A Road Map Out of Nigeria’s Stagnation By Ayo Olukotun
Nigeria is the sixth largest provider of petroleum in the world… but that is the end of the good news. The citizens of this oil and gas country regularly suffer excruciating scarcities of petroleum products. Refineries have been left to decay and we now import refined products from abroad including from Senegal, a non-oil producing country that has only one refinery”
– Prof. Chibuzo Nwoke, Lead City Inaugural lecture, November 7, 2013
Inaugural lectures whereby a professor newly or recently appointed brings to a largely academic audience a synthesis of his research endeavours, locates them within current debates in the discipline and provides a prospectus of future research, are by definition highbrow affairs.
In the policy sciences however, inaugural lectures are situated at the interstices of academic research and wider governance issues that invite public attention. Sometimes, the lecturer, as in the case of Prof. Chibuzo Nwoke of the Department of International Relations at Lead City University, may provocatively situate his narrative in topical and urgent matters that glow on the front burner of the nation’s discourse map.
Nwoke’s lecture delivered on Thursday, entitled: “Rich Land; Poor People: The Political Economy of Mineral Resource Endowment in a Peripheral Capitalist State”, wrestled with a problem, indeed an enigma, that has baffled many Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. The puzzle is simply this: Why should a magnificently resourced country vegetate for so long at the lowest rungs of the international pecking order in virtually every development league table?
As the opening quote indicates, there is a terrible mismanagement of all of our resource endowments illustrated by the spectacular fiascos in the oil sector which has resulted in gargantuan oil subsidy rip-offs, the breakdown of our refineries and the importation of petroleum products from every conceivable country in the world including Senegal which is not an oil-producing country and has only one refinery.
Nwoke spells out meticulously Nigeria’s mineral endowments which span the terrains of building and construction, industry minerals, fuel minerals, steel industry minerals, non-ferrous minerals, industrial and manufacturing minerals, strategic minerals as well as precious metals and gem stones. Arguing that mineral capabilities are critically important in the building of civilisations and technological cultures, he goes on to show that were Nigeria’s far flung mineral repertoire ably harnessed and proactively managed, the country would by now be in the top league of the world’s industrial players with appreciable mark up in human development indices to show for its foresight.
He underscores his point with an interesting comparison of Nigeria and Malaysia both of which are former British colonies with similar features of primary production at independence: 1957 for Malaysia and 1960 for Nigeria. In contrast to Malaysia, which ranks 64 on the Human Development Index, which measures quality of life of citizens, Nigeria ranks 153; 76 per cent of Malaysia’s exports are in manufactured goods compared to Nigeria’s two per cent. That is not all. Life expectancy in Malaysia is roughly 75 years, a figure comparable to what obtains in any of the world’s advanced economies while Nigeria’s remains at 52 years. Similarly, Malaysia has an unemployment figure of 3.3 per cent in contrast to Nigeria’s 40 per cent.
As is well known, it was from Nigeria that Malaysia reportedly obtained palm kernel seedlings and acquired the technology of palm oil production in the 1960s. Today, Malaysia is the major producer of palm oil in the world market while Nigeria from where she borrowed the seedlings hardly features in the global trade in palm oil. It should be noted that it is not just Malaysia’s rapid ascent to world class development levels that is of interest here but its ability to come up with an inclusive model that alters for good the quality of life of a majority of its citizens. This is a devastating rebuke Nwoke insists on Nigeria’s neo-liberal growth model which celebrates an enclave and non-inclusive growth strategy based more or less on dictations from the IMF and World Bank.
The diary of woes arising from an unimaginative leadership and a severely defective development model includes, Nwoke maintains, the return to debt slavery with Nigeria’s debt profile currently standing at $44bn cancelling out in effect what he called “the debt relief illusion that was orchestrated by the western creditors in collusion with the Obasanjo administration.” It also includes the defining albatross of insufficient electricity supply and consumption with several promises to ameliorate the situation going unredeemed. Nwoke demonstrates using the latest data available that Nigeria features the lowest consumption of electricity per capita among the 11 members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It also, despite having the highest population among OPEC members, generates the lowest volume of electricity. Transport, health and education similarly remain in the doldrums resulting in a situation for example, whereby, as the lecturer makes clear, “health facilities have been so neglected that the poor go there only to die.”
Complicating the dismal economic performance is a political system which reproduces instability, factionalisation and many of the indices of a failed state. He alludes, as supporting evidence, to an opinion piece by Dr. Reuben Abati, a former The Guardian columnist, and now presidential spokesperson, which maintained that: “Nigeria is sick. The country has since slipped into coma. It is dying. The evidence can be found in the ironies of our circumstances and how the nation has remained immobile on all fronts.” Nwoke goes on to show that leadership regimes that are characterised by rascality and indiscipline, that lack ideological content and fail to build effective institutions are bound to produce the depressing and tragic dysfunctions that he eloquently iterated.
What then is way out? The lecturer advocates a people’s developmental state governed by what he called “a visionary and nationalist leadership with imagination, a leadership that has been emancipated from the intellectual orientation of neo-colonial slaves.” That panacea is of course a sound one; the problem however is how to organise that outcome within the current electoral system which tends to rig out the visionary and reformist wing of the national political elite. One can also ask the question whether in the absence of a thorough going re-compacting of the Nigerian state as well as an overhaul of the current over-centralised polity that is federal only in name such an outcome can be realised. It remains to be seen whether the national dialogue being planned by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration will be audacious enough to throw up such ennobling scenarios as the lecturer advocates.
Nwoke, a political economy scholar of the left nationalist variety, sketches in conclusion a strategic agenda for self-reliant development. Although some of his proposals such as a 100 per cent national ownership and control of the mineral sector may be controversial, others such as production for economic emancipation, investment in human capital development, food security as well as the grooming of indigenous technological research and development centres of excellence are indeed urgently required.
True, some of these already exist in policy documents and rudimentary shapes but they require to be driven by an imaginative leadership and a disciplined national elite. An open question which many in the audience took away however is whether these are on the cards for now.
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