(By Paul Odili) – Society grows when leaders plant trees whose shade they may never sit under — Greek Proverb
This tirade speaks for itself. The political class in Nigeria has not demonstrated competence; it has no sense of national mission, ideology and, or commitment. It takes the people of Nigeria for granted. It assumes that the people can be bought and manipulated and that it has the tools of how to do this.
It has gotten away with great misplacement of goals because, so far, it has not been taught a lesson by the people, and has, therefore, become hubristic. In this regard, Nigerians are advised to regard with strong skepticism signs of intelligence, humility or piety by the political class. They are not to be trusted.
When they abuse and mismanage their positions of power and the political offices, the political class is not worried about sanctions because the sanction regime designed by the system of laws is scarcely a deterrent.
The laws inherently formulated by the political class have so much loopholes that it has enabled them to run rings around it, hold the laws captive, sabotage the system of sanction and, or, hijack it.
Thus, you find that with the law already flawed, the authorities empowered by the law to enforce it: the court, police and other security agencies have been so weakened they have become supplicants to the powerful.
To survive, the law enforcement authorities acquiesce with the political class by protecting and giving it succour – even when their material and professional wellbeing have been catered off by the political class.
As if the harm done by the rapacious greed of the political class is not enough, the shadow government (bureaucracy) that ought to be the bulwark against this perfidy, have more than shown its willingness to support the pulverisation of the system.
Instead of protecting the civil service system of rules, order and discipline, the bureaucracy has allowed the virtual collapse of its core values of service. The bureaucracy has become a system of power instead of a system of service, rules and values.
The bureaucracy has accumulated so much power that it will be a remiss not to connect it to the dot in the persistent national morass and misdirection. To the general populace the notion is that the bureaucracy is hapless under the misguided authority of the political class – this assumption is a far cry from reality.
By ordinary appearance and physical mien, operatives in this bureaucratic dystopia have perfected the act of dissimulation, the impression is passed off that when guilty it is because the political class in power made them do so.
Yet the truth is murky. The fact is that the bureaucrats are the only ones who genuinely know where the ‘bodies’ are buried, how to draft memos to hide, guide, bury or resurrect it. The politicians in office, most times unprepared for the position they occupy, lack the experience and knowledge of the large bureaucratic game, are swallowed up, controlled and played like a violin by the operatives within the bureaucracy.
On the economic front the political class has not figured out how to create a more balanced and less polarising economy. It instead created and consolidated an extractive economy. This is because the extractive economy serves its selfish, short term, primitive access to wealth.
With this perverse mindset, constructing a productive economy will conflict with their selfishness and greed. Because building a productive economy would mean deferring gratification, it would mean making sacrifices; creating a productive economy would entail waiting for long term returns than immediate sharing of proceeds.
No, they are not cut out for that. Seduced by greed of unearned income, they became parasitic, because it is easier to make wealth living off rent from extraction than to create production.
The distributive economy that came out of extraction has not created much instead what came out is: mass poverty, high unemployment, an extremely unequal society with the few rich getting richer, in fact becoming oligarchic rich – another term when you examine closer might mean legally stealing public resources and assets – while the poor get poorer.
Forty years ago facing balance of payment difficulties and under pressure from western creditors the military under President Babangida succumbed and embraced neo-liberal orthodoxy to enable it get out of this jam, consequently ending the welfare state and the industrial development of the country.
The neoliberal ideas hold that the best way to produce and distribute societal resources is through free-market mechanism – with the core tenet that countries adopt privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation of its economy. Since doing this every index of development has stalled.
You would expect that as the civilians take over power there would be greater debate and a rethink of this Washington imposed programme, but as anyone can see it has enjoyed great continuity.
Why? Because the net effect of neoliberal ideas is to de-industrialise Nigeria and in its wake create a replacement that meets the greed of the political class in the form of a deeply financialised economy. The financial sector is posting record profits – stocks, bonds, forex market, real estate, while the rest of the economy is stagnant with low employment and low paying jobs.
Not only that, the value of national currency has weakened greatly, a sign of the volatility of a financialised economy; moreover, the economy has become even more import dependent with limited exports of goods and services.
The implication of all this is that national cohesion is completely broken. Every segment of the society is complaining of marginalisation, even the parts of the country that others view as having dominated power. The North says it is marginalised, the Southwest, South-south, Southeast all clamour for more and are accusing others of taking undue advantage.
All of this is because of lack of economic opportunities for the masses. Consequently, the level of insecurity has metastasized – every part of the country is facing security meltdown. We see malcontents everywhere, a clear evidence of a society sucked dry by their political class.
So what is the way forward? Implicit in the foregoing criticism is also the solution. Nigerians have to rouse themselves and not be led by nose by their political class. Nigerians should be resolute in asking question and demanding answers.
There should be alignment of a new radical political force different from the existing political order. It is not going to be easy to make progress because of lack of radical political education. Nigerians must be deeply involved in the search for alternative ideas, platforms and leaders for the creation of a new Nigeria.
The Nigeria elite created by the British and their successors have failed woefully. Will this happen quickly? Unlikely, peaceful changes occur at evolutionary speed but for a journey of a thousand miles the first steps must begin today. Meanwhile the stumbling will continue, the pains will continue, the struggle must therefore begin.
*Odili, a social commentator, wrote from Asaba, Delta State.