Nigeria has been work-in-progress for so long it might well be past its sell-by date. I know. Folks will be minded to reply that no country may legitimately claim “finished goods” status.
It is not that “history” ends that way. But that at that point, any economy is disposable. Change ─ that’s got to be man and his societies’ permanent status.
Each process iteration must, as in Johann Fichte’s description of Hegel’s triad, end in a qualitatively superior (newer) state.
Yet, the sense that you get when you contemplate the fact that Nigeria is experimenting with its Fourth Republic, is of a state in which the denizens constantly feel the need to hit the “reset” button to avoid being backed up in a cul-de-sac.
And existential, though, the conversations in our space might be today, they remain redolent of pre-independence narratives. Why is it, therefore, that the more things seem to change here, the more they remain the same? Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was lucky never to have looked in on the Nigerian state, or its equivalent.
But he wouldn’t have failed to notice how resilient its principal characters are. The names that we associate with power in Nigeria have a longevity that’s disquieting because it may be the single most important explanation of the nation’s stasis.
With its dramatis personae unchanged, the state has retained the enthusiasms with which the political class seized independence from our colonial masters ─ if not the same level of competence. Especially today, the Nigerian state, and its organising cohort retain an off-putting bulimia for the commanding heights of the economy.
Whereas at independence, there was a faint case for the state controlling the economy in order to reverse the hurt to it from colonial rule, today access by the state to the main economic levers is but part of the hobbling of state resources by (and for the benefit of) our version of the nomenklatura.
No less incompetent than was the Soviet original, our nomenklatura is sworn to the same time-worn policies, persuaded of the efficacy of a one-size-fits-all mindset to policy challenges, and has (not surprisingly) failed in managing the space as a political, economic, and/or social construct.
At its margins, civil society appears to have changed. At the margins, yet again, of civil society, interesting conversations have continued over the role of the state in an economy ─ especially one as in need of new ideas as ours.
Debate festers regularly over which of these should have pre-eminent position in the design of policy: equality of opportunity; or equality of outcomes. And how to go about bringing about either.
Still, in Nigeria, the interface between a civil society in which much vibrant discourses take place and a public sector space in which the dead hand of tradition rules is, however, dominated by a quirk.
On one hand, key voices in the non-government echo chambers understand the publicity that this gives them in terms of the facility with which they could leverage access into government. And from there parlay national asset into private pockets, as one would a dog on a leash.
On the other hand, and this is the more interesting part, no less important talking heads in civil society look at an overly strong government and see sundry threats to their marginally successful ways of life.
This is the point at which family calls the young man who deigns to publicly express an opinion to remind him of how payment for daddy’s contract with some state government might be imperilled by the sense that a scion of the family is openly “anti-government”.
Or the employer calls to remind the would-be activist employee that the industry regulator is sure to take a dim view of his opinions on social media.
While this cohort might be less venal than those who argue for a different approach to managing the economy as a negotiating position for reaching public office, the net effect is the same. An overly strong government continues to plod along as it always has.
And important sections of our society (the ones with the power, legitimately, to deny citizens freedom) continue to conflate (and exact revenge against) concerns with improper management of the economy with acts of lèse-majesté ─ neither of which is a crime in these parts.
“Just sad that we are a government nation. Everything starts and ends with government”, is the way a friend characterises the problem. “The problem is the corporate sector’s dependence on the benevolence of government”, she continued.
Pressed to proffer a solution, she wagers that this might lie “with journalism – social media, too, which is gradually becoming the conscience of the nation”.
But this line of thought did not answer the question of why corporate Nigeria is in hock to the private sector. Here, she implicates “government’s policies”.
That way, the cycle was complete. Effete governments demand blind obedience from civil society – including the markets.
Accordingly, emasculated captains of industry prostrate themselves in the corridors of government – reinforcing the latter’s strong and strangulating hold on the economy.
The challenge before the rest of us remains how to finally break this cycle at a point where it matters.