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E don tay, no be today

August 1, 2009

Much of what is going on in some of these [West African] countries is fully explained in terms of the normal lust of human beings for power and wealth. The stakes are high. Office carries power, prestige and wealth.

The power is incredible. Most West African Ministers [read: politicians of whatever ilk] consider themselves to be above the law, and are treated as such by the police.

Decision-making is arbitrary. Decisions which more advanced countries leave to civil servants and technicians are in those countries made by Ministers, often without consulting expert advice.

The prestige is also incredible. Men who claim who claim to be democrats in fact behave like emperors. Personifying the state, they dress themselves up in uniforms, build themselves palaces, bring all other traffic to a standstill when they drive, hold fancy parades, and generally demand to treated as Egyptian Pharaohs.

And the money is incredible. Successful politicians receive, even if only (s)elected to Parliament, salaries two to four times [these multiples are of course outdated] more than they previously earned [if they earned anything at all], plus per diem allowances, travelling expenses [aka estacode] and other fringe benefits.

There are also a vast pickings in bribes, state contracts, diversion of public funds to private uses, and commissions of various sorts. To be a Minister is to have a lifetime’s chance to make a fortune.

The above is by Arthur Lewis, only black Nobel Laureate in Economics, in his study of one-party states in West Africa published in 1965. Culled from The State of Africa, a History of Fifty Years of Independence by Martin Meredith. On a brighter note checks and balances, representative and accountable governments aren’t foreign to Nigeria – the pre-colonial kingdoms in the north, south east and west of the country attest to this. Still Naija’s present turns this argument on its head. Plus ca change?

Despite power cuts [more like utter darkness], ritual murder [or political ritual oaths at that], immobilized airlines, self-congratulation by the government and fervent prayer by the people; and despite an intermittent and artificially created fuel shortage among other abuses and importunities, many basic activities never failed and others were instituted, for better or worse.

Cities were fed, even through serious recurrent and long-lived fuel shortages. Cross-border trade in an ever-increasing variety of goods flourished. The drug trade expanded. Urban building slowed down but did not come to a standstill – and neither did mechanised farming. Made-in-Nigeria beer was always available. Banking rose and then crashed. Artisanal and even small-scale industrial production continued and actually expanded.

As government monopoly of oil revenues passed from a phase of control and redistribution to one of sheer hiding and hoarding [bunkering], and private individuals invested abroad, capital was withdrawn from to the day-to-day economy and so, eventually, was all official attention.

From the introduction to Money Struggles and City Life: Devaluation in Ibadan and Other Urban Centres in Southern Nigeria 1986-1996 by Jane Guyer. Looking at the past as the present,  you may be tempted to think that not much has changed. Is Nigeria’s socio-political and economic woe “a strange animal – it affects everything and yet changes nothing?” (A twist of the words used by a friend, based in the UK, to describe the global downturn).

Wetin man pickin fit do?! Get blogging or at least commenting online eg, Nigeria Village Square. It’s said that  UMY fervently follows the slew of articles and comments on NVS to get a pulse of what Nigerians are saying and thinking. Trust me, I tried it and it works; if you’re factual, constructive and keep to issues.

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