AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT

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HAS THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT FINALLY COME TO NIGERIA?

By

Chukwuemeka Uche Onuora

cuonuora@hotmail.com

 

 

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The underlying cautious optimism expressed in the title of this piece is an indication of the subtle changes that experts on the ground and soldiers in the grind have started to see in Nigeria today. As superficial as the changes might seem to those in the relative comfort and security of the Diaspora, they are indicative of seismic shifts that are occurring in the "geoconomic" composition of Nigerian reality. Positive as the changes are, they are still fraught with the same irregularities that have come to characterize Nigerian society as a whole, and the "wayo" theatrics that are an embodiment of our national pastime. Some might argue that this analysis is premature at this point in time. However, I am emboldened by what I see and hear from those on the ground, and I hope to confirm or refute my allegations eventually. I will definitely publish a retraction with as much gusto as I opine this argument right now if the need ever arises. But from what I can see right now, there are signs, you just have to know what to look for. In the final analysis, one can only hope that we prevail ultimately and that my bubble-economic theories are validated in due time.

Charting a balanced course on the treacherous path to development and parity on an international level in terms of economic and political activity in any society is the ultimate responsibility of its citizens. The social implications of a people collectively shirking their responsibility to their reality, apart from resulting in eventual sociocide, serve as a case study in societal madness, and should be studied from all angles and analyzed by different means. This provides some insight into a people's propensity for a permanent fixation on the anti-life as the natural state of their existence, and the attendant anomalies that this penchant presents. It is convenient to place the blame for this miserable state of affairs on the derelict Status Quo within said society. However, it is indicative of wider putrefaction in the moral fiber of the society at large. In Nigeria today, we have arrived at a salient juncture; we must decide to tread water in stagnant comfort or die swimming in an effort to uproot our mentality and reality from the gutters of world public opinion and inhumanity. As legitimate stakeholders in the future of our society, we can no longer surrender our right to be governed to a bunch of moronic imbeciles (sic) moonlighting as political leaders. We invest our rights in our elected leaders and as such, they owe us returns on our investment in them; however, the ultimate responsibility for demanding these returns rests with us, the governed. That was the deal we signed, that is our social contract. Instead they have proceeded to utilize the sophisticated tactics of ethnic dismemberment to misdirect our attentions and divide our efforts. Except for a few good men and women who have generally been rendered irrelevant by the relevance of mediocrity in our society, we have been cursed (a few co-opted goons say blessed) by the phenomenon of midnight marauders, plundering rapists and pirates, floundering brigands and rascals, continuously leading us on trips to nowhere. We are by and large victims of the biggest 419 scam ever devised by human intellect and scientific ingenuity. But nothing I have said in the preceding lines is new or a radical departure from the reality of our prevailing circumstances; what we must now do, is employ special techniques germane to our anomalous condition and in so doing salvage some reprieve from the opprobrium and revolting psychological hemophilia of our way of life.

In various media, I have read (with increasing optimism) of Nigerian professionals and entrepreneurs making inroads into our burgeoning IT sector, and using it as a tool for rapid development and radical evolution. I have read repeatedly of confident revolutionaries proposing and establishing SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) as alternative engines for growth within the Nigerian economy. In contrast to our ridiculous over-reliance on government largesse as the final arbiter and determinant of business success in Nigeria, daring patriots have stepped forward and staked their comfort on their belief in the opportunities that abound even within a sordid contraption like Nigeria. They have decided to seize their destiny from the clutches of myopic "leaders" by charting an economic kismet that is aligned with the wishes of the general population. Even though they still need help from government to provide the enabling environment for them to perform their "magic", Nigeria has long been a country of BYI (Bring Your Infrastructure). These ingenious pioneers are forging the determinant of their success in the fire of their patriotic zeal to do right by their fatherland, but at the same time, reap tremendous business profits from said endeavor. They are circumventing the pedantic S.O.P that western imperialists encouraged their fore-fathers to adopt, and that the neo-colonial errand boys in political power have chosen to champion; choosing instead to defy western economic indices and standards by refining their own brand of entrepreneurship, rooted in a balance between capitalist conservatism and societal responsibility.

Life is all about percentages, and though the obviously positive picture that I paint in regards to this brand of Nigerians might appear fantastic to most people, it is quite the contrary. The reason that we have not acknowledged this sluggish change in mentality (and its resulting impact on the conduct of business in general), is because a higher percentage of Nigerians eschew the harsh freedom and sacrifices of entrepreneurial ingenuity, and still rely on government largesse as the ultimate determinant of sound business principles. Some of those who are locked out of this avenue to wealth are driven to the extremes of criminal ingenuity, while some are emboldened to build their own enterprises by depending on the resourcefulness of their abilities and the vacillations of chance. The pattern of quietly dogged innovation and creativity goes unheralded because the pillars of the Nigerian private sector (variously called OPS - Organized Private Sector), rest on the shaky foundation and ethnically jingoistic sentiments of government patronage. The fact that references to the private sector in Nigeria contains the qualifier "organized" is indicative of a latent acquiescence to this concept of government as the final arbiter of entrepreneurial success, hence their need to lobby government for patronage and largesse. As mere extensions of the whims and caprices of the existing power structure (not as representatives of the people), governments in Nigeria measure their economic and political success by the number of their cronies and sundry sycophantic philanderers that they are able to "blow-up" or "rehabilitate". They do not measure or care to examine the impact of their policies on the socio-economic landscape of Nigeria by quantifiable macro and micro-economic feedback from the middle-class and other strata of society. Instead, the Status Quo is concerned with the exact definition of its nomenclature, perpetuating the rule of the glutinous and myopic few, over the aspirations and concerns of the besieged many. However, the time has come when we have to seize the initiative from government and move forward irrespective of the cost to life and limb. Like I said, life is all about percentages, all Nigerians cannot begin to think this way, but we need enough of them to do so. The greatest indicator that will signal the enthronement of a vibrant and successful IT sector will not be a preponderance of blue chip behemoths a la Nigerian versions or subsidiaries of Microsoft/HP/Dell etc., but rather a flourishing cornucopia of Small-to-Medium sized IT organizations. We need mom and pop IT shops to spring up around technology hubs and institutions, because most of the innovations that drive technological advancements, leading to entrepreneurial ventures and consequently to economic growth, originate in the vigorous environment of intellectual inquiry and the resourcefulness of commercial genius in any society. However, the finances that will fund these enterprises to their fruition cannot come solely from government. They must come from the varied coffers of individual and institutional investors such as banks, investment funds, sundry members of the OPS, and (though some will disagree vehemently) the deep pockets of "ex-thises" and "ex-thats" in Nigerian society. By this I mean that the selfish (some will say evil) beneficiaries of government largesse in the form of contracts and other forms of ill-gotten wealth in Nigeria, must reinvest those funds in the economy for our society to stand a chance. And investment cannot simply mean lodging said funds in the sorry excuses for banks that we have in Nigeria, who in turn invest the money as loans (at exorbitant interest rates of about 20%) to a new crop of government contractors and opportunists. Government funds should only be disbursed as a facilitator of entrepreneurial activity and not as largesse to a few connected individuals, but even if it has been spent like that in the past, these few beneficiaries must in turn reinvest said funds in the local economy as opposed to siphoning off these sums of money to foreign banks and investment outfits, thereby pressurizing the already overburdened local economy.

Nigeria has become a nation of consumers, we do not produce anything of value to the world at large except oil; and with the impending reentry of Iraq to the world petroleum market, our foreign reserves and earnings will be further pressurized, leading to a continued spiral of our currency and economy, further exacerbating an already dire situation. The IT sector must strive to reverse this trend of non-production of goods and services to both the local and international economy by harnessing the expertise and limited resources available to us. The start-up capital needed to establish an information-based enterprise is much less than what used to be the case in the industrial age. We have to encourage all individuals and groups with the resources to do so, to pursue investment opportunities locally. We must engender a mentality of proactive-participation instead of siddon-look criticism; job-men (and job-women for that matter) will also have to invest their ill-gotten gains into legitimate businesses. Some will argue that this development will only serve as a laundering process for their tainted money, but I choose the pragmatic approach to the issue, I would rather Nigerian job-men and job-women launder their ill-gotten wealth in software, communications, networking, and other sundry companies in Nigeria than in Swiss banks abroad. Perhaps the opportunities and growth that they will fund will reduce the Nigerian youth's over-reliance on "job" as a means of survival. If viable and legitimate alternatives were available, I make bold to say that we would see a reduction in the preponderance of able-bodied and gifted youth involved in defrauding "mgbadas" the world over. The same goes for professional contractors and government sycophants and other manifestations of political "thugery". The trends that I discuss here do not relate solely to the IT sector, however, since this is my field, it is natural to my sensibilities and I will use it as a case study to propose my thesis.

With the growing realization within the Nigerian IT community that the government (as it has shown with all other sectors of the Nigerian economy), really has neither a clue on charting a progressive course/initiative for the sector, nor the wherewithal or will to create an enabling environment, comes a determined strategy to seize the reigns of leadership from the deadened hands of government maladministration. Hitherto, the sector was complacent enough to let government stumble around in the utter confusion and delusions of its ignorance, waiting for a decisive policy that will articulate their (the IT sector's) aspirations. But there are strong indicators that such pacifism is no longer the case. At the recently concluded African IT Exhibition and Conference, AITEC 2003, in Lagos, the promise of rejuvenation within the ICT sector was reinforced. Just as one of the participants rightly observed at the opening ceremony of AITEC Nigeria 2003, "Nigeria is not there yet but on course". (See http://www.bday.org/article_2283.shtml). The plans for an African Computing & Telecommunications, ACT 2003, Summit to be hosted by Nigeria in August, this year, indicates a growing fortitude to consecrate an era of Nigerian IT dominance, not only as a facilitator of development, or an alternative foreign exchange earner for the country, but also for engendering a flourishing renaissance of our society.

A recent article in Businessday.org (a leading Nigerian business daily) about the reverse trend in migrations amongst some Nigerian professionals has necessitated my decision to expound and proclaim the positives of such a development, even in the midst of precarious opposition to my logic in the form of the recent chaos of elections 2003. The proclamations of the winners and the utterances of the losers of the election overheated the polity and was a poignant presage of the delicate nature of our democratic experiment. But I am now a die-hard proponent of the overriding will of our industrious nature; we will build our nation from the ground up. We will provoke a proliferation of productive SMEs not by merely criticizing, castigating and chastising; but also by involving ourselves in the process of industrialization and eventually democratization. The political arena is too overcrowded and over-analyzed; perhaps we will do well to shift our emphasis from that to the arena in our immediate control. It is not as easy as I make it sound, but enough (not all) of us will need to shed the comforts of life in the Diaspora and embark on a crusade to incite growth and development within our society. This war (as a wise man once said) will be fought in different trenches. Let us jump headfirst into the economic trench. I have said it repeatedly; life is simply about percentages, there are no absolutes, moral or otherwise, not economically and not politically; a high enough percentage of us have to sacrifice our comfortable "armchairs" for the scalding furnace of hands-on participation on Nigerian soil. As time goes by, we can only hope that the reverse trickle of Nigerian professionals grows into an avalanche of determined soldiers, children of the African renaissance; and that the myopic government of the current dispensation will eventually smarten up to its role as a facilitator of commercial endeavor, not a Father Christmas handing out slices of the "national cake".

I ask once again, has the age of enlightenment come to Nigeria? Have the children of the failed generations of the pre and immediate post-independence era learned bitter lessons from their parents? As evidence, perhaps the brain gain in Nigeria's favor is a subtle indication of this education or enlightenment. The pessimistic idealists might accuse me of misplaced optimism, the pessimistic realists might accuse me of preaching utter nonsense, but the pragmatism our present circumstances must move beyond misunderstandings of our reality, ultimately the determinants of our success as a society, rest with we the people. And in order to form a more perfect union albeit by force, we must seize the determinants of our economic reality (which might be the difference between life and death) from those that have already secured their life and that of their unborn children for generations afterwards. Enlightenment comes in different shades and forms; the enlightenment of which I speak refers to the enlightenment of young Nigerian professionals to sacrifice for themselves and their children, and consequently for their society. Nothing hard comes easy, and since we have been ostracized from the mainstream of the Nigerian power structure by the myopia of the Status Quo, we must pursue alternative avenues towards a fulfillment of our rights as Nigerians. There is a treacherous abyss that divides the beneficiaries of the Status Quo from the rest of us, not just politically, but more importantly economically; and the only way that we can bridge this chasm is by creating alternative avenues to wealth. Our economic reality must be cultivated on the plains of Nigeria's corrupted polity and consciousness, it is hard do pull this off even in the relatively leveled arena of the Western Diaspora, it is to say the least near impossible in Nigeria. But maybe, just maybe, we can recreate a new reality for ourselves, beyond (perhaps in spite of) the obstacles that hinder our progress as a society. I cannot make the case for all Nigerians to go home at once, that will be reckless at best and atrocious at worst, but what I can do, what I choose to do, is to challenge young professionals in the Diaspora to look homeward and determine where best to channel their limited resources towards effecting some change. Maybe my youthful exuberance clouds my judgment, but from experience, careful meditation, and studious reflection, I have come to the conclusion that we need a few good men and women, to inflame the consciousness of our society. We need a high enough percentage of youthful Nigerians to labor towards a democratization of the avenues to wealth in our society and the economic independence to chart Nigeria's and indeed Africa's future. Charlatans and miscreants have no place in the leadership of our society, and have no rights whatsoever to stand in for us. The political arena has to play catch-up to the economic sphere in our society; we cannot afford to be held hostage to the tantrums and palpitations of a confused polity as we embark on our revolution to transform our society. To paraphrase the words of Maximus Decimus Meridius (fictional character that he is); what we do in life, in our life as members of our society, will echo in eternity; either as illustrations of rugged human determination or as anthropological remains, alongside the Jurassic fauna of eons gone by. For a report on reverse brain drain see (http://www.bday.org/article_2567.shtml).

 

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