Living In Denial
from GUARDIAN, June 7, 2005
Nigeria is so
predictable it makes you wonder. A US Intelligence report which projected a
plausible scenario of the collapse of Nigeria, as we know it, is the latest to
elicit this predictability. As if determined to prove to the authors of the
report how right they were, the cacophony that deluged the public space was
without pause for reflection on the meaning of the report, from officialdom, and
even from elements in civil society.
My object today is not really to deal with the veracity or
plausibility of the scenario projected in the US Intelligence evaluation of the
Nigerian experience. I am more inclined to showing how the reaction of a good
proportion of the Nigerian elite reflects the challenge of leadership in our
It also is an opportunity for a wake up call, that if we
do not make what sacrifice it takes to reclaim our country from dominant
political elite we ought to be preparing for the future that will make today's
painful failings seem like days of glory. Nigeria's elite is simply living in
denial about its own reality and decay we confronted by. In stead of look truth
in the eye it tends to take shelter in blaming others for its failings.
It is a remarkable irony that the edition of the newspaper
in which I first read of the whining of our senators and the invectives they
heaped on the source of the report carried a long interview with one of the
Governors from the South West. In that interview the Governor said Nigeria would
collapse if certain things were not done at the political reforms conference. It
also had another story on a different Governor of the South West charging that
what we have is not democracy but tyranny. It struck me that it seems okay if we
say it, but unacceptable coming from others.
Even if the Nigerian leadership that reacted with much
anger at the report thought publishing it was not the politically correct thing
to do the reactions still showed that those who claim to lead do not understand
the purpose of such intelligence reports. It certainly is not for the purpose of
exchanging pleasantries regarding how countries think about each other. One
wonders how the senate would have reacted to the Subramanian and Xala-i-Martin
IMF paper that described Nigeria as metaphor par excellence of a failed
I know quite a few people in Nigeria's intelligence
Community, I know them to be brilliant and very talented. Given such pedigree I
take it for granted they are from time to time looking at trends and trying to
forecast the future. Doing that is an imperative of any people who want to be
able to prepare to ensure their interests are managed for the good of their
Business teachers try to get corporate chieftains to do
same in their company's interest for the good of their society. Academics also
engage in such trend analysis and forecasting. Francis Fukuyama forecast a post
cold war world of sprouting democracies under a kind of Pax Americana. It has
turned out that his professor at Harvard, Samuel Huntington, may have had a
better crystal ball in projecting a clash of civilisations as Islam and the West
Robert Kaplan whose scenario building of a post Tito
Balkans turned out remarkably on the money has forecast "the coming anarchy in a
book that repeatedly cites Nigeria as a major fault line in the international
community's potential descent into anarchy from ethnic and religious conflict in
third world countries. Francis Fukuyama's latest book which focuses on
Institutions and systems in emerging societies is less triumphalist and a more
realistic periscope of the global order than his earlier volume "The End of
What thinking people do when they see an evaluation of
their society and where it may be perceived to be headed, is to become
reflective, evaluate the report very closely to see what they must do to avert
disaster and turn things in a way that will confound doomsayers. Not those who
lead Nigeria. We begin to abuse as if a mortal enemy has just sent a ballistic
missile our way. Yet the country in question, from the number of visits by
General Obasanjo, must at least be a friend of the regime if not of the Nigerian
people. What then should be their motive in creating much aggravation in a
friendly country? Surely not just pure spite as some make out. If the report was
to help them plan how to mitigate or take advantage of trends around the world
for their own interest would abusing them make difference?
I do not say ulterior motives are far from them. Indeed
many have read John Perkins' 2004 Bestseller "Confessions of an Economic
Hitman". The autobiographical book, by an American Economist who worked for a
consulting group was on "highly paid professional who cheat countries around the
globe out of trillions of dollars" and bring them under the control of the US,
using trade, aid and institutions like the multilaterals dominated by the US.
What an enlightened leadership, if it has fears that these may be the motives is
create conditions that prevent such unacceptable influence. They may also choose
to engage in ways that result in win-win mutual benefit transactions with those
relevant foreign powers.
Extant reality, as reaction to the American report shows,
unfortunately reflects this dominant culture of thoughtlessness in the face of
grave threat. With purpose playing second fiddle to coveting power, robust
public and policy arena discussion of issues gives way either to polemics of
unreason or hostility towards competing points of view. The result is much
effort at movement and little motion, adding to threats to our nationhood.
This living in denial about the Nigerian condition keeps
its political elite happy with a recursive economy in which the atrophy of the
middle class continues and reforms have gone in a way that has produced a few
people with incomes way in excess of the value they have created. The widening
of the gap between the top and bottom income deciles, as Gini coefficient trends
indicate, is not the only consequence of how we implement some well intended
reforms such that they become like iatrogenic medicine where the treatment kills
the patient. These are facts threatening Nigeria's future. The willingness of
this group rent champions, who thrive from poor implementation of reforms, to
splash this wealth, as donations, at events in support of projects of public
officials, is increasingly makings Kaplan's vision of the coming anarchy,
especially the point about the revenge of the poor, as Sierra Leone Minister
pointed to in his book, one of the reasons it is plausible to speculate that
Nigeria may not be around in 15 years.
The time is now, therefore, for those who believe in
Nigeria to stand up and be counted in holding those who should never have been
allowed near power, accountable, and ensuring that they are soon replaced by a
thinking and patriotic class passionately committed to the ordinary person
invested with the dignity of God's children and a right to decent living. It
makes sense that that quality of life will come from a united and prospering
Nigeria with a broad middle class, but it seems to me that today's values can
lead only in one direction, the opposite of that desired end.....Unless thinking
people arise. The charade of 1999 and the travesty of 2003 have tainted
elections enough that 2007 could easily become the beginning of the end ....
Unless people who think act. In many ways the American report may be our call to
order if our children are to be saved memories of the type Hotel Rwanda
preserves for generations of Rwandans .... All because thinking people failed to
The sense of urgency I feel is very high. Not since I
expressed similar thoughts following the events of June 23 1993 which ultimately
resulted in the founding of the Concerned Professionals have I been so worried.
To be fair some good has happened. General Obasanjo's effusive enthusiasm for a
Nigerian renaissance has inspired hope in some and his stubborn support for his
capable but too narrow and sometimes distant economic team will prepare the
grounds for some good afterwards, if a retrogressive team does not take over.
But much more has gone wrong and there is little time to
mend things. Many Nigerians who think have been aware for a while of looming
danger. If it took a foreign intelligence report to agitate the consciousness of
any Nigerians on these matters then they have not been watching the political
reforms conference and the display of the inability of the elite to recognise
even their own best long term interest.
Failure to connect with the people unfortunately keep the
gain shallow and without roots. This has created a situation in which the
possibilities of rapid progress and rapid decline are almost of equal weighting.
All will be lost ...unless thinking people step up to bat.
Instead of blaming others may be it is time for us to
begin to reflect that if Nigeria collapses we all lose something and that
Nigeria cannot but collapse if we do not mend our ways, place service at the
centre of public life and reduce drastically the level of conflicts of interest
in the conduct of people both in the public and private sectors.
Very importantly, we live in the knowledge age and we need
knowledgeable and thinking people in public service not people for all that
counts is power. We also need responsive regimes if Nigeria is to make progress.
Just think of something as simple as the so called VIP movement that regularly
endangers the lives of air travellers in Nigeria. So much have been said about
it yet the leaders and protocol people do not care, a reflection of their
contempt for the Nigeria people. How can such a society survive?
All said and done we are hopeful and trust that the
forecast will go the way of many forecasts, with a thriving Nigeria here twenty
years hence. But it will not happen from wishful thinking. It will happen when
thinking people get off their comfort zones because there is fire on the mount.
It is time to think and act.
Professor Utomi is Director, Centre for Applied Economics
at the Lagos Business School, Pan African University.