by Abdul Mahmud
To paraphrase Oby Ezekwesili in her analysis of the wealth and poverty of a nation, ‘’that Nigeria is a paradox of the kind that breeds penury is as widely known as the fact that the world considers us as a poster nation for poor governance wealth from natural resources’’.
The paradox Oby Ezekwesili highlighted in her convocation lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, underlines one of the many paradoxes we have sadly come to identify as part of our existence as Nigerians. Nothing is more absurd or propositional to the truth than the knowledge of being born in a country with huge resources, as is Nigeria, but living in abject misery and penury.
A little thought on Oby Ezekwesili’s convocation lecture. Though she spoke to the truth of the Nigerian paradox, she can’t however be absolved of guilt, having participated at the highest level of governance of our country, as she helped birth some of the most anti-people economic policies that were taken out of the books of the pernicious Bretton Wood institutions.
Here lies another paradox: with the vast reflection pool our country boasts, our best and brightest minds are perpetually beholden to pernicious policies cooked by chefs who roam the kitchens of western institutions set up to promote the economic interests of advanced imperial metropolis.
It is not only wrong for our policy makers to have their brains locked inside the microwave ovens of imperialist institutions, it is completely wrong to seek to implant economic policies that have been certified failures elsewhere on a country with a different socioeconomic environment.
We must pause here for a while to grasp the noun, paradox, and what constitutes the Nigerian paradoxes. Paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd, but in reality expresses a possible truth.
For us, the possible truth would mean that our country which presents itself as endowed, also presents itself as terribly cursed. The absurdity of the proposition that our country is rich is evidenced by the way it goes cap, cup and bowl in hand begging the rich the nations of the world for donor aids, or the way it goes borrowing in order to finance the lifestyles of its thieving elites. Our country is rich; but our people are among the poorest of the poor of the earth. What a paradox. So, what are the other paradoxes?
First of all, ‘’the paradox of the kind that breeds penury that the world considers us a poster nation for poor governance wealth from natural resources’’ is too troubling to contemplate. That our country is rich and it still does have a huge army of the very hungry poses its own kind of paradox. The kind that describes our country as hostage to fortune and invites curses, the kind you hear on the streets and the awakened corners of our country, ‘’God go punish dem’’, from those excluded from the enjoyment of that fortune. Pouring curses have become a national pastime. But, do our people really believe that curses are potent weapons against evil leaders?
Perhaps, curses are a response to their own helplessness than the belief in their potency. Reason for this pervading helplessness isn’t far-fetched. Everyday our national papers report one heist after another heist, the mindless looting of our collective patrimony by a few individuals whose only contribution to the growth of our country is the way they have under-developed our country. Yes. The oxymoron of growth and underdevelopment is highlighted by the criminal way they feed off our country, turn our people into shepherd who graze the wintry pastures of the north in search of their own promise land. And yes, perhaps, those are the lucky ones; but spare a thought for those individuals, the underclass, who, as the poster faces of the poor everywhere, are linked together by the chain of poverty.
It is not that members of our ruling class have sympathies for the poor of our country. To the contrary there seems to be an unspoken conspiracy of leading stalwarts of the ruling class and their unshaken commitment to heading the poor into the sea of oblivion.
Witness how Governors Fashola and Kwankwaso have relentlessly attacked the poor of Lagos and Kano states. Fashola and Kwankwaso, like most members of their class, do not appeal to reason, nor do they appeal to the rational. But ours remains what it is, a caring society. Policies that give no persuasive power to the moral injunction of ‘’be our brother’s keeper’ are not welcome in our caring society. But do the leading stalwarts of our ruling class have love for our poor when they ‘’impose rules that thwart the expectations of those it excludes’’? Poor people go home or you go to jail is the policy Fashola pursues in Lagos.
Secondly, the type of democracy we operate today produces its own sad paradox. Democracy is about representation. Whilst democracy everywhere promotes democratic rights and choices, ours promotes the foregoing only in breach. Here, the way our variant of democracy shackles the public space and makes our people less of autonomous agents, possessing the will and reason to make democratic choices, legitimise a system that is self-contradictory and absurd. The absurdity can be discerned from the way the custodians of our democracy impose duties and demand sacrifices from our people for the survival of the illusion they collectively hype as democracy while they make no sacrifice.
Sadly, the experience of living in a ‘’democracy’’ that narrows the democratic space, itself the consequence of the absence of the connectives between representation and governance, are the shorthand for our own reality. The reality that the quality of representation we find at all levels of government in our country does not give us a paradigm of satisfaction, or the belief that democracy is working in our country. That too is a paradox.