Nigeria: benevolence or enlightened self interest? Part Two

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February 15, 2012 By specialguest

This is part 2  of the state of affairs in Nigeria to see Part one of this article click here

The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebelechukwu Jonathan (GEJ) is facing his biggest trial yet. He swept into power on a sea of euphoria 29th May 2011 as his rags to riches tale appealed to many aspirant Nigerians. His first term of office (6th May 2010 – 28th May 2011) was due to the untimely death of the then President Umaru Yar’Adua (a northerner). Nigeria is a country that insists on rotational presidency: that is to say that the Commander in Chief and President of the country must be picked alternatively from the north and the south in subsequent Presidencies. The constitution allows for an incumbent President to sit for two terms (eight years) before being replaced.

On the 2nd January 2012 GEJ unilaterally withdrew the government subsidy of oil which had the immediate effect of raising the price of fuel at the pump from N65 to N140 – more the twice the price for the Nigerian who on average earns less than $2/day ($1 = N160). Trade unions took all their members out on strike which brought the country to a grinding halt with the government losing out on millions each day. Now it seems that things have quieted down and the government has conceded to demands and has subsidized fuel to make it N97/day.

The proponents for the removal of fuel subsidy on face value make some sound sense economically. On Jan 12th this year GEJ was quoted as saying that the ending of fuel subsidy will save the government N8bn (£5.2bn) a year which will be put into public services. In a prudent government this would provide much needed cash to fix unemployment issues, drive the economy, build new refineries, raise power generation to light up the country with electricity, reconstruct the infrastructure – in particular the roads – diversify economy, invest in manufacturing. Politically however, it has been a disaster.

The government had introduced the reduction overnight with no warning and with absolutely no regard to the impact on the normal citizen. Every day people rely heavily on fuel not just for the motorcar but also for the plethora of generators each household requires to stand in for the erratic supply of electricity from NEPA (Nigerian Electrical Power Authority).

“NEPA take light” is a constant refrain up and down the country as the household is bathed in darkness night and day, often consecutively. However the real political issues are twofold. On the one hand many Nigerians don’t trust their government not to syphon away more money into Swiss bank accounts and luxurious apartments/commodities in other parts of the western world. And secondly many educated people are wary of who is really pulling the strings.  As Michael Dibiaezue, a Nigerian political blogger for Africa Files, points out:

“In December 2011, another kind of destabilizing stimulus was put to play in Nigeria. The managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, arrived in Nigeria to meet with President Jonathan. Her primary mission was to order him to get rid of fuel subsidy.”

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And so once again we have a contemporary example of internal leaders doing the bidding of external agencies at the expense of local indigenes. This is nothing new in African politics.

For many observers internally, GEJ is already a lame duck president one year into his first elected term of office. I suspect that his one-year transition as night watchman for Yar’Adua will count against him and the north will not wait another term to get their candidate in. This being the case, those now in office will make hay while it is their turn in the sunshine. Thinly veiled platitudes of “power to the people” and “good will to all men” soon fritter away as the realities of incumbency reveal godfathers to be paid and macro systems to be placated. And so goes the slogan, “Power to the People…but only on election day.”

That the staunch followers of Islam in Nigeria have had a desire to “dip the Koran into the Atlantic” (euphemism for turning the entire country into an Islamist state governed by Sharia law) is something I heard when I first went to Nigeria in 1979. The tension between Muslims and Christians at fundamentalist level is nothing new worldwide, but most people of all faiths and none have got on with their daily lives almost oblivious to the intricate ramifications.

A rather alarming paragraph in a report by Farouk Chothia on attacks by Boko Haram dated 11 January 2012, entitled Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists? States:

“The attacks have raised global concern, with a US Congressional report – released in November 2011 – warning that Boko Haram was an “emerging threat” to the US and its interests.”

Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have learned the hard way in the last few years that it is not cool to be an “emerging threat” to the US and its interests, and I suspect the political elite in Nigeria understand likewise. Farouk Chothia goes on to explain in the piece that Boko Haram is a Nigerian Islamist Sect founded in 2002 by a charismatic leader Mohammed Yusuf. The name Boko Haram is a composite word. Haram means in the native tongue of Hausa ‘Forbidden;’ Boko originally means ‘Fake’. Juxtaposed together colloquially Boko Haram has been loosely translated as ‘western education fake’ or “western education is forbidden.”

Any critical reading of the interaction of Africa and the west over the last couple of hundred years will reveal how easy it is to come to the assertion western education is “fake” or evil and therefore should be forbidden from an African perspective.  From the moment David Livingstone landed on the continent to Christine Lagarde’s latest visit to Nigeria, it is easy to assume that western education has little to do with talent management and human development and more to do with indoctrination and social engineering in order to secure precious resources for an avarice appetite that must be satiated.

Be it a word of warning or a chilling footnote, but African history suggests that western education comes as a package. Benevolence on the one hand, “enlightened self interest” on the other, includes an apparent acceptance that a certain amount of “collateral damage” a.k.a. “death or destruction” be perpetrated in the theatre of operation.

Humbly yours

Kezie Akabusi

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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