He is just, only just, 70. But, his indelible impact on the national scene, whether political, economic, educational or social, is gargantuan and ineradicable. Turaki, as he is fondly called, is simply enigmatic and electrifying, occupying the national political space like the colossus that he is. As a custom’s officer, he was bold and patriotic. As a man of wealth, he readily identifies with the poor and the rejected. As Vice President of Nigeria, he audaciously took on Obasanjo, his boss, over many issues, the most prominent of which was championing the league that brutally fought and killed OBJ’s third term agenda.
I was present with him and other Nigerian patriots at Niger State Government House in 2007 to finally put the nail in the coffin of the obnoxious and noxious third term agenda and send it to the labyrinth of historical oblivion. He serially rebelled against injustice and authoritarianism, even in a government in which he was the number two. As an avid investor in the oil, gas, education, media, banking, transport, agriculture and hospitality industries, Atiku is reputed to be one of the biggest private employers of labour in Nigeria, outside government. As an astute politician, you can only ignore him at your own peril. He manages to become the recurring factor in any and every gladiatorial political battle, whether within the mainstream, or within the opposition. His passion for speaking the truth, even if it hurts him politically, is legendary.
Thus, his trenchant crusade for restructuring our lopsided federation has not found favour with core irredentists and historical revisionists. But he trojans on resolutely in what he believes will make Nigeria a truly fiscal federal system. Congratulations, Africa and Nigeria’s Turaki. Many happy returns.
Agbaje’s untimely transition: Et tu death?
The untimely death, at LUTH, Lagos, of my dear friend, brother, soul mate, irrepressible and renowned human rights advocate and pro-democracy crusader, Mr. Fred Agbaje, has come to me as a very rude shock. The ugly piece of news is as horrific as it is saddening, depressing and benumbling. Agbaje, for the record, was one of the few remaining genuine radical and firebrand titans and leading lights in the long struggle for the realisation and enthronement of human rights, democracy, rule of law and good governance in Nigeria. Within the ever-receding and depleting community of genuine human rights and pro-democracy activists, Agbaje stood tall and stamped his authority on effective, combative polemics and scholarly disquisitions. With uncommon zeal, avidity, erudition and oratorical prowess, Agbaje was as cerebral as he was fecund and intellectually grounded. You could disagree with this Akoko Edo, Edo State-born noble son of an Anglican archbishop on issues, but you could never fault his logicality, gripping passion, sense of patriotism and pan-Nigerianity in his argument. Agbaje’s death is an irreparable blow to our collective national dreams of advancing human rights activism, civil liberties and freedoms, anchored squarely on the rule of law. Let’s look at Greece’s Socrates, and the way he viewed death. When Socrates was condemned to die for supposedly corrupting the young by asking too many questions, he gracefully accepted death. In the dialogue, Phaedo, Plato recorded Socrates’ final evening with his friends. After drinking hemlock poison, Socrates told his friends, “And, therefore, I go on my way rejoicing, and not only, but every other man who believes that his mind has been made ready and he is in a manner purified. And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body . . . . I have been told a man should die in peace” (Plato, 1976, p. 277). Socrates then lay down and covered himself with a sheet. But just before he died, thinking of the life he was leaving, he sat up and addressed a friend, “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?” With that, he laid back down and died (Plato, trans. 1976, p. 278). I am sure that, like Socrates, Agbaje must have died rejoicing, for he lived a worthy life of achievements and uncommon service to his fatherland. Unlike “cowards (who) die many times before their deaths,” Agbaje, was like “the valiant (who) never taste of death but once,” (Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, Act 2, scene 2). The Holy Bible must be referring to Agbaje when its says, in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” But, I still can’t understand why death always nichodemusly stalks and plucks away the very best from our midst. Et tu, death? Oh, death, why can’t you simply hide your monstrous visage in the abyss of the perennially conflagrating pit of hell fire and leave us alone, alone, all alone? Adieu, Fred. Rest in the Lord’s bossom.
Corruption and misgovernance: Which is worse? (6)
This week, we encore our suspended discourse on the way forward for Nigeria, with a view to determining how national problems can be collectively resolved by pro-active leaderships under an atmosphere of national ambience, cohesion and inclusiveness. We shall take an in-depth analysis into and do a comparative analysis between Nigeria and Asian Tigers. We have already treated Glasnost and Perestroika of Russia, and the “Great Leap” of China, “the Great Depression”, the emergence of “the New Deal” and how Roosevelt skillfully maneuvered his country out of economic anemia, with the first and second “New Deals”, the Victorian era of Britain, the great turn of the Soviet Union, “the Marshall Plan” of Europe, and a comparative analysis between Nigeria and Asian Tigers.
Why the Asian Tigers overtook Nigeria
The various Asian governments proved efficient at some very difficult tasks: they maintained fairly stable macroeconomic strategy, implemented strong educational policy, lowered birth rates, and narrowed the income gap between the rich and poor. These factors are NOT present in the present Nigerian economy as they were at their nascent stages. While the Asian tigers positively utilised the factors for the ultimate advancement of their economies, the same cannot be said of Nigeria, which promotes neo-liberal and elitist policies, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
The strategies employed by the Asian Tigers included effective and stringent macroeconomic policies that raised savings and investment rates, development of infrastructure, export-oriental industrialisation policies, slow population growth rate and the magical Akamatsu “flying geese” hypothesis.
Aside from the developed economics of the world earlier referred to, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan all started out in 1960 as relatively backward and developing economies, but imbibed the culture of honesty, hard work, proper savings, anti-corruption, investment in education and skilled labour. They tapped opportunities from their environment and surroundings. These factors contributed to the fast-paced economic growth experienced in the region, which allowed the Tigers to rapidly converge towards income levels of those in advanced economies.
The important lesson for Nigeria in the success story of the Asian Tigers is that governments need to pursue pro-people policies that stress the promotion of both human and physical capital.
Way forward for Nigeria: My panacea
The following are recommended as the way forward for Nigeria:
1. Government investment in education: Governments need to stop paying lip service to education, by heavily investing in it. To do this, government must initiate and encourage research in important disciplines dealing with technological advancement.
2. Enhancing an attractive economic environment: Governments must be responsibly proactive with regard to creating conducive environment to positively attract massive foreign direct investment in the economy. To this end, government must invest heavily in infrastructure. The issue of epileptic power must be settled once and for all. Secondly, the issue of security should be frontally tackled. Government should summon the political will to deal with terrorism presently ravaging parts of the North, kidnapping and armed robbery in the South, and piracy and militancy in the Niger Delta if, indeed, it desires replicating the Asian Tigers’ economic feats. Thirdly, government should consciously navigate from the irksome ritual genuflection to red-tapism and excessive officialdom, since investors readily avoid economies that are woven with the labyrinth thread of bureaucracy and red-tapism. Government must stop demarketting Nigeria by proclaiming on rooftops and at international fora.
3. Taming corruption: Corruption is the hideous monster, the reprehensive and reprehensible iniquity, which produces and reproduces a decadence of opportunity for a decent society. Thus, corruption must be tamed in Nigeria for the country to thrive. Corruption gives Nigeria a bad reputation, weakens our capacity to attract the much-needed foreign direct investment, obfuscates our economic growth and holds down our national development. Genuine investors are more attracted to environments where the rules of engagement are clear and not susceptible to whimsical interpretations, based on whose palms are greased. To tame corruption in Nigeria, there must exist a genuine democratic system in which political leaders are held accountable for their actions, with corrupt officials exposed and promptly punished. This serves as an effective deterence.
4. Encouraging indigenous industries and export: Indigenous industries create employment opportunities, enhance regional economic balance through industrial dispersal and generally promote effective resource utilisation considered critical to economic development and growth. Thus, Nigeria must encourage the formation of indigenous industries and exportation of made-in-Nigeria goods, to enable the country earn fat revenues, accumulate capital, create jobs and engender favourable balance of payment. It is trite that every industrialised country is ever an exporting country, while no full-time importing country is industrialised.
5. Improving the standard of living of Nigerians: The more prosperous an economy, the better off the citizens of that economy are in terms of health and material possessions. Thus, prosperity is attainable when wages are high and countries are highly productive.
6. Aggressive drive for foreign investments: If Africa is the next investment haven as has been serially romanticised, Nigeria should be the natural market. Nigeria should tap into this new thinking, by laying the foundation for enhanced foreign direct investments and by offering better returns than other markets in the region. (To be continued).
You cannot afford to miss the final tranche of revivalist and redemptive strategies adopted by historical leaders in times of recession or depression.