The curse of paradox




We are an independent nation with 59 years of post-colonial experience of minding our own business under our belt. But truth be told, we are a dependent nation. If you find that strange, remember that Nigeria is swaddled in fine, if painful, paradoxes. Paradoxes contradict what we hold to be true.    

I have chosen a few of these paradoxes to show that our inability to pull our country out of the paradox rut hobbles our development; it is deleterious to our economic health and our sense of national pride. Despite our fabled great petro-dollar wealth from crude oil, our country continues to be numbered among the poorest nations of the world. To rub salt into our gaping injury, Nigeria is officially classified as the poverty capital of the world. We displaced India from the honoured perch. It should grate on our sense of pride that we continue to live the paradox of a rich but poor nation. A country is either rich or poor; not rich but poor. Nigeria has thus achieved the impossible.

We depend on other nations for our food. Almost every cooking pot in the country is home to American long grain rice or the Thai or Indian variety. Meanwhile, we ignore the short grain rice from Kebbi, Bauchi and Ebonyi states. Not good enough for our cultivated taste, apparently.

Sometime ago, the then minister of and rural development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said the country was spending $22 billion on food importation annually. Last year, CBN governor Emefiele said we imported food at a much lower cost, as in $1.9 billion; down from $7.9 billion in 2015. And what food are importing? Rice, wheat, sugar and fish. Rice alone from India and Thailand took the chunk of $1.65 billion. That is not a nice way for an independent nation to fully assert its independence. A nation that cannot feed itself, it goes without saying, submits its independence to nations that could feed it.

The experts say that 80 per cent of our land is arable; meaning that every inch of that could support food and cash crops. They also say that about 75 per cent of the population lives on the land mostly as peasant farmers. If you work out the maths, we should be able to produce enough food to feed ourselves, protect our independence and export our short grain rice to the US, Thailand and other countries and force them to eat Ofada rice. Nigeria is a hungry nation but not an angry nation. Our country comes in at the 40th position out of 79 nations on the Global Hunger Index.

We have been battling corruption since 1966 because the young majors who introduced the gun as an instrument of political power told us that the “ten per centers” were the enemies because they made our dear country look big for nothing. That was a bad image for our country less than six years after the British granted us the instrument of independence and returned home. The majors came, they said, to put the ten per centers out of business and make the rest of the world respect us as honest people for whom cleans hands and a non-throbbing conscience trump the lure of lucre.

We have fought the blight long enough, using the instrumentality of decrees during the military regime and acts of parliament in a democracy, to rid our country of the ten per centers and clean up our country’s image.

If you work out the maths, you should expect incontrovertible evidence of the absence of the ten per centers in our dear, dear country by now. Facts is, there are no ten per centers any more because ten per cent is anachronistic in the digital age of digitised corrupt practices. Even as the guns of the anti-corruption war are booming, the brave and the determined still help themselves to our common wealth.

A country that battles corruption and yet embraces corruption, is clearly paradoxical. The war against corruption is the longest war in our country. It is anybody’s guess when it would end and how it would end, given the paradox of the more we fight it, the wider corruption spreads and the deeper it digs into and soils everything we hold dear.

We are a big crude oil producing nation. We are number one in Africa and number five in the world. We have four oil refineries. If you work out the maths, these should be great sources of our national pride. Sadly, they are sources of our national shame. The refineries are mothballed. We are driven to depend on other nations for our petroleum needs. We sell the crude to them; they refine it and ship it back to us through our smart businessmen and women. We are the only oil producing nation in the world that makes a virtue of this obvious vice and is shamelessly proud of it.

Well, if you choose to look on the bright side, many fellow Nigerians have been made billionaires from fuel importation. Successive Nigerian governments were and are sold on the idea that people in an oil producing nation are entitled to some crumbs, as in pay less than the cost of fuel in Benin Republic. So, they worked out the maths of empathy and arrived at something called subsidy by which the fuel importers receive government funding to persuade them not to charge full commercial prices for their imported petroleum products. This year alone, the federal government would pay them N400 billion to make life a little more bearable for the people. The people, always the people.

In the seventies, the Russians came here and took on the important task of turning our impressive iron ore deposits into various grades of iron rods and flat sheets to move our industrialisation dreams forward. They settled on Ajaokuta, the area of the greatest iron ore deposit in the country in what is now Kogi State and built a huge factory there. Even before the company’s products rolled out of the factory, the federal government set up rolling mills in Jos, Katsina, Oshogbo and Onitsha as part of the necessary down stream investment to add value chain to the products of Ajaokuta. Add to that, the Aladja Steel Mills in what is now Delta State and the maths would show we took our industrialisation seriously. Except that we didn’t.

What became of them? Actually nothing. The Russians left and after some years, the Indians came and took over. In the end, they left an impressive stamp of cheating and thievery on the company. They asset-stripped the company and returned home. Now, the Russians have been persuaded to return to the carcass of the factory they built and equipped so long ago. Where, I wonder, do they start from? We are happy they are returning. In all these years, we never challenged our engineers to hunker down and make the factory hum again. Again, we chose to depend on the miracle working foreign engineers.

I understand the Saudis have also promised to help us revive the oil refineries. I would not know when they became experts in this but since Nigeria is prepared to always put its destiny in the hands of foreigners, their coming would be celebrated as part of our national progress. They are not likely to work any greater magic than our indigenous petroleum engineers, some of whom have had extensive experience working with the foreign oil companies. These men have never been challenged to put their expertise to test. Dependence is an easy option but it does not advance the course of our national development. Foreign experts will always come and go at some point as has happened repeatedly over the years; and when they do, things just fall apart and a factory becomes an empty shed. The systematic marginalisation of our indigenous manpower is the curse of our dependence.

No one knows for sure how much successive federal administrations have spent over the years on power generation and distribution. What is known and undeniable is that we generate 4,000 megawatts day for a country of 200 million people. Being a dependent nation, we choose to depend on imported generators.

We sit on wealth – arable land, liquid and solid mineral resources, agricultural produce – but we take other people’s money to survive. We have so much, yet we get so little. It is the curse of dependence.

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