Tokunbo OgunbiyiWednesday, March 12, 2003
[email protected]
London, England


refer to "Mineral wealth, Venezuela and the Honda Civic - Lessons for Nigeria" by Dr Zakari Tata Askira on www.nigeriaworld.com and dated 10 March. Dr Askira posits a general theme - the paradoxical poverty and underdevelopment of the OPEC countries amidst a sea of valuable oil.

A number of examples illustrate the point made the good doctor:

  1. "mineral wealth tends to produce a sudden influx of wealth into the economy that cannot absorb it. This sudden influx of wealth causes salary hikes and inflation. The end result of this is that the currency gets overvalued and imports become cheaper. When imports are cheaper, the local industries collapse and this causes a depressive effect on the local economy. The Udoji arrears in Nigeria is reminiscent of this."

  2. "the government becomes wealthy and embarks on large unsustainable projects. A lot of these projects collapse when the mineral prices fall. The public sector balloons and the private sector- vital in creating a self sustaining creative economy, is thinned considerably. A lot of wealth then leaves the country to more developed economies"

  3. "Global Trade Liberalization. This is an IMF brainchild. In simple terms, what this means is that countries should have open trade policies that allow all kinds of imports. You should not selectively decide which imports come into your country.

I find the good doctor's logic rather puzzling because he blames everybody (including God) except Nigeria and Nigerians for the state we're in! The Udoji awards, Festac and other such decisions were deliberate choices made by an ideologically bankrupt and a morally degenerate national leadership. Development is a function of political leadership, orderly democratic governance and culture. Dr Zakari did not identify a feature common to Nigeria and Venezuela - that virtually for a long period of their respective histories both countries have not had a tradition of democratic governance based on the rule of law. In the absence of an accountable system of governance in which the government answers to the governed, you could kiss bye - bye to development.

If the truth be told, the state of Nigeria is a due to a series of deliberate choices made by successive governments, mainly military administrations. One recalls a Director Of Telecommunications who advised the government of the day not to buy a particular weather satellite system and was promptly relieved of his position. Throughout Nigeria (I do not know of Venezuela) principled and professional public servants are replaced by sycophants and yes men drafted in to support a web of corruption and incompetence. Between 1967 -1970 we had oil, we were a war economy, and we remained a debt free or low debt buoyant economy? The managers of the economy can make the difference! Even here in Britain a rich developed industrial economy, the labour government of James Callaghan made such a mess of the economy that the IMF was called to rescue the pound. When Margaret Thatcher took over the shambolic economy she restructured it and that laid the foundations of the boom economy which has left the rest of the OECD including the US trailing even today!

The other point which Dr Askira may have overlooked is that the machinery of governance in any state is the civil service. In the past we had a meritocracy but gradually that has now been effectively dismantled and we now have government officials who are in effect political appointees deputed to represent their villages or states in the Federal Civil Service. The Federal Character Commission is the most certain evidence of a national in its death throes. No longer is an official promoted or even recruited based on merit but on where he or she comes from. Indeed those who are competent are in a good number of cases to be held back from promotion so that the less advanced can "catch up", and we talk of underdevelopment? When we in fact signed up to it! To crown it all the Supreme Court in its most excellent wisdom has now said that members of an impartial and independent civil service can belong to political parties!

In this atmosphere you want to have a knowledge-based economy with inventors producing new products to be sold in international markets to generate foreign exchange? So where are the Nigerian inventors? They are in our universities that in many cases do not have running water in research laboratories. In the UK the government has a system of promoting innovation and invention amongst small businesses and others such as universities. Government officials assess applications from applicants who wish to receive government support for their inventions and if eligible those projects are supported with sometimes up to 450,000 for each project. Some projects succeed, others don't, but that is life. Do you see the average official at Ministry of Trade, Abuja running such a system without setting up a network of bribe taking and scandal?

At any rate that is Britain which is a rich country; you might say? Singapore is a "developing country" or so the world will tell us. They do not have oil but have a similar and perhaps even superior track record of inventions. If the leadership is right and there is a tradition of excellence in the public service, it is not difficult to move mountains.

It is easy to cast our underdevelopment on the "evil machinations" of the World Trade Organisation but trade liberalization does not only affect OPEC or African countries. What is unique to us is a combination of poor leadership, corrupt bureaucracy and a primitive culture. But someday soon the beautiful ones will be born, I hope!.