Prof. Pat Utomi Is A Reknowned Political Economist. He Is A Member Of The All Progressives Congress (APC) And Former Presidential Candidate Of The African Democratic Congress (ADC). In An Interview With GEOFFREY EKENNA, He Bares His Mind On The State Of The Nation
It appears your party did not prepare for governance. So far, all the promises made to Nigerians during the electioneering have not been fulfilled. Many people are losing hope in the government…
This whole challenge plays into a point that I have been trying to make for some time about the nature, the structure of politics in Nigeria, which lead us to the position where paradoxically, if citizens can pretend that we don’t have a government and therefore try to solve their problems, not expecting much from government.
When in 2003, two economists from Columbia’s University in New York wrote this very damning IMF working paper in which they basically suggested that governing or governance in Nigeria is so fundamentally incompetent and that Nigerians are better off without a government, many people took offence.
That was in 2003?
Yes. In 2003! Their names are Arvind Subramania and Xala-IMartin. In that paper, they basically suggested that Nigeria would be better off, if oil receipts if you just sat down and wrote out for any Nigerian their portion and send it out to each of them from the welfare optimisation point of view, the economy would grow better.
It might seem sarcastic and extreme, but there are many lessons in that. Indeed, I tried to pursue an understanding of the subject better because that strategy of redistribution of mineral wealth, they are not the only ones who have suggested it and in some manner, there are some societies that practice it in some ways.
Which countries or societies?
The state of Alaska in the United States, in a certain months of the year, write out cheques to all Alaskans, that represent a certain portion of their oil wealth rent or tax. Alberta in Calgary, Canada, also has a version of that.
For years, I was really trying to explain without the obsessive partisanship or ethnicity that colour the Nigerian conversations and debates- tying to explain why Nigerian government is fundamentally incompetent by its nature. It is a very difficult explanation to make.
You mean Nigerian government over time?
For the past 30 to 40 years, the government has been so fundamentally incompetent in optimis-ing the welfare of the citizens. A few individuals have had a great party at the expense of all of us. But the truth of the matter is that for a very long time, the Nigerian governmental system, at any level- local, state or federal- have typically done so much damage to our welfare function as a people that I have several times suggested that we will be better off without a government.
This led to struggles for explanations on why this is so. Last year, the Nigerian Order of Merits (all the past winners), the so-called intellectuals of the country, they have an annual meeting in which they review the situation in the country and make recommendations. So, they invited me to speak.
I was quite harsh in my views on where we are and why we are here, blaming everybody, including them, the academics and all that because part of the problem in Nigeria is the failure to attain modernity. In that lecture, I quoted from a book written by a Nigerian based in California, Prof. Olufemi Taiwo, ‘Africa must be modern’.
His basic thesis was that when he was in the University of Ibadan, he was a kind of a Marxist and all the things Marxism suggested about capitalism and how it leaves the society and all the rest of that. So, when he got to Toronto, Canada to do his doctorate degree, he went to see the damages of capitalism on class structure and all that.
He went round Toronto. He didn’t see any slum and he said wait a minute; this is confusing. This is not what Marx said. In the end, he concluded that Africa’s problem was neither class nor capitalism but that the continent refused to be modern. So, he wrote the book ‘Africa must be modern’.
I felt it is brilliant. But my favourite of those who write about this type of philosophy is a German called Jurgen Harbamas. He talks about the public sphere. That is an arena of conversation in which the society decides what is good for it.
The problem is that Nigeria doesn’t have a public sphere. You can’t even have a civilised conversation. If you dare suggest that things could be done in a different way, you become the enemy of all those who are doing it the wrong way, including your own party members. For them, partisanship is the blind following of a failing option.
You find out that people suddenly become enemies of their best friends, especially, when your best friends are not cheerleading the failed options. In really trying to seek explanation to the problems of Nigeria, I thought to myself, wait a minute! In 1980/81, when I was writing my PHD thesis, whom did I not talk to on the process of making of economic policies in Nigeria?
The way it was running, I spent time talking to leading civil servants from the 60s, 70s and 80s, military and political leaders on how economic policies are made in Nigeria.
So, I told the Order of Merits that Nigeria has not been modern. We don’t have a quality conversation. They, who are super-intellectuals, are not even talking. Those who should not be afraid are not talking. They asked me how I can accuse everybody. Of the entire question that day, it was Prof. Adele Jinadu, who asked me the most vital question. He said “Is there a state capture of all the problems in the society?”
What is the answer?
A great question! The truth of the matter is that the Nigerian state has been basically held captive by a group of people for a long time. The failure of Nigeria is a failure of the group that has held Nigeria captive. I realised that I have not even featured enough the role of state capture in my analysis of the problems of Nigeria. The more I talk about it, the more the scales began to fell off my eyes. I said Oh my goodness! Nigeria is a victim of the class of 1966. I have written about it in one or two places.
How is 1966 affecting Nigeria today?
Really, what happened is that in 1966, a group of young military officers captured Nigeria and for 50 years, Nigeria has remained captive. The reason Nigeria is a failure and Nigeria is a failure if we have to be honest with ourselves in terms of welfare of the citizens. If you take the welfare of the citizens, a classic example is the comparism of Nigeria and Indonesia.
In the 60s, Indonesia was saying we wish we could be like Nigeria. Today, Nigerians are saying we wish we could be like Indonesia. More than anything else, Nigeria’s development compared to Indonesia proves that Nigeria is a failed state in terms of the welfare of the citizens. If you then accept that as a reality and ask how has that happened?
What you see is that within this class of 1966, there are three sets of people in contestation for power. As a group, they have held power from 1966 till date unbroken. Once in a while, acute legitimacy crisis forces them to allow their surrogates to go forward.
That is why you had the types of Shehu Shagari as President. Once that surrogate tries to move Nigeria in a direction that their grips may lose, they quickly attack the surrogate. The coup of 1983 December, you can say anything you like, it was executed to prevent Dr. Alex Ekwueme from becoming the president in 1987, which was the path that was clearly emerging. If that happened, it would have broken the class of ‘66. It is the same thing that happened to Atiku Abubakar.
They painted Atiku the most corrupt man even though we know that most of them are more corrupt than Atiku. Evidentially provided, if Atiku is even corrupt, they are more corrupt than him. It was simply because the class of ‘66 knew that Atiku has enough gumption to stop them if he had power.
There are three groups in the Class of 66. One group is the moderniser wannabes. They would want Nigeria modernised. They are envying the South Korea and Suharto of Indonesia, their colleagues who changed their countries as soldiers.
But they didn’t have the discipline to do what the South Korean, Brazilian General and Suharto did. They didn’t have the personal discipline. They were lulled into comfort by oil receipts. They basically had a live and let live philosophy which eventually led to the collapse of culture in Nigeria. But they desired good.
Who are the people in this group?
Babangida was a classic representative of that group; the second group that I call the narcissistic influencers, derived from narcissism or self love. These are people, who really, it’s themselves that matter. They can dress it up in patriotism or anything but they have obsessive self love. They are after who will appoint a minister from there, who will do this and that. This group has been the group that balances between the first and third groups and has been around consistently…
The Obasanjos of this world?
You know that. You are very fast. There is another person. I won’t mention his name because that one is driven by money.
(Laughter) That is the second group. The third group is what I call the entitlement minded praetorian guards. This people feel they are entitled to Nigeria. They feel that they slaved to win the civil war. So Nigeria is their personal entitlement.
Everything should come to them, whether they are prepared for power, have anything to make Nigeria better or not, they are entitled to power. I leave you to fit those names. So, this is what has defined the Nigerian State for 50 years.
So, this problem has been fundamentally responsible for the eclipse of the promise of the founding fathers of the Nigerian nation. It is trying to play the games of the contending forces of the Class of 66 that has affected 2015 from being what Nigerians had hoped it would be.
2015 came with the promise of sending Jonathan out and bettering Nigeria. But it is as if Nigeria has gone 30 years back one year, few months after?
But you see what the nature and character of the class of 66 offers is that there are some people whom you must be careful of to get out of the picture so that they don’t constitute a threat to your way. That alone takes away what is needed in nation building, which is inclusiveness.
Leadership is about inclusion- finding your best and brightest to sit together and solve problems. But the nature and character of the Class of 66 makes it one; anti-intellectual. Forget that they will find some professors from time to time but basically, the Class of 66 is antiintellectual.
There is nowhere in the world that development has taken place without a strong intellectual component. Suharto saved Indonesia. Even though he had the traits of the Class of 66, he found a group of young PHDs in economics, mainly turned out from the University of California, Beckley.
That was why they were known as the Beckley Mafia. So, in spite of Suharto, they basically saved their country. If you notice all the problems since the end of last year, it is a matter of exclusion.
Excluding the intellectuals?
Intellectuals, ethnicity, all kinds of groups that they are not comfortable with, within and without the party. That has left Nigeria more divided today than it was three years ago. Part of my problem with the Class of 66 is that their mantra is national unity- that you cannot compromise the national unity.
Yet, more than any group, they have moved Nigeria to the point of discontent; to the extent that Chidi Onumah’s book ‘We are all Biafrans’ in frighteningly true in its title. Everybody is unhappy with Nigeria today, whether we like it or not.
So, it is the character of the Class of 66 that has brought us to where we are today. Any intelligent person can understand what I am saying. I don’t want to go personal.
How can it be remedied? Are we going to continue like this forever?
I don’t know. Nigerians can make their choices but I think we need a movement in the country that is mainly non partisan that recognises where the problem is coming from. There must really be an eclipse of the Class of 66. The danger is that they have been creating cronies.
But one of the wonderful things that have happened in the past one year is that the particular group of Class of 66 that has been disrupting the flow of the class is in power. So, that may be a major gain that they must have democratised or universalised discontent to the point that the Nigerian people may rise against what is happening.
Do you see that happening? Nigerians are so divided along party, ethnic and religious lines that people don’t see white or black for what they are?
You see people will not do that if they fail to see that where we are going is the path that was painted by Robert Kaplan in his book, ‘The coming anarchy’. It is an analysis of West Africa on how ethnicity, religion and even economic divides, weak infrastructure, no light; at night it is the most dangerous part of the world- West Africa.
This is the situation in Nigeria where people will see anarchy. Then you ask yourself, do you prefer anarchy or restructuring this thing that is not working? That’s really what the challenge would be. I am not sure many people will prefer anarchy but it may run out of their control and become what we didn’t plan.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo last week said the APC is weak in government and PDP weak in opposition. How do you relate that to what we are saying?
Well, he should be in better position to explain that. Not me. Those are his comments, I don’t know. But of course, in the main, he is right. It is precisely the point I was making in painting the picture of the class of 66. The Class of 66 believes in divide and rule, believes in conquest, rather than accommodation.
And so, they are in a conquest mood and it is not sustainable. Finally, we have the Dollar policy, the removal of fuel subsidy and other issues around the economy. The arguments have raged for long on subsidy removal. It has been done but it appears Nigerians are not seeing the benefits now.
Does what is happening now sustain that argument or it summarises the other argument against the nature of our economy and its handlers? You have asked a question that will take four hours and all most all your newspaper to answer.
I don’t have four hours and there is not enough print to give it to your readers. But the simple truth is that we keep running away from how we fix our problems. And in many ways, by running away, we are even more responsible for most of the problems. If you ask me in one line, I can tell you that this is a self-inflicted, policy driven recession.
There was no reason for it to happen. If you say that oil prices have fallen, Emir Lamido Sanusi has spoken already. I don’t need to stress that. If something that contributes 15 per cent of your GDP is down, what of the other 85 per cent? As you and I speak, there are many foreign companies that have pulled out of Nigeria or are getting ready to pull out of Nigeria.
It has nothing to do with oil prices. It just has to do with how government officials are treating them- disrespect for foreign investors and all the rest of it. Foreign Diplomats are talking of how their companies are being disrespected; how they are treating them at EFCC. So, it’s a much more complex issue than talking about oil prices going down.
Let’s be fair to people in government. Some of them don’t even see what we see. I can tell you one of the biggest shocks I have had is being at an event, where one of the most senior traditional economists in Nigeria was saying ‘look, foreign investors, what do they bring? They just come and borrow money from Nigerian banks and take money away.’
I nearly fainted because this is somebody that would be taken seriously. Take a book of foreign investments. The telecom industry in Nigeria would not have been what it is if foreign investors did not bring the huge money they brought in here to modernise the economy.
The consequence of telecom privatisation is part of the growth of the Nigerian economy. If you try to quantify it, you will wonder how a distinguished economist could say that. So, we’ve got serious problems. That is why we need a public sphere, where you can have robust discussions with the likes of Ayo Teriba, Bismark Rewane and young Turks to come and debate with these people.