These are not only hard times for the whole world but also the right moment for individual countries to re-invent themselves
IT is clear to those who pay attention to signs in their lives—be they individuals or countries—that these are not only hard times for the whole world but also the right moment for individual countries to re-invent themselves in preparation for post-pandemic reality. The coronavirus pandemic has created a new awareness of the place of human beings in an interconnected world—easy to spread diseases that started one country to all the continents. Nothing has demonstrated the equality of us all before nature better than the reality of coronavirus pandemic. Many countries, especially those the pandemic met in a situation of reasonable preparedness for eventuality and those countries, like most of the postcolonial states in Africa that received the pandemic in a state of economic paralysis, have been forced by the pandemic to look back at their folly.
Regardless of whether petroleum becomes a victim to the pandemic, the post-Covid19 moment in Nigeria will be ripe for reform, as the country is likely to come out of the pandemic much poorer and less capable of make noticeable presence in the life of citizens any better than it has been in the last 20 years. And whatever reforms the country chooses to make should include preparing for post-petroleum ethos that may come, despite assurances by political leaders of return of petroleum to its former economic importance in Nigeria’s economy and governance. The complication of Nigeria’s decades of failure to nudge the country in the direction of politics of peace and prosperity before the pandemic will still require self-reform, if Nigerians seek to live in a country that spends its resources on nation building, rather than on geopolitical scheming by any ethnic group in charge of the national government.
In a recent paper, “Nigeria’s Economy After Oil: How should we prepare?” by Bode Agusto, the author called for three strategies considered crucial for Nigeria to move beyond dependence on revenue from petroleum: Improve income distribution; better manage population; and grow output. These three suggestions capture important aspects of needed economic reform. And many spokespersons for the federal government would say that many of the suggested steps to change the old economy are already receiving attention at the table of the Buhari administration. However, such steps are so far baby steps, especially that until now, reliance on oil revenue remains crucial to the economy, thus explaining what seems like collapse of the nation’s economy once the pandemic arrives and oil revenue collapses.
While those currently in power are likely to continue to poohpooh calls for political restructuring, even after it occurs to them that circumstances of post-pandemic era are too obvious to discountenance, it is important to stress that the ace is now more in favor of those calling for political cum economic reform than ever before. It is those who see the wisdom in changing the course of the country from insistence that national politics be played like geopolitics (with emphasis on sharpening skills of whichever ethnic/religious in power to dominate others) that need to endure in struggling for what is right for Nigeria and by implication for the rest of sub-Sahara Africa. But it is necessary for those committed to re-invent the country to give more attention to the paradigms that seem to dominate political discourse, authored largely by politicians benefitting from the status quo and public intellectuals that share their ideology of power in a multiethnic polity and society.
One of such paradigms popularized by opponents of demand for political restructuring is the notion that the country’s greatest fault lines are ethnic and religious diversity. British colonial administrators and anthropologists had claimed that pre-colonial nationalities in Nigeria were not good enough to cope with the demands of modern nationhood as individual nation-states, hence the decision to bring several nationalities (tribes to use the words of Frederick Lugard) into one large multiethnic state with the possibility of becoming a ‘supra-ethnic’ state. The sorry part of the one-century old colonial political anthropology is that many of our own post-colonial intellectuals seem to have interiorized the folk theory about the inapplicability of the Westphalian concept of nation precolonial states on the ground in 1900, such as Edo, Hausa, Oyo empires, to name a few. At the time that Lugard veiled the rationale for creating a unitary Nigeria in 1914, each of the Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Edo, Kanuri states or empires was larger than Holland, Belgium, Ireland, and many other independent states in Europe and Latin America.
Instead of joining what has amounted to tiptoeing around existence of multiple ethnicities and faiths in Nigeria, it is necessary for autonomists to address promotion of post-ethnic federation as a development or political mantra. There is no concept or practice in modern history of post-ethnic federation. No nationality in modern history has willed itself to death so that it can cohabit in peace with its neighbors in the same political space. So, to hope that Nigeria’s salvation lies in the ability of its nationalities to self-erase in preparation for a supra-ethnic Nigerian identity is an illustration of mindless denialism. Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Ethiopia are examples of modern multiethnic federations, and none of them has been able to annul its cultural diversity. Not even the United Kingdom that created Nigeria has achieved a post-ethnic imagination; otherwise, Sturgeon and Johnson would not have talked about a four-nations approach to handling the pandemic, where four nations refer to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
Similarly, the school of thought represented by those in power in Nigeria that the absence or elusiveness of national unity is the cause of Nigeria’s lack of development is another distraction. This thinking looks more like naming the cause of an action its effect and the effect as cause. The challenge for serious political and economic thinkers is to look for the root of elusiveness of national unity in the country. Is elusive unity rooted in absence of justice, fairness, and equality in the country? Can it be traced to the history of introduction of replacement of political reintegration of the country after the Civil War with geopolitical games during regimes of military dictators from the north or southern dictators beholden to northern leaders? For example, can lack of trust generated by President Buhari’s preference for fellow northerners or Muslims for head of every national security agency diminish sense of belonging in sections of the country discountenanced in the president’s nominations for national appointments?
Tiptoeing around religion is like tiptoeing around ethnicity. There were many faiths in the space that became Nigeria before the colonialists came. For example, Yoruba and Hausa traders who wanted to make a living from their vocations by trading with other nationalities without intending to rule over anybody mixed freely regardless of religious affiliation. And about 90% of the country’s population are still doing so today. Can it be that a narrow band of political leaders has become an obstacle to national unity so that it can fearmonger with the mantra of national unity? The answer to a multireligious society that has worked elsewhere is to make the polity of such country constitutionally secular.
Under the current nominal federalism designed by military dictators to keep the country together through distribution of petrodollars to states and local governments while keeping the hands of those subnational governments tied behind their backs to innovate, it is rational for sincere patriots of a multiethnic Nigerian state to start thinking proactively about consequences of what Nigeria’s economy may be like after the pandemic—oil or no oil. It is a good time for Nigerian leaders to benefit from a Yoruba proverb: Otosi ko ni idi lati beru ayipada (a poor man or country has no reason to be opposed to reforms).
The post-pandemic global ethos is likely to be different from the one in which development partners have more surplus funds to give aid to countries that have not grown out of seeking aid for over half a century of independence. For now, development partners may be enthusiastic to provide aid, grants, and concessional loans to Nigeria out of the feeling that continued epidemic in any part of the global market is dangerous to all continents. Many of the countries willing to assist Nigeria now may not even have enough for their own citizens after the pandemic.
Restricting reform to just economic diversification is not enough to meet the needs of Nigeria in the years ahead. A situation in which revenue in Nigeria continues to be transferred to 36 states that have been rendered impotent by over centralization of fiscal powers is more likely to hurt economic diversification than it can help it. Despite whatever may be the preference of a section of the political landscape and international policy wonks of Nigeria’s ubiquitous development partners about demand for political reform, the sensible way for Nigeria to prepare for the years beyond the pandemic is to restructure its polity and its economy, not one without the other, for growth of peace and prosperity.
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