Nigeria and poverty of the mind
Politics is the art of choosing from alternative action paths for the promotion and enhancement of human welfare. Central to it is the challenge of wealth creation and poverty reduction. There is nothing in the world that says that a nation or a people must be poor; rather, poverty is a product of policy choices and their implementation over a period of time. It is the product of conscious decisions made by a people and their leadership. Given that available resources are limited, the prioritisation of the use of these resources under a scale of preference becomes the crucible to determine the rate of economic growth and development of any nation.
Since 1999, from the days of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, the 7-Point Agenda, Vision 20:2020 to the Transformation Agenda of the incumbent administration, a set of overarching goals and sectoral policies has been developed to move Nigerians from relative poverty to a land of production, improved service delivery and greater welfare for all citizens. At the continental level, we had the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. These policies touched on virtually all aspects of our lives from agriculture, commerce, education, entertainment and tourism, health, industry to the reform of governance systems. Nigeria has also witnessed increased oil revenues since 1999 and has earned much more rents than at any other period in its history. But the bulk of these oil rents have been stolen and the rest frittered away on frivolities by the political class.
Something is missing in all this articulation of development plans and high oil rent earnings. It is the ability and willingness of the leadership and the led to transform the economy into one that works for all; the ability to think beyond today and strategise for tomorrow, not on paper but in practical action. This raises the central poser for this discourse; is the Nigerian nation operating under a curse or are we the architects of our misfortune? Yes, admitted that people residing in territories that today make up Nigeria were sold into slavery and were later colonised, are we bound to remain as slaves or a colonised people despite our flag independence? Do we lack the capacity to challenge the orthodoxies that have kept us down and stalled our development? It is the position of this discourse that we have yet to shake off the docility of a colonised and subjugated people. It is not about physical colonisation and subjugation which stopped in 1960 but the persisting mentality of being less than humans, who have come to accept abnormality and irrationality as norms of existence and governance.
One set of colonisers left and another set occupied the scene. This time, the colonisation is not based on race, tribe or colour of skin but the dichotomy between the leaders, more appropriately described as rulers and the led/ruled. It is this indigenous form of colonisation that has left us prostrate. It is essentially a colonisation of the mind. The strange aspect of this mindset subjugation is that it is not championed by official philosopher kings but by street ruffians who found themselves in the corridors of power. The stranger aspect of this is that our official philosopher kings by learning have been overwhelmed and now take dictations from those they are supposed to lead.
Everywhere you look around, all you see is missed opportunities and our inability to take advantage of glaring opportunities. The challenges we see today are the lunch-pads for greatness and we should not be waiting for anyone to solve our existential problems. Take the challenge of our dependence on imported foods when we have sufficient arable lands and enough aquatic resources for fish production. We have no business importing rice, flour, tinned tomato, fish, beef, poultry and milk, etc. There is also no reason informing our lack of competitive ability in cocoa, palm produce and other crops that used to be our forte in the First Republic. When you recall that Nigeria had established universities of agriculture, various agricultural faculties in other universities, so many research institutes under the Ministry of Agriculture, you will shudder at our folly. By any methodology of doing a value for money analysis, have these institutions delivered according to the mandate given to them? The agriculture example replicates in virtually all sectors from education, health, manufacturing, etc. But in all these, we had several leaders who received innumerable awards for moving us “forward”. It is the poverty of the mind that has removed our natural “can do” spirit and replaced the same with subservience, importation and dependence.
Thus, promises are made by the leadership and remain unfulfilled and no one takes them to task. Pray, how many Nigerians had the presence of mind to study the earlier mentioned development plans or even the promises documented in the manifesto of political parties before voting for candidates. The decision to cast a vote is determined by primordial apriori considerations and this deepens the poor mind into greater poverty. The person benefitting from the vote gets it because he is from the same religious or ethnic affiliation as the voter. The politician is merely empowered to go and steal on behalf of the ethnic or religious group. However, it has never been reported that at an Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Arewa, etc meeting that someone came with billions to declare that this is what he took from the federal treasury on behalf of their group and wants deliberations on how it can be best used to better the lot of the identified ethnic group. The man simply steals just for himself and by extension his immediate family.
It is this same poverty of the mind that motivates an “elected leader” to steal so much that needs to be kept in the vaults of European, American and Asian financial institutions even when such countries continually tell them not to bring the loot to their shores. Clearly, it is the decision of a slave to steal from the common patrimony and hand the same over to a foreign master. What is the difference between catching slaves for a foreign master and clearing the treasury and handing over to the same foreign master? It is also the manifestation of a slave’s mind when a court of law acquits a man who has serially looted state resources while another grants a perpetual injunction restraining anybody from prosecuting a corrupt politician.
Nigerians are the cause of their misfortune. Our greatest affliction is the poverty of the mind. We refuse to develop our mind and consciousness beyond the primordial level. Our refusal to deploy analytics and interrogate all “givens” is responsible for our inability to compete with the rest of the world. The internal colonisers simply take advantage of this poverty of the mind and break our ranks with inanities which we continue to chase while they milk the treasury. Finally, in the words of the lyrics of late Bob Marley, we need to “emancipate ourself from mental slavery” because, “none but ourselves can free our own minds”. By extension, when we free our minds and recognise that we are free men and women, then our journey to development will begin.
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