My Street Is Drained - Pat Utomi
Prof. Pat Utomi

Nigeria Is Not Working – Pat Utomi

7 months ago
6 mins read

Most Nigerians think their country is not working. They may frame it differently but they are frustrated with the Nigeria project.

The three prisms through which they view the shared frustration include a rejection of the proposition, usually where they derive short term personal benefits from the turn-by-turn abuse of the state capture group. Still they know their window of rent may not last long so they have suspended weariness.

Another, usually the excluded, often saber rattling about self determination wants a decision by peaceful means of how we travel our different paths.

Then the third group simply wants to ‘manage’ it. To manage it, unfortunately is the dispiriting present which seems to point to anarchy or the road to Somalia. This present carries with it the baggage of a legitimacy which cripples governance even if the best of talent were found for governing. But IOUs for holding on to power should mean merit will count for little and the most able will watch the damage from the ringside seat where they also see a flawed constitution setting back even good intentions.

READ ALSO: Slavery Is Not An Option – Pat Utomi

A thoughtful book written by a Catholic Priest of the Warri Diocese, Paul Irikefe, is titled ‘Why Nigeria Is Not Working – The Predicament and the Promise.’ The well researched book found James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu’s Why Nations Fail a useful Weather Vane. But it is another Priest and noted academic, Professor Anthony Akinwale who more boldly captures the frustration in his reflection at the launch of Dr Kayode Fayemi’s book. After raising the conceptual crisis of State, Nation, and country being wrongly used as synonyms, and pointing out that the 1999 Constitution makes the state and not the people sovereign, he summarized the Nigerian condition thus ‘What we have right now is a state held together at gunpoint’.

Few people can perform well or feel happy at gunpoint. But Nigeria fails to make progress for even more fundamental reasons than it being held together at gunpoint.

If we have any seriousness left in the land what should be on the front burner today is why is Nigeria not working and what can be done to make it work, if we have all bought the goggle of self determination or voted to Japa.

Those hustling to get their chunk of the state capture of the moment may not see clearly enough to understand how so much a lose-lose proposition extant conditions are. But it’s not so hard to smell the coffee.

Why do Nations thrive and make progress and some fail. Rev Irikefe does well to turn to Robinson and Acemoglu. Their thesis rests on the crucial place of Institutions In enabling progress. Ten years before Why Nations Fail was published I wrote a book of similar thrust titled Why Nations are Poor. The anchor of prosperity there, as in my 1998 book Managing Uncertainty, was Institutions.

Even before I ran into Douglass North at the Hoover Institution at Stanford in the Spring of 1996 I was clear in my head that Africa was stuck because its institutions froze in evolving under colonial rule. And the strong acknowledgment of Institutions as the key anchor of human progress has come through in the work of Historians as Nial Ferguson shows in Civilization, Economists, as Ragharan Rajan and Luigi Zingales show in Saving Capitalism from the Capitalusts, and Political Scientists like Elinor Lin Ostrom show in the work that led her to a Nobel prize as did Douglass North. Still our politicians run roughshod over our institutions and promise progress. That progress remains improbable. You cannot demolish institutions, either through bribery or at gunpoint and have sustainable progress.

To expect a country with little regard for its Institutions to thrive is wishful thinking. Nigeria continues to show poor respect for institutions beginning with the base Institution of the rule of law and a disposition to justice and fairness. A nation of bullies where might is typically right usually cannot sustain progress. Yet ordinarily intelligent people expect progress. Lost to them in gloating over money triumphs from momentary advantage in a rent economy is that many of those who enjoyed yesterday may have lost what they thought they gained already. Some have actually sunk to the depths of the valley.

The Nigerian political class continues to do everything it can to undermine our Institutions. Who trusts the Judiciary in Nigeria.

I have had foreign investors tell me for years that they could not get a thumbs up on that investment after an evaluation of the Nigerian judiciary.

To think this is the Bench on which Sir Adetobunboh Ademola, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa and Dr Taslim Elias, Justice Chukwunweike Idigbe and Kayode Esho once sat.

I have to confess that I lose sleep thinking of how to reform the judiciary that most ordinary Nigerians associate with the absence of Justice. As I think of how they come down in dispensing Justice on matters political I am reminded as they scheme for all kinds of technical excuse to twist the will of the people, of the motto of the University of Pennsylvania: Leges sine moribus vanae. Laws without Morals are useless. It is sad that is hoe thinking people, including many senior lawyers, think of the judiciary. I think even the Laissez faire writer Frederic Bastiat who wrote The Law in the 1840s, with such clarity, will lament how the Nigerian judiciary has crushed the rights and will of the people.

Who has respect for INEC. In any normal country, after the reports of International observers on INEC Mahmud Yakubu should have resigned to save the dignity of the institution, whether he thinks he is guilty or not. But this is Nigeria where shame has been expunged from the lexicon.

In addition to Institutions I had pointed to a few other factors critical for progress in Why Nations are Poor. I will draw from two more to show progress is improbable in Nigeria’s current state.

Next up are values. Culture matters.

A much regarded colloquium at Harvard in the late 1990s was on ‘How Values Shape Human Progress’. To be witness to Nigeria’s current politics is to observe a collapse of Culture. Character has been shredded at the Altar of convenience and the emotions of the gap between us and them.

The late Deacon Gamaliel Onosode once told me Nigeria was running a ‘ko mean’ economy. It does not matter. Gba beè. Just manage it. He lamented the tolerance for things not done well.

With culture, the consequences of just patching it up are even more grave. It becomes our way and poisons the future just as it sets standards for our young.

It is not frivolous that Jared Diamond in his study of how Societies have failed through human history finds values the central concept.

How is it possible then that we can watch a political class trigger a collapse of culture and somehow feel comfortable to analyze remarks by public officials as pointers to ease of doing Business and where the economy may be bound. It has to be playing Ostrich with head buried in the sand or wishful thinking advancing to a new level. Nigeria cannot work in its present state. Chief Afe Babalola has a pretty good understanding of this.

To have a state held together at gunpoint is to resume the slave trade long after William Wilberforce’s perseverance paid off with the articles of abolition.

The third factor to assess prospects of progress is Human Capital. It is the more concrete and tangible of the three even though a nice piece currently going viral, written by Ronald Bailey titled the secrets of intangible wealth shows how the wealth of Nations depends so much on the intangibles.

Education and Health care are so important for progress that we ignore them to and at our peril. Yet our leaders ignore them.

They are so important that the 2015 Nobel Prize Winner for Economics, Angus Deaton of Princeton titles his search for the Origins of Inequality – The Great Escape: Health Wealth and the Origins of Inequality.

If any one wants to understand China’s surge in prosperity they should read the speeches made in 1978 by Deng Xiao Ping about education, respect for knowledge and merit.

You cannot live in an age when Adrian Wooldridges study shows how Meritocracy shaped the modern world in his ‘Aristocracy of Talent’ and we watch the disregard for merit and talent by the dominant politicians in Nigeria who somehow continue to pretend that the motive of their involvement is our collective interest, and not wonder if the are sleep walking.

Our immediate task as citizens must therefore be to get together to interrogate how we can live together, the core values we desire to share and how civil society can prevent people of unacceptable character defining our National character and effecting a criminal hijack of politics in Nigeria.

I stand with Chief Afe Babalola and Chief Ayo Adebanjo in voting for a gathering to discuss how the peoples of Nigeria relate and the values they share, own, and live out everyday.

A right step in the direction of a more just society would require a pause, some exhaling and a truth and reconciliation time.

The truth of truths is that Nigeria is worth saving and it’s promise worth working towards. But if some do not want to make the effort to save it the rational thing to do would be a clarion call to return to thy tents.

Oil did damage to culture. Much worse, the loss of the work ethic as rent seeking behavior went up with Oil created a class that forgot how to produce, and developed an entitlement mentality that showcased Dutch Disease.

This has ruined the essence of achievement in public culture in Nigeria and encouraged undesirables into public life

The reason I am promoting a new tribe of patriots is to get Nigerians to find excitement in returning to who we were and can be. It is this tribe of remnants that can win the lost back to the values that can make a new prosperous Nigeria rise like a Phoenix from the Ashdump.

Surely a restructured Federation will help the cause and course of travel.


Patrick Okedinachi Utomi, Political Economist and Professor at the LBS is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.


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