(By Kolawole Talabi)
“With a population of over 160 million people and vast natural resources of which oil and gas are chief, Nigeria could very well serve as the trigger of the African gun given its geographic location in the centre curve of the continent, its political leadership in the West African sub-region, and its economic clout as the second-largest market in Africa. Despite these tremendous capacities, Nigeria has not been able to exert its full influence within Africa as a force for transformative change. This is mainly due to the predatory nature of its leaders whose ideological escapism is attuned with the decadence of imperial Rome.“
LOUIS XIV, France’s notoriously vain Sun King is often remembered for his famous remark— L’etat cest moi—which literally translates as ‘I am the state’. And since he was the state, monuments such as the magnificent Palace of Versailles which was built at the expense of the French peasantry came to epitomise the debaucheries which marked his 72-year reign as Europe’s longest-serving monarch. Some decades after his death, the legacy of kingly luxury which he bequeathed his royal descendants would eventually bankrupt the country and as a consequence, ignite the fiery spark of revolution that stripped the Bourbon dynasty of all its authority and gradually laid the foundation for today’s republican France.
The predatory state is not of a contemporary origin. Rather it is a recurring phenomenon with age-old historical antecedents. From ancient civilisations like Egypt, where Pharaohs were worshipped as gods to the relatively modern yet defunct Republic of Zaire, whose self-styled dictator was reputed to be richer than his entire nation at the time of his demise; the machinery of the predatory state has always been engineered to incorporate three distinct groups within any given polity usually in a quasi-symbiotic relationship that is structured by prevailing conventions. Time and again, the predatory state has assumed various differentiable forms under the unassuming banner of legal jargons. Nevertheless, its ultimate function remains unchanged: To maintain a continuous flow of income generated by the have-nots through the syndicated establishments of the haves to the pool of wealth created by the have-mores.
In order to fulfil this agenda, the have-mores alternatively known as the ruling elite class, have continuously monopolised the factors of production that unjustly tilts the lever of power—be it economic or political—in their favour. As a rule, many postcolonial societies have witnessed the hegemonic takeover of the majority by the minority as evidenced by the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Although in popular discourse and social conversation, much of the woes of the African economy have been attributed to its colonial creation by foreign settlers of Western origin. However, facts exist to prove that prior to independence, these European colonies—some of which had achieved a considerable level of autonomy—had an emerging middle-class with a buoyant economic base. Sadly, decades after the decolonisation of Africa, the partnership that ensued between the ruling class elite and the bureaucracy which they instituted to maintain their control over the apparatus of the state have deliberately reduced the once flourishing middle-class into economic dependants; destined to live off the crumbs which fall from the tables of the high and mighty.
With a population of over 160 million people and vast natural resources of which oil and gas are chief, Nigeria could very well serve as the trigger of the African gun given its geographic location in the centre curve of the continent, its political leadership in the West African sub-region, and its economic clout as the second-largest market in Africa. Despite these tremendous capacities, Nigeria has not been able to exert its full influence within Africa as a force for transformative change. This is mainly due to the predatory nature of its leaders whose ideological escapism is attuned with the decadence of imperial Rome.
Invariably, from the commanding heights of Aso Rock and the adjoining three arms zone where administrative power is concentrated in the Nigerian federation, many lobbyists prowl the corridors of power with no higher purpose than to increase their share of the ‘national cake’. The national cake includes but is not limited to statutory allocations, tax revenues, oil concessions and to the horror of donor countries and their attendant aid agencies—international loans and multilateral grants. As a topping on the cake, juicy contracts are awarded to execute grandiose projects—many of which have no bearing on the socioeconomic advancement of the general populace. The construction of a new national capital city with funds derived from the export of crude oil extracted from the mineral-rich but economically backward and until recently, politically marginalised Niger Delta region is a classic example of Nigeria’s top-to-bottom developmental approaches.
Couched in vague terms and wordy texts, decrees and legislations are semantically imbued with legal loopholes that encourage graft and waste. Together with their corporate stooges, political office holders successively recycle policies as a means of siphoning wealth from the public purse. First, it was the Five-Year Development Plans of the conflict-ridden 60s and the post-war 70s, and then followed the Structural Adjustment Programme of the 80s which effectively devalued the naira and sentenced thousands of Nigerian entrepreneurs into premature redundancy; thereby establishing a culture of brain drain among the nation’s educated workforce. The Abacha Administration of the mid to late 90s was favourable to corruption and nepotism which his opportunistic and rent-seeking cronies took as a shortcut to personal aggrandisement. To the dark-goggled dictator, the treasury had essentially become a sort of Monday market, which he looted with reckless abandon—even in plain view. By the 2000s, state-owned commercial concerns had become too moribund to oversee and grotesquely oversized for their level of productivity.
Interestingly, the restoration of civilian rule saw a move by the government towards the privatisation of many public companies. The resultant transfer of wealth to politically-connected executive vultures thus entered its penultimate phase as those monolithic corporations were sold at ridiculous sums. Only then did the perpetual milking of the proverbial cow commence. With that accomplished, they could dispense a fraction of their ill-gotten riches as largesse to secure honorary degrees and maintain chieftaincy titles that are ridiculously crafted with vainglorious superlatives in order to strengthen their powerbase and garner support at the disproportionally large grass-roots level during electioneering campaigns. Recent policies such as the unrealistic Vision 2020 and its unofficial replacement, the Transformation Agenda have been treated with suspicion that has morphed into scorn among the citizenry. Nonetheless, billions have been spent to ‘rebrand’ the nation to make the public more receptive of governmental programmes. In a recent development, the much-touted total deregulation of Nigeria’s petroleum sector by the government was successfully derailed by the oil cabals who consciously sought to protect their interests in the lucrative importation of energy products.
As Peter Evans rightly argued, predatory regimes are adept at extracting huge investable surplus for their personal uses, exploiting the people without regard for their welfare and as such, are best described as self-maximisers who impede economic transformation because the decision-making protocols which they use are not capitalistically sensible. Mobutu, Mubarak and Mugabe are archetypal models of predatory regimes that have successfully undermined the social contract which they voluntarily signed with their people. States exist to engender an environment where economic equity can be achieved by ensuring exchange so that the wealth created within its system is shared by all, and therefore, it is not reserved for the exclusive use of some select few. Thus, states are entrusted with powers and prerogatives to make decisions that safeguard the overall interests of its citizens. In the situation where a state lacks the will or capability to assume charge of its entities of exchange, and market forces are left to the caprices of a few persons, there is a great tendency for such individuals to be motivated by greed. As it is often the case, this enables the minority to appropriate for themselves patrimonial privileges that initiate a self-reinforcing upward spiral which results in a virtuous cycle of prosperity for some. The reverse is the case for the majority: a downward spiral which results in a vicious cycle of poverty for many.
In northern Nigeria, widespread abject poverty has bred religious extremism which in turn has considerably slowed the largely agrarian economy of the region. Capital flight is one of the realities of predatory states as businesses divest their resources, and in the absence of sustainable capital formation; scarcity prevails and youth unemployment rises. Great empires have been known to collapse when the gap between the rich and the poor became too much. The ties that bind men together melt like heated wax when a greater proportion of people within a society are robbed of their dignity. Consequently, the threads that hold the fabric of such societies quickly unravel and the whole house of cards comes crashing down. Year 2014 is just four months away but who knows if that year would usher in the much-needed change our country longs for or if life will go on business as usual.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”