The Fourth is strong in this one

(By Paul Edor Obi Jr)

My issue with The Fourth are as such not simply that it exists. Rather, it is because it lives, that it, and the unfortunate backwardly side effects it brings, has become so entrenched in the psyche of the Nigerian that it has become the norm. Rather than asking whether it can be done without and even more disturbingly, the reverse has begun to take place, in the reluctance to do anything that would place more of the responsibility for provision of said services on the government. The Fourth has become such an economic powerhouse, with the vested interests of a large percentage of the political and executive elite embedded in it.

MY lucky number is the number 7. I was born on the 7th, in 1987, so in many ways it feels like I was predisposed toward that number. Nevertheless, in the lucky number sweepstakes, I am willing to admit that the number three reigns supreme, regardless of my filiation for the 7th digit. Three is just, well, perfect.

    Why? Well, three medals are awarded at the Olympics and sporting events; atoms consist of protons, electrons and neutrons; humans perceive white light as a mixture of green, red, and blue, the primary colours; the earth is the third planet from the sun; the tricolour is the most popular sort of national flag, as is the triband; Pi equals 3.14, which can be approximated to three (ok that might be pushing it a bit); bad luck is said to come in threes but three is seen as a lucky number in Chinese culture because it sounds like the word “alive” (four, incidentally, sounds like the word “death”); Abrahamic religions, one of three main groups of comparative religion, include Christianity, Islam and Judaism; during ablution, a Moslem is required to wash the required parts three times; Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are the three holy cities of Islam; the three wise men left the Baby Jesus three gifts; Jesus was crucified along with two other people; Catholicism claims there to be three realms of the afterlife; Christianity, and a few other religions, believe in the concept of a trinity.

   The list could genuinely be endless. I could even ask you to provide and I suspect we could break some sort of record. It is indeed truly quite easy to make such a list (one can always find coincidence when one is looking for it) but I honestly believe that three is seen as the optimum number for most of the structures of humanity, some of which we are not even aware of.

   Now contrast that with the number four. I for one have always felt that the number four has a particular extraordinary feel to it, in the sense of being an unlikely addition to it. As alluded to earlier, the number four is considered extremely unlucky in not only China but few other East Asian countries as it sounds like death in their languages, a mere syllabic difference causing this caustic difference in the impression it gives. There may indeed be four terrestrial planets but only one can support human life; of the four heart chambers the left ventricle is made of much stronger muscles than the others; don’t get me started on Northern Ireland; I’d give you ₦10,000 if you told me the name of one  Beatles song that Ringo Starr wrote; the Qur’an is the only uncorrupted Islamic holy book of; the three synoptic gospels differ from the gospel of John in their emphasis on the stories of Christ’s life; and the rider of the pale horse, is the only horseman accompanied and not described as carrying any weapon.

   Again, as with my vignette on the number 3, my examples are, of course, open to interpretation. I suspect that one could find enough examples to oppose my point and have no qualms admitting that this is very much a matter of opinion.  Nevertheless, it is apparent that most of the world’s institutions are formed in threes. Take a look at the concept of government even. Most nations have three arms/branches of government (executive, judiciary and legislature), as well as three tiers of government (federal, state and local). Even in constitutional monarchies, power is divided between the monarchy and the two bicameral houses of parliament. Very few sane people argue for the institutionalisation of a fourth tier or arm of government as it is assumed that this three-pronged attempt at balancing the powers is most stable and effective.

   Sadly, however, Nigeria appears to have come as close to institutionalising a fourth arm or tier of government without actually legalizing it. Whilst most uses of the term in Western democratic contexts are pejorative in reference to the influence of a sector of society on the other official arms of government, the opposite occurs here. The fourth tier/estate/branch surreptitiously exists concurrently with our government and provides the services that our government is unable, unwilling or unqualified to provide.

    What exactly do I mean by what I shall henceforth refer to as The Fourth? Do you have a generator in your house? You are part of The Fourth. Are you a security guard? You are part of The Fourth. Do you, not being a member of the government, a member of the armed forces or a high-ranking diplomat, feel the need to traverse under armed escort? You are definitely part of The Fourth. In essence, The Fourth runs the gamut of individual citizens who, because of the aforementioned inability, apatheia and misappropriations of our governments, have been forced into providing the services that it ought to provide, namely reliable electricity, policed law enforcement, safety and security provided by the armed services, clean running water, universal health care, good roads and lots of others.

   Please do not feel that I fail to understand or see the positive impacts of those members of The Fourth on our nation. I doubt not how much of an impediment the lack of constant electricity supply would be to the growth of our economy without generators. When I narrowly escaped armed robbery in traffic, I know how much I wished I had an armed escort. Equally, only the presence of such an armed escort in the Niger Delta or parts of Northern Nigeria could assuage the rather reasonable fears of incoming foreign investors. Finally, the prevalence in Nigeria of the four-wheel drive off-road vehicles commonly referred to as “Jeeps” are not merely a status symbol (although partly) but rather a response to the inability of cheaper lower cars to cope adequately and with longevity on our roads.

   My issue with The Fourth are as such not simply that it exists. Rather, it is because it lives, that it, and the unfortunate backwardly side effects it brings, has become so entrenched in the psyche of the Nigerian that it has become the norm. Rather than asking whether it can be done without and even more disturbingly, the reverse has begun to take place, in the reluctance to do anything that would place more of the responsibility for provision of said services on the government. The Fourth has become such an economic powerhouse, with the vested interests of a large percentage of the political and executive elite embedded in it.

   Take the seemingly least harmful of the given examples: our roads and our jeeps. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with people buying large cars. In some countries, people just love to drive in monsters. America has one of the best road systems in the world, yet people drive around in cars that make our Land Cruisers seem like hobbits. Nevertheless, they can do so because their society as a whole is a lot more responsible in purchasing things they can afford (with a GDP per capita $48,328 (IMF, 2011) compared to our $2,582 (IMF, 2011), they can afford a lot more than we can). The large number of Nigerians with jeeps are, therefore, stuck incurring comparatively larger operating costs in terms of purchase, fuel and maintenance, which in turn prevent them from investing in other more worthwhile ventures. Are we attempting to fix this problem? No, because our jeeps make do and (depressingly) because it would ruin the businesses of various jeep manufactures in the Nigerian market.

   Then, there is the twinned issue of security in Nigeria, in terms of law enforcement or the maintenance of security and safety of the country’s inhabitants. Now, first of all, the first and foremost duty of a national government is the protection of its citizens. Without that, the purpose of a government is defeated. Now, it is only fair to mention that Nigeria is not the only country in the world with the presence of non-governmental security forces. Similarly, there are laudably stricter rules than those in the U.S. governing what persons may carry armed weapons. Nevertheless, it places the scant number of policemen that are out there in a difficult position when dealing with these security personnel.   Are they civilians? Can they be arrested like everyone else? However, this is relatively innocuous comparative to the issue of individuals, even members of the military and police, using the said forces as their own personal security. We have all been at or heard of an event of which it was said that “half of the police in the city were there”. While this may be an exaggeration, there are often cases where, as a demonstration of dignities, some important person has an inordinate amount of security at an event, drawing resources away from places of need. Nigeria being what it is, our forces lack the flexibility that can deploy them to so and so place at short notice. Therefore, where there is a situation in the mainland while a large proportion of the force is on the island for that important person’s daughter’s wedding, our security services are left hopelessly abandoned.

   Finally, and most pressingly, are the issues of generators and our electricity supply. As mentioned earlier, I am fully versed on the ways by which the use of generators has contributed positively to the Nigeria economy. But let’s look at the maths. At the end of the past decade, the World Bank calculated that the electricity situation was losing Nigeria about $600 million a year. Concurrently, according to findings in GlobalData’s “Diesel and Gas generator, 2012”, the market for diesel and gas generators in Nigeria is valued at about $450 million year. Thus, for every $10 Nigeria loses through the electricity situation, $7.50 is pocketed by those providing generators for us. That may not sound particularly lurid, until you consider the implications of that market value. In purely realpolitik terms, what incentive would the government have to resolve the power situation, when it risks stemming the flow of a large part of $450 million into the Nigerian economy? Sure, doing so could earn it $600 million but the opportunity costs that would be the sums it would have to invest in power sector improvement and, the effort it would have to actually make in ensuring its policies are implemented. And when it comes down to it, in Nigeria, little seems worth actual governmental effort.

   Through much more cynical eyes, as the CEO of a company operating in a market that was worth $450 million, you’d be pretty resistant to anyone trying to reduce the value of your market. You’d probably lobby (used in Nigeria, “lobby” is a euphemism for another 5 letter word) to ensure that no action was taking to destabilise your market. Unlike most people, this doesn’t particularly anger me. Jon Stewart, the American comedian and host of The Daily Show once said, “If corporations are people, then they’re sociopaths.” Corporations are intrinsically made to be as profitable as possible. So, in a country like Nigeria where graft and underhandedness is sine qua non, corporations in it almost have responsibilities to its shareholders to be part of that culture. If that means directly persuading the government to ignore the power sector, depriving the large number of Nigerians unable to afford a generator without electricity, well, pity.

   If I am honest, the concept of The Fourth was not wholly mine. My father mentioned it while discussing with a friend the lengths one will go just to have constant electricity. My father is at that age where he makes tremendously entertaining, if ever so slightly sensationalistic, apercus ever so often that I could quite easily write articles on them. However, what struck me about this was how indisputably and dreadfully true it was. And is. And, as the generator market is estimated to grow to $950 million by 2020, it sadly appears shall be for years to come. The powers against it are substantial. We have gone from the rock of MEND to the hard place that is the Boko Haram epidemic so the culture of using our security forces as personal security shall remain for quite a while, and until our roads undergo radical renovations, people shall continue to live hand to mouth just so they can afford to buy a jeep. Thus, The Fourth shall continue to be as much a part of our government as the other three are, whilst still, as with all other fourths throughout time, remaining out of the ordinary.

   As for the title of this piece, it’s a Star Wars reference. Think about it.

•Obi Jr, a writer, lives in London.

“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.”

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