Saturday, June 11, 2005

Debt Relief: The Need for a Paradigm Shift in Nigeria

I got wind of an upcoming CNN program about Nigeria, so I went to their website to dig up more info. Thanks Black River Eagle for the “heads up”. I got the details, but I also experienced what I have not felt in a long while about Nigeria; anger and disappointment. “Business Traveller is from Lagos in Nigeria, which is the world's third most corrupt country, according to Transparency International, a non-governmental organization focused on combating corruption...” This is the opening statement about the program: Risky business on CNN International web page. Given that this statisticshas been around for a while, I was surprised at the extent of my anger. The fact that there wasn’t any particular focus for my anger, makes me even more angry. The anger led to some sober reflections about the Nigerian situation.

How could we have ended up in a deep shithole (apologies for my lingo readers, but that is the fact) is troubling considering all the gifts mother nature has bestowed on Nigeria. I guess we all played a part in this mess. You may wonder that after all, the majority of Nigerians were not in any position to effect change, so could they have played a role in these? It was the soldiers and politicians that caused this mess, many have said. But we are always quick to blame the politicians and high-ranking, pot-bellied soldiers for our problems. This is an easy and convenient answer, and it no longer holds water. The soldiers could not have single handedly dragged the nation down to the bottom. The military were not privy to the workings of the bureaucracy. They needed an insider, a “Yes Sir” man in the person of the bureaucrats, and the majority of employed Nigerians are government bureaucrats.

The bureaucrats collaborated, brown-nosed, butt-licked, and dined with the soldiers (they are doing the same with the politicians now), kept a low profile, and gleefully and surreptitiously sucked the milk of life out of the nation. Even the billions stolen by the likes of Abacha are insignificant if one considers the cumulative amount stolen by hundreds of these bureaucrats since the onset of independence (1960). They were the catalytic agents that jump-started the institutionalization of corruption in Nigeria. The bureaucrats being professionals and the work force of the government should have known better.

The masses on the other hand were so battered that all that mattered for many was to survive, pay homage and look up to the rogue-politicians for their sustenance. Many of us checked out of the country for greener pastures when we couldn’t bear the oppression anymore. “We all chickened out”. But many have found out that home is where the heart is, and that is in Nigeria – otherwise others and I won’t be wasting our time doing this.

The ongoing exercise to bring the corrupt to justice is commendable, but the approach is questionable. Year 2007 is around the corner, Obasanjo and many of the current elected officials will soon quit: will their predecessors fare better? So far that possibility looks bleak, and some of the tested but empty mindshave started honing their strategies to return.

Why must we all wait to be elected, appointed, promoted, selected or even conscripted before we start effecting changes? The assumption that a paradigm shift has to be confrontational, sensational, radical or revolutionary to be meaningful is not always true. The most effective changes were usually quiet and subtle, and were often initiated by ordinary citizens. Not only the bourgeois have ideas! What is important is a critical mass. Neither can a social change be effected through non-participation and boycotts. That is pre-historic tactics, sorry PRONACO.

The soldiers have come and gone (hopefully), but the bureaucracy remains. Despite the recent gloomy projections from some quarters, our creditors are magnanimous enough to contemplate debt relief. How are we sure that the scroungers in the system, the pen bandits, will not subject the nation to another round of thievery? How can we be sure that 10-15 years later we would have crawled out of the shithole? Are we sure we won’t have to deal with the rude discovery of some megabucks stashed away somewhere? How can we ascertain that the effect of G8 gesture will trickle down to those that need it most?

This is the time to start pondering, we the masses, bureaucrats, the politicians and soldiers, on how to complement the gesture of the nations offering to help to help us out. Are we all ready to play our parts in ensuring that we get out of this crap-hole as quickly as possible? Do we have the grace to clearly foresee the future, and act accordingly in order to usher in a more prosperous dawn for our descendants? For our nascent democracy to thrive and be more meaningful, a paradigm-shift is needed- a social change that requires a multifaceted and innovative approach in planning and execution.

For the time being, it is not clear how the effect of debt relief will revitalize our communities and those that have been oppressed and forgotten if we continue in our old ways of doing things- fiscal irresponsibility, ethnocentricity, religious intolerance, apathy and cynicism. Then we would have subliminally help perpetrate the rot that had pervaded the system for so long, and the concept of debt relief would amount to nothing, but another section in the archives of brilliant, but missed opportunities.