As part of efforts to sanitise politics in Nigeria, a group of intellectuals recently gathered at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs to discuss how the politics of “stomach infrastructure” underdeveloped the country and chart the way forward
By Dike Onwuamaeze
Walter Rodney’s 1972 classic on How Europe Underdeveloped Africa re-echoed at the recent colloquium and book presentation in Lagos, sort of. For two days, February 3 and 4, 2016, a group of Nigerian intellectuals gathered at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) to trash out “How Politics Underdeveloped Nigeria”.
The tone for discussion at the event organised by the Centre for Value in Leadership (CVL) was set by Prof. Pat Utomi of the Lagos Business School. He attributed the country’s poor level of development to the fact that the very best of Nigeria’s educated citizens had never had the opportunity to run the country. He asserted that the initial progress the country recorded during its First Republic by progressive-minded intellectuals such as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first President, Tafawa Balewa, former prime minister, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, premier of the Western Region, Dr. Michael Okpara, premier of the Eastern Region, Ahamdu Bello, premier of the Northern Region and Dennis Osadebey, premier of Mid-Western Region who were at the helm of affairs began to recede with the era of military adventure into politics in 1966.The military showed contempt for education by hounding journalists and members of academia in the universities, some of whom were sacked for teaching what they were not paid to teach.
Matters became worst when the last set of military adventurers left office in 1999.Utomi argued that the followers of the Azikiwes, Awolowos and Bellos were sceptical about politics in 1999. This paved the way for the “bad men” of the military to move into the political space and seized it. They also used the offices they occupied to create monetary barriers for entry into politics to ensure that men whose essence was service were unable to return to the public service through politics. This killed developmental politics which, basically, is about progress in Nigeria. “One of the biggest threat facing our country today is poverty and human indignity. We are speaking of how politics underdeveloped Nigeria. If we cannot educate our people we are doomed,” Utomi said, adding that “we can change Nigeria if we have a political class that is more committed to ensuring development and human progress.”
Apart from military intervention, the rise of oil as the cash cow of the Nigerian economy produced a rent-seeking generation of political leaders who felt that they were not accountable to the citizenry. All they did was to corrupt the polity and promote “stomach infrastructure” politics. One of the discussants, Dr. Kabir Mato, a Political Scientist, said the perception that the centre piece of politics is economics while the centre piece of economics is development does not hold true in Nigeria where politics is viewed as the art of plundering public resources in a “chop I chop” ideology.
Opeyemi Agbaje, chief executive officer of Resources and Trust Company Limited and former lecturer at Lagos Business School, traced Nigeria’s descent to the politics of underdevelopment to hegemonic tendencies that characterised political competition in the First Republic, which paved the way for military intervention in the Nigerian politics. He suggested that what the country needs today is a balance between political competition and economic development. Agbaje pointed out that the military created a mercantilist political elite that made a mess of the country’s development.
Another discussant, Femi Falana highlighted the extent to which values have been destroyed when he noted that old people now publicly boast that they will never return looted funds that were traced to their accounts.
The bad leadership plaguing the country was not helped by the manner Nigeria recruits its political office holders. It was observed that Nigeria stack public offices with people who had no background of rendering community services to the society.
One of the ways to address the current decline in value and poor political leadership, according to Ada Egbojo, a lawyer and senatorial candidate in 2015 elections, is through the restoration of sound civic education in the schools and at homes through effective parenting.
Dr. Aloy Chife, who expressed gladness that the wind of change is blowing across the country, pointed out that Nigeria must change the culture that nothing requires hard work to accomplish.
For Dr Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of Education, the teaching profession and education hold the key to Nigeria’s greatness and the restoration of human dignity in the country because 75 percent of what happens in the learning environment is determined by the quality of the teacher. “But in Nigeria we do not see any dignity in being a teacher. Education is the thing that bridges inequality the most in any society. If we can provide equal opportunity to all, then we can have a society in which no one is left behind,” Ezekwesili said.