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Nigeria and The Battle of Ideas – Japheth Omojuwa

The battle for the soul of Nigeria is a battle between the status quo and reforms. The status quo has been winning the battle for over half a century, the reformists have a battle in their hands and the odds are very much against them. The realities of the prevailing victory of the status quo are quite apparent; we are one of the world’s poorest countries despite several oil boom cycles, we have the world’s highest population of children out of school, we have one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, our hospitals are sick, our schools need books and teachers, our teachers need training, our country’s realities are an eyesore to anyone who sees and believes that things can be better for Nigeria.


There are essentially two types of political leaders in Nigeria based on what needs to be done to move Nigeria out of its current quagmire. There are those who believe we only need to continue what we have been doing and things will somehow end up differently while there are those working hard to redefine the rules of engagement, to reform the entrenching realities around our socio-economic and political structure.


On one side, there are those who believe things will work simply by doing what we used to do. Allocate more money for more Nigerians to go on pilgrimages, make food available to the poor, give hand outs to the poor to keep them just clothed enough to move around and barely able to survive till they are back running to you for another meal. They go to the market, dance with the poor, raise their fists and pose like defenders of the poor. In Abuja, they stay at hotels whose daily cost of accommodation would actually house more than a few poor people for a year but trust these ones to return home to their people pretending to be just like them. This is a scam that works one hundred percent of the time. These ones do no care about development. They do not see the essence of education as educational development to them simply means handing out free GCE forms as if writing an examination is the guarantee that one has had productive education.


There is the other side. The side that believes in the power of ideas, the unrelenting ability of creators and innovators to create solutions that meet the present day challenges of our society and also meet the challenges of tomorrow yet to be unraveled. They believe in government but government as an enabler of the people not government as the direct provider of food. They prefer small governments able to make the rules of engagement in the market place and enforce same while the people are able to create and innovate, start new ideas and companies and create wealth. The world today is the world of creators, those whose governments have opened up the space for the people to trade and for the market to thrive. We are in a world where the Apples, Googles and Amazons etc are richer than many countries of the world. We are in a world where ideas have become bigger than governments. Africa and specifically Nigeria will always be limited by the size of its government. We need to let our people thrive by redefining the rules of engagement.


What are these rules? Power must return to the people! Government must begin to run for the sake of the people, not the people existing for the sake of the government. A situation where the government spends more to run itself than it spends to develop capital projects is not sustainable. We cannot have commissioners and ministers just for the sake of geo-political realities. Our states and countries have become economies more than they are political systems. The likes of France have now plugged their economic agenda with their foreign policy agenda. This was always the case but there is no longer pretense about it. We grew up hearing about developing countries but today such countries are likely to be called “emerging markets.”


Countries are today first economic entities than they are political entities. When we vote our leaders, we must pay attention to this reality. We cannot continue to depend on politicians who have no other claim other than the fact that they can scream at political rallies and also whip up grassroot votes. We need politicians who are first technocrats, who have a history of getting things done. And wherever and whenever we find such politicians, we must do everything to defend and protect them from the unwholesome realities of the status quo. Because the status quo will fight back.


© Japheth J. Omojuwa

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