by Greg Odogwu
The popular but highly criticised book written by Walter Rodney and entitled How Europe Underdeveloped Africa takes the view that Africa was deliberately exploited and underdeveloped by European colonial regimes. Rodney argues that a combination of power politics and economic exploitation of Africa by Europeans led to the poor state of African political and economic development evident in the late 20th century.
Today, it has become obvious that Nigeria, a country of great potentials, is in dire straits and one wonders what pushed us into such a state of decline within a short period. Is it our founding fathers? Is it the politicians? Is it the handiwork of external forces that never wanted this country to be a formidable global player? Is it some supernatural forces beyond our control? What is it that has made us unable to exploit our natural gifts, resources and potentials to the extent that we have swam in an ocean of fresh water for decades and yet came out dirty and thirsty?
To me, the best way to view our problem is for all of us to see it in a new light. The problem with Nigeria should be seen in the prism of social, cultural and political milieu. It is not isolated to a particular timeline. It is a process. It is like a chip embedded in our national experience and cannot be unplugged until we realize that we are carrying an invisible baggage.
It is too simplistic to point to today’s oil glut or foreign exchange scarcity as our problem. Of course, there are many other countries that had gone through recession. America did. United Kingdom did. But, while the bad times lasted, the citizens of those countries never saw it that they had existential problems. They just said, “We are in a recession; we shall get out of it!”
Some political analysts conclude that Walter Rodney’s argument about Africa’s socio-political problems was too simplistic. This school of thought seems to have been proved right. How many years have we existed as a continent out of colonialism? Yet, we still have power-hungry leaders who can do everything diabolical and un-African to remain forever in power. We have leaders who are too myopic and visionless that many of their nationals look back at the colonial era as better days.
Nigeria’s problem is caused by all of us. On an individual level, we all have Nigeria-killer microchips embedded in us. For some, it is the ethnic bias or religious bigotry. And for others, it is pure greed. In all, the individual comes first in consideration before the nation.
The danger is that it is so deeply hidden that we are each like a terrorist sleeper cell, to be activated once we are in that critical moment in which we would be useful to Nigeria. The worst part of it all is that the forces of evil have a way of bringing kindred spirits together to fulfill an evil agenda. At that moment, any other dissenting voice could be effectively silenced by this ‘axis of evil’. This is why, in some other saner climes, in as much as there are bad eggs they are not as powerful as to silence the patriotic voice of the majority. And because impunity is low, the spirit of the nation always finds a voice.
I am saying all this because of the way I felt when I learnt that the government of Ecuador had offered to help Nigeria develop its cocoa industry. The country’s ambassador told Nigeria that it needed to start cocoa processing and eventually raise a chocolate making plant within its shores as a way of maximising its natural endowment of cocoa, just as Ecuador is doing.
You see, when Nigeria had the dollars raining down from crude oil exports, many of the people who should be developing our economy were not doing it. They were busy enjoying the free money that oil brought.
During that time I wrote an article in this column suggesting that the Federal Government should make plans to start processing cocoa in Nigeria and eventually start chocolate making factory as Nigeria was importing so much chocolate without even as much as processing cocoa, which we export raw from the farms.
Immediately the article was published, a spokesman for an association of cocoa growers wrote a rejoinder totally rejecting my suggestions and insinuating that I was campaigning for certain interested persons who did not want the cocoa exporting business to blossom.
Incidentally, I carried out some research and discovered that the government was giving subventions to cocoa exporters and this group was worried that these monies would stop coming if government decided to encourage cocoa processing.
As it is today, the Ecuadorian offer to Nigeria has justified my stand on the matter. A nation can never grow when it is exporting its raw materials without actively using it to produce end-products for the consumption of its citizens. There would be an instant foreign exchange imbalance when it ships out the raw materials at paltry sums and then import finished goods from it at exorbitant costs. Take for instance, today that the dollar is far higher than the naira. The cost of importation of chocolate will definitely outbalance the gains of exportation of cocoa. We need to cut these imports by processing cocoa here and producing chocolates by ourselves. This is the spirit of Ecuador’s intervention.
The sad truth is that, as long as we are getting immediate profits from a particular venture, we do not care how it is weighing on our national interest. This attitude needs to change. This is because a leader is not made in a vacuum. Every leader was once a follower. If he did not follow well, he will not lead well. If a Nigerian was ethnically or religiously biased as a citizen; there is no miracle that would change him when he ascends a leadership position. He would gather biased people around himself and they will seek to execute an ethnic, religious or corrupt agenda. Anyone standing in his way will not be spared.
Meanwhile, there is one more thing that I think our leaders need to do urgently to help our economy. The issue of technology transfer has to be taken seriously and the government has to find a way to review the nation’s procurement laws for the sake of technology transfer. It is a matter of national survival.
A situation where technology acquisition is given out as a contract will not help Nigeria. Technology cannot be seen as a contract because no nation grows without adapting it to its own peculiar environment. My point is that a company or individual should not be empowered to bring in technology to the country without the Federal Government’s direct involvement. Every factory to be set up and every technological infrastructure to be built must be handled straight from the Presidency so that the technology will be appropriately transferred to Nigeria. The government negotiates straight with the government of the country where the technology is coming from.
I believe that if there was a nation to nation agreement between the Nigerian Government and the Russian Government before the commencement of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex construction, the project would not have become the disaster that it is today. Technology is not procured; it is transferred.