“How can we, with all the knowledge and experience and free press and civil society in this country operate an economic system which will increase the number of Nigerians in severe poverty every year, for three (3) years running, until we are now home to the largest number of people in severe poverty in the world. And Bill Gates and the World Bank and IMF are now blaming us for not investing enough in our own citizens?”
This is the billion Naira question being posed to the Nigerian elite by Engineer Abba Gana, an ideologue of the Progressives in the Second Republic and one time Minister for the FCT in the Fourth Republic. He was speaking as a Life Time Achievement awardee on the topic “The Task of National Development: A Clarion Call to All Stakeholders” in Abuja.
Agreeing with Professor Biodun Jeyifo, The Nation’s columnist that Nigeria operates the most unproductive and the worst type of capitalism in the whole world, the elder statesman thumbs down governments, the organised private sector and well endowed individuals for not doing enough for the vast majority of the citizens. He is wondering why education, health care, food, house, rent, transportation, electricity and water are very expensive in relation to wages and general level of prosperity. For him, “prices of essential commodities, services and utilities must at all times reflect the level of prosperity of the vast majority of our people”
Gana, most likely the only former FCT Minister living in a rented accommodation in Abuja cites CNN’s Business reporter, Richard Quest’s discovery that there are more private jets than commercial air crafts for use by the public in a country of 200 million people as the unsurpassed exemplar of how Nigerian leaders, policy makers and their advisers are simply not planning for the progress, prosperity and welfare of the citizens. That report, he says, demonstrates gross income inequality and declining public purpose in policy making and investment decision in Nigeria, a situation he calls for its arrest, adding how the IMF and World Bank have expressed grave concern about economic management in Nigeria in recent years.
He does not see anything surprising in how these institutions have been advising Nigeria of late to increase investment in human capital, an admission of error in their earlier policy of SAP. “This means that, in matters of economic development, we are on our own. We can formulate, design or pick and choose the economic development model which meets the needs of our people and suitable for our present level of industrialization, economic, social and agricultural development”, said Gana.
Identifying greed, denial and injustice as the causes of all crises in the world, the former FCT Minister contended that once there is justice and fairness at the level of leadership, there would be enough for everyone. He is strongly cautioning against a ‘winner takes all’ attitude in running government at all levels, saying that such would leave millions of people behind with nothing to do in an economy which he estimates to be 70 – 80 % dependent on government.
He is saying that leadership is at the core of every society’s progress or lack of it and that it is time for the Nigerian electorate to rise up and hold those they elect at all levels accountable or the country will continue to be home for those in severe poverty for many years to come.
Gana insists that leadership is what Nigeria must get right, an argument he formulated as follows: “Throughout human history amongst all races and in all countries, when things go wrong, it is because of the type of leaders they have and when things go right, it is also because of the type of leaders they have”. His conclusion is that if Nigerians want development, prosperity, security and welfare, they should search, identify good leaders and vote them to power.
Adding that the cure for bad leadership is the vigilance of the citizens, the former minister argues that “Democracy cannot work for the people unless and until the citizens are ready and willing to hold their leaders accountable and use their votes to reject bad, incompetent and corrupt leaders”.
Coming a week or so before the commencement of presidential campaigns for 2019 elections, it remains to be seen what impact the former minister’s bombshell will have on how the leading candidates frame the question of economic development model beyond the commoner slangs and their taken-for-granted meaning. Among such slangs are the market, the private sector, public-private partnership, privatisation, etc.