Above and below too is a short clip of Chief Audu Ogbeh unfolding in a patriotic blitzkrieg. He is isolating and blaming predatory, buccaneering, speculative capitalism in Nigeria. That is great, nationalistic and most welcome. Ordinarily, he should be be the hero, exactly the sort of situation student activists put their lives on the line for the nation throughout the 1980s in unforgettable street battles with predators and ‘baby capitalists’. As ever, this video is quintessential Chief Ogbeh, one of the few members of the elite that have not sold their souls to naked gods.
But there is something puzzling in Chief Audu Ogbeh’s rhetorical flourish. As things are now, it is either that no one listens to the minister in the Buhari government or it is a case of saying one thing and doing exactly the opposite. The only one reason Buhari was a great expectation in 2015 is that he would use the state to discipline capitalism in Nigeria. That is to make the system respect its own logic by moving away from the neoliberal cant driving governance since 1986 as he rightly pointed out in the video below.
But, instead of anything like that, the Buhari regime has been more neoliberal than even many of its predecessors. Under the Buhari regime, nationalism has found it impossible to answer its father’s name.It is not clear if it is a tactical choice so as to avoid reprisals from the array of Western controlled structures and institutions that enforce disciplinary neoliberalism or a manifestation of lack of clarity. That’s one.
To say that ‘they’ persuaded ‘us’ to accept devaluation at the level Nigeria has gone about it is to leave a gap. And all gaps in language, we are told, should be interrogated. To persuade unsteady states with young chaps from Harvard, MIT, etc to accept economic rationality of opening up their economies is what the IMF and the World Bank exist to do. It is, however, important to defend the devil when it is necessary. In the case of Nigeria, it was to buy respite and regime security that the IBB regime went into overdrive in devaluing the Naira far above what the IMF was asking for. There is thus a gap in Chief Ogbeh’s communication when he says ‘they’ persuaded ‘us’. In this case, ‘we’ persuaded ourselves is a better way of putting it so that we can courageously recognise the matter of the quality of the national elite as a factor in Nigeria’s embarrassing underdevelopment.
And that takes us to Chief Ogbeh’s claim that SAP, via devaluation, made it impossible for potential industrialists to set up industries. That is living in denial of the fundamental character of the national elite – the very fact that they are hostile to the responsibility of producing or the difficult task of running an economy that is productive. So, while it is nationalistic to rain attacks on consumerism, it is even more important to recognise the fundamental explanation for that by contextualising that behavior pattern.
There is something deeply puzzling in Chief Ogbeh who has been a university teacher before becoming a politician saying that graduate unemployment is to be understood as a product of importation of poverty: our coinage for diverting a huge chunk of national resources to importing everything under the sun. Others can make such statements but should Chief Ogbeh join them? Can he honestly say that Nigeria today has universities when compared to the height Nigerian universities attained before the nation wreckers arrived? Why is it not patriotism to admit that a fundamental part of the problem is that the graduates simply do not have what it takes and that doing something drastic about the universities is the starting point of reforming Nigeria?
It is a well known story in government that when the late MD Yusuf convinced the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to attend a function at ABU, Zaria, the then president could not stay long enough. He cut short his stay, principally because the ABU he attended and knew so well as a student contrasted too sharply with the ABU he was seeing. He just couldn’t take it and had to get himself out. It was the reason he organised an informal meeting with ASUU. Even when the initial former governor he gave the assignment of bringing ASUU team through the back channel messed or tried to mess up the task, he took it off him and asked someone else to handle it. If he lived, he might have done something drastic enough because the meeting gave him insights he could never get elsewhere.
Surprisingly, even under the Buhari regime, peopled with the Audu Ogbehs of this world, the academics have to go on strike to get anything, suggesting that nobody there has a good appreciation of the trouble with the universities. Just as nobody appears to appreciate the risks Nigeria of today embodies. To talk about hoping to put Nigeria right without starting with re-positioning the universities is to suggest to everyone that one doesn’t intend to do anything really serious to the society. Where does a nation get the quality hands that will translate plans into outcomes? The few ones that managed to go to schools in Europe and North America, nearly half of whom are absorbed by companies, NGOs, universities, think – tanks, etc in those countries? Haba!
These are some of the reasons why his critics do not see anything terrible in equating the Agriculture Minister’s brilliance to a case of when nationalism cannot answer its father’s name. When nationalism is answering the name of another father, it cannot be nationalism. Buhari government’s nationalism is answering a neoliberal father’s name. It is content with maintenance, not transformation.