The cover picture and subject matter of this piece comes from China. It was used by even a non-Nigerian newspaper to illustrate the coming emptiness of streets in China in the wake of its declining demography. How a population of 1.4 billion people can decline that drastically is a different debate outside of the radius of this piece.
To the extent that the picture speaks to a different issue, it can be said to have nothing to do with Nigeria. But to the extent that no image has just one, fixed meaning, it can also be read as speaking to Nigeria. For instance, it can be read as asking the question: which of the three leading presidential candidates, (Atiku, Obi and Tinubu in alphabetical order of their surnames so that no one accuses Intervention of bias) has an idiom of development that can accomplish this sort of a macadamised thoroughfare?
The February 2023 presidential contest is bein framed as a question of which region provides the next Emperor, (the Presidency and the president in Nigeria is more about being an Emperor than an elected party candidate or even a human being) rather than about the developmental idiom of the candidates. In a way, that is contextually understandable because it is the consensus but are zoning and a radical developmental orientation mutually exclusive?
By the degree of endowment it pleased Providence to oblige Nigeria, thoroughfares of this quality and design ought to be among those things taken for granted throughout the country after six decades of independence. This is the case even in many of the erstwhile ‘Third world’ countries today. There is thus something embarrassing that such is not the case, be it in road networks, education, healthcare delivery system, public transport and what have you. Instead of these things, the leaders run to countries such as Saudi Arabia that do not bother themselves too much with superficial democracies to get treated in functional, modern hospitals. How low can the leader of the black race descend before it feels embarrassed?
Unfortunately, like every agrarian, basically pre-capitalist formation, Nigeria needs a leader, a Messiah who will deploy charisma and altruism to move the society from the agrarian station to an industrial society. Industrialisation does not solve every of society’s problems. In fact, it comes with its own problems. But it solves so many of the problems and serves as a condition of possibility for moving forward.
But, which of the candidates has made rapid industrialisation the organising plank of his or her campaign beyond adhoc articulatory spasms?
Even more shocking is that vital constituencies such as the civil society and labour, its most entrenched flank, academia, the Left, the much touted emergent youth force and the business community are not coherently alarmed. Yes, lonely lamentation here and there on television channels but not that game-changer politicisation of the developmental dryness of the candidates.
Can a country make it if it has run out of pretenders to Messianism and has also run out of the possibility of a critical mass (coalition of the confluences of victims of the most chaotic capitalism in the world) that can determine and enforce a developmental direction?
When will it be appreciated that Nigeria’s degree of endowment does not permit the kind of rationalisations of her unique underdevelopment that we hear from nationalist hagiographers talking of how bad things are in other places. Are those other places as wealthy in human and material terms as Nigeria?