The Dangote Insurgency (2)
Nigeria is neither a failure nor a success so far as a country. But the next 20 years should be a categorical success story for it. That would still not be achievable on the basis of a woolly strategy of development informed by a hit and go cowboy business model. The economy must be planned to offer something to everyone through even and balanced development. There is no alternative to even and balanced development in a country where many questions within the national question have not been resolved and the country is basically boiling over.
Against this background, this paper calls for a return to the mixed economy model as Nigeria’s development strategy or business model. The mixed economy is virtually the norm everywhere in the world, even in the major capitalist economies. Markets are not autonomous creatures but the visible hands of known interests and forces pulling the strings from the back. In Nigeria, market forces is about to collapse the country due to the redistributive anarchy inherent in it in an economy in transition.
Poverty in the Niger Delta assumed an insurgency because a state with no obligation to even and balanced development watched oil exploration take a toll on the region to unacceptable level. Now, Nigeria is paying dearly for that although poverty does not explain everything about such an insurgency. The entire northern Nigeria ended up with not a single bank of its own in the aftermath of the banking consolidation in the mid 2000s. Yet, those who own the banks dictate where investment can go. These are just two examples of the inequality and tension that the divorce of the state from investment can create because such divorce means that development is not based on even and balanced development. Yet, there are some overhead costs only the state can absorb when an economy is in transition. As state institutions such as the DSS, the police, the military, the FRCN, NTA or Voice of Nigeria, (VON) are never sold, so also are commanding heights of the economy not sold. The logic is one and the same thing.
The state as investor does not drive out the private sector. What it does is to enable the state fill the gaps that the private sector cannot fill and thus reify itself vis-à-vis commanding popular loyalty as it relates to national security. Finally, the society runs a risk if there is no proper competition and a private sector monopoly results which can hold Nigeria to ransom, including dictating price. The Enron tragedy in California in the early 2000s remains a world class lesson in how ill-advised it is for any country/regional government to put all her eggs in one basket. That is why in most countries, energy, for instance, is deregulated: both the state and the private sector compete. State intervention is commercialized and such state owned energy companies remit lots of money to the government.
The state as an investor is harmless, particularly in a country such as Nigeria where regulatory agencies are weak and, for most time, behave as if they were set up by collectives of the private sector rather than as a regulator. This is why the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Agency, for instance, would post a 45% increase in electricity tariff at a go as if electricity is a luxury. It is such acts of irresponsiveness and insensitivity that have created the alienation underpinning observable detachment and distance of the people from the state as expressed in the tendency to resort to self-help now and then.
Why does the private sector in Nigeria always want to buy government concerns rather than build their own as true risk takers would have done? Why is it the case that, a decade after a dozen licenses to players in the private sector to build refineries, not even one has been built? What might be the reasons for that?
There is good sense in government retaining some control in railway, electricity, petroleum, among others. There is no reason why new Independent Power Plants (IPP) as in Zungeru and Mambilla should be sold. There is history, logic and security in adopting the mixed economy model without apology to anybody.
Media speculations are rife about politicians engaging in shifting cultivations regarding party base. Tragically, none of them has been quoted in connection with any ideology of development, be it radical or even conservative, not to talk of engaging with the issue of how to build a national economy at a time such as this. But if the defeat of those in favour of sale of national assets recently is anything to go by, all unconcerned politicians on this question might be in for a shocker. And Dangote’s insurgency might, in that case, be a warning.
The Dangote Insurgency (2)