The loss of Hugo Chavez is the loss of a major leader who was bold in trying out audacious and radical methods of development economics and international relations. His methods for fostering regional cooperation and his redistributive policies were also extremely novel in their approach as they were based on solidarity and mutual benefit rather than on capitalist market dynamics; an example being his cooperative framework with Cuba whereby Venezuelan oil was exchanged for high quality human resources.
With emphasis on economic inequality and populist ideology, Hurricane Hugo empowered Venezuela’s poorest and raised millions out of poverty through his aggressive anti-poverty programmes which have been adopted by other Latin American countries. He also brought about new dimensions of praxis to the discussions on Resource Nationalism via his exploitation of Venezuela’s resources to promote the interest of his people and defend same against the predatory might of big business and unhealthy western capitalism.
Despite claims of subverting the democratic process, attacking political opponents, creating a quasi-authoritarian regime and leaving behind a high inflation legacy, the fact remains that Chavez will be missed by millions of Venezuelans who benefitted from his populist programmes as well as millions around the world who admired his policies. Chavez nationalised the Venezuelan oil economy, ensured that oil prices were kept low for the masses as well as propped up the economies of several Latin American countries via sustainable oil price discounts for which he, understandably, earned the wrath of the United States and the western capitalist behemoth.
On the home front, Nigeria has a lot to learn from Venezuela. First, we need leaders that can look beyond selfish motives and make bold strides in solving the country’s plethora of problems with the available cash from oil. Second, we need leaders that will seek long-term strategic advantage for the country and not just swallow hook, line and sinker the ‘under-development’ neo-liberal economics of the Bretton Woods associations. Finally, Nigeria needs to wake up to its responsibility as a regional leader, a galvanising power – socially, economically and politically.
Socially, we are not there because we have the most chaotic and dysfunctional society in the region and festering value system crisis. Economically, we are yet to grasp the magnitude of our developmental challenges, much less put up a consistent approach to resolving them. Our NV20:2020 is dead and despite big talk from the Federal Government and fuzzy stats, the man on the street is yet to feel any real positive impact on his livelihood. Politically, we are divided along all sorts of selfish lines. We need a leader that can finally give Nigerians a common unifying goal (besides the national football team) and raise the collective psyche above the current levels of mediocrity in which we wallow as a nation.
Most importantly, Chavez put the issues of economic inequality and the plight of the impoverished masses of his nation on the front burner with words, policies and ACTION. Nigeria needs leaders that will reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor and not just pay lip service. Unfortunately, since we can’t give what we do not have, we have to in frankness understand that there’s a lot of work to be done. There is no longer time for smiles and small talk at the National Executive Council meetings and our houses of parliament.
Ibekwe-Uche writes from Lagos.
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