• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Rebuilding the value system

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When asked why he loved to rob banks, a notorious felon in America replied that it was because that was where the money is! I guess he was right, going by the array of money men and women or should I say, custodian of the rich and powerful, movers and shakers of the Nigerian economy here gathered this evening.

It would amount to preaching to the converted if I state that all over the world, banks occupy the epi-center of a country’s economy and, therefore, those who are seized with the task of keeping or watching over the financial assets of customers are, arguably, the most important role actors in any economy.

Permit me to observe that from medieval times right up to contemporary times, bankers are viewed by many with some level of uneasiness, if not, in fact, suspicion or disdain which their hard-nosed practices engender among the rest of society. Even if today, they do no,t as moneylenders, seek their pounds of flesh as usury is now universally condemned, it is still believed in many quarters that you would require long spoons in order to have dinners with bankers!

The number of disclaimers that followed in the wake of the recent disclosure via the media of bank debtors would seem to suggest all those that intend to sleep well at night should avoid the banks like the plague or, at the very best, treat them with a ten-foot pole! Mercifully, however, it is common knowledge that the banks are indeed a painful necessity which everyone ignores only to his or her peril and, I must admit that tonight is not really an occasion to bemoan the foibles of bankers. So, let it be with our moneylenders on the Marina and Broad Street.

My task tonight is to interrogate the nature of the Nigerian economy and the necessity to make a paradigm shift from its motive levers if the country is to make a head way, especially in this era of change. With that as introduction, let me then begin by attempting to open up the innards of our economy and then explore the possibility of rethinking how business is carried out here such that Nigeria could be in a position to play catch up with the rest of the world.

The ethos of Nigerian capitalism

It must be immediately stated that the Nigerian economy is, essentially, a peripheral, crypto-capitalist, neo-colonial enclave. To that extent, it has been preoccupied with fulfilling the role historically assigned to it by imperialism as a supplier of primary commodities to and provider of a market for manufactures from the industrialized countries within the context of an unconscionable and lopsided international division of labour, skewed terms of trade and expropriation by foreign monopoly capital of surpluses generated by its economy.

The position of subservience and inferiority to which the Nigerian economy has been consigned by imperialism has ultimately resulted in a mono-cultural economy which has been characterized by Alaba Ogunsanwo as a “cargo economy” in which the country has depended on imports not only for machinery and other vital inputs but and also for consumer items such as rice, toothpick and cosmetics. Indeed as Claude Ake had observed, Nigeria operates a “disarticulate” economy, that is to say, an economy that produces what it does not consume and consumes what it does not produce.

Accordingly, the ethos of Nigerian capitalism is a beggar-thy-neighbour attitude under which social Darwinism becomes the rule among all actors on the economic landscape in a desperate bid at primitive accumulation in the face of ever dwindling resources, collapse of the international oil market, an exchange rate that has nose-dived and a near meltdown of the capital and stock markets, spiraling cost of imported goods and a general fear among the population for tomorrow and lack of confidence in the fiscal and monetary policies enunciated by successive administrations.

Whereas the protestant ethic which informed the rise of capitalism in Europe and elsewhere through encouraging frugality, savings and re-investment of profits, thereby engendering growth during the formative era of capitalism before enlisting the support of the working masses in the system through all manner of utilitarian policies at the stage of advanced growth and development of capitalism, the experience of our deformed capitalism has been one long tale of woe. Mass retrenchment, non-payment of workers’ salaries for months on end or entitlements of pensioners and all manner of privation of the people have characterized the buccaneer and dog-eat-dog capitalism inflicted on the masses of the people by governments in the Periphery. It is indeed an economy of everyone for himself while the devil takes the hindermost.

Whereas governments of countries in the Centre had shied away from Ted Heath’s “ugly and unacceptable face” of capitalism, our people have to endure the brunt of naked exploitation, brutal alienation and all the extremity of man’s inhumanity to man in an unconscionable system which had reduced the masses of the people to expendable cogs of a wobbling exploitative machine, bereft of the succor and cushion of a well-thought out and redeeming system of social welfare benefits and social security.

What is more, the high incidence of corruption in practically all sectors of the Nigerian economy has since become so suffocating that it is now threatening to grind everything to a halt except and unless drastic efforts are made by the powers-that-be to confront the ogre. Admittedly, corruption is a concomitant of capitalism but it is usually confronted and reduced to its barest minimum in order to protect and secure the life of the golden goose that lays the golden eggs.  This has been the practice in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong which have become reference points for successful transition from backwardness to modernity. Accordingly, I have to once again reiterate that Nigeria would do well to stop corruption if it does not want it to stop the country.

In view of the foregoing, it is mandatory to explore the prospects of rethinking and reconfiguring the modalities of the Nigerian economy, as it were, with a view to giving the country a new lease of life, more so as it is widely recognized that Nigeria is poised to becoming a viable and highly competitive emerging market.

Rethinking the value system pursuant to Nigeria’s economic development

Nigeria has made heavy weather of its intention or desire to join the ranks of the world’s most advanced economies. Nothing wrong with that except that with all indices available, that would amount to sheer wishful thinking as there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So, those seeking a pie in the sky need to realize that aspiration without perspiration would not get the country far. Except and unless there is a paradigm shift in the way and manner we do things here, we would continue to be a potter’s wheel-all motion, no movement.

It should be realized that the world does not owe us a living and only bones are left for late-comers. Accordingly, a value system erected on the acquisitive ethos of primitive accumulation, bereft of any utilitarian goals and aspirations can only result in more of the same-mass impoverishment in the face of incredible wealth, human and natural resources, failure to attain most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), stagflation, graduate unemployment, misallocation of resources, rising corruption and a threatening collapse of the entire economy.

Therefore, if indeed Nigeria is interested in joining the ranks of the world’s most developed or industrialized economies within the foreseeable future, it should be brought home to all concerned that there does not seem to be an alternative to the necessity of wriggling out of the current predicament by inculcating a new way of carrying on our affairs with a shift in focus from instant gratification, ostentatious lifestyles to capital formation with an eye on betterment of the existential conditions of the preponderant majority of our people. The rich-poor divide which poses a clear and present danger to our collective well-being would need to be confronted in a way which makes us all veritable stakeholders in the Nigerian project.

The lesson we have to learn from other economies which have succeeded or are succeeding in moving their countries from the Third World to the First is that we have to be ready to take hard decisions affecting the way and manner Nigeria’s economy is run such that the collective good is placed at the epicenter of policy formulation and implementation rather than leave things to the invisible hands of the market and an untenable and unsustainable opulent consumption value of an avaricious, microscopic minority.

A situation where the rich and highly-heeled are left to their devices in creaming off profits from this economy would, in the final analysis, be dysfunctional and counter-productive. Such a situation is, quite frankly,  inimical to the public good and national survival. We need to depart from extolling the allure of private property in favour of some form of socialized ownership of the factors of production, distribution and exchange of goods and services, coupled with a safety net to take care of the needs and interests of those members of the community that might have lost out in the lottery of life. If not, we should be prepared to live with class war, social strife and, ultimately, social cataclysm.

Conclusion

This then is my humble suggestion for a meaningful and wholesome strategy for Nigeria’s economic development. Nigeria must move away from stasis, stagnation mass alienation, despondency and disillusionment and keep hope alive by departing from an unconscionable value system that leaves the majority of the people holding the wrong end of the stick.

 

 

AKIN OYEBODE
AKIN OYEBODE is a Professor of Law and Chair, Office of International Relations, Partnerships and Prospects, University of Lagos