Do we want to be SAPped Again? Learning the lessons of history

Before we get to the question of whether or not we want to be SAPped again, I'd like you to know that the Nigeria National Project is being covered by Nigerian media.  Click on the links below to read about it.

2.       Nigeria Village Square
Osundare, Ajasin, Falola, others Call for National conference
4.       Premium Times (Nigeria) Tuesday, January 24, 2012
5.       Vanguard (Nigeria) Tuesday, January 24, 2012

6.  Osundare, Ajasin, Falola, Others All For National Conference • Say Jonathan Is “Inarticulate” About Boko Haram Posted: January 24, 2012 - 13:40

Given that what is ongoing in Nigerian political economy is more of the same embrace of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), as dictated by the World Bank and IMF, today I decided to share one of my past writings on Nigeria's political economy.  I will serialize it here.  The piece below is a draft of a paper published as: “The Dividends of Democracy:  The Nigeria Experience” in Olayiwola Abegunrin and Olusoji Akomolafe, Eds. Nigeria in Global Politics: Twentieth Century and Beyond (Nova Publishers, 2006).  Bear in mind that this paper was written years ago.  Much has changed.  My mother died last year.  Nigeria is currently roiled by post-petroleum subsidy removal wahala, and Boko Haram is on the rampage, causing deep anxiety, fear and trepidation.  

My question of whether we want to be SAPped again has to do with the fact that SAP was said to have rent/torn the social fabric in Nigeria.  It inflicted great economic pain.  It intensified the brain drain and created what the World Bank itself called "the lost decade"

 Some earlier work is to be found in my book: 
A Sapped Democracy:  The Political Economy of the Structural Adjustment Program and the Democratic Transition in Nigeria, 1983‑1993; (Baltimore, MD: University Press of America, 1997).

and in 

“State and Civil Society in Nigeria in the Era of the Structural Adjustment Program, 1986-1993." West Africa Review, vol. 1: 1.

You can read the paper cited immediately above at:

The Dividends of Democracy: An Exploration into Nigeria's political economy in the 21st Century.

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science
Brooklyn College, CUNY

"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."

Frederick Douglass, 1857

Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sorrow,
Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sad tomorrow. . .  (Bob Marley & The Wailers, Guiltiness)

 The title of this paper was originally the following: "Nigeria: Globalization, Democratization and Development."   The title of this paper has to be modified in light of my firsthand experience with Nigeria's political economy.  As a returned immigrant scholar in Nigeria in the summer of 2001, I felt like both an insider and outsider.  I observed much and recorded much of such observations.  I spoke with many, and empathized.  However, I had an exit option that many of my subjects did not have.  I could return to work to earn "hard currency" that gave me options that many of the people that I encountered did not have.  I study Nigeria's political economy for a living, and thus differ from many other immigrants who have an exit option.  
In the first place, I am a dis/relocated Nigerian who lives and works in the New York City, USA.  I am also a woman, a mother of two boys that accompanied me on my research trip.  All three of my sisters, my mother, and approximately 99% of my huge extended family continue to live and work in Nigeria.  I also had the additional benefit of seeing things from the perspective of my children.  For my teenage son who was en route to his first year in college after the summer ended, this was a return to a Nigeria where he spent every summer for the first ten years of his life.  Now eighteen, when we prepared to leave New York, he looked forward to going to Nigeria but also had forgotten much of what the experience was like, except that there was lots of family.  He wondered how much of what he remembered would remain the same.  As a young adult, he also was privy to many long conversations and arguments on Nigerian politics that I have had over the years with my fellow compatriots, some exiled, some marooned, yet others volubly and palpably glad to have "escaped" from "dead-end" Nigeria to a land where the possibilities were seemingly endless.  He was familiar with dark musings about official and garden-variety armed robbery.  He had heard discussions of the "Maradona" and "evil genius" of Nigerian politics, the military "president", Babangida.  He knew about the Abacha dictatorship and attempts to perpetuate both the former and latter regimes.  He constantly heard about SAP.  He heard complaints of people who claimed to be perpetually besieged by innumerable family members and friends that wanted financial assistance, stipends, even sponsorship for American citizenship.  He knew about Nigerian drug couriers that are arrested at the various US airports for transporting heroin into the country.  He also knew from reports that we heard for the six months or so before leaving that armed robbery was on the rise.  This was not just a matter of hearsay, one family member had been shot in the leg while waiting for the gate to his house to be open. Just before we left, we heard that other family members were attacked by armed robbers and their house was cleaned out.  One of his concerns was whether it was really safe to go to Nigeria.  He took his cue from me, and decided that if it was okay by me to go, it must really be okay. My six year old son also considered this to be a return trip.  After all, he claimed, he had been in Nigeria when he was five months old.  The three of us boarded the South Africa Airways plane sort of on a fact-finding mission.  Each of us had different questions, but all were desirous of finding out what Nigeria was about at this point in time.

For me, the defining issue quickly became "the dividends of democracy".  Remember I'd gone to Nigeria to research into the interaction between globalization and political and economic development.  To properly answer the questions that were uppermost in my mind, I had to take the pulse of Nigeria's politics and its economy.  I had to determine the extent to which the global affects the local and vice versa.  Indeed, turning on the television for the talk shows on politics and reading the newspapers, engaging friends and family and research subjects in discussions on current events yielded much fruit on all the concerns that were uppermost in my mind. The news media was ubiquitous in its constant declamation on the dividends of democracy.  

According to various and sundry experts, these dividends were few and far between.  Inflation was sky-high.  The cost of living was prohibitive.  Roads were bad.  Access to health care was an intractable problem for most.  Potable water, reliable electricity supply, even reliable assurance that one's meager income would be regularly replenished by a paycheck as and when due was at best, an elusive proposition.  Add to this the insecurity of life and limb due to the predatory activities of highly educated, but unemployed and underemployed university students or graduates, some of whom had turned to armed robbery in their desperation, some to be able to keep up with the high flying Joneses who threw money around like so much garbage or sand, and the universities that still remained more closed than they were open, the university professors who had been driven to pursue multiple means of guaranteeing their livelihood, while at the same time holding on to their day job, but performing associated tasks as though teaching and research were the less important parts of their employment. Bear in mind that the cost of loans was also prohibitively high, that urban life was hyper-crowded and chaotic, and you would begin to scratch the surface of the problems that frustrate ordinary Nigerians.  When people are asked what their experience of democracy has been, they unequivocally answer that they are yet to enjoy its dividends.  Were the dividends accessible, they argue, the roads would be good, all the lacks would be satisfied or fulfilled, the coming elections in 2003 would not cause anxiety about violence, dislocations, etc.

 Yet, this would be an incomplete story if it is focused solely on the deprivations.  The whole notion of "keeping up with the Joneses" implies that there are Joneses to keep up with, that there are some who are doing better than most, some for whom the dividends of democracy have arrived.  They are the comfortable, the affluent, the creme de la creme of Nigerian society.  They have either newly "arrived" nouveau riche, or they are comfortable, and have been for a few generations.  Their forebears may actually have benefited from the dividends of colonialism, nationalism, past democracy, authoritarianism, or dictatorship.  For these, if there is a paycheck, it is regular, guaranteed, substantial, and supported by various perquisites of office.  Some of these Nigerians are the "big boys" and "big girls" that populate the new tabloids.  They deal in contracts, they are power brokers.  They can, like Terry Waya, throw a birthday bash to end all birthday bashes in London, England,  invite over one hundred of their closest friends whose names are among the "Who's Who" in Nigerian politics and in the business world.  That the party was the event of the moment was clear while I was in Nigeria because it was covered extensively by tabloids such as the National Encomium, Ovation, City People.  It was also covered by all major news media.  It even attracted the attention of President Obasanjo who was extremely critical of the high profile nature of this private celebration that seemed to have been given an official stamp due to the presence of so many of those that he dubbed the "Owambe" governors.  One could see the point of the President.  Many ordinary people were groaning under the weight of economic devastation and Nigeria was pushing the powers that be within the international financial system for debt forgiveness, or at least, debt relief.  For many who were already cynical about giving any kind of breaks to a country that is thickly populated by "money miss roads" such as Waya, Nigeria needed no breaks, only a dose of good old common sense.  In the parlance of International Political Economists, what Nigeria needs is not debt relief but decision makers with the skill to identify what the right policy mix is, and the will to implement such policies in the face of opposition by reactionary vested interests.  The measures involved would probably involve purging the decision-making and policy circles of the influence of these rent seeking elites.  Venal elites like Waya who have run amok would probably lose their automatic access to the corridors of powers.  His foreign benefactors would be shut out/down, his "good friends" who consider him to be the man to know when you want to get things done would close up shop and get real jobs.  One does not need a degree in rocket science to know that this is impossible.  Many current and pending politicians are beholden to Waya and his godfathers, and they said as much in their speeches at his birthday party. For critics/advisers/analysts who call for an injection of good sense into economic policy making, the problem and solution are clear.  When you are an indebted country in the contemporary global system, your options are the following: renegotiate your debt, but be prepared to fulfil certain conditions.  

Do not:
… have an overvalued currency
… give any subsidies
… have extravagant social policies like full and free education at all levels, healthcare for all
… have budget deficits
… have big government
… have protectionist policies.

Instead, do
… devalue your currency
… maintain policies of fiscal and budgetary probity by balancing your budget
… operate according to rules of comparative advantage by producing and exporting the primary commodities that your advantage dictate
… cut back the size of the state by privatizing what were formerly state owned enterprises, concentrate on primary rather than tertiary education
… open your markets to imports to stimulate economic efficiency
… make your domestic economy attractive to foreign investors by removing barriers to entry like too many rules, slow decision making on pressing commercial issues, poor governance, protection of domestic producers who are not as efficient as their foreign counterparts/competitors
… establish good institutions that guarantee the rule of law, protect property rights
… decentralize government to bring it closer to the people.

If these measures, however painful are put into place, the dividends of democracy would grow and the population would gain in the long run.

 The scholars/analysts forget one basic fact that pain is hard to bear.  Further, they forget that pain that goes on for too long is bound to yield multiple bitter fruits.  Finally, they forget that the dividends of democracy can be identified by both scholars and ordinary people alike.  If people find that they are unable to identify them, they become at best, restive.  At worst, explosions can be expected.  However, there are also serious discussions about the dividends of democracy in Nigeria that go beyond the quantifiable bread and butter issues.  People want transparency in governance.  They want fairness, justice, the rule of law, institutions that protect and defend their rights.  Although they want jobs, they also want a government that protects and defends their interests prior to doing likewise for multinational corporations under the impetus of creating a favorable atmosphere for foreign investment.  They want a sovereign government that does not sell the heritage of future generations off for a mere "mess of pottage" as in the defense relationship with a powerful country where the said country "trains" soldiers in peacekeeping operations in return for spending about $1 million annually.  Many Nigerians realize that what they must look forward to are the rules of "trickle down economics" if they are fully subscribed to the ideals of the market system as presented by the scholars/analysts that advice that market based democracy is the way to go.  They reject such analysis, and act in a manner that is true to their interest in a universe where they have limited power.  For each set of actors, the desirable action is different.  This is why we have such an unmanageable system in Nigeria today.  This paper takes this as a starting point in exploring the excitement and enigma of Nigeria at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Demands for the dividends of democracy do not emerge in a vacuum.  For this reason, people feel duped when there are no dividends to be found.  The politicians that won the last elections themselves set up the baseline expectations that while the Nigerian economy was in the doldrums when they took over, they would make quantifiable and progressive changes in the economic situation in Nigeria.  While it is to be expected that politicians would want to sweep the pronouncements that made the expectations rational under the rug, people who believed them were quite unwilling to be duped.  Therefore, through the press, they demand some reckoning.   This is one reason why one of the chieftains of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) was questioned by a journalist in the following vein in September 2000:When the new administration took over power in 1999, the rate of interest for prime borrowers was between 12 and 15 per cent, it is now 30 and 35 per cent; the growth rate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 2.4 per cent, it is now negative; the naira then could be exchanged at the rate of N88 to 1 US Dollar, it is now N134 to 1 USD; inflation rate stood at 13 per cent then, it is now 26 per cent; unemployment rate then was...."  

Of course, the journalist was cut off by the uncomfortable politician.  Nigeria is not the only place where politicians prefer such statements to be remembered only when they want to take credit for a thriving economy.  Naturally, the embarrassed chieftain responded true to type when he said the following: "... you cannot base the performance and achievement of the present government on mere numbers...."  

To be continued...


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