By Babatunde Jose
For the Black race to extricate itself from the clutches and knee of the white race, it would need to show exemplary and remarkable strides in socio-economic development. The World today respects only the developed and structurally stable nations. Unfortunately, Africa is still wallowing in backwardness and primitivism. Yet, we are not the only race that have had he knee of the Whiteman on its neck. Many countries, especially those colonized escaped the neo-colonialism of the West: They rejected the imposed language and culture, but embraced the technology and knowhow of the Whiteman. They therefore, escaped the Whiteman’s knee on their neck; and they can breathe! Among those that escaped are India, China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Dubai and the Gulf States of Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi; unfortunately we did not escape and the rest of Africa too; South Africa inclusive.
Our woe began shortly after independence when we started toying with development models being manufactured by Western economists. We started borrowing development models some of which were not suited to our temperament, and which failed to work despite an abundance of big time economists too numerous to mention. We continued to tie ourselves to the apron string of the ‘mother country’ and never stopped being producers’ of primary goods or commodities; which we still do today.
We produce enough Cocoa to leverage a confectionery industry but failed to use it as a base for an industrial take off. Instead, farmers are just being ripped off and we never add value to products coming out of our land. The cocoa pod can be used for soap production, Cocoa juice can also be gotten from it, the dried beans will yield cocoa butter for the cosmetic industry which is more expensive than the cocoa powder that gives chocolate from which the “Nestle’s” of this world make more money than Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana & Nigeria put together. And we want the Whiteman to respect people who cannot do the math of economics of Cocoa. The same is true of our much vaunted oil and gas industry. Just as we export cocoa and import Ovaltine, we export crude oil and import petroleum products. All the derivates of the process of refining that help feed pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and all are lost to the economy.
With our eyes wide open, Michelin and Dunlop departed our shores despite the fact that Rubber, the basic raw material for the tire industry is plentiful in our country. Yet we import tires for our cars.
A few decades ago, we were a serious cotton producer and it formed the basis for our textile industry; today, that industry is comatose. It borders on the fact that we are not a serious people. But our women import lace voile from Austria that grows no cotton.
We do not adhere strictly to development plans and at some point abandon plans. This is a major pitfall in our economic development. Because we lack adequate data to work with, most of the indices of development are carried out haphazardly. Cases in point are health, education, power and infrastructure. How many Nigerians are there? We would never know because of the politicization of census figures.
How many children of school age do we have to provide primary, secondary and university education for? We do not know. How many jobs will those that graduate need? We do not know. Yet, there are serious countries like India and China that started with similar problems like us that have been able to cross the bridge. With a population of more than 1.3 billion, it’s no surprise that India runs the largest national school system in the world, with more than 700,000 schools in operation. Since the turn of the century, China has experienced a revolution in third level education. It has outstripped both the United States and Europe in graduate numbers and as of 2016, it was building the equivalent of nearly one university per week. In 2016 India had the most graduates of any country worldwide with 78.0 million while China followed close behind with 77.7 million. The U.S. was in third place with 67.4 million graduates, and the gap behind the top two countries is widening.
According to the World Economic Forum, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has become a pretty big deal in China’s flourishing universities.
As far as planning and abandonment of plans are concerned; a good case in point is the story of Lagos State which by 1983 had drawn up a master plan for the development of the state which it divided into 4 zones. Our family printing press was involved in the production of the documents. It was a fantastic scheme that includes schools, recreational facilities, resorts and of course roads in Lekki axis including an airport and monorail. At a point all lands on the left of the express going towards Epe were designated for farmland and allocation papers were issued. The Honorable Commissioner for Agriculture at the time would remember with nostalgia how his office was inundated with requests by friends and foes alike for a piece of the action. At last nothing became of the laudable scheme. That in itself is one of the pitfalls to our development. Today, the greater part of Lagos is unplanned and uncharted and as confusing as can be: In short, a planner’s nightmare.
For over 12 years now, the proposed mass transit rail line from Okokomaiko to Marina is yet to come on stream. The same goes for the expansion of the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway. We have written in the past bout the ‘Monuments of Waste’ as a result of abandonment of development projects in the country, chief of which is the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Complex which is now in its 40th year of stagnation and waste. You can add to this the comatose Mambilla Hydro Electricity project; also in its 40th year of immobility. With these monumental issues of waste and profligacy, our hope of sustained development at best stand attenuated.
It is also in this country that we set up paper mills at Jebba, Oku Iboku and Iwopin; all moribund and yet we have an educational system that could benefit from the paper produced. Equally moribund and abandoned is the Nigeria Romania Wood Industry with its dedicated Teak forest reserve. This ought to have come in handy in the manufacture school furniture.
What kind of country will allow its railway system to collapse as we did? Yet India’s national railway system operated by the government as a public good is the fourth largest railway network in the world, with a route length of 95,981-kilometre as of March 2019. About 50.90% of all the routes are electrified with 25 kV 50 Hz AC electric traction. Founded 16 April 1853 (166 years ago) it employs 1.30 million (2017). The high-speed railway is a recent phenomenon. Yet, it is still the major carrier of goods and personnel. But here we are still ‘jonesing’ on the 150 kilometer Lagos/Ibadan rail.
India weaved a development paradigm that was sui generis; and today has crossed the Rubicon into becoming a technological giant on its own. Today, India is noted for software development and its people are sought all over the world. Bangalore has given Silicon Valley a run for its money. It is also a giant pharmaceutical manufacturer, especially in generic drugs. India has gone to space and is a nuclear power. The result is that the Whiteman cannot snub the Indian, especially when Tata, the Indian business guru is a significant investor in the British economy with its ownership of Jaguar/Range Rover and steel industry. Bollywood if the biggest film industry in the world.
Rather than embark on industrialization, we were content with setting up assembly plants; what Frantz Fanon described as the industry of underdeveloped countries. Even at that, these assembly plants were ruined and rendered comatose, by people some of whom are running around today wanting to contest gubernatorial seats in their states.
The bottom line is that we lack the requisite leadership to run the biggest Black nation in the world. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg. Much more colossal pitfalls abound, including corruption and bad governance which have made us to lose respect all over the world.
After all said and done, the Black race as a result of the actions of its leaders in Africa has failed to win the respect of other races as a consequence of their acts of omission and commission. The greatest flaw of the Black African leaders is treasury looting on an unprecedented scale. The celebrated ‘Abacha loot’ has no other name than state robbery. Our kamikaze military leaders who ruled this country for a total of 32 years set our development back by a hundred years. Their accomplices in the act are the civil servants and the politicians; people of questionable pedigree. They are not bothered about the upliftment of their people not to talk of the race. To these extent therefore, even our Black cousins out there do not respect us. How can we raise our voice on their behalf. We have even added another ignoble trait to our repertoire, that of international scam and fraud.
We might therefore ask how the Whiteman can accord us the dignity as leaders of the Black race. Yes, indeed ‘Black Live Matter’, in all ways imaginable; but for it to gain traction and stop the injustice being meted to our kit and kin out there, we need to get our acts together and show leadership: A leadership which we have long abdicated.
Barka Juma’at and Happy weekend