By Kayode Emola
There have been so many speculations around how much Britain paid to acquire Nigeria circa 1900. The first Governor-General of the amalgamated Nigeria, Lord Lugard, stated on page 48 of his 1919 Amalgamation Report that, on a liberal calculation, Nigeria was acquired for a sum not exceeding £4.7 million (equivalent to £169 million today). He stated further that this amount was less than that which Britain had spent in building the railway network in Uganda. However, the most shocking of all was his revelation that, as Nigeria had already incurred £1 million of this cost, and pledged to pay £6 million of Britain’s war debt, it will be seen that “this vast country which affords an increasing market for British industry and commerce has been acquired at no cost whatever to the British taxpayer.” In a business sense, it is fair to say that Britain acquired Nigeria for free.
To calculate Nigeria’s worth today, we could look at several factors, however the aspect that most would consider first, and would deem the most useful, would be the amount that it is able to generate in revenue and taxes. In the formative years of Nigeria, majority of her revenue was generated from the export of raw materials. In time, industries began to spring up, balancing the trade deficit from excessive importation of finished goods. Whilst this phenomenon of exporting most of our raw materials has still not changed over the last 100 years since our amalgamation, our industrial sector has not kept pace, and in fact many of our industries have now dwindled to the point of collapse. It is therefore not surprising to learn that in May 2018 Nigeria overtook India as the poverty capital of the world with more than half of its vast population living below $2 a day.
With a population of around 210 million people and vast mineral resources buried under our soil, one would have thought we should have been a major manufacturing country in the world. Even countries with significantly smaller populations than our own generally produce most of what they consume, thereby increasing the earning potential of their country. The majority of the advanced countries in the world have built their wealth on the back of multiple industries which drive their economy, thereby driving the economic worth of their country upwards.
As an example, if we were to compare the annual income generated by the UK with that generated by Nigeria, Nigeria appears to be far from what people might have expected. Whilst Britain, with a population of around 68 million people (approximately a third of Nigeria’s population), generates around £600bn a year in taxes and revenue; Nigeria, on the other hand, despite her vast human and natural resources, generates around £6bn a year. Considering that the British population is far smaller than that of Nigeria, extrapolation of these data would create an expectation that Nigeria ought to be generating revenue three times that of Britain.
The paltry revenue actually generated by Nigeria is one of the many reasons for her economic and security woes. Despite this, the political class, rather than attempting to better the lot of the downtrodden, they have continued to milk the country dry for their own gain alone. In their eyes, Nigeria is worth everything and they would do anything within their powers to maintain the status quo. In contrast, I watched a video last week of one young girl who was lamenting that she was promised a job for ₦30,000 per calendar month – equivalent to £50 ($70) pcm. She was visibly angry because, despite the promise, she had not even been offered the job, but instead was going to be placed on a reserve list. For her, this was more than she can stomach. She felt that the country had let her down and is no longer worth anything anymore, and so her solution was to leave Nigeria, never to return again. Considering the several hundreds of millions of people trapped below the poverty line in Nigeria, I believe it is not surprising that most of them share her view.
I do not believe that it is right to build a country that provides worth to a minority political elite, who contribute nothing to the economy. Instead the focus should be the building of a country that provides worth to everyone. The people must realise that it is these politicians who carry the responsibility of improving life for the populace, and yet have continued to fail in these responsibilities time and again. The Yoruba people must realise that the time is now to seek alternatives, and the only way we can escape this cycle of economic sabotage by the Nigerian government is to break free from its grip. We must, as a matter of urgency, sit down and ask ourselves critical questions about how we got into this mess in the first place. If we understood how these calamities have befallen our people, only then will we stand a chance of getting ourselves out on the other side.
We must not be naïve enough to believe that, even if we get our own independent Yoruba nation today, the many problems that have bedevilled Nigeria will suddenly disappear overnight. However, it will afford us the opportunity to begin to turn the tides of our misfortune. Were Yorubaland to become an independent nation today, it would have a population of at least 50-60 million people, strong enough to drive any economic development. One of the factors that the new nation must consider is how to identify consumers’ tastes in terms of product consumption. Once this is done, we must strive to create the industries that will produce these products on our soil. This will ensure that we are not merely exporting our raw resources, simply to import them again as the finished product for a much greater cost; but rather to give ourselves the opportunity to become a viable country worth something to all her people and not just the political few.
On the other hand, if we allow Nigeria to continue on its current trajectory, with the way it is being run presently there is no prospect that her fortunes will turn around in the near future. The long-term future, too, is not looking good, as the country is on a fast track to economic disaster, with the enormous burden of debt it currently finds itself bearing. Nigeria prints money monthly in an attempt to shore up its enormous deficit, rather than focusing on creating the necessary industries to drive her economic growth. When the newly printed money no longer bears worth to meet these debts, Nigeria resorts to taking loans from any country willing to dole out their reserve. As the population of Nigeria grows exponentially, Nigeria cannot continue to pretend that all is well. The country is unable to meet either her domestic or international obligations. It cannot even provide international passport for her citizens as many are on a long waiting queue for almost a year and other necessary basics that provides a decent standard of living. The security of lives and property are no longer guaranteed as thousands are killed every week for no fault of their own through banditry and home grown terrorism.
The Yoruba people and other nationalities in Nigeria who have found themselves in a contraption since 1914 against their will need now to consider what Nigeria is worth to them. What metric defines the worth of the country? Whatever metric is used, it seems that Nigeria falls short in every domain. The value of a country is not just in the size of its population or the amount of mineral resources it possesses; it lies in the value that it places in the majority of its population. We need to strive for a country that acknowledges and provides value for all its people, regardless of class, status or position. As Nigeria cannot deliver this, it is time to build a Yoruba nation outside of Nigeria that can and will provide the necessary worth we all aspire to.