On Statism And Economic Nationalism By TATALO ALAMU

It is a brand new year. There is a feeling of cautious even wary optimism abroad. At least in one significant respect, Nigerians have a bragging right and the license to beat their chest in accomplishment and self-satisfaction. The nation has survived 2015 in one piece. It is not a mean achievement. Like a historic and mysterious platform whistle blower, 2015 stood between the nation and further meaningless gallivanting. It was the year widely touted by international experts as the final terminus for a giant crawler.
It has been a close run affair. Nigeria plumbed the depths of horror and state evisceration. If the outlandish revelations currently making the round are anything to be believed, the post-colonial state in Nigeria had actually dissolved into a criminal cartel whose sole purpose has been extractive predation and the wholesale looting of national patrimony. It is worse than kleptocracy.
For a long time to come, the sociology of state larceny will be studied and probed for the insights offered into the criminal mindset of a dysfunctional political elite. It calls to further question, the ability of the Black person to nurture vibrant institutions that underwrite the modern state or to will into existence the stellar armature of a functioning nation.
As this column once noted, twice in his lifetime, President Mohammadu Buhari has been summoned by fate to preside over major ruling class implosions in the nation. But this time around, the rot has been compounded by ethnic, regional and religious animosities fuelled and powered by elite delinquency. The struggle for state control and the misappropriation of national resources has exacerbated the National Question. The retired general from Daura has his work cut out for him.
Fortunately, with his budget and the wide-ranging interview of a few days ago, the major economic and political templates of the Buhari administration now appear to the nation and his compatriots in bold relief. Politically, the retired general remains a strong statist hooked on the ameliorative and redemptive possibilities of a powerful, omniscient and omnipresent state, fearsome and forbidding enough to withstand and see off all countervailing and centrifugal forces in a titanic battle of will.
Given his military background with its harsh centralization, its distaste for disorder and rigid institutionalized hierarchy which sustain authority and stability, Buhari can be forgiven for his statist predilection. Indeed, it can be argued that in the post-empire world order, all the developing nations that have rapidly transited from the Third World to the First no matter their ideological hue have been powered by strong state institutions and the cult of the strong leader. Post-Tsarist Russia, post-feudal Russia, modern Cuba, Singapore, the Asian Tigers and Vietnam all come to mind.
It is in this sense, then, that Buhari’s current ameliorative and redemptive measures to instill sense and sanity into state institutions in Nigeria must be appreciated by his compatriots. The post-colonial state in Nigeria has become a huge joke: authoritarian but lacking in real authority; weighed down by sheer mass but without any meaningful substance; potent in stealing propensity but impotent in ruling possibility; bullying the cowed citizens while being bullied in turn by ragtag militias, it has been stripped of all its power and aura of legitimacy.
We can no longer afford to put the cart before the horse. Unlike the strong state and functioning national institutions inherited from the colonial masters, the post-colonial state in Nigeria is so badly weakened that it cannot withstand radical surgery without giving up the ghost. Before we can even broach the possibility of a radical restructuring of the nation, the shell-shocked state has to be reinvented with its fundamental raison d’être restored.
Experience has shown that when failed states break up, they merely produce more failed states. In Africa, Sudan and South Sudan, Congo and the farcical Republic of Katanga, are classic examples. On current form, even if Nigeria were to split into a hundred nations, it is hard to see how its dysfunctional and factionalized elite-formations with their primitive hunter-gatherer mindset can pass muster.
In the context of institutional collapse and virtual state failure, separatist and secessionist agitations by sections of a moribund political elite, as if nations are timeless toys in the hands of over-pampered juveniles, merely throw unflattering light on the original sin: the failure of Nigeria’s post-independence political elite at nation-building and their inability to nurture and sustain state-validating institutions.
Unlike the titans thrown up by the decolonizing project, it is hard to see how the current generation of Nigerian politicians can maintain a functioning and viable nation or state. A thousand Biafras, Oduduwa Republics, Arewa nations will merely reproduce the miseries and traumas of the captive people in a fresh territorial arrangement.
This fundamental political failure, the inability to succeed at genuine nation-building, also explains the fundamental economic failure of the nation and Buhari’s resurgent economic nationalism. In a sense, this can be seen as a return of the repressed and a throwback to the retired general’s first coming. The failure of deregulation, economic liberalization, market forces and the concomitant rolling back of the state and its vexatious interventions tells its own story. It is a story of state failure and the appalling inability of state actors to rein in a few non-state actors and their cannibal capitalism.
Let us be clear about one thing. Economic nationalism is another word for regulated state capitalism. No nation ever leaves its economy unprotected and at the mercy of pristine predators bent on bringing the country to its economic heels. This is not a debate about subsidy or its removal for in the final analysis there is no such thing. Subsidy is state rents and slush funds willingly paid to a rentier class for the sole purpose of influencing the outcome of elections and the destiny of the nation. Nigerians themselves broke the yoke in the watershed election of 2015.
It is strange that in view of the run on the naira occasioned by wholesale looting of our national patrimony and the consequent plummeting of the national exchange median, none of our IMF and World Bank economists is calling for the removal of further “subsidy” even as global prices of oil have fallen to below forty dollars per barrel. Perhaps when the naira plunges into five hundred to the single dollar, petroleum product will also “obtain” at five hundred naira per litre.
This is the economic canard and the subsidy trap of permanent peonage that General Buhari has perceptively seen through. By heroically refusing any further devaluation of the naira thereby making further subsidies official, the Nigerian president might have sprung the trap. Whatever the authoritarian excesses, Nigerians may soon have Buhari to thank for this.
Every sovereign nation has the sovereign right to determine which economic policies best suit its people and in specific circumstances. Let us not hear any orchestrated cry of economic illiteracy from western interlopers and their local agents. Singapore, China, Cuba and the Asian Tigers did not triumph by aping western economic policies.
In a perceptive review, retired Ambassador Dapo Fafowora has described President Buhari’s budget as “neo-Keynesian” and reflationary. This is at should be in the current circumstances. Looted funds do not reflate any economy. What reflates is money put in the pocket of the teeming poor and the economically disempowered. This is what Buhari has tried to do by the various empowerment schemes. When all the monies stolen from the exchequer are courageously called in, the naira and Nigeria will witness a new dawn.
This is not to say that there are no contradictions and complexities about political statism and economic nationalism in a country in which the various nationalities are at a stage or stages of unequal and uneven political and economic productions. Buhari will have to fine tune all this without appearing to punish the industrious and enterprising to please the indolent and the compulsively lazy. Let the debate begin. But let us give President Buhari some respite to mend this broken state. It is 2016, and it is morning yet on creation day.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s