Something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Not yet finished so I just want to think aloud. Essentially, I’ve wondered – what would have happened if Nigeria gained independence in 1940 or 1980?
Nigeria is a place that history happens to. The country has always been at the mercy of events elsewhere. Canada changes its immigration laws, Nigerian middle class gets hoovered up. Someone discovers oil somewhere, Nigeria = petrostate. And so on. Why? Dunno
Very early in the 20th century, an argument broke out in Britain. Before then, the consensus had been for free trade. But by the end of the first decade, parties started to run protectionism as an economic policy. (Details too long to get into).
On account of WW1, protectionism got a foothold in Britain as taxing imports was a way to raise money for the war effort. By 1921, the idea had advanced enough such that a law like this could be passed which will read familiar to any Nigerian today
By the late 1940s, protectionism had won with both main parties signing up to it. And this is the part that I’ve often wondered about – the influence of the prevailing ideology in the home country of the colonial master on the trajectory of Nigeria post independence
Over the long run, you’ll find an ideological jousting in most western countries. Sometimes the state advances (Teddy Roosevelt) and sometimes it retreats (Margaret Thatcher PBUH). In the end, the country settles somewhere in the middle even if it doesnt always look that way
“A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” as Burke said.
Western countries know how to change. In the sense that it is coded somewhere in the DNA of those societies to change. As recently as 1997, Britain had some harsh anti-gay laws
But African countries – certainly Nigeria – don’t really know how to change. I’m not convinced that, without an external influence, slavery would have ended today, to use one example. Things continue until they can no longer continue.
Thus, whatever it is that was the prevailing ideology of the colonial master at the time of ‘independence’ simply got held in aspic till today. And there is practically no room for debate. Without twitter, where will you even find the semblance of debate?
People like Awolowo and the rest of that generation came under the influence of Fabian socialism in Britain. Meanwhile Fabian socialism in Britain had counterweights but in Nigeria? Awolowo’s economic ideas went pretty much unchallenged
By the end of the 1970s, those ideas that were prevailing in Britain at the time of independence had run their course and Mrs Thatcher, armed with her copy of Hayek, was able to remake the state. In Nigeria? NNPC was being born, Land Use Act was just starting. Divergence
It is incredibly hard to change things in Nigeria. But the country, with the benefit of hindsight now, had a golden opportunity post 1999 to diverge from the inherited orthodoxy since independence. To re-imagine the state by pulling it back a bit and allowing private enterprise
Alas, here we are today. Not only is the state advancing, in all its glorious incompetence, the more disturbing part is that history is being actively re-written. That nothing happened before now. That there was no progress. In a young country this is dangerous and effective
All economic progress post 1999 is one crisis away from being overturned.
To restore that inherited orthodoxy. Because people who came of age then – and made no progress in their own lives beyond the state – have been tricked by their memories into thinking it was so good
When I say APC is an intellectually fraudulent party, it is not a gratuitous insult. It is a statement of fact. They are remaking the country and even worse, remaking the people by raising the status of economic stupidity.
After 1960, the window of opportunity to make a departure from the status quo – the inherited orthodoxy – took 39 years to present itself and in the most unlikely circumstances.
It might take another generation again. This is the country that does not change