Utomi’s Baffling Take on Soludo’s Bombshell

When Charles Soludo released his bombshell on the future of the political economy and state of Nigeria beyond the 2015 elections between Muhammadu Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/01/buhari-vs-jonathan-beyond-election-charles-soludo/ ,it contained a brilliant analysis of the economic conditions of the times blended with “politics” i.e. among other things, the “eulogy to Obasanjo as a master economic leader” which cannot be justified by facts or reason and the “hopelessness of the Nigerian situation” as if Nigerian politicians should not even try to bring about because of the paucity of resources.

Many including myself have responded to Soludo’s bombshell. See http://xclusive.ie/reflections-on-charles-soludos-bombshell/. What has surprised me in the responses is the one from Pat Utomi. My favourite program on Nigerian television is “Patito’s Gang”. I do credit Utomi with perennially calling the institution of serious political debate to be a cornerstone of Nigerian politics. If the program was based on ratings it would be taken off the air simply because too few Nigerians are interested in political debate. Political debate never works well with hunger. This does not mean those promoting political debate should stop, it will be very useful and rewarding sometime in future.

Nevertheless, Utomi has preferred to besides the core of the debate to make “credible” comparisons of political economy of Nigeria with Singapore and USA. Comparisons that are useful for transferability in the economy or political economy of nations are reasonably based on similarities in certain measurable enduring or consistent combinations of criteria; population, macroeconomic indices, size of market, legal origins, type of economy, political history, institutions, level of development, technological capability, geopolitical strategic importance and trade relations. How Nigeria compares with the USA or Singapore with any of these criteria is baffling.

Ronald Reagan was a president of the USA that had created the “Golden Age of Capitalism” in a post-World War II era up to the 1970s; three strong decades of the world’s greatest ever economy. From this period onwards the USA was the world’s giant economically, agriculturally, militarily-politically (shared with the USSR), culturally, technologically and scientifically. What was Nigeria in the world at that time? What is the basis for Utomi’s comparison? As Reagan was entering the White House as president Nigeria was coping with dying days of a half decade of its wasteful “oil boom”.  That was close to the time in 1978 that General Olusegun, then Head of State, said to the world’s media Nigeria would be a world power in 2005 while at the very same time Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of West Germany, declared his country would never be a world power again. What an irony!

A reading of Joe Studwell’s “Asian Godfathers” a ground-breaking and influential book (and similar titles) on the prosperity and billionaires in nations like Hong Kong and Singapore tell a different story from the one Pat Utomi presents, well, it is the popular version and perhaps an obsolete one. The Singaporean billionaires and economy do not represent any world leading corporations or sell any word leading products on world markets because they are simply shrewd rentseekers well empowered and rewarded by Lee Kwan Yew for their cooperation with his heavy intervention. The “most billionaires per square mile in the world” is a classic example of the “Asian Paradox” as it relates to corruption.

Very high levels of corruption has not retarded but enhanced the economic prosperity of many Asian nations; a paradox. Value-adding corruption is mostly about using economic inputs efficiently and creating multiplier effects within the economy then sharing the outputs privately. Value-subtracting corruption involves the redistribution of resources privately at the input level reducing the capacity for multiplier effects and good outcomes. Lee Kwan Yew sat on a very corrupt government but was wise enough to make it “value-adding”. Nigerian politicians do not think about capacity to produce multiplier effects in the economy and their respective values to society and nation building, all they think about is the redistribution of economic resources especially when shared among the elite. Even in the area of corruption Nigeria does not compare in anyway whatsoever with Singapore or the USA.

One may ask if blow-taking national comparisons at election time are good bases for political debates? Possibly, Utomi was not proffering comparisons between the economies of Nigeria and other very different nations for the purpose of transferability or simple analysis but for the purpose of hope. However, I am aware comparisons with better nations alienate citizens from debates not inspire them.

Grimot Nane

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