Karl Marx can be praised or pilloried, but his ideas have never been easily dismissed. He established the dialectical relationship between economic production and social institutions. For Marx, it is how men produce the materials to preserve their lives (sustenance) that determine the nature of their social relationship, political or juridical institutions and even religious practices – and despite that laws or norms may later formalise the way man produces his sustenance, it is yet how he produces his sustenance (preserves his life generally) that is fundamental to all else.
The gory pictures painted in the media reports of insecurity in the country is a testament to the role that economics plays in defining human relationship between one and another. Social relationship is at its basest level in the country, indicated by the spate of banditry and the daredevil incidences of extortionate terror.
Coincidentally the heightening rate of insecurity is occurring about the time we are getting used to our latest designation as the poverty capital of the world. Our deepening poverty is responsible for the widespread disregard for civilized conducts; we don’t need a Karl Marx to tell us that. But perhaps we need a Karl Marx to guide us on what to do.
Muhammad Bafa Sani, writing in DailyTrust of 24th January of this year, made the following salient points about Poverty in Northern Nigeria: Causes and Remedy: “…the menace of (poverty) is most critical in (Nigeria’s) northern part, despite bestowed unquantifiable human and natural resources in the region. For example, according to statistics, in Kano and Zamfara States, three out of every four persons and over 91 percent of the population live in extreme poverty respectively… As a result, part of the worst human development indicators – unemployment, widened inequality, hunger, ignorance, diseases, violence, youth restiveness, to mention but few – bedevil the youth, and in effect, posing great threat to security and stability.”
Between January 24 and now, the situation in Northern Nigeria, the capital city of the poverty-capital of the world, has aggravated. Politicians, despite their escorts, are patronizing rail transport to avoid being kidnapped – do not mistake this turn of event for humility on their part; it was only an attempt at self preservation.
Nigeria’s population today, put at 200 million people estimatedly, is larger than it ever was at any point in our 105 year old history as a corporate state. The population surge equally means an unprecedented competition for available resources, including land, food, shelter, transportation among others. Unfortunately the productive capacity of Nigeria has progressed backwardly, and despite a youth bulge and the restlessness that comes with that demographic distinction. (Above 60% of Nigeria's population are below age 35.) It is easier in Nigeria to gain employment as a secondary school leaver than as a university graduate, why? – because the country is at a backward level of technically-aided production. More factories have shut down in the last ten years than constructed; and few public corporations have been rendered less efficient by a poorly considered policy of privatization. We therefore have on our hand a situation where the country is producing far less than required by its large population for sustenance – a situation compounded by our antediluvian manner of production.
Embarrassingly, the Buhari regime has chosen to confront the problem of youth unemployment in Nigeria, for example, with a two-prong policy of encouraging youths to participate in agriculture and Npower. These policies are embarrassing because the world is presently at a stage where you do not need millions of unemployed workforce on farmlands, nor do you need them to whirl away time in poorly equipped classrooms doing nothing particularly productive. Agriculture particularly has reached a technical stage where machines and chemistry combined do more work than a million men put together can ever achieved with our traditional tools.
If we manufacture, or master the sciences to improve our production, it would tell on our capacity to be self sufficient rather than lamenting our addiction to importation. Our injury could have been soothed if Npower teachers were employed to prepare a generation of science-inclined or arts-oriented students; most public schools in Nigeria are in states that count as part of our national disgraces, with no chalks, speak less of laboratory materials, in majority of the rural schools.
The inability to be technically advanced; to employ the sciences for production; to gain mastery of nature; to ease processes of production; to expand local productivity – it is this inability to domesticate in Nigeria the present level of global technical capacity that is fueling the cut-throat competition for scarce, tediously produced resources. It is for this reason that hungry people are arming themselves to dispossess others. Our backward technical capacity is hardly a product of lack of human resources that can apply technical knowledge – Nigerian-trained doctors are leaving this country to become superstars abroad, that much is a globally reckoned fact. But our political leadership does not prioritise the long-term planning and discipline required for the desired technical growth of this country.
Oil is not a curse, it is indeed a blessing to us for the moment; but it is has become a psychoactive drug, a sort of addictive narcotic, to our political leaders. The crude oil, requiring limited technical capacity for drilling than refining, promises stack of hard currencies still. Soft work, hard pay. Just like a man deriving his life’s satisfaction from daily dosage of tramadol, our politicians have little motivation to inspire or incite progress in technical or creative areas. Therefore, rather than spending the returns on oil exports on developing our capacity to even refine that oil, create demands for engineers, and spur technical creativity; our leaders view the return as a national cake that is cut to chunks at every FAAC meeting. Unfortunately for us commoners, this money is not spent on productive ventures that would impact us in the long or short term – they are spent on security votes, provocative allowances of political office holders, and even workers at state levels still go hungry. Politics has failed to inspire science, to inspire human creativity – it has become the greatest singular threat to the security of this country, because by greed and avarice, politics creates poverty.
Countries like China are benefitting from their vast human capital, and this is because they have placed high technical capacity at the disposal of their vast population. In a market economy dominated by national interests, it would be unfathomable to expect productive nations to encourage us to be technically productive, and hence lose us as customers. And at the bottom of being productive is the question of technical capacity, and the political will to direct resources to grow technical capacity – even if that means offending the powerful people who are gentrified by the backwardness pervading the Nigerian society. This was part of the ideas of Marx in his popular German Ideology, and what we should learn from him: that civilization is equivalent to mastery over science and application of such for a productive economy.
The insecurity in the country, if we agree that it is traceable to poverty at its root, then can only be resolved by concretely removing poverty. It is a task that is enormous considering the sheerness of our population, but not impossible. We can expand our police force or their capacity to tackle crime, but we must remove the material basis of crime. And this is a task that must start now, and begin with our politicians who draw too much of our national wealth that prevents any long term investment in technical production. It is our tasks as citizens to call them to order, shame those worthy of shame, and firmly demand willful and visionary leadership. Nigeria cannot afford to be run the same old way, because it is not again the same old Nigeria that these leaders know.
Writes from Oko-Oba, Agege