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Developing Minds, Developing Nations By Leonard Karshima Shilgba

Nations are not labeled "Developed" just because they have world-class infrastructure, which are after all only by-products of development, but because of the amount and quality of knowledge that they have created through exercised developed minds, by which I mean minds that are able to diagnose society’s true problems (without being distracted by symptoms or consequences thereof), trends and requirements, project society’s fate, and figure out appropriate therapy for society’s ills. The shape, topology, and organization of society are veritable indicators of the maturity and development state of the mind of her citizens.


An incontrovertible evidence that the mind of a people is undeveloped, or at best developing, is that they believe foreign ideas more than the home-grown. They surrender the task of thinking and imagination to foreigners, whom they hold in deifying reverence. They lose pride in their own heritage, and fail to understand their generational role in the natural expectation of improvements. To improve the quality of thought is an important societal duty, and the process is called "Education". This process instigates knowledge creation, whose aim is to fulfill man's divine task of dominating his environment. In so far as society fails in this task, it has betrayed the purpose of living.

As a citizen of the biggest black nation on earth, and reading my readers' comments, which is my adopted ritual, I can report with sadness that the contemporary black man, to a considerable extent, believes he is lost without the guidance, patronage and protection of the white man or the "developed world". He is so afraid of the potential imagined reprisals from the white man on his actions in self-interest that he literally waits for permission from him to take them. I am getting really frustrated by this stubbornness of the mind, which has remained inured to this self- deprecating disposition.

Let me provide some exhibits of this chronic black diffidence:

For Black scholars to ape out western proposition that "developing" countries (a category in which all black nations fall) must devalue their currencies, as a solution to their economic problems, to me, is indicative of lack of imagination and sense of history. To such scholars, whatever the World Bank or IMF says is an unimpeachable doctrine. Since the 1980s when many black nations, out of lack of imagination, started devaluing their currencies, only because the white man said so, and those currencies have since been devalued by thousands of percentage points (For instance, the Nigerian naira, officially, is now worth only about one-two hundredth of its 1980 value!) their economies have reaped no benefits from this devaluation doctrine. And without learning from history, some black scholars (even economists) are still calling for further devaluation of their countries' currencies as an economic "solution", because the IMF says so.

The "privatization" of our commonwealth is un-African (e.g. the take-over of black lands, communal heritage, by whites in some African countries has provoked violent reprisals or the signs are there that they will occur). Whenever social ownership re-engineering conflicts with the inherent culture of a people, resistance and failure are bound to happen. In African communities, it is an abomination for an individual to take over ownership of property that belongs to all community members. In some African communities, such individual may lose their life in strange circumstances not long after. In others, only the king can claim ownership of lands (the most important possession of an African after children) in his domain. Even at that, the king would dare forcefully take someone's property and give another only in exchange for violence, talk less of taking the community's commonwealth and handing over to an individual or group of individuals in the name of "privatization", an individualistic economic coupling that is, to the African, a chimera.

Many black scholars see "privatization" as the silver bullet for economic woes, and claim that "Government has no business in business." African culture encourages private enterprise without sacrificing common ownership enterprise; and so government (elders and kings) has business in business. In African communities, members help each other in activities such as farming, building of houses, preparation for marriage rituals, even as they collectively own schools and other enterprises. They would vehemently resist handing over of those ventures to individuals in the name of "privatization".

Nigeria has "privatized" her electricity infrastructure: six generation companies (GENCOS) and eleven distribution companies (DISCOS) have been sold ("privatized"), while the only transmission company, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) is being managed by a private firm. About three years after (since November 2013), what is the result? We now have more darkness than before, more outrageous bills for prolonged darkness than before, and poor billing standards or, may I say, more "estimated billing" that is not based on any imaginative or scientific basis? What more? Those new owners have been given "bail out" of billions of naira, supposedly belonging to “taxpayers"; and they have responded by hitting the taxpayer with poor services and unjustified bills! 

Here is the excuse: The electricity business is a capital-intensive venture, and investors need to recoup their investment. Unfortunately, even the present government has bought into this narrative. Does it make sense to call extortion recouping of investment? Do you call estimated billing recouping of investment? In most towns and villages in States in Nigeria (Bayelsa State being a classic example, where Otuoke community of uncle GEJ has not enjoyed public electricity since January 2016, and has received no electricity supply since their governor claimed at a campaign debate last year that he had paid some money for gas to power the Imiringi turbine that was built by former Governor of the old Rivers State, Melford Okilo more than 30 years ago, the only source of electricity to the community until 2013, when it was shut down and failed to release even a flash until during governorship campaigns of late last year when it coughed out some electricity for only few days while the campaigns lasted), it is a policy of DISCOS to not deploy electricity meters! The reason is obvious—arbitrary billing fills their purse with ill-gotten wealth. While in other towns and villages where analogue or post-payment meters are still being used in Nigeria, DISCOS would bring in outrageous bills without considering the supply and consumption sides of the billing equation. In an economy such as ours, and in agreement with our culture of pre-payment economy, why does government allow those DISCOS to continue with this robbery?

Unless President Buhari has come to accept this enslaving treatment of Nigerians by the GENCOS and DISCOS, who have lately treated us to a comedy of trading blames, as just, it is time to reverse this "privatization". The cost of reversal cannot outweigh this oppression and the cost of failure. I wish to alert the president that public unrest or violence will be provoked if the federal government does not rein in those taunting wolves. Nigerians will have every right to resist this exploitation. We are fed up with this nonsense!

Some years ago, the telecommunications sector was "liberalized". The federal government did not "privatize" landlines. Even then, the beautiful phone boots that dotted our campuses, street corners and public buildings, where a caller could walk in with their pre-loaded call cards, swipe and make calls, have vanished only because Nigeria "liberalized" her telecommunications sector. Again, evidence of a mind that has refused to be exercised with imagination. Who now owns the Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL)? It is now moribund because we must allow the private sector to thrive. What thinking is this? Must the private sector thrive at the expense of public enterprise? President Buhari must make revival of NITEL (with its mobile subsidiary MTEL) one of his signature accomplishments before 2019.

Strengthened in their conviction that the contemporary black man does not exercise his mind, but waits for others to do the thinking for him, the exploiters are now asking for "privatization" of government's medical centers! It seems, for now, President Buhari is not buying this. To prevent another heist of our commonwealth, the president should reverse the "privatization" of our electricity infrastructure, while allowing liberalization. This will send a strong message. We must keep our electricity distribution infrastructure to remain as public property, to be placed on lease to companies that will not exploit consumers (a similar management agreement the Federal Government has signed for the management of the TCN is contemplated here). GENCOS that have not generated more electricity than the installed capacities of the companies they bought, should lose ownership of those companies, but should be given licenses to build electricity plants of their choosing.

Do we need DISCOS that have not added new and adequate transformers in neighborhoods since they took over in 2013, and now engage in perennial load-shedding because “the transformer cannot take the load in your neighborhood”? I was amazed when a Jos DISCO manager in Gboko, Benue State, said to me, “The transformers in Gboko were installed in the 1970s. They cannot sustain the load required of them now. Rich men in Gboko should consider buying transformers.” What baloney! Here is another incident: For some days we got no electricity supply in our neighborhood in Gboko. I drove to a Jos DISCO office and asked the manager what the reason was. He told me, “My brother, I have sat here all day drinking my beer and wondering what to do. Your transformer has a fault that requires a spare part that we don’t have in the store; we have nothing in the store. We do not have even an operating vehicle either, and I have to use my personal truck over there (he pointed to it). This company is now a private one, and customers don’t have to pay for such repairs.” I asked him how much it would cost, and he told me. I drove to an ATM, made some withdrawals and gave him the money to fix the problem. Yet another unfortunate experience after this one. For weeks we got no electricity supply, only to be told that our transformer (the same one in Gboko) was “vandalized”. We were taxed to raise more than two hundred thousand naira to fix it and build a fence around the transformer! Later, I learned that some other neighborhoods in Gboko had the same experience. I further learned that some staff of the Jos DISCO “vandalized” the transformers.  For more than two years now, the Jos DISCO has kept us on “load-shedding” menu (They are only OBLIGATED to consider us every other day), and yet brings in outrageous bills every month, which have suddenly gone up by more than 100 per cent since the beginning of this year! This situation cannot be allowed to continue.      

The Federal Government should not allow monopoly by the six GENCOS and eleven DISCOS in Nigeria, who have demonstrated undeniable incompetence, duplicity, and inability to tell the truth. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is dead on its mission, I think. It does not protect Nigerians. Electricity is too important to our national development to be left in the hands of unserious people or companies. It is time to wield the big stick. I hope our mind will be enlarged to see this. I am, naturally, an optimist. But let me say here and now that I am not interested in more baloney, whether from government officials or GENCOS and DISCOS about what they are doing to improve electricity. I want nothing less than predictability, equity, and value for money, to start with. On predictability, it does not require high mathematical and engineering ingenuity to work out a dependable timetable for electricity supply to neighborhoods (now that we don’t have enough to go round), and communicate same through text messaging to customers to know hours of the day that public electricity would be supplied EVERYDAY. Equity requires that I must not be denied public electricity only because my neighbors are not willing to pay for electricity, which does not make sense. Value for money, because I must not pay for what I do not consume. Until government intervenes to address these, nothing has changed, or rather things have turned out worse. Tell me, what positive difference has “privatization” of our electricity sector made?

Black nations inherited "Western Education" and failed to improve on the traditional or hereditary education received from the forebears; neither have they productively sought after innovation for the education they received from the white man, who has since moved beyond what they left us with at political independence. Our imagination has simply refused to stretch beyond principal endowment; thus no interest has accrued on it. For example, the National Universities Commission (NUC), a body that superintendents university education in Nigeria, has resisted liberal innovation in degree programs and curricula (to meet global job requirements) that conflict with their Basic Minimum Academic Standard (BMAS); unfortunately, this obduracy inhibits universities' efforts to impart in-demand skills that could have made their graduates employable. But the NUC is “just doing its job", so why the "preachments "?

Africans must create development models that accord with their cultural values of private enterprise lubricated by communal ownership. It is not either or. A child born in African communities belongs to the whole community; but he still bears his father's name. Although the land belongs to the individual within the community, the whole community must be involved at the time of sale or transfer of ownership. These examples suffice. "Privatization" simply means selfish ownership, a trait that is deplored in the African community or lexicon.

Local "Contributions Banking" within African economies is fast threatening modern banking today. Loans from them come at minimal costs, shorn of sundry charges that obtain in modern banking. Few days ago, I warned a banker who came to my office that with outrageous lending interests charged by Nigerian banks, they were increasingly losing relevance among Nigerians in Nigeria's development efforts. For instance, in the 2016 budget proposal, the Federal Government plans to push N500 billion (five hundred billion naira) to Cooperatives for lending to members at small interest rates in order to encourage entrepreneurship. This means a large number of small-scale businesses would be grown without inputs of commercial banks in Nigeria! Bank lending has dropped, and shall drop yet further.

We have some exciting examples of good exercise of the African mind. In the global community of sartorial fashion and design, Nigerians rank among the very best. No wonder, among the top three richest black women on earth is Nigeria’s fashion icon, Folurunsho Alakija. Their creativity in textile designs within their rich cultural heritage has won global acclaim. In this area, we can confidently say Nigeria is developed. It is about the mind, its creativity, flexibility and appetite to absorb knowledge. In the music industry, Nigerian artists have won global and continental awards and attention. Their fusion of lyrics and instrumentals is quite appealing. Here too, we can confidently say Nigeria is developed.

We have areas of human endeavor where Nigerians are not developed. But it is all about the mind. We have not been able to create a governing system that suits us. For instance, among some nationalities that make up Nigeria, there were kings ruling in kingdoms without deputy kings. Have you got my point? A king only chose among the council of elders those that would represent him when unavoidably absent from the business of governing for a season. In others such as the Tivs and Igbos, that practiced gerontocracy, elders governed. We have suddenly adopted an expensive American system of government, which we don't practice well nor is it in agreement with our culture; and it has become a burden threatening our union because, for us, traditionally, “zoning” is a way of life, which ensures equity when the elders or kings share benefits in our communities. But does the American democratic system recognize “zoning”? But we pretend to a constitutional democracy, while our constitution does not recognize “zoning”, which we have come to introduce informally but controversially into “democracy”, whose definition is in conflict. And do not our culture and experience prove that the four-year tenure we have, without cultural or social basis, copied from the US, besides being cost-additive, causes more attention to be focused on the next election soon after than on the next development accomplishment? As long as we remain stubbornly attached to western democracy bereft of cultural modification or adaptation, so long will allegations of marginalization last and our journey toward Country Development be delayed. Our kings are today simply called "traditional rulers", with no constitutionally defined roles. But do we call, for instance, the queen of England a "traditional ruler"? We don’t.

The resources and infrastructure in the domains of our “traditional rulers” are usually not in their care, so how do we expect them and their subjects to care about them while the same resources are being exploited by those they consider outsiders, with their environment being destroyed in the process? Normal people don’t destroy or steal what they know or feel belongs to them; and collective ownership usually instigates collective protection. How proud can we be as a people when we cannot even fashion a governing system that is harmonious with our culture? Do we realize that in Nigeria, the people listen more to their kings (whom we derisively call “traditional rulers”) than they do to even the country’s president?  But under the present arrangement, even the governor of a state can remove a “traditional ruler” in his State from the throne, and there will be no adverse consequences? We have lost touch with our history, so how can we make progress?


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