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Nigeria’s Economy of self-interest

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The Nigerian economy has a way of following “abnormal” economic path. The concept of ceteris paribus (all things being equal) in economics was invented on the basis of effects of human behaviour on normal or rational economic postulates. It seems that concept was invented for an economy like Nigeria where the human behaviour requires special noting. Fortunately, for economics as a discipline, both normal curves and abnormal curves exist, at least, for basic concepts. Again, Nigeria’s economy seems to obey the abnormal situations most of the time. That is why people believe that the country’s economy does not agree with economic laws. Let us look into some aspects of our economic behaviour.

The Nigerian economy is run on the basis of self or group interest rather than national interest. Such interests have made development impossible in all sectors particularly in transport, education and health, science and technology, power and agriculture among others. On transport, long before now, a group of Nigerian transporters running chains of trailers colluded with the powers-that-be then to kill the rail system which assisted in transporting bulky raw materials and finished goods from the ports or from the South to the North, vice versa in large volumes and at cheaper rates. Movement of heavy machinery and goods were offloaded onto trailers moving through roads that were constructed without consideration for such volume of traffic. The resultant effects were that the roads gave way quite easily, movements of goods were disrupted, production of goods delayed, cost of production rose and price of finished goods started to go up.

Eventually, for those products that have substitutes in imported goods, the demand falls and producers/suppliers’ incomes decline. The final outcomes are seen in businesses folding up, rising unemployment and unbridled importation of all sorts of finished goods that can be produced locally and with attendant capital outflow and naira depreciation. By the time subsequent governments realised the need to develop the rail as alternative, corruption had eaten deep and fund meant for the programme were repeatedly looted. The concern on rail development now is more about movement of human beings rather than goods. So, the trailer merchants, up till now, remain the winners and the country, the loser.

In the area of education, the rapid development of private primary and secondary schools resulted in elites, including government officials, enrolling their children in such schools and neglecting funding and management of public schools. Many state governments during the political dispensation in 1979-83, particularly the Lagos State Government under Alhaji Lateef Jakande, took decisive actions to reposition the public primary and secondary school system but it was temporary. Today, many people in government are products of the private schools which have no appreciation for public schools such that the public schools have virtually returned to their inglorious past. Unfortunately, many parents of those who attended public schools today and want their children to go to higher institutions have resorted to taking their children to special centres for secondary school examinations or buying results outright that could get their children into higher schools.

Having found that the tertiary institution is an all-comers, the elites who could not send their children abroad for studies at that level, came up with the idea of private universities under the guise of “government cannot do everything” and the public tertiary institutions, including the universities became underfunded with resultant decay in facilities. These are the institutions with qualified and experienced manpower without facilities to work with. The outcome is the inability of these institutions to meet societal needs in terms of advancement in medical, science and technology, and, the production of quality graduates. A majority of the private institutions are glorified secondary schools with proprietors more interested in making profits to the extent that they are even requesting funds from TETFund, whose source of funding is from the private sector! Thankfully, there are strong unions on the ground in the universities, particularly the Academic Staff Union of Universities, to enforce standards and force the government to intervene in the funding issue. However, the decay is so deep that the interventions so far remain insignificant.

So, the self-interest of the elites in government and the private sector has caused the confusion in the education sector where the manpower for the country is produced. The combination of these self-interests has resulted in breeding drop-outs who later form part of the army of thugs for politicians; half-baked graduates of tertiary institutions who can neither create jobs for themselves nor fit in properly into existing jobs without additional extensive training; tertiary institutions that cannot conduct researches that will aid the development of the country in a knowledge-based global economy; and, politicians with their collaborators who loot the nation’s treasury to send their children abroad to study with the hope that they will come back to dominate the political scene!

In the area of science and technology, lots of inventions have taken place and are still taking place in secondary schools and tertiary institutions on a small scale without support from government or private concerns. Right from the 1960s when there was a reported case that someone developed a prototype of a commercial plane in Yaba College of Technology in Lagos up to the time when a Nigerian was reported to have invented “poundo yam” machine that eventually found its way to Japan for refinement and patent without reference to Nigeria till now with a reported case of one young man whose dream of inventing jets was truncated by lack of sponsorship to pursue his dream at the Zaria Aeronautical School! Just a few days ago, a Nigerian was reported to have invented the world’s first cocoa pod machine crusher. The current Minister for Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, marvelled at the amount of inventions he saw when he visited the science village in Oshodi, Lagos and promised to assist in promoting the outputs. Many ministers did make promises in the past without fulfilment and this is likely to be one of them.

Self-interest of importers of equipment, industrial tools and other products of technological advancement with their collaborators in public service will not allow technological growth that will ease production of goods in Nigeria. Importation allows the importers earn personal foreign currencies through over-invoicing and estacode which are eventually kept abroad. This brings about the case of looters of treasury who cart away our commonwealth for safekeeping abroad. Those countries receive the loot and invest to generate employment and additional income that help their economies to grow while we languish in poverty. Of course, the element of self-interest is very clear in stealing, embezzlement and other forms of corruption. Stolen funds in Nigeria also carry an element of greed. The Nigerian looters not only steal for the immediate generation but also for the future generation or unborn children. That is carrying self-interest too far but that is the Nigerian factor for you.

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