Thursday, 15 October 2015

Building the good society in Nigeria

by: Francis Ogbimi

Nigeria is a 55-year independent nation. Yet, a recent OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) report placed Nigeria and Bangladesh in the category of nations, which does not have a direction yet. While a few Nigerians in government may claim that the OECD classification is not a correct categorisation, the situation on ground in Nigeria largely agrees with the OECD description.

Many Nigerians think that the culprit is corruption, but I believe strongly that the real culprit is lack of knowledge to facilitate rapid development in Nigeria and other African nations.

Indeed corruption is caused by ignorance. You must be 55 years and older and a stubborn optimist to believe that present African leaders are capable of returning hope to Africa in a short time. What have African leaders been doing in the past decades? What is new in the way African leaders think and do things? What are the new thoughts and activities that will guide African development so that Africans can build good societies? This article is about the new ways to think and do things to make Africa a home to African youths.

A socially conscious American economist, Galbraith (1996), wrote an essay entitled, “The good society: The economic dimension.” In it, he summarised a book he intended to publish. Galbraith observed that since the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, it has been taken for granted in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan and the emergent industrial countries of the Pacific, that there is economic and social success. This is much being celebrated, Galbraith added. Galbraith also observed that in much of the world, and notably in Africa and Asia, deep poverty persists. Galbraith then posed the questions: Is the situation in the fortunate world wholly the success that is commonly averred?

Should our satisfaction be somewhat tempered? These were questions, which though running against the wave of self-congratulation, Galbraith asked. What can and should be done for improvement – to achieve a good society? Galbraith suggested the following as features of the good society.

• Once, all economic and social thought turned on a bilateral economic and social structure. There were capital and labour, the capitalist and the worker, public and private sector. There were also to be farmers and intellectuals, others. This is no longer the case in the advanced industrial countries. The great political dichotomy – the capitalist and the working masses – has retreated into the shadows. It survives not as reality but as a mental commitment. In place of the capitalist, there is now the modern great corporate bureaucracy.

• In the good society, there cannot, must not be a deprived and excluded underclass who does not participate in the political process. There must be full democratic participation by all and from this alone can come the sense of community which accepts and even values ethnic and other diversities.

• For a good society, there is the absolute, inescapable requirement that everyone must have a basic source of income. Everyone in the good society must have opportunity for useful, remunerative employment. However, where and when that opportunity is absent, public support is an absolute essential. There must similarly be support for those who for infirmity cannot work. There can be no claim to civilised existence when a safety net is not available.

• In the good society, there must be help for those who are seeking escape from the underclass. Social tranquility is best served by the hope of upward movement, if not for this generation, then for the next. What is required to achieve this? There is no novelty as to what is required. It is good and effective education. To realize the importance of this point, Galbraith stressed, one only needs to look around the world. There is over the globe, no well educated, literate population that is poor; there is no illiterate population that is other than poor.

• In the good society, there must be emphasis on the other essential services of the state. This is not a matter to be decided by formula – capitalism or socialism, public ownership or privatisation. There are things the market system does not do well and sometimes even does badly. These must be the responsibilities of the state. Some of these are:

• In no country does the market system provide good low-cost housing, this must everywhere be a public responsibility. Few things are more visibly at odds with the good society than badly housed or homeless people.

• Health care for the needful and healthy society is a public responsibility.

• Public works, parks and recreational facilities, police, libraries and many others are government responsibilities. Those who mount the modern attack on the services of government are frequently those who can afford to provide similar services for themselves. Activities beyond the time horizon of the market economy (science, medical research, arts, agriculture, others) must be supported by government. The market by its nature, invests for relatively short-run return.

• Maintaining a sustainable environment (environmental protection), is government responsibility.

• A good society must have an effectively working economy at peace with itself and the world.

• The good society does not allow some of its people to feel useless, superfluous and deprived.

Nigerian leaders in government (politicians and their expert advisers and business men and women, illiterate intelligentsia/intellectuals) have been very selfish, acquiring liquid public assets at give-away prices and claiming that the private sector is superior to the public sector or that government has no business doing business. Government business is to cater for everybody, not for profit. Government business is quite distinct from private business. Ignorant people assess government business like private business. Whereas private business is short-run, solely for profit, government business is to serve very broad interests. Nigerian leaders must change if they want peace, otherwise they are working against Nigeria. I agree with all Galbraith said about building the good society.

Nigeria needs to do or emphasize six things to achieve rapid industrialisation and democratisation and build the good society. They are:

• intensive education,

• intensive curriculum-based training for graduates of educational systems,

• adopt full employment policy and provide employment for the knowledgeable and skilled citizens,
• institutionalisation – building knowledge-based institutions,

• adopt five-learning levels (mayoral, , local government, state government, regional governments) federalism, and

• practice social justice or fairness. Let those who have been taking advantage of the low level of intellectual activities in Nigeria stop it so we can build a nation. We have been doing badly because our thoughts about development are not correct.

The five variables for planning for industrialisation are:

• N – the number of people involved in productive work or employment in a nation,

• M – the level of education/training of those involved in productive activities in the economy and of the people of the nation,

• L – the linkages among the knowledge, skills, competences and sectors of an economy,

• r – the learning rates or intensity in the economy and especially among the workforce, and

• n – the experience of the workforce and the learning history of the society. All the variables are related to the learning-man and learning-woman.

Moreover, the higher are the values of the variables, the better is the economy. Deregulation and privatisation work against these variables. Building the good society requires careful planning not deregulation and privatisation.

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