Former governor of Anambra State Peter Obi was a guest on Lagos-based Channels TV last night, ostensibly to talk about the latest craze in Nigeria (with the emphasis on “craze”) – restructuring.
Obi seemed to have only ended up “restructuring” any suggestion from his propagandists that he adequately understood what was wrong with Nigeria. What viewers witnessed was a typical Nigerian politician’s ability to air unmitigated ignorance with a lot of confidence. Yusuf Bala Usman, a late professor of history, once wrote: “Ignorance is not the same as illiteracy. Knowledge is not the same as literacy, or, even the same as the acquisition of educational certificates, or, academic ranks. Some of the most highly literate Nigerians, and the most highly educated, by virtue of their certificates and ranks, are some of the most ignorant over many crucial areas of natural and human existence and over our national life, like our geography, history, economy and politics”.
Obi is clearly literate, but also ignorant and definitely economically illiterate.
Watch the programme:
He started off claiming that the problem with Nigeria was “leadership failure”, to his credit, he included himself in this – he was governor of his state for eight years. Why we have this failure, Obi didn’t care to explain. From failing as a governor, he failed when he tried to show how Nigeria wasn’t making much progress in terms of economic growth in comparison with countries like South Korea and China, that were at similar levels in terms of GDP with Nigeria in 1980.
Obi tried to blind the interviewer with GDP figures to demonstrate that he knew his stuff. But telling us that South Korea’s GDP grew tenfold since the 1980s without the context of how they did this, by not being a producer of primary commodities like Nigeria, but industrialising and supporting their infant industries in the early stages of their development through the sort of protectionist policies frowned on by neo-liberal economic orthodoxy pushed on countries like Nigeria by the World Bank and the IMF.
It would have been of better interest to his viewers if Obi explained why he didn’t try to turn the Nnewi/Onitsha axis in his state into an industrial hub, borrowing from the experience of South Korea and China. Instead he was off to California with another bout of hot air about GDP figures. What use is telling anyone that California’s GDP is a hundred times higher than Nigeria? The key issue is why. The answer lies in industrialisation, infrastructure, investment in education (which Obi touched on fleetingly), but also critical investment in R&D which created the ecosystem for places like Silicon Valley to flourish.
Obi was governor for eight years. Did he invest in Nnamdi Azikiwe University to encourage the sort of research that would help businesses in Onitsha and Nnewi to grow? That is how you improve productivity and foster economic growth. The former governor told his viewers that we are not expanding the economy. What was his record of economic expansion in his state? After two terms as governor he built a multi-billion naira mall in Abuja, with allegedly stolen funds.
As he told viewers how Nigeria’s failed leadership didn’t expand the economy, Obi failed to mention the very low coverage of water supply from municipal sources in his state. He was governor from 2007 to 2014 and in March just before he left office one resident of the state capital Awka described the state of water supply as “deplorable”, adding: “We have fine tall buildings, no water; water supply is mostly controlled by water vendors. So we provide light for ourselves and get our own water, what then will the government do for us?”
According to the World Health Organisation, every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates $4.30 in increased productivity and decreased healthcare costs. Obi didn’t seem to know this. Like the trader he was before he became governor, he only seemed to know how to count money, but is economically illiterate. When he wasn’t reeling off GDP figures, he talked about per capita income, but kept calling it “per capital” – an indication he wasn’t aware of its meaning.
He went on to talk about “restructuring” suggesting Nigerian states were not viable and the cost of governance was too high. He said very little about how corruption contributes to making those states not viable, as the money that should have been invested in infrastructure, education, running water, healthcare – all the things that made South Korea, China, etc increase their productivity – is being stolen. Nigerian states do not only steal their revenue allocation from the federal government, they also borrow money and then loot it. Anambra State’s external debt when he left office was $63m.
Obi didn’t address the corruption issue because he knows that a “restructured” Nigeria, with possibly viable regions, is most likely going to become unfeasible due to corruption. Well, I assume he knows because if he didn’t, then he would be even more ignorant than anyone could possibly imagine.