I think the vice presidential candidate of the People Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi is emblematic of who we are as a people. this was made more manifest at the last week vice presidential debate with respect to the 2019 presidential election. He reeled out so many figures, which ordinarily for students of mathematics will show his strong sense at logic, which should be a plus for him. But there is a disconnect in his ingenuity at that debate and that was key to understanding candidate Obi and project Nigeria which he was eloquent and got ovations for. Peter Obi in projecting his economics laid its foundation on the logic of the Washington Conesus School to the effect that; government has no business being in business. Why his APC’s counterpart did not catch him out when he waxed eloquent about China may seem surprising but it is not, because they all ascribed to the drug in town – every economy must be driven by the private sector. The Washington Consensus School Venezuelan wonder kid – Miguel Rodríguez said it all that:
The programme was comprehensive in its design. It included complete trade reform, elimination of all trade restrictions, and reduction of tariffs to a narrow band; elimination of all exchange controls and adoption of a free float that would permit an exchange rate compatible with the development of non-traditional exports; price liberalization; the restructuring of the public sector with widespread decentralization and privatization of parastatal enterprises; a comprehensive tax reform; a new policy to set public sector prices at efficient levels; the restructuring of the financial sector, featuring liberalization, increased competition, and strengthening of the regulatory framework; modernization of labour legislation, including the creation of pension funds and the restructuring of the social security system; elimination of restrictions to foreign investment; restructuring of the external debt; an overhaul of the policy of external financing; and a new social policy that would eliminate the system of massive generalized subsidies (many of which went to the rich) in favour of targeted subsidies directed to the poorest segment of the population.
It is not only Peter Obi that has become disingenuous, but others are as guilty as hell in promoting the narrative of the Chinese success by deceitful process of citing the Chinese statistics. In the first place, the Chinese model contradicts the theory of the Washington Conesus which for the past 30 years, our elite have been parroting shamelessly. This is because the Chinese model as opposed to the Washington Conesus believes that government has business in business (pardon the pun). The basic truth is that the Chinese government controls 60% of all Chinese businesses, locally and internationally, allowing the local entrepreneurs 40% stake, so that organisations like SINOPEC, CCECC are predominantly owned by the state and not private sector enterprises. It is such that if it was the Chinese that embarked on the privatization model that Nigeria has pursued in the past 30 years, a model that has favored only the rich and created a massive scale of poor people, the Chinese would have kept their public industries such as NITEL, NEPA etc. Those public companies that were cannibalized by the so called private entrepreneurs in the name of privatization would have been competing against private companies. For instance, they would not have killed NITEL in order for Global Service Mobile (GSM) companies to thrive, considering the fact that it didn’t require any ingenuity for NITEL to do what those other companies are doing as they did not even create any technological value distinct from what NITEL could provide. Further is the fact that NITEL even had a mileage that the GSM companies lacked. This is because while NITEL has cable technology which could give it a competitive advantage over a group like Multichoice which provides Digital Satellite services, as such it is susceptible to adverse weather condition. NITEL with its underground cable network was in a better position in the market to provide cable broadcasting. The same thing with provision of electricity which NEPA didn’t have to be dismembered to make it efficient, this is important as against the noxious notion peddled by the Washington Consensus School and regurgitated by our copycat elites that government has no business with business.
Liberal scholars have called this state capitalism. How then can a bunch of idle copycat elites masquerading as intellectuals take the stage continuously and persist with the argument that government has no business in business, and in shameless boldface, use China as a model? Mr. Peter Obi, Oby Ezekwesili, Tope Fasua, have become extremely guilty of this dubious attempt to profit from two worlds. It is not a crime to profess an ideological belief, but to be clever by half in using a successful model for a failed model without acknowledging why the other model is failing is dishonest. It is not their fault, but the cheap narrative they swallowed from liberal scholars who tried to abridge history and laid the false foundation that the Chinese success story started with Deng Xi Pen because they wanted to create the ideological notion that capitalism was the only alternative to human development. But this is not true as the Chinese experiment owed its success to the sacrifice of the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Tse Tung, who toiled gravely with other leaders to defeat Japanese and Western imperialism to build a national economy that have relied on the resourcefulness and industry of the people of China to build a society that constantly addresses the question of inequality. To then cut history at the middle of the road and present it in order to sustain the exploitative ideology of capitalism will only lead to further failure in our attempt to address the way forward about the Nigerian situation.
I know that there are motley of models in the periphery of the Asian Tigers like Singapore, South Korea, and Japan that did not follow the socialist road. Japan will come to mind, but it is only intellectual neophytes in the study of economic history that will not understand that the Japanese success was built on colonial conquest, and its expropriation of the surpluses of her Asian neighbours. It is not a debate except for the foolish of the fact that imperial conquest played and is still playing a role in the underdevelopment of nations by other nations. The Singaporean model and other Asian tigers, cultivated a nationalist approach to development, and also profited from a deliberate form of Marshal Program by the West that cultivated Singapore and South Korea to counterbalance what they regarded as Red Flag Expansion by the Soviets, and possibly the Chinese. It is important to get this narrative right, so that a group of people with limited understanding of history does not inflict the nation with more idiotic thought processes.
It is understandable if the Peter Obis of this world and their supporters are silent on the issue of corruption, but they must be bold enough to state why they have chosen to be silent on such serious and endemic problem that most nations are battling to stem. The truth is that capitalism is based on primitive accumulation, and to accumulate the resources necessary for the formation of capital, it means that the system has to culture one form of corruption or the other. In the case of the global south, particularly Nigeria, the easiest way for the rich to build capital is by the stealing of state resources (corruption). But what has been problematic in the case of Nigeria is the fact that the Nigerian ruling class and their business counterparts, unlike their counterparts elsewhere have refused to cultivate the fundamental value that money is for the creation of value and increase in the productive capacity of capital. But they have taken the easy road of consumerist outlook in primitive accumulation. It is such that a read of Lee Kuan Yew’s; From Third to First World; The Singapore Story showed a leader with a methodical plan on how to increase human capital development in a sustainable scale, so that they will in the long run become the basis for capital formation. Our ruling elites on the other hand invest their energy in the mundane and are browsing every auto-site for the latest cars to fuel their vanity. Even if you don’t believe in capitalism because of its exploitative and destructive nature, those who believe in it should be faithful to its tenets requisite for its growth. We are afraid that the mere churning out of statistics or attempt to copy some models without being honest about the historical origins of those models, will only lead to doom. What the copycats of the Chinese model are doing is akin to the parable of the dove who the Almighty God after creation gathered with the other birds and decided to teach them how to make nest. Hardly had the Almighty gone through one or two processes in teaching them that the dove claimed to have learnt it all and flew away. If you are a farm boy, you will see that the dove makes one of the worst nests in the aviary community.
Onyeisi Chiemeke, is a legal practitioner. He is the author of the book; June 12 Election – Campaign for Democracy and the Implosion of the Nigerian Left. Copyright © Onyeisi Chiemeke, MaroonSquare