Two weeks ago, two interesting articles appeared. The first of a group, Arewa Youth Assembly, calling on private sector actors to join the 2023 presidential race. This is surprising because the call comes from a region whose government affairs we say is its heart of job. The young people of the region are bringing down the toga of the government.
The second article was by David Pilling of the Financial Times of London, quoting him he wrote about Nigeria, “…. some libertarian tech entrepreneurs want the government to step aside and leave the private sector in charge.
In the article, the late Professor Sam Aluko and I had unwittingly called myself the only libertarian in Nigeria and I am very happy to see this number increasing. What David Pilling brought to our attention, I wrote about twenty years ago. I had to go to my archives to retrieve it. Here it is reproduced under today’s title, Libertarianism: Nigeria’s Unwritten Economic Policy.
Libertarianism is the belief – albeit a strong one – that people should be free to think and do what they want without government or state interference. However, a libertarian is not an anarchist, he just resents the government’s abusive control over the lives of the people. Since life is lived in many facets, economic, educational, health, political, social, etc., it follows that this school of thought will branch out into all the various aspects of life and life. This writing considers libertarianism and the Nigerian economic experience.
Nigerian economic growth is an interesting study. The economy is growing at nearly 8% per year (remember this was written at the very beginning of 2000) despite stagnating power generation and the collective funds being embezzled by politicians. Towns and villages are packed with us people going about our business.
Current growth is propelled by our tacit but real economic policy, libertarianism. It is the highest form of capitalism with the free market moderating and disciplining all players. We will have individuals who will provide all the products, social services and also the infrastructure. It reduces the influence of government in society. At best, government is limited to very few roles like defense, law enforcement, and foreign policy.
This unwritten policy began with the departure of the British. Remember the Nigerian Railways of yore, railway development in Nigeria was halted for road development. Although no railways were added to what the British left, massive road building continued. This gave rise to private transport companies, from articulated trucks to luxury buses. In fact, a Nigerian owns one of the largest transport fleets in the world.
While politicians and economic advisers have yet to embrace this policy as an economic way of life, we the people have embraced it. The phenomenon of okada in our public transport is proof of this. A greater adherence to libertarianism is seen in the packaged water industry. In the 1950s and 1960s, the regional water boards had to deliver drinking water to the population. It was only lip service. Realizing the powerlessness of the government, individuals treated the water, packaged it and delivered it to the nooks and crannies of the country.
Nollywood is another shining example of workplace libertarianism. The government has played no role in the growth of Nollywood. This is the result of the energy and drive of Nigerians. By chance the government enters this industry, Nollywood would go in the direction of our football.
Twenty years ago, citizens expected the government to meet their needs. It was free this, free that. Health and housing for all by 2000. Now it’s the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and the 2020 vision. The good news is that only the media that broadcast these hallucination stories believe them. We the citizens are moving on and leaving the government behind.
My prayer is that libertarianism becomes the mantra of citizens and that government or state continues to become irrelevant in our lives. Individuals are challenging the government in its traditional grip on education and health. We the masses avoid public schools and hospitals like we avoid a plague. Vigilante groups and neighborhood watch provide better security than the problematic Nigerian police. We have been deceived for too long that government should control the commanding heights of the economy. All that has been achieved is the requisitioning of collective resources from private pockets by a corrupt and inept elite posing as politicians and bureaucrats.
No nation has prospered through the antithesis of libertarianism which is collectivism. Rather, national wealth is built by individuals: the Henry Fords, the Daimlers, Benzes, Toyotas of Japan and Hondas, the Tata family, Gates and our own Dangote. Not Nigerian’s Peugeot or Nigerian’s Volks. Not NNPC steel or Aladja and Ajaokuta. These parastatals will continue to fail because they are conduits that divert money from their stated missions into private vaults. I postulate that libertarianism would finally solve the cancer of corruption so endemic in public affairs (This will be developed next week).
To materialize this trend, I propose a movement that could transform itself into a political party with the aim of serving as undertakers for the Nigerian government as we know it today, supposed to do everything but do nothing, perform simple things like our football and our driving licenses. The party would gradually limit the government to a few roles like defense against external aggression, foreign affairs, policing and non-police forces. Items such as roads, electricity can be in a simultaneous list of private and government participation.
It is important to note that public expenditure would be indexed to taxes on citizens’ economic activities. Thus, as the popular economy evolves, so does the spending and largesse of government. If the masses prosper, the government prospers. In an economic downturn, government largesse suffers. The party would continually pursue a downward revision of tax rates. By this policy, more capital would be left for businesses to provide all kinds of goods and services competitively. In libertarianism lies our economic salvation. If left as is – an unwritten policy – it would take decades to realize our vision of being a global giant. If aided and imbibed culturally and as a political policy, the Asian miracles could still be replicated in Nigeria. (Written around 2002/3)
Twenty years later and how have things changed in Nigerian politics? Has the Nigerian state changed course? Yes, it has become darker and more defined, making it worse for everyone, including the private sector, hence the call from tech entrepreneurs and the Arewa Youth Group. The Nigerian government has become the most inefficient spender of a nation’s common wealth in the world.
On the other hand, what happened in the non-governmental sectors? NGOs have sprung up to fill the gaps in failing government services. The unthinkable happened, an individual built the largest single train refinery from scratch, eclipsing the best efforts of the Nigerian government at its peak. It shows what is possible when you drop the robe of government.
Dr Jaiyesimi writes from Sagamu via [email protected] and reachable at 08123709109
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