In many developed and actively developing countries, there is usually some state-initiated mechanism (or a similar device) which seeks to prevent the denizens of those countries from falling into some social abyss or another. These mechanisms play out as welfare schemes, targeted infrastructural development drives and government involvement in certain areas of public infrastructure maintenance.
In Western Europe, there is a welfare / benefit scheme in each of the constituent countries (which vary in how “lucrative” they are from country to country). These ensure that the basic needs of the citizens and other inhabitants are met, regardless of their ability to earn income. Like all systems maintained by man, these are abused continually by unscrupulous people, but there is a matched effort on the part of the governments to stem the abuse. In other instances, countries may embark on infrastructural development initiatives to kick-start economic growth and social regeneration in areas where there are identified economic (and often social) development needs. Similar objectives see these governments provide employment in seemingly trivial activities like street cleaning and community beautification activities.
Beyond the obvious economic advantages of having as many people in the nation working or having a means of livelihood, these seemingly altruistic activities of these governments have at their core, a very self-preserving objective. History has shown over and over again, that when there is a critical mass of disenfranchised citizens in any space, the resultant backlash crystallises in the displacement of the erstwhile elites who disenfranchised them in the first instance. It is thus beneficial to the ruling class to prevent this critical mass from being breached. Unlike physics however, where the critical mass of an element is known, the tipping point and mass for a repressed population cannot be quantified by any social scientist. It may be as elastic as the Nigerian’s or as brittle as the Taliban’s.
I am in no way advocating the implementation of a welfare state in Nigeria, largely due to the absence of an identity management framework like the US Social Security Number or the UK National Insurance Number models. In addition to this, the gestation period before the effect of a welfare scheme is seen might be a luxury that the precipitously placed entity called Nigeria can ill afford. This does not in any way obviate the need to start to develop a credible identity management framework. Professor Jega’s N84billion voter’s register could have turned out to be much less expensive if such a framework had been in place.
On the other hand, I will try to make an active case for an accelerated infrastructural development program in the remaining parts of this essay, using a rather outlandish example. I will use the Niger Delta as the principal example in this mini-treatise.
Niger Delta – the size
The Niger Delta occupies about 70,000km2. Whilst it is shaped roughly like a section of a circle, this landmass is comparable very much comparable to a trapezium that is 280km/250km. Whilst it may appear like I am being rather pedantic here, please note these numbers. In miles, this roughly translates to 174 miles by 156 miles.
Assuming a mono-focal government set out to literally cover the Niger Delta with a grid of motorways as its own development plan for the area, how much really would be the cost of this venture? In the UK, it costs £4.8million to build a mile of motorway. The Naira equivalent of this is about N1.2billion. Allowing for topography – which may cause this to be more expensive in the Niger Delta – and higher costs of living in the UK, which would cause materials and labour to be comparatively less expensive in the Niger Delta, I will hold this amount as being equally applicable to the Niger Delta.
A Motorway Blanket
If a motorway grid is built from scratch, running the length and breadth of the Niger Delta, with intersections every 15 miles; the resultant grid will be 12 motorways running for 174 miles and 10 motorways running for 156 miles. This will probably be one of the most reticulated motorway scheme in the world, given the landmass involved. The total mileage involved in this seemingly gargantuan project is approximately 3,640 miles of motorway. At a total cost of £4.8 million per mile, this is £17.5billion; in dollars, that is $26 billion. Now that is some truckload of money, right? Well, sorry to bust your bubble, no it is not.
Colossal Financial Ineptitude and Lost Economic Opportunities
In the period since the former President Obasanjo vacated the office to date, the Nigerian foreign reserve has been depleted by this amount and more, with zilch to show, save a national cake of embarrassing dimensions and 20-odd PDP governors growing fat. This money could have changed the story of the Niger Delta – forever.
The multiplier effect of such a project in the Niger Delta will alter the economic landscape even more dramatically than the visual impact of such a motorway grid. This will go a very long way towards settling the claims of injustice that have got the Niger Delta militants up in arms against the ruling class in Nigeria. This analysis can be extended to any sector – electricity, health, agriculture or education.
I very much doubt the need to build such a grid, but I have gone to these outlandish lengths to show that whilst the operations of a welfare state might be impracticable in the immediate term in Nigeria, economic development initiatives are definitely within the financial capabilities of the government.
However, the agitations of the subjugated will rather be ignored whilst the Sarakis, IBBs, Odilis, Tinubus and Uzor Kalus of this world ostensibly feed fat on the sweat and blood of the deprived populace. I read the 2009 Ben Enwonwu lecture delivered by Prof. Osinbajo and his remark about the failure of Somalia should be a dire warning to the avaricious political elite in any country – particularly Nigeria. When Somalia failed and the area boys (he called them warlords) carved up territories for themselves, the erstwhile elites were queuing up with ration bowls in their hands to receive the UN-provided food. What would it have taken to prevent this from happening?
As Nigeria seemingly hurtles towards its self-inflicted fatal denouement, one wonders if there is any atom of self-preservation in the malignant lot who have held bayonets to the throat of the nation for over 50 years –for the rot started before independence. I do not see the explosions of 1 October as an event, but more a symptom of other events, which, like a concert building to its crescendo seems all but set to unleash its climax on us all.
Like a true Nigerian who has his favourite haunt along the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, I conclude by saying God help us all!