“Hard to be humble when you stunting on a jumbotron”
– Kanye West
A few weeks back, I wrote at length about why our best and brightest should not be driven to irrelevance and silence in the government. I got a lot of feedback about that. I must admit, I do understand that my position is in some sense extreme. Perhaps, in reality, some level of compromise might suffice. However, I believe very strongly in it – and for good reason.
You see, one of the most unfortunate misgivings people often have about my narrative of government and how it should exist is that I am overlooking the practical reality that government is indeed a force in the average man’s life. Heck, we are reminded of that fact at every checkpoint, when those camouflage clad agents of the state who should be our friends successfully robs us of N50 at gun point in the name of ‘egunje’. Were those instances not enough, constantly living in fear of Senator Mark’s 14 years’ prison sentence if I were to so much as hug my brother in the privacy of my own home should be adequate reminder for me of the government’s far reaching tentacles. Indeed, I would be a fool to deny the undoubtedly important role government plays in every aspect of our lives.
However, my argument is not that government is not important to the average Nigerian, but that it should not be that important. That our government is beyond control is nothing we should be proud of as a people because there is no way a country with a government as big as ours can possibly succeed. It is too big, too uncoordinated and too unsupported to do anything but drain resources, human or otherwise. The sad thing is that until it shrinks considerable, even the best intentioned individuals will find it very challenging to steer its many moving parts.
Look at Governor Ajimobi’s particular circumstance in Oyo State for example. He is locked in a bitter battle with the civil service in his state to fulfill his minimum wage requirement. However, he must now spend over 90% of his budget to pacify a bloated civil service, which he has refused to downsize. Even the widely acclaimed Iron Lady and co-ordinating minister of the Economy, Okonjo-Iweala only managed a 3% cut in recurrent expenditure) over a couple years in her own Economic blue print.
What has been interesting and almost comical about watching the debates around this development is that it does gives you a vantage point for assessing the many interesting popular assumptions about politics and economics that Nigerians hold.
Unfortunately for many, our policy makers seems to have developed this idea in their head that many of the political and economic issues we face are markedly different from those dictated by history and classical economics as entailed in those pesky textbooks narrated by those ‘African intellectuals’ (whatever that means) we love to hate. So when we ask the government to take decisive action to downsize the civil service and instead invest the state’s resources in building in infrastructure, they are happy to play the structural adjustment program card replete with weak justifications about why this is another “textbook scenario” that won’t work in reality.
The trouble however, is that these justifications cannot change the highly factual basis on which the wealth and poverty of nations is based.
No doubt, we don’t know everything about what makes nations rich or poor but we would be fools to ignore the fact that free markets, small government and open borders work way better for the purposes of development than our larger than life, debt amassing octopus governments that are quickly approaching the logical limits of their power and overall effectiveness.
If our governments will join us at all on the path to development, they will desperately need to shed some weight. We’ve got no patience for whining laggards.