I’m lost in the world
I’m down my whole life
I’m building a city
And I’m down for the night
– Kanye West ( Lost in The World)
If you are a regular reader of this column, you may recall that last month, we started a special series within this column. This series aims to inspire Nigerians to take their country back by telling stories of how ordinary people like you, in Nigeria and elsewhere are building bottom up institutions that can act as a viable alternative to government (which as we are all aware, does not exist).
This month we will be taking a slightly different tack on this theme. Last month, we took a trip to Kenya to tell you an inspiring story of how, after several years of living in darkness, the Abedares community came together to create the Gatiki electricity company as a far cheaper and more effective alternative to the state run alternative. The story showed how even a community with limited means can come together to solve their problems in spite of government.
This month however, I will be telling a story that should convince that should convince you that not only is this small, community based form of government, practicable, especially for impoverished countries like ours, but that it is desirable.
You see, I have always thought that if there was ever a place for heaven on earth, it should most certainly be the Nordic countries; Demark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway. My attraction to these countries is not just the incredibly simple and stress free life, fresh air and absolutely adorable, angel like people, but its small, common sense, community led government structure. It is no surprise these countries consistently rank amongst the best places to live in the whole world.
Many people erroneously imagine that the reason why the quality of life in Nordic countries is so good is because they have nanny state policies like ours and tax every moving thing. To be completely honest, even I thought this was true until I read an amazing article last week by Tim Worstall in the Telegraph. Among the more surprising things I learnt from the article; Sweden’s education system operates on education vouchers and has no inheritance tax, gift tax or wealth tax, Denmark privatizes ambulance and fire services and the national income tax is 3.76% and none of the Nordic countries has a centralised health care system and most shockingly, a national minimum wage. Talk about a libertarian heaven.
I guess the question here is how is this even possible?
You see, the one thing all the Nordic countries have very strongly in common are very powerful local government structures, some responsible for as little as 10,000 people. Unlike in Nigeria, where Local Governments are fiefdoms of the State governor whose sole responsibility is to harass people for inane taxes, local governments in Nordic countries have very important responsibilities. They are responsible for providing all levels of health care, security, schools, zoning policies, transport policies and social welfare. In return much of the taxes collected accrue to them as opposed to the federal government. This makes perfect sense. Even in Nigeria, I reckon we get better social services from our landlords and tenants association than we do from Abuja’s thieves.
Yet, in Nigeria, we consistently cry on the Federal government, expecting them to take on these critical responsibilities. This not only makes accountability and transparency even more difficult but it even more tragically, leads to lopsided national planning. Areas that need more get less, and areas that need less, inflate their census numbers. This is why I suspect that even in the unlikely event we can fight corruption to a standstill, government, especially one as large and unwieldy as ours is, can never lead to development.
A wise man once said to me: ‘human beings are fearful of the night even though it covers all of us because but for the stars, it is far from transparent’. I’ll argue we need a government that looks more like Norway and less like the night sky, even at the risk that some might lack its shelter.