IBB (Ibrahim Bamasi Babangida), in an interview with AriseTV on 6 August 21(IBB Interview, 2021), suggested that he could recommend a way forward for Nigeria. This same person is the dictator who introduced SAP (structural adjustment programmes) to Nigeria. This policy, enforced by the IMF and implemented by Babangida and the military junta, destroyed the nascent manufacturing base of Nigeria and largely reduced the country to poverty. Since then, the IMF has accepted that SAP was a disaster and did not work, yet IBB still recommends it and suggests that the policy worked. He stated that ‘free markets’ is a policy that is not up for discussion. However, he shows no understanding of the term – ‘free markets’. Free markets are not perfect, and even in the US, markets require regulation, mainly to prevent market manipulation by powerful monopolies. What if foreign multinationals start to manipulate the Nigerian market? Are we to take no action where the US would take action in the same circumstances? Nigeria has very little regulation compared to the US, and yet IBB recommends reducing the few regulations that exist. But IBB wants to ban discussion about socialism even though Bernie Sanders, a US Presidential candidate, espouses socialism. So we can talk about socialism in the US but not Nigeria?
He then begins to discuss the nature of leadership. His concept of leadership is revealing. He considers a true leader to know what he wants to do and who does it whether the people want it or not. If the people don’t agree, he should explain and explain and, as he said, the people will eventually stop complaining. We obviously have different dictionaries. In my dictionary, this is dictatorship, not leadership.
More amusing is IBB’s attack on Nigeria’s political elite. Perhaps he does not understand what the word ‘elite’ means, given he was a former dictator of Nigeria. What political elite does not include the Head of State? My overall view of this interview was a question: why does the Nigerian media resurrect the politically dead rather than allowing them a decent political burial.
I am reluctant to critique Soyinka as I have always thought of him fondly as an elder brother. Apart from that, I have a deep admiration for his trenchant commentary and the crafted beauty of his oral delivery. In a brilliant lecture at Brown University in 2014, “Wole Soyinka – Hatched from the Egg of Impunity: A FOWL CALLED BOKO HARAM’” (Soyinka, 2014), he blames Muslim politicians for lack of courage to rein in Islamic extremism. He describes this with excellent detail. But he apparently believes they did this deliberately. Rather they have no idea what they are doing, no idea how to govern, how to rule, and their greatest fear is that this might be generally known, ‘Impunity’ is a side effect of sensational political incompetence, born of lack of courage, knowledge, or insight.
The current ruling class are dedicated to two matters a) barring anyone who is not part of the kleptocracy from taking any serious role in Nigerian politics b) preventing anyone from exposing their incompetence and their total lack of any idea of what they are doing or what they should do. Most Nigerians think they at least know what they are doing and doing the wrong thing. Thus they might be persuaded to do the right thing. If they knew the politicians had no idea what they were doing, the patient discussion would come to an end.
Behind the curtain are the IMF/World Bank and the neo-liberal consensus: these are the people Babangida listened to. Though the IMF accepts that SAP was a disaster and a mistake, IBB is still counting it as a success. IBB’s understanding of economic policy is clearly zero, yet he feels competent to comment. Nigeria’s number 1 issue is its economy and on this, IBB had nothing to say. Nigeria’s number 1 economic issue is how to grow exports and on this, IBB was almost contemptuous. People should find something, anything, to export. This would be a bit like pawning something from your home. IBB had no idea how exports are driven by government policy and state coordination. He is unaware of the critical role of MITI in Japan’s economic revival after WW2, the impressive coordination by PRC of China’s economy and the important role of state funding (particularly through army funding of new technologies via state research projects) and institutional coordination plays in the US. According to IBB, there is no role for the state to play in developing an export sector. In this, he reflects the continuing consensus view of the political ruling class. Nothing has changed.
On the other hand, it is not true that the Nigerian state does everything the IMF requests. Where powerful corrupt interests would be harmed, the state would push back against the IMF. Under the pretext of caring about the poor, the corrupt fuel subsidy was maintained despite being a gold mine for corrupt interests. These same interests enforced the collapse of domestic refinery capacity, which would do away with their profitable scams. If the ruling class were so concerned about the income effect of cancelling subsidies one wonders why they were totally unconcerned with the income effect of not paying doctors during a pandemic, of closing down universities by not paying or underpaying academics.
What is important to understand is that Nigeria, and other countries of the global south, are often test beds for new technologies or policies that are then later introduced into the US and other Western countries. Mass surveillance was tried and tested in Africa then introduced into the US, neo-liberal policies similarly generating a political class simply enchained to money came to the US after being implemented in Nigeria and other countries. In his summing up, Soyinka appealed to the US traditions not being aware that they would soon suffer the same. The privatisation of water, health, the savage cuts in public education spending, the deindustrialisation of the economy – all came to Nigeria first then to the US. Both became recipients of the neo-liberal consensus.
The neo-liberal consensus has gutted the intellectual class and all sources of criticism, this can be seen in Nigeria and now to be seen also in the US. In Nigeria whoever you vote for, the real ruling party stays in power, and now visibly in the US whoever you vote for the real ruling party stays in power.
What is most important to understand is that the political system in Nigeria had no idea what it was up against, and seeing the nature of half-witted politicians could not see the hands behind the curtain. Even the religious extremists can be seen in this light: only those aspects of religious extremism that are compatible with neo-liberalism will be accepted. Similar religious extremism or fundamentalism in the form of certain branches of US Evangelical Christianity are entirely compatible with neo-liberalism and are endorsed in the US by the establishment. US foreign policy has happily supported Islamic extremism outside the US when it was found compatible with US aims.
On a visit to the UK and on a meeting with the Mayor London, the Governor of Lagos could not control the Tinubu placement in his entourage who sabotaged the meeting simply because he was not in control and could not see where the money was. He would rather crash a carefully planned and prepared meeting than have a meeting happen outside his control. Similarly, the ruling class would rather crash the Nigerian health system than accept free vaccines from which they cannot profit from a markup.
What does it mean when the political system will not allow anything to happen unless it can make a turn on it? These operators are so blind that they cannot see more money to be made from a growing economy than a crashed one. But as in the US, the system will not redistribute wealth even though more money is to be made from doing so, and reviving the US economy. In Nigeria, as in the US, any genuine alternative to the present arrangements will be driven off the market. Sanders, we can all agree, as IBB would say, should be driven off the field. Any person who is not indebted to the corrupt system cannot be trusted.
Much, I suspect, to Soyinka’s embarrassment, his talk highlighted and praised Buhari’s then criticism that the culture of impunity is what allowed Boko Haram to flourish. Once Buhari became President, there was no change in policy. My analysis would predict that outcome, whereas Soyinka’s view would have expected something different.
In harmony with the neo-liberal consensus, IBB shared the view: Any alternative to the current economic system must be ruled out of court and driven away, whether in the US or Nigeria.
Just as in the US, so in Nigeria, despair is becoming a widespread social and cultural pandemic. In the US, Chris Hedges (Hedges, 2021) describes the system whereby whoever you vote for, the ruling class wins, and the levers of political change are in the ruling class’s hands. He confesses he has no idea how to presently start a change, just as many in Nigeria have no idea how to change Nigeria. But the most important lesson is for Nigerians to understand the scale of issues we are up against in Nigeria, the scale of the agents of neoliberalism (and whatever new name they will soon adopt) and the collaboration for their own vested interest of local political operators.