Wednesday, 6 May 2015

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  • A peep into Nigeria’s Maslow’s republic

    There is no such place called “Maslow’s republic.” But for want of a better metaphor, the current political economy of Nigeria will be described as “Maslow’s republic,” a place of misery indeed. Bertrand Russell, in enumerating the core aspects of Plato’s Republic, a just state, enumerates utopia, the ideal community; philosopher-kings, the ideal rulers of the ideal community; and the five forms of government – aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny-identified by Plato.
    Aristocracy is a just government, dominated by a wisdom-loving elite. When its social structure degenerates, it becomes timocracy, a rule of warriors. Oligarchy is the rule of the rich. It becomes democracy, which permits tremendous freedom, if the poor revolt because of gaps between them and their rich rulers.
    If in exercising their rights to participate in the process of governing themselves things degenerate into anarchy or mob rule (as in the last days of Nigeria’s First Republic), the commons may fall prey to a clever and charismatic fellow (like the swashbuckling majors that truncated the First Republic), who will establish a tyranny that enslaves the citizens. Thomas Hobbes says that in a state of anarchy, “each person would have a right, or licence, to everything in the world… This… would lead to a ‘war of all against all.’”
    In his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” published in the ‘Psychological Review’ journal in 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow presented his theory of man’s hierarchy of needs. He later expanded the idea as human needs graduating from physiological, to safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualisation. Physiological needs are at the bottom of the hierarchy, with self-actualisation needs at the top. One moves from one level to the next as things improve.
    Maslow describes physical, safety, love, and esteem needs as “deficiency needs” that can trigger anxiety when they are not met. Unfortunately, the way Nigeria’s economy is run keeps the teeming masses almost permanently at the deficiency needs level. This prevents them from proceeding to the “metamotivation” level where they can aspire to constantly improve themselves.
    “In such conditions,” to borrow an extreme thought from Hobbes, “there is no place for industry… and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing;… no account of time; no arts; no letters; (and) no society.” Hobbes concludes that a situation like this makes “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
    The people of “Maslow’s republic,” that lack potable water, food, clothing, and means of transport, can easily degenerate into stark insecurity where there is war, insurgency, armed robbery, kidnapping, ritual killing, and political thuggery. A nation at the margin of survival cannot advance. Like Estragon and Vladimir of the drama, “Waiting for Godot,” those who show promise will go down with their compatriots still at the base level.
    The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics sent Yuri Gagarin to orbit the earth in the late 1950s, and the United States of America safely landed man on the moon in 1969. Astronaut Neil Armstrong proudly said it was “one step for a man, (but) a giant leap for humankind.” Nigeria of the 15th year of the 21st Century, still grapples with a mono economy; weak currency; massive food and fuel imports; inadequate potable water; housing deficits; and inadequate infrastructure.
    Where citizens must provide basic essentials, like electricity, water, and roads, for themselves, they may have little time left for edifying work. That could portray them as stupid in the eyes of others who live in better climes. Claude Riviere dismissed Guinea’s President SekouToure’s efforts to “to set up a cannery without product, a textile factory that lacked cotton supplies, a cigarette factory without sufficient locally grown tobacco, and (a)… forest region that had no roads and trucks…” as “gambles taken by utopian idealists and ignoramuses.”
    The import-substitution drives by nascent African nations met with severe setbacks like the need to rake up scarce funds to purchase expensive and inappropriate technology, inability of the manufacturing works to achieve economies of scale because of the small number of the middle class, shortage of skilled labour to man the works, economic policy somersaults, pernicious foreign loan serving regime that drained already inadequate foreign reserves.
    Otherwise intelligent people who, through no fault of their own, are compelled to dwell at the basic level of existence, tend to major in the minor. Chris Allen observes that parastatals in Benin Republic “(were) highly bureaucratic, (and it led) to (their) failure to perform essential tasks, (and) to waste and inefficiency.”
    A graphic description of Nigeria’s, nay Africa’s, preoccupation with the base level is exemplified by Ghana of the 1970s, where “kalabule” or black market thrived. The cedi, Ghana’s currency, traded 20 times below official rate. Its purchasing power was compromised by 75 per cent, and it took two days to earn enough to buy a loaf of bread, and two long weeks to earn enough to buy a tuber of yam!
    When Ghana’s Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings took over political power in 1982, in yet another military putsch, he lamented that “hospitals (had) turned into graveyards, and clinics into death transit camps, where men, women and children die daily because of lack of drugs and basic equipment.”
    You must have heard that a hungry man is an angry man: A people without basic infrastructure, goods and services, will not make good friends with one another. Everyone wants to grab whatever little is available for themselves. That explains the degree of wickedness and corruption that Nigerians in positions of power visit on other citizens. It also explains why those far from the corridors of power grovel like serfs before their lucky compatriots.
    In the 1980s, Ethiopia descended into debilitating abyss of famine and drought. Bob Geldorf and Boy George rallied fellow musicians to raise funds, through the “Live Aid Concerts,” to combat the desertification of Africa’s Sahel region. They recorded the single, “Band Aid” for free., and raised £8m, instead of the £70,000 they had expected. A probably exaggerated report indicates that simultaneous live music concerts in Philadelphia, USA, and London, in the UK, raised another $100m.
    Now here is the point: A people who live in an environment of acute shortage of practically every basic thing from food, to clothing, housing, and transport, as in Nigeria, must of necessity be selfish and uncharitable. But a people with surfeit of basic essentials, like Western Europe, can easily extend a good hand of help to their less privileged neighbours.


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