Opinon: Is Nigeria a ‘shithole country’? – By BEDFORD N. UMEZ
On January 11, 2018, The Washington Post reported that during the White House meeting on Immigration Reform, President Donald Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries”, and proceeded to ask the following questions: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? Why couldn’t we just take in immigrants from, say, Norway?” Similarly, on December 23, 2017, The New York Times reported that during a meeting in the Oval Office to advance President Trump’s Immigration Agenda, Trump made the following remarks about Nigerians: “Once they had seen the United States, they would never go back to their huts in Africa”. Obviously, the dust on these assertions by Trump has settled to some degree. However, the implications of those assertions cannot be taken lightly or be ignored.
Clearly, Trump’s “shithole” label of African nations generated lots of heated, and often acrimonious commentaries and debates all over the world – leading to what I consider three distinct schools of thought. The first school, especially in the West, considers those remarks crude, offensive and outright racist on the part of Trump. The second school, mostly advanced by the President apologists, argues that the remarks meant that African countries are largely unskilled and not economically self-reliant. The third school, especially among some Nigerians, considers the remarks accurate description of several African nations, particularly Nigeria.
No objective thinker, with some measure of decency, will question the veracity of the first school of thought. The “shithole” label of African countries and the preference of Europeans over Africans in the US has serious racial overtone, and questions the fundamental truth that “all men are created equal”. However, the third school of thought deserves serious attention; hence, this question: Is Nigeria a “shithole country”?
Nigeria is NOT a “shithole country”. However, no fair-minded Nigerian will ignore the argument of the supporters of the “shithole” label of Nigeria. Supporters argue that some Nigerian leaders have been creating “shithole” in Nigeria for three decades now. Specifically, they cite the worst brand of corruption on the part of so many Nigerian leaders and the massive unemployment in Nigeria since the late 80s. Clearly, acute corruption within and among so many Nigerian leaders is well-known within and outside Nigeria, and that is the bitter truth. Accordingly, Nigerians were not totally shocked when Transparency International ranked Nigeria as the most corrupt nation in 2000. Similarly, so many Nigerians agreed with a former Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, when he dubbed Nigeria a “fantastically corrupt” country in 2016. In fact, what rises so spontaneously to most Nigerian lips any time economic woes of Nigeria are the subjects of discussion is the word, corruption. If truth be told, President Muhammadu Buhari’s somber call to end chronic, systemic corruption during his presidential campaign in 2015 clears all doubts: “If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.”
Though corruption is the basic justification for the “shithole” description of Nigeria by Trump, an in-depth study of the Nigerian economy (in 1999 and in 2005) suggests that the root causes of the “shithole” label are much deeper and deadlier than corruption itself – a point I now turn.
As a concerned Nigerian, who has written several books and continue to write articles on Nigeria, I found out (in 1999 and in 2005) that corruption in and of itself is not the root of the economic woes in Nigeria. Here are the root causes:
(a) So many Nigerian leaders are not rational actors in the world stage.
(b) So many Nigerian leaders are not patriotic; they do not love Nigeria.
(c) So many Nigerian leaders are not ashamed or embarrassed that an oil rich Nigeria (the “giant of Africa” in the 70s and early 80s) has become such a laughing stock in the world – the “fantastically corrupt” and “shithole”.
Put differently, a rational, compassionate, patriotic Nigerian leader, who loves wisdom and commons sense, will NOT steal from (or starve) their OWN struggling people only to further develop Switzerland and her cohorts with the loot. Since the late 80s to this day, so many Nigerian leaders continue to rob their fellow Nigerians of their oil money ONLY to hide the loot in some foreign countries. Here are the chilling, shameful facts:
- From 1979 through 1983, scandals involving billions of dollars dominated headlines. These included the illicit auction of much of the $2.5m annual allocation of import licences; the arrest of several top officials of the Federal Capital Development Authority in Abuja over an alleged $20m fraud; and the revelation by a federal minister that Nigeria was losing $50m a month to ‘ghost workers’ and other forms of payroll fraud” (George Ayittey, 1992; Bedford Umez, 1999).
- “Unpatriotic citizens in our midst loot our resources and cart the proceeds away into Western banks with the collaboration of Western financial systems. Corruption costs African countries an estimated $148bn a year”, said by President Olusegun Obasanjo (BBC, 2006).
- “Former Governor James Ibori embezzled an estimated $250 million from the people of Delta State. In April, Ibori pleaded guilty to stealing $80m and was sentenced to 13 years” (CNN, 2012).
- “The United States announced that it was freezing $458m (£275m) that had been stashed away in foreign bank accounts – part of at least $3bn that Abacha is believed to have looted during the 1990s” (BBC, 2014).
- “Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s late military dictator (1993-98), is suspected to have looted up to $5 billion (£3.5 billion), of which $2.2 billion is apparently still being withheld by European banks two decades later. Switzerland recently agreed to return a portion – $321 million – of the Abacha loot” (Guardian, 2016).
- “The Federal Government has released an interim report of recoveries of looted assets and monies. Cash recoveries made from 29 May 2015 to 25 May 2016 total N78,325,354,631.82; $185,119,584.61; £3,508,355.46”, reported by Segun Adeyemi, Special Assistant to the Minister of Information and Culture (This Day, 2016).
- “We urge the administration to attach and release to Nigeria some $500 million worth of US-based proceeds of corruption traced to former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha,” the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) wrote in an open letter to the US White House (CNN, 2018).
While the above instances of looting Nigerian treasury are by no means exhaustive, it is abundantly clear that Nigeria could have been as developed as say Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Venezuela, among other OPEC nations, if the above looted funds were wisely invested in Nigeria. The point is that “lootocracy”, i.e., robbing Nigerians only to further develop some foreign nations with the loot is savagely cruel, exceedingly brutal, senseless and unpatriotic. Nigerian masses have been suffering because of this senseless, unpatriotic looting since the late 80s. Unfortunately, there are more of this self-inflicted destructive behaviours on the part of so many Nigerian leaders. Kindly read on.
A substantial number of Nigerian leaders and their elite contractors have abandoned healthcare in Nigeria ONLY to fly abroad with the country’s oil money for medical check-up and treatment. Shockingly, upon returning home, cured and healthy, they still see no logic of building good hospitals like the ones that treated them abroad. In addition to flying abroad for their own medical treatment, they are flying their eight-month pregnant wives to the Western nations to deliver their children healthy, and for their children to become the citizens of those foreign nations. Abandoned and neglected, Nigerian hospitals can hardly treat the mass population of Nigeria. As such, the masses often rely solely on “konka-mixtures” of some sort by some native doctors whose herbs are, to a large extent, scientifically untested, un-sanitised, and even dangerous to human consumption. Indeed, for over two decades now, so many pregnant women and their babies continue to die in Nigerian hospital labour rooms. Similarly, children and the elderly continue to die in those neglected hospitals like poisoned rats and are often buried as such. Still, there are more of this absurdity and lack of patriotism.
To be concluded . Punch