1 Seek ye first the political kingdom but forget ye not the

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					           ‘Seek ye first the political kingdom but forget ye not the economy entirely.’

                                                                                         Adrian Hewitt,

This is not the Word of God, nor are these the precise words of the late Kwame Nkrumah. They are
the only slightly ironic reflections on Nigeria of a simple jobbing economist – myself – who is just
engaging at last in support of the Obasanjo II federal government via the ODI Fellowship Scheme but
who has followed, mostly with dismay, over the past quarter-century of his professional life in
development, Nigeria’s failure to become the economic giant it could have been.

Failure is not the term I want to attach to Obasanjo II. The NEEDS strategy or the current robust
democracy (even if the latter is more robust ‘in the country than in the state’, if I may borrow Daniel
Bach’s felicitous formulation). But what a task the President and his reform team still have before
them! After a total of nearly twenty years of military rule in recent decades, Nigeria’s governance,
economic management and modernity had slipped back into an era forgotten even by most of the
much poorer countries of sub-Saharan Africa; not quite the measure of North Korea or
Burma/Myanmar, but unhelpfully quaint and old-fashioned none the less. And for every couple of
steps forward under the reforms, there seems to be the required one step backwards: even as I was
preparing these notes, Vodaphone (of all people) announced it couldn’t cope with doing business in
Nigeria and would pull out; the Financial Times almost suggested in a leader (15/06/04) that the Shell
Petroleum Development Company might as well give up trying to produce oil in Nigeria on the
present model (yet Nigeria represents 10% of Shell’s worldwide output, and no doubt a rather greater
percentage of its reserves); and the equable climate of Jos and Plateau State, so beloved of visiting
foreign consultants, was rudely disturbed by ethnic violence, with the governor being removed by fiat.
Indeed, the Obasanjo II government still has much to do, and barely a couple of years still to do it in.
Rather like the Old Labour party of Britain, it seems to be the all-consuming task of Nigeria’s
leadership, whether military or civilian, to keep the federation going. Important though this task is, it
leaves little time or space for reforming the economy.

It is not for me to say that Nigeria’s independence leaders were wrong to give priority to building the
nation or federation (or continent) – seeking the political kingdom (though I could cite the current
leadership of Rwanda which is seeking political salvation for its country in devolving power down to
regions, districts and cells (is an alternative pattern which has much to recommend it as an antidote to
ethnic strife) – over managing the economy and instead letting the economy drift and mismanage
itself. Only that the results have proved disappointing over forty years both on the political and the
economic fronts.

When I first got directly involved in development, working first for a francophone African then an
Anglophone African government, Britain was just in the process of joining the EEC, and Nigeria,
much of the rest of Africa, and the Caribbean were about to form the ACP group – for reasons not
unrelated to the former development, although the Georgetown Declaration which founded the ACP
was sui generis and self-standing at the time.

At that time Nigeria was going to be the giant of Africa (and possibly in the world: this was also the
time of the NIEO and the era of commodity power), because of its size, its economic potential, the
quality of its people –and because other obvious contenders like South Africa ruled themselves out
because of the apartheid which was going to limp on for another 20 years. Nigeria was also going to
be the leader of the ACP, a tough negotiator with the EU (then the EEC), chef de file of the G77, and
could also have dominated what became the trade union of African heads of state and government, the
OAU, now AU.

It did none of these things and partly this was on account if its failure in economic development, and
giving Nigerians the benefits of sustainable development.
I am not a strong partisan of the ‘resource curse’ argument of de-development: one can always cite the
obvious counterfactuals who resolved the problems caused by Dutch Disease quite expertly –
Botswana on the African continent, Norway among oil and energy producers and perhaps even Dubai;
and the Dutch themselves. But the way oil exports were allowed, by default, to dominate Nigeria’s
exports and revenues without employing more than a handful of Nigerians (plus a few scholarships to
Robert Gordon University near the offshore oilrigs of Scotland) has been devastating for the economy
as a whole, for the rest of the primary sector, especially agriculture, for the tax system, for the system
of kickbacks and for Nigerian politics. It may have given a slight benefit to Nigeria’s international
relations and it benefited a few individuals and their lawyers, but beyond that it would be easy for an
economist to argue that if Shell, Chevron, then NNPC and the others stopped producing oil and gas
(and put their ‘proven reserves’ ‘in the bank’), the ending of the soft revenue stream to government
bypassing the real economic agents and the people as producers and consumers would benefit the
economy (it might even allow Nigeria’s debt to be deemed HIPC-eligible at last) because many of the
balances that preceded the resource-curse era would be restored.

Nigeria would still be faced with a creaking economic structure strangely redolent of the command
economy (because of the legacies of military rule and consequent isolation) yet counterbalanced by
the existence of a phenomenal personal entrepreneurial initiative which one day will prove to be
Nigeria’s economic and perhaps also political salvation. To channel this latter into sustainable
development, there needs to be an implementable programme of economic reform, followed through
consistently in the presidency and in the political leadership in Finance and the Central Bank and a
few other places; these reformers and some of these reforms do currently seem to be in place but it
will be no easy task. Middle management of the civil service too needs to respond . As the speaker
who succeeds me will be speaking from the NESG about this very topic, I shall not now give a
foreigner’s perspective on the economic reform strategy; I shall end here.

I end by mentioning that today is Bloomsday – in fact its 100th anniversary. For an author so well
travelled as Joyce, (did he not put Zurich…Trieste…on the flyleaf of Ulysses?) it may be rather
surprising that he never visited Nigeria. He should have done. Enjoy the rest of the conference; and
Nigeria, as I always do.

                                                                                      Adrian P Hewitt
                                                                        Overseas Development Institute
                                                                                        16 June 2004


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