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Beyond Government—Batting Down Government Dependency Syndrome

--Cutting-Edge Analytics--

By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published October 5th, 2011

In the heydays of communism/socialism, big government was all the rage, seen in some countries as the ultimate panacea to all human problems; the epitome of human growth and development—and indeed of civilization itself. The poor and underprivileged majority, ever resentful of the rich and powerful in society saw in it huge potentials for socio-economic equalization and, therefore, equal access to the good life. It was supposed to be the great social leveler that never was and can never be—but nevertheless conceptualized as the social ultimate mechanism that would heap all humanity into one huge social class, with none above or below the other.

Propelled by Marxist/Leninist, utopian idealism, experimentalist authoritarian regimes rearing their ugly heads in the former USSR, China, Cuba, East Germany, and the entire Eastern Europe turned their respective societies into collective guinea pigs to launch massive social experimentations in Marxism/Leninism. This wholly un-natural ideological construct forcefully imposed and maintained by saber rattling, fire-spitting, despotic demagogues such as Fidel Castro, was soon to find converts in newly independent nations across the globe, including Africa and Latin America, where it ended up impoverishing and decimating their entire populations.

There is no question that there are still diehard bearded academics running around in our nation’s ivory towers nostalgically mouthing discredited illusionary Marxist/Leninist theories as the be all of all human progress, and seeking to promote a moribund system that lays all its emphasis on distribution rather than the production of wealth. Unable to reconcile themselves with the reality of death of their utopian ideological construct, they have tenaciously held on to the belief in the resurrection of communism more like the Christians do of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Well, they have the tombstone of demised communist state of the former USSR to show for the greatness of their ideology. I would, however, advise those still in denial to quickly come to terms with the reality and quit brainwashing impressionable young students. Communism/socialism was such an evil. Everywhere communism reigned, people were fighting to escape it, and nobody escapes from a good place; whether it was in East Germany, with impoverished East Germans dying to scale the Berlin Wall to a prosperous West Germany, or in Cuba with boatloads of Cubans perishing at sea in their desperate attempts to land their feet on US soil to escape the grinding poverty in Cuba where food rationing, even of common bread, is the order of the day till today; leaving behind empty shelves of government stores for their trapped unfortunate compatriots. On Cuban roads today could be found dilapidated US cars of the 60s belching out smokes like chimneys with hardly a modern car in sight.

While the evil twin systems lasted, big government replaced God and despotic Stalin was quoted as mocking God, asking contemptuously: How many troops does God command? In fact, religion was all but outlawed in the former Soviet Union. The state was God that would provide all the needs of the citizens where everyone was theoretically equal enjoying life in abundance. Before long, however, life-in-abundance turned into life-in-want, with severe food shortages happening in virtually all communist/socialist countries leading to food rationing in government operated food stores. An economic system that would turn common bread into luxury item that citizens would queue for outside government food stores to obtain or starve to death is nothing but the very definition of an evil system. The citizens grew to become utterly dependent on government, becoming veritable zombies literarily, and utterly incapable of independent thinking that was, in any case, outlawed by the state. A people who rely on government to eat, drink, clothe, travel, learn, work, reproduce, and even to think certainly cannot go far in a competitive world. Needless to add that creativity was the first casualty, that’s why nothing except guns and bullets came out of the former USSR in terms of consumer and capital goods. Only defense industries under tight governmental control and in competition with the West survived communism.

Though now belatedly transiting into robust market economy for good after realizing the abject monumental failures of the command economic system, with great success so far, political China still bears these debilitating vestiges of the communist/socialist paradigm in its political department but even that too is gradually yielding its place. Communism was an odd and un-natural political experiment that went awry as it was destined to become right from the very beginning despite its much touted promise in academia and in leftist political circles, fathering corruption and mass impoverishment. It was indeed a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), for the millions who perished under it in brutal dictatorships, and certainly a weapon of mass impoverishment (WMI), for the millions who starved under it with empty government food shelves. Never again! Yes, never again will humanity be exposed to such barefaced evil preying on mass ignorance and gullibility of citizens and humanity.

Therefore, no one needs to be reminded about the unmitigated disaster and the sheer scale of human sufferings that followed its reign and communism/socialism collapsed and crumbled under its own weight like an old, dilapidated brick house hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake—the type that hit Japan, because God would not allow his people to live forever under such dehumanizing conditions even if it was a punishment for them as divine justice. So in His mercies, the curse of communism was lifted from the shoulders of the people. And once USSR brought herself down in a big bang with Yeltsin’s counter revolution in the early 90s that was encouraged by former President Gorbachev’s “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” policies, the communist/socialist global empire collapsed like a deck of cards and vanished from the face of the earth, almost overnight. And that was the defining event of the 90s leading to the re-integration of Europe thereby making possible the present EU structure. From Eastern Europe to Asia and Africa the liberated peoples breathed the air of freedom for the first time, symbolized dramatically by the fall of the Berlin Wall leading inevitably to the re-integration of impoverished, socialist East Germany with prosperous neighboring West Germany, to form the united Germany of today—back to its pre-WWII status.

Why have I taken the time to undertake this brief but important historical excursion? It is for one and only one reason—to learn an important lesson from it. And there are several lessons to be learnt from the collapsed of communism/socialism, one of the most poignant of which is that big government is fundamentally antithetical to sustainable development, and that development must be initiated from the ground up by the citizens themselves rather than from top to down by an omnipotent and omniscient government before which the citizens grovel in penury. It follows, therefore, as night follows day, that the bigger government grows relative to the size of a country the less developed a nation ultimately becomes and that accounts for the collapse of the all-pervasive communist/socialist governments and their decadent societies. And that realization accounts for the moves by the Chinese and Cuban authorities to embrace market economies and thus free up commercial space occupied by decadent governmental monopolies for the private sector to mine and prosper for the overall benefit, growth and development of their nations.

There is no indication that China, in particular, is regretting the move to free market, certainly not with its over 9% annual growth rate in GDP, which was unimaginable and undreamt of under its former command economy. Today, China is getting even more capitalist than the United States itself that drove capitalism to its present dizzying heights as the pre-eminent global economic ideology of choice. Private enterprises have almost eclipsed the lumbering government monopolies in China. China’s private sector is thriving and responsible for its astonishing economic growth in the last few decades, freeing up the government to do what governments do best—regulation, defense, national security, and infrastructure provisioning. Thus if a nation like China could see the light and made mid-course correction, no one needs to remind developing nations like Nigeria, which way to go in her quest for development because the facts on ground are self-evident. With the engine of capitalism now powering its economy, China has overtaken; first Britain, second Germany, and now, even the industrial giant, Japan, to become the 2nd largest economy in the world within a decade for two— and even aiming at displacing the almighty United States in a short order. Already, China has more automobiles and smart phones than the US. Under communism China was the world capital of bicycles with few Soviet-built automobiles. It has an advanced rail transportation system that the US under the Obama is struggling to catch up with. It has more internet users than the US, and leading the US in other fields, including but not limited to the production of engineers, ship building and steel production, which are all but dead in the US. And its defense production and industries are catching up fast with those in the US with its production of advanced defense systems and military weaponry including aircraft carriers, stealth aircrafts and submarines, just to mention but a few sending jitters down the spines of Washington’s policy makers, especially so of the Republican hue.

It’s nothing short of a miracle unfolding before our eyes in our generation. That is what free market economic system has done in China, allowing the government to plan ahead in critical sectors mentioned above and freeing up the entrepreneurial spirits of the Chinese just as it had done in the west a century ago.

But how, in practical terms, did this come about? Here is how: Earlier this week the American media reported the move by a consortium of five giant US technology corporations, led by Intel and IBM corporations, to invest a whopping $4.5bn in nanotechnology “Research and Development” (R&D), in New York State. Such announcements, which are regular fares in the developed world in general, and particularly in the United States, are totally unheard of in developing countries, such as Nigeria, even on much smaller scales, which of course, accounts for their backwardness and dependence on developed countries in science and technology. Both government leaders and private businesses in these countries prefer to invest in political and social jamborees, meaningless conferences, and corrupt schemes across the board to investing in Research and Development.

And that’s why such collaborative research announcements will not come out of those countries, which are permanent consumers rather than producers of knowledge. Their universities, including those so-called science and technology universities, seem to exist not to advance the frontiers of knowledge, but to regurgitate knowledge produced by their counterparts abroad, which their lecturers shamelessly and scandalously sell in handouts to their unfortunate, captive students, and thereafter proceed on strikes for the better part of the year, drawing salaries for as long as the industrial actions last for months on end to the chagrin of parents and students alike. If this is not academic terrorism, I don’t know what is, seriously speaking.

It’s a shame that a nation could boast of hundreds of universities, polytechnics, and colleges of technology and still cannot invent a single machine or device. You want to ask what they exist for. Is it just to produce paper engineers and technicians to service machines and engines invented and produced in other nations? Is that how Nigeria is going to become the 20th largest economy in the world by the Year 2020 or Year 2050, if you like? Is this some sick joke or something serious at all? I don’t get it. It’s amazing and indeed mind-boggling how leaders in third world countries think they could somehow be able to transform their countries into developed nations without massive investments in research and development. Sounds to me like an airy dream or political sound bites, to be more precise, to talk about Nigeria becoming the 20th most developed nation on earth while doing nothing about what it takes to get there. There is a definite path that leads directly to that destination and if not taken will leave the nation stranded in the wilderness of development. There are no short cuts to it.

And US corporations are committed to taking that well beaten path that has made the United States to become the global super power economically and militarily in what is usually referred to as military/industrial complex. This is not the government but the private sector driving this development paradigm, of course, with government’s oversight and assistance where needed including fast tracked paper work, tax breaks, and the like. But the government has not a single share in these ventures and has no pecuniary interests whatsoever in them. They are purely private commercial ventures with no governmental involvement in both ownership and management structures. The government itself has giant research programs of its own relating to defense, security, space, agriculture, transportation, and the likes, which goes to underscore the premium placed on R&D by developed nations. Working complementarily, these two national forces help to drive their nations forward and remain competitive in the global arena in virtually all fields of human endeavors. After all, the internet was the invention of the US Department of Defense (DoD), with its APARNET program. Same with the Atomic bomb, which came out of the Manhattan Project, and of course, Star Wars, just to mention but a few.

But the private sector is the main component of these national efforts, even in purely defense systems, by companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin corporations, for example. It is the essential engine room of US inventions and innovations. Now, these five US corporations led by IBM and Intel are doing this in addition to their individual R&D budgets that already run into tens of billions of dollars. Microsoft, Dell, HP, CISCO, Apple, and indeed, virtually all major US corporations, including even start- ups for that matter, are investing hundreds of billions of dollars in R&D annually both in-house and in universities and colleges, not only in the US, but across the globe in far-away places such as India. The same is equally true of major global corporations in all economic sectors, including, but not limited to automobiles, aviation, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, agriculture, telecommunication, and so on, not to mention defense and security. In fact, the R&D budgets of some private corporations in developed countries far surpass the entire national budgets of several third world countries, including Nigeria. And it is needless to state that results of this particular research collaboration and similar ventures in the US will likely; in fact, almost certain to produce the next generation of smart technology systems and products of the future that will help the United States to maintain her enviable position as the global leader in technological inventions and innovations.

What that means in practical terms is that US corporations, not necessarily the US government, are investing in and securing America’s future, and by necessarily implication, the world’s as well. A corollary of this is that the future will be molded not necessarily by governments, but by corporations investing huge resources in R&D. In fact, the shape of that future is already being engineered in huge laboratories across the US and to a large extent, in other developed nations; again not necessarily by governments, but by private corporations driven by acute competition and, therefore, the desire to acquire a competitive edge over their rivals. That is the reasons why new systems, products and ideas are continually generated, not from third world countries that are struggling to survive or socialist countries with monopolistic command economies, but from capitalist nations that are principally governed by market forces and competition. So, if you are looking out for the next IPAD, for example, or the next generation automobile or aircraft, don’t look in the direction of communist Cuba or Venezuela, but in the direction of the US, Japan, Korea and Europe, where it is all but certain to come out pretty soon. By the way, Amazon just came out with its version of IPAD named “Kindle Fire” which of course doubles as E-Reader that will compete with Apple’s IPAD, RIM’s Playbook, Motorola’s Zoom and the rest of the pack. Don’t expect innovations like these from third world or socialist countries, for the reasons stated above.

What does this mean for third world countries like Nigeria aspiring to become the 20th largest economy in the world? My simple answer is that Nigeria will not get there until she develops world class corporations able and willing to invest in R&D like corporations in the US, Europe and to some extent, Asia. There is no way the Nigerian government can decree development from Aso Rock. It just won’t happen even if the government has the will and determination to push it through. The time has, therefore, come for both the government and people of Nigeria to come to terms with the fact that development will not come from above but from below, and for the government to stop pretending or assuming that it could bring about development all by itself—whether it is about electricity generation, transmission and distribution, and industrialization of the country in general, which of course, includes the production of goods and services. Nigerians must quit looking up to the government for their daily necessities, and in particular for giving them job. That is a government dependent mentality spawned by socialism/communist mindsets that should belong to the archives.

The reality, which many, including President Obama is unwilling to come to terms with, is that governments do not create jobs; businesses do! Therefore the empowerment of the private sector is the key to opening the job doors now firmly shut in both US and Nigeria. The role of government, save in communist/socialist countries, which we are not and will not become, is to provide “enabling environment” from where businesses could take off and provide jobs for their nations’ populations. If governments create jobs President Barack Obama of the United States would be the happiest man on earth today and his public poll numbers would not be so miserable as they are today in the US. He would have created hundreds of millions of jobs with the nearly $2 trillion dollars he has pumped into the US economy to in the last three years “with nothing to show for it,” to use Nigeria’s parlance. Rather than creating jobs those trillion dollars are hemorrhaging jobs in the US as could be seen from the current unemployment numbers in the US. And big Obama government has been cited as the main culprit, because as government grows bigger it is apt to crowd out the private sector that is the ultimate job machine to sit on the fence and watch from the sidelines instead of being in the field of play itself. This has been proved in a study by a team of Harvard economists in the United States. So, it is not some hypothesis pulled from the hat by Franklin Otorofani but scientific truism. A lean government rather than the huge and unproductive bureaucracy accounting for the biggest portion of recurrent expenditures, as exists in Nigeria today, is the way to go if real development is our goal. It is not by pumping raw cash into the economy but by pumping business friendly policies into the bloodstreams of businesses that would wake up the lumbering economy. And this is true of the US as it is of Nigeria and other nations that have chosen the path of free market economy.

Presently, the Nigerian government is looming large in the purely commercial life of the nation, seizing the so-called “commanding heights” of the economy. And that is counterproductive to the emergence of an industrialized nation capable of attaining and holding the present as well as taking on the future with supreme confidence. Remove oil and gas from the equation and the Nigeria economy will come tumbling down like communism in former Soviet Union. To say the least, that is a very precarious position for a nation to be in. It is indeed frightening that minus oil and gas the nation could literarily shut down and seize to exist. By the same logic, government’s huge involvement in higher education though socially popular with Nigerians as it affords every family access to higher education, is nonetheless, equally inimical to progress and quality of education. We all know how qualitative education was in Nigeria when the missionaries were running the show before the ill-advised nationalization and government takeover of both secondary and tertiary education, and then began mass production of both secondary and tertiary school graduates; not necessarily all but in several instances, with dubious and questionable academic credentials.

It is not the number of higher institutions that matters, but what they are capable of producing and giving out in the nation’s overall quest for development in terms of transforming knowledge into visible products or services. As one prominent American super banker and university professor, John Allison correctly puts it, “public schools don’t innovate.” In other words, public schools are not major producers of new knowledge but avid consumers and purveyors of old knowledge produced elsewhere and this fits into the portraiture of Nigerian publicly owned institutions of higher learning.
The federal government should, therefore, stop building new institutions of higher learning just to produce unemployable graduates and pay huge salaries to unproductive lecturers that revel in industrial actions year in year out, but leave that role for private universities to fulfill. Establishment of institutions of higher learning should not be made into a “federal character” thing. It is my prediction, therefore, that the private universities springing up now in Nigeria will soon overtake the government-owned universities if they stay true to their mission, and that should come as no surprise to anybody. Federal and state universities have no defined missions and exist merely as ordinary institutions wholly divorced from the nation’s developmental aspirations. And many more are in the process of being established for purely political purposes to satisfy federal character. But federal character does not enjoin the government to establish universities in every state and local government in the nation. Other projects of need could be established in places without federal universities. And, by the way, nothing stops a state or local government from establishing its own university if there is need for it. It is not entirely a federal government business.

The Nigerian government, if it truly wants development that leads to job creation, must hands off all commercial activities forthwith with full privatization of all government commercial establishments. And there should be no sacred cows, including the NNPC that has become an engine of corruption and sharp practices. The government is, therefore, on the right track in initiating the privatization program. However, the pace of privatization is just too slow and tentative making it seem like an afterthought. It has now taken more than a decade to private NITEL and PHCN, for example. That is a shame. Handing off government’s commercial undertakings to the private sector unleashes the entrepreneurial and creative energies of the citizens thereby making them less and less dependent on the government at all levels. Nollywood’s takeoff to become the third largest home movie industry in the world was a private initiative. Left in the hands of government bureaucrats, it would never have taken off the ground in the first place and if, perchance, it did would have since crashed. The take off the telecommunication revolution in Nigeria is another example. Left in the hands of NITEL’s government bureaucrats, only death follows as was indeed the case with Nigerian Airways and NNSL, whose ships were all marooned and seized abroad to settle debts. We could say the same for the power sector.

The evidence is all over the place about government’s involvement in commercial activities killing not only industries but jobs right, left and center. If NNPC had been in the hands of the private sector, Nigeria’s oil and gas industry would have hit the stratosphere by now and the incessant supply shortages would not be there. Acute supply shortages are defining symptoms of socialist economies not free market economies. That’s why the seeming resistance by workers to the privatization of PHCN and NITEL is insanity defined in the face of acute power shortages that are crippling the nation’s industries. There is no reason why the government should allow itself to be intimidated by vested interests determined to scuttle the nation’s forward match in the name of labor unions.

Today, millions of unemployed Nigerians are looking up to the government to give them jobs. And even more are looking up to the government to provide them with drinking water and electricity amongst others. When the taps run dry, they blame President Jonathan. When a portion of road fails, they blame President Jonathan. When a local clinic runs out of drugs, they blame President Jonathan. When lights go off, they blame President Jonathan. And when a woman miscarries, they blame President Jonathan.

Haba! Is there nothing that the citizens can do for themselves by way of development in their own communities even for profits? That, in and of itself, is symptomatic of an unproductive and failed economic policy producing a citizenry that is utterly dependent on government. What is wrong with our engineers, technologists and business people? Why are they sitting on the fence waiting on the government to do all? What are they doing with the abundant solar energy that the nation is blessed with? Where is the private sector of this country? Why can’t they establish huge water works, not boreholes? Is anything stopping Nigerian businessmen and women from going into petroleum product refining? Why rely on NNPC for the supply of petroleum products? Why rely on importation of petroleum products rather than refining them in the country through private initiatives? Why wouldn’t private individuals and institutions provide first class hospitals and health institutions for the people? Why wait and rely on government to do that?

Now, here is the answer: It is because the people have grown up wholly dependent on government to provide them with each and all social amenities, which is unfortunate indeed. Why wouldn’t private corporations provide electricity, the same way private companies provide telecommunication services? The electric energy that powers the computer with which this article was written was not produced by the government but by Con-Edison—a wholly private electric company. When lights go off as they did during Hurricane Irene, with downed power lines, and people went without electricity for days, no one blamed President Obama or even the state governors or city Mayors, but the private electric companies providing the services, and the state governors and city Mayors joined the people in blaming them for not restoring power quickly enough after the hurricane.
In conclusion, it is not written in stone anywhere that only government, or for that matter, that only the Federal Government must provide electricity, potable water, good roads, qualitative education, and health services for the people. The best universities, hospitals and medical centers in the world are not owned and cannot be owned by the government, but by private corporations. Wherever and whenever government steps in to displace the private sector, death and decay ensue. It is almost like the laws of nature. A free people in a free market economy must not behave like captive people beholden only to an almighty government ruling their lives from the center, but must exercise their God-given rights to better their lives through productive economic activities and that includes the provision of social amenities. Rural communities do it—I know mine did it—and there is no reason why urban communities shouldn’t and would rather wait in eternity on the government.

Let this not be a case of a free people not knowing what to do with their freedoms—including , of course, freedom to invent, innovate, and add value to our economic lives. Go, do something for yourself and your country, and stop whining in your couches and blaming everybody else but yourself, for the nation’s economic woes. After all, it’s citizens just like you that created the Microsofts, Dells, Amazons, Yahoos, Googles, Twitters, and the Face-books of this world, literarily out of nothing—in some cases from their home garages and bedrooms, without waiting for the government, and in the process created good paying jobs for themselves and thousands of their fellow countrymen and women.

This does not in any way, shape or form excuse the government from doing its part in infrastructures provisioning as all serious governments do all over the world in both developed and developing countries that are forging ahead in the global competition but to encourage our people to also do their part because development is not a one-way street but a dual-carriageway--a partnership between the government and the people. If the government is failing the citizens in the performance of its duties to the people, it is no excuse whatsoever for the citizens themselves to fail themselves. That’s double trouble!

Franklin Otorofani is an attorney and public affairs analyst---writing, not to condemn, but to inspire!


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