I am not an Economist and I do not intend to sound like one, but I have always believed that culture plays a very important role as far as economics is concerned.
Discussions and deliberations about economics should not be left to only the Economists, it is expedient for even the common man to be a part of it. The reason I decided to write this isn’t far-fetched, it is the same reason I wrote the ones I have on my blog, the ones on my social media accounts, and the ones on my iPad; that will never experience the beauty of the internet (because they are too dark or the internet is simply too beautiful for them)—the urge to share my thoughts. The things that keep me awake at night.
As Thomas Sowell mentioned in his brilliant book Wealth, Poverty and Politics; Geography, Demography, Social conditions, Politics and Culture all play important roles in shaping the economy of a nation. These are factors that are conveniently swept aside when discussing policies and Economy; especially in Nigeria. Why is it that when we try out proven policies, they still fail in Nigeria? We keep running around in circles, trying this and that and nothing seems to work, yet when Nigerians travel abroad, they soar, why? This proves that the best policy could be counterproductive in a place or nation if the aforementioned factors are not carefully considered. This is why context is important.
In 2013, virtually 25% of the 120 blacks in Harvard business schools were Nigerians. As early as 1999, Nigerians were overrepresented among black students in elite American colleges and universities by a factor of about ten. Nearly one fourth of Nigerian households in the USA have incomes of more than $100000 [Source: Wealth Poverty and Politics]. Someone should have shown Mr. President these stats before he decided to slander us on an international stage.
This tells us that our political structures or the lack of it, coupled with culture are the major factors that keep us from reaching our potential as a people and a nation. Culture especially is the banana peel on our road to prosperity. I am by no means blanketing our culture as a whole and shaming it, but there are some aspects of our collective culture that need to be brushed aside if we really want to fulfil the potential we’ve been talking about since 1914.
A nation that creates social obstacles to the use of the talents and potentials of its own people, whether those obstacles be ethnicity, sex, or what have you is not going to fulfil its potentials.
Are we saying that, if a time comes in the future and the best person we have for the presidential job is an Igbo man or a Nigerian woman, we would reject him or her? Chew on this, Barack Obama is a Luo man from Kenya and the chances of a Luo man being the president of Kenya are as good as having a female or Igbo president in Nigeria.
Just read this article about one of our leaders (here) as he gingerly opposes a bill that speaks on “Equal Rights and Opportunities for Men and Women”. The problem is we don’t want to learn; we don’t want to evolve. We are too quick to oppose certain motions by tagging them “western culture” when it should be basic human rights. On women’s day, our senators were busy discussing how they should take more wives. They turned plenary to an upgraded beer parlor. Why do we keep thinking in this manner? The bigger problem here is that education cannot even save us from this. I have observed that the thickest form of misogyny and bigotry is found among the learned in Nigeria.
What I see is that, our culture dilutes our level of education thereby making it next to useless. See my article on Cultural ethics and education. Our leaders send their children to schools abroad but are now trying to discourage others from schooling abroad. Imagine my amusement when the president said at his Al Jazeera interview that “those who can afford the tuition can still afford it”. That statement means CBN will not allocate forex for education again. We really want to joke with that? We really want to reduce the numbers of students who school abroad even though we know the abysmal state of our tertiary institutions? Our nation has nothing to attract the best brains in the world, so how exactly do we intend to burgeon economically? Governor Ambode, the other day was begging the Nigerians abroad to come back home and make a difference in Nigeria. Our leaders know better, it’s the reason most of them send their kids abroad anyway.
Nations that are not immigrants attractive understand why they have to send their best brains to the U.S. Or UK for education. Take China for example, the Chinese are not ready to change their ways (politically or culturally), there is language barrier so it’s the last place any immigrant wants to go to school. They send their best brains outside for upgrading the nous of their science and technology, economics and so on so as to return with new ideas that can be applied in their own context.
One of the reasons why America is great is because of its ability to attract the best brains in the world. The arrivals of Jews from Europe to America helped in the creation of the first nuclear bomb on which America’s international position as a superpower rested.
Between 1638 to 1868, the government of Japan cut the country from outside the world, emigration from Japan was forbidden and those abroad were forbidden to return and that was the beginning of the end for Japan. They started to diminish drastically until they lifted those ridiculous policies. China did the same sometime in the 18th century and they paid a heavy price. There was a vast increase in the technological gap between them and Europe.
Most of the countries that rose from obscurity to prosperity e.g. Singapore, South Korea in the 20th century, Japan in the 19th century didn’t do so by saying no to foreign investors or by putting policies that are not attractive to foreign investors. Nigeria is doing the exact opposite. Springing up policies that are not attractive to foreign investors, making statements like “Nigeria for Nigeria”, “dollar is not our business”.
Culture isolation keeps us from keeping up with the advances of others. Cultural evolution is by no means a change that can happen overnight but when we have the chance to do so, we must embrace it. Again, I read the equality bill, and this could have at least breached the gap between men and women in the Nigerian society but our leaders shunned the bill with petty excuses.
A lot of honest and blunt Nigerians would agree that corruption is a culture in Nigeria, it is our way of life. Here is an excerpt about Nigeria from “Thieves of States” by Sarah Chayes “if there is a project, every minister checks the money on the project first and not its usefulness. If it is 10 million, the director tells them to make it 12 million and the permanent secretary further tells them to inflate to 25 million. Then they award the contract to themselves”. We must talk about these things and face them head on before we fade into obscurity.
And our amnesic tendencies, where we totally ignore history as though it never happened, Pitiable!
I was on twitter the other day and I came across a tweet. “If you are a billionaire, why then do you have to join politics?”. This exactly is the mentality most of us grew up with, that public office is supposed to be another means for amassing wealth, rather than, at best, an addendum to the desire to serve our nation. While this is not a negative thought, it must not be what drives our political ambition.
Thomas Sowell puts this brilliantly “Third world countries are not being asked to create their own societies, after some calamity, they are being asked to create a western economy without the centuries of a particular cultural evolution that led up to those economies in the west”
We want to flourish like the west but we don’t want to go through the processes. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but culture is another Jonah in the boat that needs to be tossed into the river if Nigeria wants to fulfill its potentials.
Credit to Thomas Sowell (Wealth, Poverty and Politics)