“If we are substantially dictated to, let us tell those who preach trade liberalisation and other harmful measures to us, and which they do not practice on the ruins of their own economy and at great hardship to their own people, that they are leading us along the path of great economic decline, social dislocation and turbulence and political consequences that we can ill-afford. ” – General Olusegun Obasanjo, 1987.
The only time I ever met Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, a leading member of President Obasanjo’s much-vaunted economic team, was at a breakfast briefing that Malam Nasir el-Rufai, Minister of the FCT and another member of that team, held with media editors, the morning that the late Etsu Nupe died. Although we had been invited to listen to the plan being put together to sanitise the MFCT, el-Rufai decided to kill two birds with a stone, by affording us the opportunity to ask questions about the economic platform of the government, that is encapsulated in the neo-liberal document that is better known as NEEDS.
For making a few critical remarks about the platform, ‘Madame Due Process’ Mrs Ezekwesili, described me as “anti-intellectual.” The technocrats who have been trained by mainly American-based institutions to propagate the new “Theology’ of neo-liberal capitalism around third world countries, carry out their assignment with the zeal of the religious missionaries of old: very combative, extremely self-righteous and unable to understand why anybody would dare to question their all-knowing, don’t-dare-me attitude to issues of economic reform.
For them, the cold war was won by the high priests of the ‘free market’ system; neoliberal reforms became the all-conquering mantra that was the one-size-fits-all doctrine sanctioned for all the countries of the world to follow, or they would not be in the good books of the Bretton Woods institutions and above all, the government of the United States of America.
So it is that a set of new orthodoxies have been left loose on the world. It is in this context that the gung-ho manner that such local disciples of the neo-liberal orthodoxy, such as Oby, Nasiru el-Rufai or Professor Charles Soludo, must be analysed, and properly understood. These local technocrats are infact part of a worldwide ‘missionary team,’ who defend the same programs, the so-called Washington consensus, but which they do everything to convince us were the products of their local ingenuity. It is the fact that people are sceptical of the content of these reforms, organise to resist them, that makes these “apostles’ or ‘missionaries’ so combative in their rhetoric and very intolerant of alternative view points or any challenge whatsoever, to their received orthodoxy.
Sometimes I wonder about the conversion of President Obasanio himself to these new orthodoxies. Fancy the quotation at the begin of this column. That was the patriotic and nationalistic General Olusegun Obasanjo, responding to the ravages that the Structural Adjustment Programme of the Babangida regime was inflicting upon Nigeria, at the end of the nineteen eighties. Less than fifteen years later, the government of Obasanjo is presiding over the implementation of the same policies that he so patriotically criticised in 1987; the difference today is that the implementation is more ruthless, inhumane, and very unpopular with the Nigerian people. Yet the economic team leading the process tells us that there is no alternative route that can be followed.
So what is in the content of the neo-liberal reforms that converted President Obasanjo away from his old patriotism? Could it be the problem of political legitimacy that makes most African regimes to kow tow to the wishes of the IMF/World Bank/Washington, against the interests of their own peoples? Yet it becomes more curious each passing day that the productive forces of the country are not being developed by the painful process that is being foistered upon us. National entrepreneurial capital is weak and the atmosphere of neo-liberalism means it cannot compete with the sharks of foreign capital.
I have not found a satisfactory explanation of the type of Nigeria that they hope their reforms will bequeath to the Nigerian people, beholden as they are to foreign economic interests. What exactly would be left of our sovereignty and independence? Would all the sacrifices made to achieve an independent country be made so meaningless with the wholesale surrender of every thing that makes us, to foreign interest, all in the name of reform?
The members of Obasanjo’s economic team huff and puff, pretending they are harbingers of something new, the messengers of the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy. But we know better. They are smoothening the turf for the collection of debt from the Nigerian people, and are working at the behest of the international financial institutions.
And talking about the debt crisis, it is one of the most important weapons used for the consolidation of the neo-liberal orthodoxy. Recent statistics indicate that in thirteen years, developing countries paid off $4.1 trillion in debt service, yet our debts increased from $1.4 trillion to $2.6 trillion. In essence we have paid three times what we owe and now our debt is twice as much.
Up till today there is controversy about how much Nigeria owes. But all of us know that we have paid off the monies our ruling circles borrowed in our names, but we are still owing up to $31 billion. This is the reason the neo-liberal NEEDS package is being stuffed down our throats, manifesting in the tyrannical fuel price regime; the scandal of farming out our national patrimony to groups likes SOLGAS or the unfolding catastrophe at NITEL and the outright sale of many other infrastructural investments made in the past by succeeding Nigerian governments.
Orthodoxies come in several guises in the modern world. The economic is the dominant, but wasn’t the political said to be a concentrated expression of the economic? The political order today is hierarchical and sitting atop the pile is the United States of America. Its political system is organised around two political parties, whose differences are becoming ever so narrow, as it sinks deeper into the morass of imperial domination.
Those who control the political stakes today in America foist on humanity the tragic candidature of somebody like George Bush, to rule the most powerful country on the face of the earth in an election that we all know was flawed. Even with his fraudulent mandate he still went ahead to repudiate the Kyoto Treaty on global warming, has sanctioned all the crimes that Israel commits in occupied Palestine and he invaded Irag, and in the words of the Palestinian writer, Omar Barghouti, this “racist, ruthless, semi-intelligent religious fanatic… has committed enough war crimes to warrant being locked up for life at the Hague.”
It is part of the tragedy of these times that the most determined if invisible opponent of George Bush, is also another fanatic, steeped in a different set of orthodoxies. His name is Osama Bin Laden. He was a creation of the American CIA, and together they created the killing fields of Afghanistan. But somewhere along the line, their relationship snapped. So one needs the others presence to justify his atrocities. The gang around he had not existed.
George Bush, the so-Called Neo-conservatives would have invented Osama Bin Laden, if The war on terror has been justification for all manners of atrocities by state actors from the United States’ inhuman bombings of old and young in Iraq and Afghanistan; its detention of hundreds of people in the no-mans-land of Guntanamo Bay, itself occupied against the wishes of the Cuban people; to the endless Russian atrocities in Chechnya, not to forget the Zionist crimes of Israel, with genocide and racism being active components, as perpetrated by a war criminal Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, the butcher of Sabra and Shattila and Jenin.
There are several other strands to the contemporary manifestations of orthodoxy today, but significantly, majority of humanity is caught up between these forces. They threaten us to join their sides or else! After all, didn’t George Bush warn that whoever is not on his side in his war, is on the side of the terrorists? Osama Bin Laden’s threats are almost a mirror reflection of the statements of his American adversary.
The choices that face all of us are very clear. We need to rid the world of the menace of fundamentalist orthodoxies, either in the economic field, or in the field of political action. Economies must work for people, and not just for the sake of some faceless forces of the market. Neo-liberalism is in content a most in human economic doctrine, because it takes away from the poor and gives to the rich. It is the economic basis of resentment, anger and terrorism. It is the doctrine that brings to life the terror of Osama Bin Laden.
Those who take political power in the United States and other parts of the world with the intention to continue the implementation of the neoliberal surrender to market forces and the monopolistic wealth of the transnational corporate moguls of the so-called globalised economy, have in fact been legitimising genocide in various parts of the world. Their pitiable effort to promote the palliative of aid, in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODA) have in fact underlined why the present economic order must be dismantled to be replaced by a far more equitable one. For instance, total ODA amounted to $68.400 billion in 2003. Meanwhile in the same year, the debt repayment by these ODA recipients totalled $436 billion. So who is fooling who? Orthodoxies can only lead to the ruination of mankind. People have to make a different choice to achieve a more humane world.