The expected shift of the economic winds due to several factors including the pandemic and now the brewing global crises made me go in search of literature that succinctly captures the economic stand of Nigeria and the book- Financialism: Water from an empty well co-authored by Ahmad Bola Tinubu and Brian Browne was a perfect place to begin.
It was the need for a factual understanding of the realistic nature of the economy at a critical time that made the book more preferable, for me, to the conventional economic literature trying to give a theoretical explanation of what is happening nationally and globally.
While this is not a direct review of the book, I see the reason to draw references from it. because the perspective the authors used is validating enough (also my opinion). Rationally so, because the book was not just some book on economics, it was a deep-seated approach to explaining Nigeria’s economy and all the prime movers that define it into what it is today.
It is high time economic theories are dumped and the reality is faced. That way, better approaches to provide a real remedy where ailing occurs can be possibly achieved. In an era of economic apocalypse, only the real act stands the chance of averting woeful fate.
Just like the authors of the book financialism, I am not an encomiast. But rather an observer of an economy that has not been doing any well (particularly according to the grassroots index). I’m also sometimes a tiny playing part of it with a speck of an opinion on what is actually going on from the factual point of view. This write-up may not offer a remedy as it is only a commentary on what led the Nigerian economy to evolve the way it did.
The fact that the global economy is shifting is a reality facing everyone in the face. Another fact that the Nigerian economy is not going to be spared from the global economic change is also there. Any official statistical figures or indicative indexes that corroborate an elaborate economic predisposition may be absent here because that doesn’t necessarily state the reality. the course and effect that consolidate the economic fate of millions of Nigerians and define their standard of living in real-time is the most important factor in trying to understand what went wrong, why poverty is widespread despite the country having the resources and tendencies that should make wealth abundant.
I ended up buying the idea that the basis of the Nigerian economy today is rooted in its colonial past where the few elites with economic and political power are the ones with access to making quick profits. Not much has changed since when the colonial economy was about draining resources to the far away alien island of England where profit was made and kept by the masters. Power was focused on profit-making. What is called the ‘political economy’ was born and ever since then economic fate has almost always revolved around this pivotal point of power and large money owners.
The result is the spawning of insanely greedy financial actors that permeated deep into the private and governmental fabric. The profit makers do as they wish to amass crazy wealth (with a bit of political laissez-passez) to the detriment of everyone. The long-term consequence is an ailing economy built on zero ‘value’ and that which stands no chance of sustaining.
The colonial masters didn’t encourage local production, in fact, they destroy the ‘cottage industry’ that drive the local economy when goods were massively imported from England for local consumption. All infrastructures built were to ease the businesses of the colonial masters rather than to boost the local economy.
A culture of the ‘elite’ made the next entry. The elites are those with political power, influence at home and abroad, and a huge reserve of personal wealth. The equivalent of the French aristocrat mélange with bourgeoisie. Everyone aspires to become one and the only way to get into the circle is to become rich as well and as quickly as possible.
To this day the prime mover of the financial market in the country is understandably not the value-creating component of it. The good and services sector is just getting by making enough to keep going, While the real money is made elsewhere. Elsewhere where big money (mostly siphoned from the public coffers) is moved and invested, creating huge profit without delivering a single value to the market!
To be fair, globalization through technology made more economies prone to falling victims to such an economic model of making a profit without delivering value. But at the same time, countries like China are producing goods and other values which is where their economy is getting its firm rooting.
The little protracted economic spark such as that witnessed in the agriculture in the north these days, for example, has no place in the political-economic ups and downs. Many housewives are into poultry production, a value-creating enterprise that can catalyze the economy of a whole region. But the financial sector has no interest in these slow-track economic impulses. The few schemes attempting to help these businesses that have the tendency to turn things around almost always failed due to greed by the officials and lack of strategic implementation.
The most significant reason why the production economy is sluggish however is due to it not fitting into the economic model the country is famously running –the ‘no value quick profit’ model.
To break down the ‘no value quick profit’ term we can always refer to how Politics is monetized and economics politicized. It all comes down to the little few taking advantages of the whole citizenry to enrich themselves (the elite equivalent of the colonial exploiters). And, what value do they bring? Usually nothing.
They fail at implementing sound economic reforms and support ideas that can change things. Even though the economy of the land is still not very impressive as can be experienced at the grassroots, the elites (including government officials, private and financial sector actors) continue to become massively rich using the crafty ‘financialism’ of the deliberately created political economy where more money is made from nothing.
Among the spillover effect of the bad economy model Nigeria is using (sadly similar to the US’s according to the book) is the attitude of laziness. Once a president was said to have called a swath of regional youth lazy. While I disagree with the notion of people being lazy because one only uses what they can find available and there isn’t much left available for that use, I agree that it is the economy model that turns nearly everyone into that laziness. Everybody wants to join the elite class the next morning.
It is the same reason why the vast farmlands in the north are left uncultivated for quick money-making schemes. Despite the fact that these Ponzi schemes are ruining millions by the day people still find reasons to invest in them rather than to produce value.
Also, The government as a money-making enterprise where apprentices learn the art of ‘obedience and service’ to the political masters whose whim can make one rich overnight is another ‘no value-adding business. Look around, these two money-making ways I’ve mentioned are the most attractive among the youth today.
The book Financialism sums it up as …” Ethic of bootlicking (not a value) surpasses that of handwork (a real value). It was more profitable to be a courtier than possess a creative idea…”