Is Nigeria a “Shithole Country”? — By Prof Bedford Umez
On January 11, 2018, The Washington Post reported that during the White House meeting on Immigration Reform, President Donald Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries”, and proceeded to ask the following questions:
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? Why couldn’t we just take in immigrants from, say, Norway?”
Similarly, on December 23, 2017, The New York Times reported that during a meeting in the Oval Office to advance President Trump’s Immigration Agenda, Mr. Trump made the following remarks about Nigerians:
“Once they had seen the United States, they would never go back to their huts in Africa”.
Obviously, the dust on these assertions by Mr. Trump has settled to some degree. However, the implications of those assertions cannot be taken lightly or be ignored.
Clearly, Mr. Trump’s “shithole” label of African nations generated lots of heated, and often acrimonious commentaries and debates all over the world – leading to what I consider three distinct schools of thought.
The first school, especially in the West, considers those remarks crude, offensive and outright racist on the part of Mr. Trump.
The second school, mostly advanced by the President apologists, argue that the remarks meant that African countries are largely unskilled and not economically self-reliant.
The third school, especially among some Nigerians, consider the remarks accurate description of several African nations, particularly Nigeria.
No objective thinker, with some measure of decency, will question the veracity of the first school of thought.
The “shithole” label of African countries and the preference of Europeans over Africans in the United States has serious racial overtone, and questions the fundamental truth that “all men are created equal”.
However, the third school of thought deserves serious attention; hence, this question: Is Nigeria a “shithole country”?
THE BITTER TRUTH
Nigeria is NOT a “shithole country”. However, no fair-minded Nigerian will ignore the argument of the supporters of the “shithole” label of Nigeria.
Supporters argue that some Nigerian leaders have been creating “shithole” in Nigeria for three decades now. Specifically, they cite the worst brand of corruption on the part of so many Nigerian leaders and the massive unemployment in Nigeria since late 80s.
Clearly, acute corruption within and among so many Nigerian leaders is well known within and outside Nigeria, and that is the bitter truth. Accordingly, Nigerians were not totally shocked when Transparency International ranked Nigeria as the most corrupt nation in the year 2000.
Similarly, so many Nigerians agreed with the former Prime Minister of Britain, Mr. David Cameron, when he dubbed Nigeria a “fantastically corrupt” country in 2016.
In fact, what rises so spontaneously to most Nigerian lips any time economic woes of Nigeria are the subjects of discussion is the word, corruption.
If truth be told, President Buhari’s somber call to end chronic, systemic corruption during his presidential campaign in 2015 clears all doubts: “If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.”
Though corruption is the basic justification for the “shithole” description of Nigeria by Mr. Trump, an in-depth study of the Nigerian economy (in 1999 and in 2005) suggests that the root causes of the “shithole” label are much deeper and deadlier than corruption itself – a point I now turn.
THE ROOT OF THE HARDSHIP IN NIGERIA
As a concerned Nigerian, who has written several books and continue to write articles on Nigeria, I found out (in 1999 and in2005) that corruption in and of itself is not the root of the economic woes in Nigeria. Here are the root causes:
(a) So many Nigerian leaders are not rational actors in the world stage.
(b) So many Nigerian leaders are not patriotic; they do not love Nigeria.
(c) So many Nigerian leaders are not ashamed or embarrassed that an oil rich Nigeria (the “giant of Africa” in the 70s and early 80s) has become such a laughing stock in the world – the “fantastically corrupt” and “shithole”.
Put differently, a rational, compassionate, patriotic Nigerian leader, who loves wisdom and common sense, will NOT steal from (or starve) his/her OWN struggling people only to further develop Switzerland and her cohorts with the loot.
Since late 80s to this day, so many Nigerian leaders continue to rob their fellow Nigerians of their oil money ONLY to hide the loot in some foreign countries. Here are the chilling, shameful facts:
- “From 1979 through 1983, scandals involving billions of dollars dominated headlines. These included the illicit auction of much of the $2.5 million annual allocation of import licenses; the arrest of several top officials of the Federal Capital Development Authority in Abuja over an alleged $20 million fraud; and the revelation by a Federal Minister that Nigeria was losing $50 million a month to ghost workers and other forms of payroll fraud” (George Ayittey, 1992; Bedford Umez, 1999).
- “Unpatriotic citizens in our midst loot our resources and cart the proceeds away into Western banks with the collaboration of Western financial systems. Corruption costs African countries an estimated $148 billion a year”, said by President Olusegun Obasanjo (BBC, 2006).
- “Former Governor James Ibori embezzled an estimated $250 million from the people of Delta State. In April, Ibori pleaded guilty to stealing $80 million and was sentenced to 13 years” (CNN, 2012).
- “The United States announced that it was freezing $458 million (£275 million) that had been stashed away in foreign bank accounts – part of at least $3 billion that Abacha is believed to have looted during the 1990s” (BBC, 2014).
- “Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s late military dictator (1993-98), is suspected to have looted up to $5 billion (£3.5 billion), of which $2.2 billion is apparently still being withheld by European banks two decades later. Switzerland recently agreed to return a portion – $321 million – of the Abacha loot” (Guardian, 2016).
- “The Federal Government has released an interim report of recoveries of looted assets and monies. Cash recoveries made from 29 May 2015 to 25 May 2016 total N78,325,354,631.82; $185,119,584.61; £3,508,355.46”, reported by Segun Adeyemi, Special Assistant to the Minister of Information and Culture (This Day, 2016).
- “We urge the administration to attach and release to Nigeria some $500 million worth of US-based proceeds of corruption traced to former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha,” the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) wrote in an open letter to the US White House (CNN, 2018).
While the above instances of looting Nigerian treasury are by no means exhaustive, it is abundantly clear that Nigeria could have been as developed as say Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate, Iran, Venezuela, among other OPEC nations, if the above looted funds were wisely invested in Nigeria.
The point is that “lootocracy”, i.e., robbing Nigerians only to further develop some foreign nations with the loot is savagely cruel, exceedingly brutal, senseless and unpatriotic.
Nigerian masses have been suffering because of this senseless, unpatriotic looting since late 80s. Unfortunately, there are more of this self-inflicted destructive behavior on the part of so many Nigerian leaders. Kindly read on.
A substantial number of Nigerian leaders and their elite contractors have abandoned healthcare in Nigeria ONLY to fly abroad with the country’s oil money for medical checkup and treatment.
Shockingly, upon returning home, cured and healthy, they still see no logic of building good hospitals like the ones that treated them abroad.
In addition to flying abroad for their own medical treatment, they are flying their 8-month pregnant wives to the Western nations to deliver their children healthy, and for their children to become the citizens of those foreign nations.
Abandoned and neglected, Nigerian hospitals can hardly treat the mass population of Nigeria.
As such, the masses often rely solely on “konka-mixtures” of some sort by some native doctors whose herbs are, to a large extent, scientifically untested, un-sanitized, and even dangerous to human consumption.
Indeed, for over two decades now, so many pregnant women and their babies continue to die in Nigerian hospital labor rooms.
Similarly, children and elderly continue to die in those neglected hospitals like poisoned rats and are often buried as such. Still, there are more of this absurdity and unpatriotism.
A good number of Nigerian leaders and their elite contractors have abandoned education in Nigeria only to send their own children to study and live abroad with the country’s oil money. They do not care about the quality of education in Nigeria.
In fact, that so many Nigerian university graduates can hardly make a simple correct sentence does not bother them.
That most Nigerian engineers and scientists cannot build good roads, good bridges without the supervision of foreign engineers, especially from Asia and Europe, does not bother them.
That Nigerians are the most educated in the United States – constituting the worst kind of brain-drain in Nigeria – does not bother them.
The bottom line is that most Nigerian leaders do not think of how and when Nigeria – their country – will become self-reliant as other OPEC nations. This is not leadership; this is a slow slide to doomsday in Nigeria.
Again, this self-destructive behavior on the part of so many Nigerian leaders has no limit – there are still more of the same folly. Kindly read on.
Looters of the Nigerian treasury have made the disastrous decision, as I stated in 1999, to divide and conquer Nigeria – the decision to divide Nigerian oil money and conquer the nation with “tribalism”.
Not only that they have succeeded in dividing Nigerian money among themselves as factually demonstrated above, they have succeeded in convincing millions of Nigerians, particularly the youths, who are either unemployed or underemployed, that “tribalism” is the root cause of Nigerian problems.
Tragically, it is working for them because these youths (born in the 80s and 90s) are not blaming the looters for embezzling the Federal Allocations meant for the empowerment of the nation and their States in all aspects of life.
Instead, they are blaming Nigerian developmental maladies solely on “tribalism”.
But, who can really blame the youths when they have no idea that this “fantastically corrupt” or “shithole country” was once the economic “giant of Africa” in the late 70s to early 80s even though “tribe and tongue” differed then as they differ today.
These youths do not know that this writer was making 94 Naira a month (as a Secondary School graduate teaching at Chukwurah High School Onitsha) in 1978 and still enjoyed the goodies Onitsha had to offer.
These youths have no idea that this writer remitted 75 Kobo to $1 before leaving for the United States in 1981.
These youths do not know about the superior education Nigeria had before late 80s that enabled most Nigerians, including this writer, to register 7 courses (21 Credit Hours) per Semester in American Universities and still made straight A’s, full-time job notwithstanding.
We must tell youths the truth – the truth that Nigeria used to be an economic giant in Africa around the time they were born even though tribe and tongue differed then.
We must let the youths know of the calamity brought to Nigeria by some Nigerian leaders since late 80s – the leaders robbing them blind.
While no one can deny the unfortunate tribalism or tribal sentiment that is destroying African unity, Pan Africanism and African-ness, the MAIN point here is that most Nigerian youths are being distracted from focusing on what really matters the most in any country, namely, the primary role of leaders.
Specifically, Nigerian youths must know that the primary role of leaders is to find effective ways and means to forge unity, bring people together, build bridges, mend fences, teach their citizens patriotism, oneness, and above all invest their country’s money in their country for the common good of the entire society.
These youths must know that Nigerian leaders swore an oath before God and man to perform that role, i.e., to serve and protect them.
Our youths must know that no Nigerian leader took an oath to feed, defend and protect Swiss people and their cohorts with Nigerian oil money.
Our youths must know that leaders must act in obedience to their oath of office – nothing more, nothing less.
Nigerian youths must know that no society will survive without economic empowerment, i.e., even if we divide Nigeria into say three countries today, and the looters in those three countries continue to steal from their people only to hide the loot abroad, NOTHING good will come out of those creations – NOTHING!
Nigeria is not a “shithole country” – God forbid! The “shithole” – i.e., the economic hardship – was created by most Nigerian leaders for the past 30 years now because they were/are unpatriotic and haters of common sense and wisdom.
They do not love Nigeria. They do not love their fellow citizens. In fact, some of them are simply sadists – deriving tremendous joy and happiness by starving their fellow Nigerians.
Worst of all, they have succeeded in teaching fellow citizens the worst kind of leadership: rob fellow Nigerians and feed Swiss people and their friends with the loot. This is unconscionable!
It is therefore incumbent upon President Buhari’s administration, Nigerian legislators, Nigerian Supreme Court Justices, Nigerian State Governors and all the rest of the county’s leaders to start investing Nigerian oil money in Nigeria as the leaders and the elites of other OPEC countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirate, and Venezuela) are doing in their own countries.
The leaders in these OPEC nations use their God-given common sense to put their countries first. They love their countries and their citizens; hence, they know that robbing their people only to hide the loot in Nigeria or any other foreign country is self-inflicted genocide by starvation.
Nigerian leaders should direct their attention to the primary job of leaders – once again, forging unity, bringing people together, building bridges, mending fences, teaching their citizens patriotism, and above all investing their country’s money in their country for the common good of the citizens.
We are all Africans, and must fight for African unity, Pan Africanism, African-ness, and African growth for a house divided against itself cannot stand.
That is the only way to extricate Nigeria from the shame, embarrassment and labels as “fantastically corrupt” and “shithole country”.
Please invest Nigerian oil money in Nigeria!
By Prof. Bedford N. Umez
George Ayittey, Africa Betrayed (NY: St. Martin’s. 1992), p. 250. Bedford Umez, The Tragedy of a Value System in Nigeria: Theories and Solutions (San Francisco – London – Bethesda: International Scholars Publications), p. 2.
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