The nation and the Southwest in particular have arrived at a critical juncture. The strategic imperative is how to navigate the way forward.
Recent on-going events will provide the key parameters on the road to pivotal elections this year and in 2019. It will also be decisive, as policy options are considered for how to resolve the dilemmas to be tackled and resolved in the make or break decade 2020-2030 ahead. With Nigeria’s alarming population growth rates and economic growth below par, the policy options must be weighed very carefully.
The present discourse appears to center around two options. On the one hand, we have the populist driven ‘stomach infrastructure’ paradigm and on the other, the sustainable development model.
In weighing the options, it is important to note that nothing has actually changed, it’s eerily still the same debate as in the 1950’s about the development options and the way ahead.
The demagoguery behind ‘stomach infrastructure’ must be appreciated and not derided. It obviously negates the problematic involved in the deferment of immediate gratification. The issue is understandable in a poverty ridden society devoid of the most rudimentary of social safety nets. We are just seeing the emergence of things such as free school meals and ‘Agba Osun’. How a balance providing immediate needs with constructing the blocks for sustainable development is the issue of our times. For what is appealing about the misconstrued populism of stomach infrastructure can be found in the admonition of the economist John Maynard Keynes, “in the long-term, we are all dead.”
As the leader of government business and later Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had to undergo a delicate balancing act in trying to navigate his way through. The level of taxation was high in the Western Region in the 1950’s and it was disproportionately skewed against the rural areas. Awolowo’s party paid a heavy electoral price in terms of the loss of seats in the local government elections as well as regional and federal elections. Indeed, Awolowo actually won a very narrow electoral victory running against his NCNC challenger, Chief Kehinde Sofola in Ijebu-Remo central constituency in the pivotal 1959 pre-independence general elections.
It is of course, the verdict of history, which matters. And history has vindicated Chief Awolowo and his party, that the construction of the foundations for a better tomorrow should override immediate electoral gains. History will also vindicate the state of Osun’s Rauf Aregbesola who has also had to vary out a delicate balancing act. Of course, it has also come at a cost.
The way out is to slay the monster of stomach infrastructure through massive political education and economic policies based on jobs creation and the elevation of a skill based framework. The mechanisms through which the government of Ignacio Lula da Silva pulled out 40 million people out of poverty in 80 years must be carefully looked at and applied. It is in the interest of the progressive movement to delicately navigate a path through the stomach infrastructure versus sustainable development conundrum. In our opinion, the ‘alternative perspective’ balancing act of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola provides a good starting point.