Aliko Dangote

The Scramble for Nigeria: Between Esau and Naboth

As a student in college, I read much of history. I read much about the scramble for Africa by the European powers. I read about how they partitioned Africa and divided the continent among themselves. They came bearing gifts and scattering “civilization” along the way.  They planted schools and tried their best to show the light in a hitherto dark continent. And what was the reason for the rush, for the scramble and for Africa’s eventual partitioning among the super powers? It is, in one word: money.

Since 1914 when Britain cobbled together the Northern and Southern protectorates and gave it the name Nigeria, that scramble for the soul of Africa and Nigeria has not abated. Rather, it has accentuated, only that the key players this time around are no longer the Europeans but our own people whom I may, for want of a better word, call ‘Vested Interests”. What is disturbing and loathsome about this  group of people is that they are freeloaders leeching on the people.

For one month running, Nigerians are being entertained in the media with a cacophonous dissonance about the best way to shore up the economic fortunes of the country in the midst of a biting and rash recession. All of a sudden, we have all become Adam Smiths, dishing out contradicting theories on how to reflate our battered economy. We have our individual views which we wear like phylactery or talisman, praying for things to turn around for good. The man that fired the first salvo and broadened the conversation was our own Aliko Dangote, the irrepressible business mogul. His advice is that the nation must sell its vital assets in order to raise money to stabilise the economy.

The senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki and many other kitchen cabinet members at the presidency bought into it and canvassed same.  However, we know that things are getting harder every day, which is enough reason for people with diverse views to prescribe unorthodox means for us to sail out of the troubled waters. But in the midst of such panic and confusion, we are offering Mr. President, who also is as confused as all of us, what I may dub as “ahitophelic” advice.  Ahitophel in the bible was one of David’s special advisers. When David’s son Absalom rebelled against his father and wanted to take the throne from him, Ahitophel—like our politicians of today— defected to the side of Absalom and advised him to sleep with his father’s wife in order to make himself odious to his father. That is the type of advice we are offering the president, and the type of advisers many of us have turned into in the wake of this recession!

However, there is nothing patently wrong in proffering solution in order to remedy a bad situation. There is nothing wrong when the concerned weigh in on a vexatious matter that impinge on their wellbeing. But what is wrong, what is patently wrong and utterly resentful is when such advice is offered in bad faith, with mind sullied, with heart dipped in gall and with an intent to benefit from the outcome of the advice. That is the prism in which I locate Dangote’s advice.

But what are the vital national assets Mr. Dangote is advising Nigerians to sell? These are the Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Warri refineries, the Ajaokuta Steel Factory, etc. But unfortunately, these industries our vested interests have their eyes on and want to prey upon by every other means constitute the vein, artery and blood of the organism called Nigeria. While Dangote and some of Buhari’s ministers like Kemi Adeosun are urging us to sell whatever that is left of Nigeria in order to deliver ourselves from the economic bootstraps we are holed in, it is important to note that since 1999 when the seeds of democracy began to shoot out in this country, many of our vital assets have been sold off to vested interests for the same reason in the name of privatisation, and still the expected economic growth is long in coming.

We sold off at peanut the industries that are supposed to generate money for the nation and keep our children out of the labour market. First we sold NITEL, then Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel. We sold the Nigerian Aluminium Smelting Company at Akwa Ibom and NICON Insurance Corporation, including all the paper manufacturing companies. When the economy bit harder, we sold off Power Holding Company of Nigeria and decided to remain in the dark. It is important that we understand we have sold most of our vital assets and we are still being persuaded to sell more. What else is left when NEPA that is supposed to be the driver and catalyst for economic growth has been sold off to vested interests? As the debate rages on, we should be careful what we do.  If our past leaders had been prodigal, they would not have left behind anything to sell. If they had not built, what would Buhari or his economic advisers be contemplating to sell? If we sell what our past leaders laboured to save for the future generation, what shall we bequeath to our own children? What shall we sell in the event of a worse economic disaster? These are issues to ponder.

The question we have to ask ourselves today as the conversation takes a different trajectory is: if perchance the government decides to sell these assets, how many of the poor masses will have the billions to buy any of the assets?  Sale of assets is another means of impoverishing the poor and empowering the rich. I can’t understand why what belongs to all should be sold to some 2 percent wealthy Nigerians like what happened in previous administrations. What we expect from the President is to recover all these stolen assets and not to sell more. It does not make any economic sense and no sane person should put that up as a proposition.

Dangote’s advice is ahitophelian, to use the word. It is uncharitable and hurting and a case of a vested interest—like vampire— prowling to suck the blood out of a dying patient. It is like hurling stones at us in this period many of us are undergoing economic and emotional haemorrhage. In an emergency economic crises like what is before us, we are faced with the option of behaving like Naboth who clung to his inheritance upon the pressures piled upon him by Ahab to buy it, or Esau who, for temporary physical need, sold his birth right and double portion of his inheritance, for a pot of porridge. Many Christians are familiar with the story of Naboth the Jezreelite. We are told in the book of 1 Kings Chapter 21 of the battle between Ahab the king of Samaria and a poor man named Naboth over a piece of land. Naboth had a vineyard located very close to the palace of the king. Ahab desired the vineyard sorely, and wanted to buy it off at any cost. But Naboth refused to sell, because he had no explanation to offer his children why he should sell an inheritance from his fathers. “God forbid”, he told Ahab to his face, “that I should sell the inheritance of my fathers”.

That is the choice before us today, whether to behave like Naboth or take the prodigal path of Esau. Dangote and other vested interests should look elsewhere. We should take the path of Naboth by refusing to sell our patrimony to anybody, no matter whatever sup, for the simple reason that it is an inheritance from our fathers, and a legacy we ought to entrust to our children.

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