Einstein’s Dictum and Nigeria’s Malady – Nosa Igiebor

Nigerians exemplify Albert Einstein’s classic definition of insanity. The great German physicist had said that doing the same thing, the same way all the time, and expecting a different outcome is madness. We seem hardwired to continue doing and thinking the same thing, same way forever. The constant failures that our madness produces have not jolted us out of our comfort zone. We are afraid of change. Real change involves creative destruction. And creative destruction entails solving problems and making progress.

The Report
The Report

Weare not problems solvers. We are only very adept at compounding them andcreating new ones. And then we are amazed that nothing changes. Meanwhile, ourabject conditions of living are becoming more abject.

Thisis why, say, for over 40 years, we can’t figure out a solution to the country’spower-supply conundrum. The plan to turn it around through public-privatepartnership has been poorly executed. The poor execution of the rescue plan hasleft us far worse off now than where we were before. Obviously, we suffer froma crippling catalepsy of archaic thoughts and ineffectual actions.

Threeyears ago, we were getting an average of 18 hours of power supply a day in thesmall community in Mende, Maryland, Lagos, where I live. But in the last sixmonths, we’ve been getting under six hours a day, and the estimated billing hasalmost tripled what we used to pay when we had more light. Yet the governmentfalsely claims that power supply has improved.

As economists keep reminding the government, the key to dealing with the unemployment time bomb is creating a conducive environment for small and medium-scale enterprises to thrive. They are the main drivers of rapid economic growth and creation of jobs. But without solving the power-supply problem, the potential of that critical sector of the economy will never be realised. Hence it has become imperative that the power portfolio is unbundled from the amorphous ministry under which it has been subsumed in the last four years.


Nigeria has, unfortunately, been led mostly by people who are incapable of any serious thinking. Not to talk of thinking outside the box.

Nigeriahas, unfortunately, been led mostly by people who are incapable of any seriousthinking. Not to talk of thinking outside the box. This is why Nigeria is theonly major oil producer that imports virtually all its petroleum-products. Itis estimated that the country has spent nearly $100 billion onpetroleum-products imports in the last 10 years. Our average daily import ofpetrol alone is 55 million litres.

Worsestill, the subsidy-payment regime remains firmly entrenched. When you pile thetens of billions of dollars wasted on subsidy on top of the humongous importbill for petroleum products, you begin to get the scale of our madness.Einstein must have had Nigeria in mind when he made his famous postulationabout people who compound problems by repetitive application of solutions thatdon’t and can’t work. And their refusal to try new tricks when the old trickshave failed woefully is a demonstration of their insanity. But not all theinsane roam the streets naked. Many are fully clothed in a deceptive semblanceof normalcy.

Theassurance by the government that the importation of petroleum products will endsoon is dubious. It isn’t backed by any concrete plan to make it happen. It isbased on the expectation that the Dangote Group’s multi-billion dollar refineryand petro-chemical complex in Lagos will begin operating next year. Like itspredecessors, the Buhari administration has failed to deliver on its promise tofix NNPC’s moribund refineries and broken fuel-supply pipeline network. Therefineries have become a study in criminal waste of public funds and thecongenital idiocy that underlines government policies.

Whenthe Olusegun Obasanjo administration, in 2007, sold the controlling shares inthe Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries to a company floated by Dangote Groupand other investors for $750 million, labour groups strongly opposed it. Theyand civil society organisations accused Obasanjo of selling ‘our nationaltreasures’ to his friends. At that time, the refineries were already comatose.In fact, many people had wondered whether Dangote and his business associateswere sane.

Bowingto public pressure and seeking some sort of legitimacy following the flawedelection that brought him to power, President Umaru Musa-Yar’adua terminatedthe deal and returned the investors’ money. Dangote, who had been pressured byObasanjo to help rescue the refineries, was relieved to be free of the burden.As he would later admit, the investment would have been one of the worst he hadever made and could have impacted his companies very badly. The refineries areeven in a more terrible state than they were 12 years ago, losing money atrecord-breaking rates.

Thesheer stupidity of wasting tens of billions of dollars every year on fuelimports, paying subsidy on petrol and sustaining the refineries is beyondirrational. While we continue dissipating huge resources on sustaining badpolicies and programs, we keep borrowing, piling up more debts than we canafford to pay. Meanwhile, vital areas like infrastructural development,education and health care are starved of investments. And the people aregetting poorer and more insecure.

Itis now a globally accepted conventional wisdom that nothing works in Nigeria.Public institutions are mostly financial drainpipes, and public services, wherethey exist, are poorly delivered and inaccessible to millions of people. Forinstance, travelling through the airports is always a nightmarish experience,while our seaports are a disgrace, not fit for an economy that wants todevelop.

Soit isn’t really surprising that the Independent National Electoral Commissionpresided over the worst elections in the last 20 years. After four years ofpreparation and spending hundreds of billions of naira, the elections wereshambolic, manipulated and marred by widespread rigging and violence.

Havingbenefited from the defective elections, President Buhari says with a straightface that, he wants the country to have free and credible polls. Yet for veryludicrous reasons, he refused to sign the amended electoral law that would haveenabled electronic transmission of polling-unit results to a central databaseand helped minimise the doctoring of figures. He and his political enforcerswere working to the answer of how to get him a second term and entrench theirparty in power. And they broke all the rules of engagement in the electoralprocess and spurned the most basic norms of decency in their desperation toachieve their goal.

Atthe same time, Senegal held elections and the whole world applauded theprocess. No reports of violence and deaths; militarisation of the elections;intimidation of voters and deliberate suppression of voting in selected areas;ballot box stuffing and snatching; and falsification of results. As someonesummarised the embarrassing sham the government and INEC inflicted onNigerians, “Buhari may have won his second term but he has lost the country.”

Meaningthat he and his party and their supporters can celebrate all they want, but hispresidency would lack legitimacy in the eyes of most Nigerians who feelbetrayed and abandoned by a president in whom they had invested so much hope.

The political structure the military regimes foistedon Nigeria and run by a class of political buccaneers is not fit for purpose.It can never allow the country to develop. Yet we choose to live with theillusion that we can continue ignoring this inconvenient truth. And then,somehow miraculously, the country will survive in spite of the numerous shacklesimprisoning it in a state of permanent inertia. This is why Einstein’s dictumon insanity perfectly illustrates the Nigerian condition.

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