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

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

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

Three years ago, we were getting an average of 18 hours of power supply a day in the small community in Mende, Maryland, Lagos, where I live. But in the last six months, we’ve been getting under six hours a day, and the estimated billing has almost tripled what we used to pay when we had more light. Yet the government falsely 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.

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

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

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

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

Bowing to public pressure and seeking some sort of legitimacy following the flawed election that brought him to power, President Umaru Musa-Yar’adua terminated the deal and returned the investors’ money. Dangote, who had been pressured by Obasanjo 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 had ever made and could have impacted his companies very badly. The refineries are even in a more terrible state than they were 12 years ago, losing money at record-breaking rates.

The sheer stupidity of wasting tens of billions of dollars every year on fuel imports, paying subsidy on petrol and sustaining the refineries is beyond irrational. While we continue dissipating huge resources on sustaining bad policies and programs, we keep borrowing, piling up more debts than we can afford to pay. Meanwhile, vital areas like infrastructural development, education and health care are starved of investments. And the people are getting poorer and more insecure.

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

So it isn’t really surprising that the Independent National Electoral Commission presided over the worst elections in the last 20 years. After four years of preparation and spending hundreds of billions of naira, the elections were shambolic, manipulated and marred by widespread rigging and violence.

Having benefited from the defective elections, President Buhari says with a straight face that, he wants the country to have free and credible polls. Yet for very ludicrous reasons, he refused to sign the amended electoral law that would have enabled electronic transmission of polling-unit results to a central database and helped minimise the doctoring of figures. He and his political enforcers were working to the answer of how to get him a second term and entrench their party in power. And they broke all the rules of engagement in the electoral process and spurned the most basic norms of decency in their desperation to achieve their goal.

At the same time, Senegal held elections and the whole world applauded the process. 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 someone summarised the embarrassing sham the government and INEC inflicted on Nigerians, “Buhari may have won his second term but he has lost the country.”

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

The political structure the military regimes foisted on 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 the illusion that we can continue ignoring this inconvenient truth. And then, somehow miraculously, the country will survive in spite of the numerous shackles imprisoning it in a state of permanent inertia. This is why Einstein’s dictum on insanity perfectly illustrates the Nigerian condition.


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