By Martin Ike-Muonso
The concept of ‘sharing’ is very well known to most Nigerians. Recall the appeal by the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan when she burst into tears with the words, “this blood you are shedding”. Out of mischief, Nigerians corrupted those outbursts as “this blood you are sharing”. The recolouring of the word “shedding” as “sharing” was to draw attention to the mindless misappropriation and sharing of our national resources under that administration. With that background, it is not difficult to appreciate the etymology of the word which is traceable to the inexplicable frittering away of Nigeria’s crude oil largesse over Nigeria’s history. Gowon was quoted to have summarized Nigeria’s problems in the early 70s as primarily about how to spend the country’s wealth. True to his words, he ended up ‘sharing’ much of the oil boom of that time at the expense of the creation of the infrastructure and systems that could deliver future prosperity. Shortly after that, Nigeria paid dearly for that error when the first oil shock struck.
Events that followed indicate that the shock did not present adequate lessons for learning. And to demonstrate that it was undoubtedly the case, the politicians of the 1983 era under President Alhaji Shehu Shagari formally laid the foundations for mindless, blind sharing of Nigeria’s collective heritage. Satisfied by the enormous amounts they were getting through the monthly Abuja ‘sharing’ cycles, many State governments perhaps aside Lagos and a few others stopped considering economic independence and now solely concentrated what Abuja can share to them. Consequent on that was the shirking of the duty of developing the resources that would complement private sector wealth creation efforts. On its back grew what was to be the elevated level of individual ‘sharing’ capacity. That is the ability of few individuals to successfully divert commonly owned resources of government into their own pockets in the full glare of the entire country.
The motivation for sharing is pretty well known and are varied. The most obvious is to acquire illicit wealth. The latter has become a god worshipped in Nigeria. In traditional circles, those with wealth, regardless of the sources of those riches receive positions of importance and recognition. It is very much the same in religious circles where church and mosque leaders give such people unique chairs in front rows. Another motivation for ‘sharing’ is that it permits the avoidance of the rigour and challenges of hard work naturally demanded of people in public offices. For instance, by illegitimately apportioning, the resources meant to produce public good and concealing the information production can hardly occur. Sharing also strengthens a network of high-society thieves who parcel out national assets among themselves. Unfortunately, since these people quickly get celebrated by both ecclesiastical and traditional authorities, they also promptly become some role models for the young. On a somewhat related note, Abuja revenue ‘sharing’ equally tends to blindfold many State and local government leaders and make them incapable of thinking outside of the box and be accountable. At the last count, about 28 state governments in Nigeria cannot take care of themselves. They depend on the share of oil revenue from Abuja.
We can go on endlessly on this as Nigeria’s history is replete with heartrending stories of commonly owned resources that were illicitly shared by politicians and people in the corridors of power. There is scarcely any government regime that has no distressing case of ‘sharing’. In the most recent past, the Nigerian media was awash with how the former security adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan ‘generously’ shared the monies meant for the acquisition of arms and ammunition earmarked for combating Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. Almost, all the influential politicians in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria had a portion of that loot. It was equally evident how that diversion of resources led to the sacking of many towns and villages by the Boko Haram insurrectionaries. That particular episode of sharing depleted the capacity of the Nigerian military so much that it failed to stand-up adequately against Boko Haram. Another example of how ‘sharing’ keeps us retarded was the sixteen billion dollar electricity fund that was also supposedly ‘sprayed’ away under the President Olusegun Obasanjo regime. One does not need to do any calculation to appreciate what sixteen billion dollars would have accomplished in improved living standards for the Nigerian people. In effect, it is that same principle of ‘sharing’ that has kept us still dependent on oil resources after almost 40 years of its exploitation. It is simple. It is easier to share already produced value than to innovate new ones into existence. To produce successfully requires deferred gratification. It challenges the one desirous of creating to sacrifice today’s consumption for tomorrow. Sharing does not permit this kind of thinking. Those who believe in sharing want their gratification today.
Unfortunately, the stupendous wealth of these sharers and endorsements that they get make it appear as if that is the right way to go. That fact, of poignant acceptance, indirectly redefines the value standards of our society. Young people see these thieves as role models. They consider them as men who worked hard, while the real hard working people are considered lazy. Regrettably even the efforts of those who worked hard get drowned by the sheer size of wealth flaunted by these men who brazenly annexe and share our common inheritance as they wish. It is no secret that most people aspiring to political offices in Nigeria today are merely looking for such loot sharing opportunities. That is why the citizens of Nigeria rarely feel the impacts of our government. Individual motivations mismatch with public expectations. Thus, while the citizens expect the delivery of quality public goods, the aspiring politicians see the office as a platform for less work and wealth to share.
If we look at sharing as the avoidance of the rigour required to produce things of value, then it shares some commonalities with the ‘quota’ system or ‘quota’ mentality. For example, in ‘sharing’, the resources to deliver results are either consumed or utilized in the production of items of unacceptable quality. In the quota system, opportunities are unjustifiably expected to be democratized regardless of the underlying requirements that ought to be met to access the them. The results are always the same as what is obtainable through ‘sharing’. Consider the UME quota system. Candidates are ideally expected to meet an average threshold of 200 marks. However, because different ethnic groups in Nigeria want to have an equal distribution of candidates that gain admission to government-owned universities, they adopt the quota system. In the recent past, we have seen how candidates in the southern parts of Nigeria who scored up to 280 aggregates could not secure admissions in government-owned universities while those from the northern parts of Nigeria that scored about 120 aggregates got admission.
Two nefarious consequences play up here. The first is that many of those who qualified for admission were denied it. Merits were ingloriously sacrificed to accommodate mediocrity. Progressive people pursue and encourage high performance at whatever cost because there lies the future prosperity of the country. Pathetically, many of those who failed but were admitted are more likely to perform poorly in higher school and even in the workplace when they graduate. These people are more likely to spread the message of mediocrity because it is the system that produced them. The quota system just like ‘sharing’ is in effect one of the ways by which we deliberately sow the seeds of our future destruction.
On a final note, we must take decisive steps to stop the menace of sharing. A sharing mentality is the biggest killer of patriotism. It is a significant sign of disdain for national survival and its prosperity. Those who have sworn to oppose the success of our country should be dealt with as they so deserve. Unfortunately, we have consistently shown uncanny weakness to do so. The nation of China, for example, will not spare such people. It is that same way that the laws and the implementation of the laws of many progressive countries will not save them. So when should we stop the celebration and endorsement of these enemies of progress who have kept our country stagnant? When will our legislature be more transparent on its fiscal programmes and prove to Nigerians that they are not vanguards of ‘sharing’? History shall tell.
Professor Ike-Muonso is the Country Director of Baywood Foundation as well as the Chief Transformation Officer of GTI Capital Group