The New Gong Magazine

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By Chuks Isiugo

Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, is the quintessential apartheid city! It is the
biggest achievement of the country's ruling elite and the biggest illustration of
its folly. Eager to recreate the look of their favorite cities in Europe and
America, they decided to build something of their own to mimic their masters.
So they built Abuja, the apartheid city, from where the poor will be banished
and the thieving oppressor won't be tormented by the sight of of the effect he
wrought  - the hordes of the hungry thronging after their sleek cars, or
shanties standing next to their mansions and detracting from their concrete
beauty. That was the mistake of Lagos that won't be repeated in Abuja.

A view of Maitama, a favorite perch of Abuja's rich
that ring the city, do their bit and troop out at dusk.  As they leave every So in
Abuja, workers pour in every morning from the various satellite towns
evening, the wide, tree-lined streets of the central district look even more
empty, lined by huge, silent buildings. It is estimated by an official, who seems
to know, that more than 60 percent of the buildings in the city are vacant. The
workers who take leave of the beautiful city at the end of everyday, make
their way towards Mararaba, Nyanya, Keffi, Kubwa, Zuba, Suleja, Mpape, in
crowded, rickety buses, taxis, motorbikes, covered in a cloud of exhaust
fumes, all potential candidates for the daily carnage of accidents on the city

Where the minority government in apartheid South Africa took the trouble to
build relatively decent houses in the satellite towns, with covered drains,
regular power supply and reliable transportation (often trains) to the cities
where they worked, the Nigerian rulers have gone a step further. They've
saved the money that should've gone into all that and put it into the cost of
governance. That's money spent maintaining officials, their advisers, special
assistants, assistants to special assistants, assistants to advisers, their
secretaries, office assistants, and providing all these officials with officials
cars, official housing, foreign travel  and other privileges of office. The result
is that currently, 75 percent of the national budget (more than 80 percent of
which comes from crude oil exports) is spent on maintaining the government
and bureaucracy.
This has been the steady trend of these past several years of civilian-guided
plunder of national resources.

Even where money is voted for capital projects, such as roads, or even
investments in health, education and other basic social services, the
bureaucracy has in recent years found a way to subvert them. Such projects
are simply not implemented, and monies voted for them are simply shared
among officials in the concerned ministries, agencies or departments. Or
where it can't be shared, the money is returned to the treasury, or rather a
show is made of returning the funds to the treasury, from where it is put back
in the pipeline for the next budget process, until it's flow is diverted to irrigate
private pockets, estates and libidos. Awash with cash, government officials
have created Abuja's artificial economy, where prices have no bearing to the
legitimate income of the participants in that market, but is propelled by its
abundance in the pocket of government officials (their wives or concubines)
who have lost their heads at the sheer amount of money within their reach.

So while Abuja's streets are among the cleanest, widest and most beautiful in
the world,  while its hotels and nightclubs are brimming with revelers and
prostitutes, there's no decent road connecting the city to any other part of
Nigeria. Any visitor to Abuja will no doubt be impressed by the eight-lane
highway running from the airport into the city. But it will take only a few
kilometers drive beyond the airport on the way out, to realize that the main
road linking the administrative capital to the country's entire south, including
the economic capital of Lagos, is a snaky  two-lane highway, dotted  liberally
with craters and potholes, bumps of warped tarmac and sandy portions where
the tar was washed away by rain. Indeed there's no road built to link Nigeria's
economic capital with its political capital. But why should the ruling elite care,
when the very road that evacuates their massive imports of luxury goods from
the ports of Lagos have failed completely in the past decade and have been
abandoned in perverse neglect?

Franz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth that every generation must,
out of relative obscurity, realize its mission, fulfill it or betray it. The Nigerian
ruling elite, out of relative clarity, chose obscurantism, enthroned greed as a
guiding principle and betrayed its mission to advance the liberation of the
African continent from a 500-year-old grip of invaders and plunderers.  While
the Afrikaners in South Africa, having seized political power and the
commanding heights of the economy felt a dire need to justify it ,and invented
apartheid, the ruling elite in Nigeria doesn't feel obliged to to think, except
when applying cunning to thievery. They just show power,  and are keen to
make it brutal to make the point.

In Nigeria, the ruling elite, bereft of any ideas, has been content to play the
role of warrant chiefs, doing the bidding of their masters in London and
Washington, hoping it would be enough to give them free rein to ride
roughshod over their people. While Nigeria was under colonial rule, the
British built  a railway and road network designed to aid the colonial
enterprise. Two rail lines, one running from the northeast to the southeast,
and another running from the northwest to the southeast, ensured that all
goods meant for export got to their intended destination. Similarly, goods
imported by the colonists used these  same transport arteries to reach their
intended markets. However, under self-rule, little or no improvements have
been made more than 50 years on.

What's more, a succession of military rulers starting from the military regime
of Ibrahim Babangida in 1985, sabotaged the country's skeletal rail system in
order to create road haulage contracts for friends and cronies. Sheer
creativity, that is! Within a few years, all the goods and passengers that
previously relied on the railways, now had to be transported by the roads.
Trunk roads built around the country in the first oil boom years of the 1970s,
rapidly failed, as everything including fuel, goods arriving the ports, farm
produce moving from the countryside into the cities, now had to be hauled by
road. At the same time the regimes in  power didn't care about investing in
either maintaining the very roads now carrying the burden of the country's
transportation or about building news ones.

The same fate befell the countries refineries. Four refineries with a capacity
to process 445,000 barrels of crude oil daily had been completed during the
first rush of oil money in the '70s and '80s. For many years they provided
enough fuel for domestic use until the mid-80s under Babangida, when
balance of payment difficulties (essentially importing more than you had
foreign currency to pay for) resulted in the enforced devaluation of the naira
under World Bank and International Monetary Fund economic prescriptions,
essentially designed to retard Africa's development and reduce value of its
people's labor value. Of course, being the top warrant chief of the time,
Babangida heartily fed the nation the ugly, ineffective medicine. Then began
the logic of petroleum subsidy, whereby fuel prices were raised periodically
either to bring them in line with international prices or to discourage
smuggling to neighboring countries where the prices were higher. By the time
Sani Abacha took over  the plundering contraption called government in
Nigeria, in the late '90s, all refineries in the country had stopped working,
interminable amounts were being spent fixing the refineries without success,
while fuel was being imported from refineries owned by top officials of the
same government, including Abacha himself and his national security adviser,
Ismaila Gwarzo, from neighboring West African countries including Sierra

What was true for the railways, roads and refineries, was also true for power
supply. The country's last power stations were built in the early '80s. No new
additions were made and the people lost hope when they saw that the
government itself now depended on generators to run. Then everybody went
for generators, thanks to Chinese manufacturers who built cheaper
alternatives that became available to a wider number of people. Now the
country is not only the greatest importer of power generators worldwide, but
also own the highest number per capita, spurning its riches of natural gas,
coal, biomass, wind and solar powering the rest of the world.

Unfazed by its monumental failings, the ruling elite, like an unrepentant
prodigal, is ever seeking new ways to create the money to feed its rapacious
greed, usually with the advice of their masters in London and Washington.
The latest top warrant chief, Goodluck Jonathan, is now touting the failures of
several administrations, including his own, as a basis to increase fuel prices.
Having spent hundreds of billions every year to pay the difference between
the international price of crude oil and the local cost of fuel, the government
now wants to stop the payment in order to use the difference to build the
country's infrastructure, officials say.

No mention is made of any plan to cut the bloated bureaucracy and
government, with legislators that earn the highest pay among their peers in
the world. There is no talk of rebuilding the refineries to ensure domestic
processing of fuel and tackling the cartel the government admitted was
controlling fuel importation and taking most of the fees paid as subsidy. There
is no plan to rebuild the railways, to shift the burden of transportation from the
roads and guarantee cheaper movement of goods and people, before
thinking of increasing fuel prices. Even the government's plan to revive the
power sector is now dependent on foreign investors, as if foreign investors
built the functioning power infrastructure of the rest of the world. Roads and
railways are now to be built through public-private partnerships, which means
that the contract will be sold to companies in which they have interests. The
only thing they won't seed the private sector and foreign investors are the
armed forces and the police. They need armed protection to maintain their
plunder. That's the game plan of the apartheid regime in Abuja.

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