Well, I wrote a book about this and I have written on the same subject matter on this page. But recent events make me revisit the matter. I believe the understanding of the environment is germane to our progress as a people and I have authorities to quote to that effect.
Recently, torrential rains led to the flooding of Victoria Island and the Lekki Corridor in Lagos. A few friends immediately referred to the phenomenon of Global Warming and blamed those who side with Donald Trump, the eccentric leader of the ‘enlightened’ world. Mine was to do a double take and say whereas Global Warming is plausible, in our instance, we have some basics to deal with before engaging with Global Warming. You see, Nigerians love to ‘belong’. We like to feel like we’ve arrived even when we haven’t likely started the journey. I decided not to allow my friends get away with that excuse of global warming because it is the same excuse that our leaders quote when they talk of their ‘right to privacy’, or their rights to several luxuries just because the president of the USA or Japan enjoys the same luxury. We haven’t started, simple. I also recall that a lady called me from Kano one day and was very aggressive in her tone while arguing that Global Warming is the issue with Kano. I told her the problem is not global warming but failure to manage the environment. I recall that in the 80s, many parts of the north saw very little rain. We experienced drought at some point and that led to hunger in the land. We just don’t have to follow every trend set by the western world. Our problem is basic; very basic.
In my book and elsewhere I identified the need to engage our young population in some sort of light work and thereby put money in their pockets. I observed that a few decades back secondary school leavers used to immediately add to the GDP with the jobs they found but today we ask people to get BSc, MSc and PhD before seeking jobs. Many parents who see themselves as well-to-do, perhaps with opportunities to work in government, steal money and do deals to send their children abroad for all these degrees before the children start to look for work. This is suboptimal. In the foreign countries that we look up to, secondary school certificate is the standard, still. In the UK and the USA that is all you need. People are not put under pressure to attend ‘higher institutions’. The focus is on productivity. In the book titled “This Present Darkness”, Late Stephen Ellis chronicled how in 1951, the standard for seeking employment in Nigeria was primary school level. I’m not saying we can or should go back to that era, but I maintain that we are onto a very wrong model with these acquisitions of long degrees. We haven’t arrived, but are behaving like we have.
My focus is on the environment today, and its centrality to our progress. I believe that the environment is the only sector with the capacity to absorb a lot of our unskilled youth labour. And that there is much work for us to do there. As Lekki and Victoria Island, perhaps Nigeria’s most expensive Real Estate, went under water, so did many shanties across Nigeria, including in and around Abuja. Rather than rush towards the very unsolvable and arcanely psychedelic issue of Global Warming, I recalled the definition of Economic Development by Walter Rodney. In fact, we are talking of development. What is it that makes a people ‘developed’ and others underdeveloped? What does it boil down to in the end? And how can we measure if we are on course? It will not be by the number of luxury cars that a people shall buy from abroad, or the smooth English Language with British and American Assets that their children shall acquire. Walter Rodney says it shall be by how much they are able to understand, control and tame their environment. Hear him in the book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa – p7):
“A people will be said to be developing economically, when they increase jointly, their capacity for dealing with the environment. This capacity, will be dependent on how much they understand the laws of nature (science), on how they are able to develop for dealing with the environment (technology), and on how work is distributed”.
One begins to think Africans actually underdeveloped themselves. And not only that; that we are still doing so very actively in the year 2017 and beyond. We don’t even know what we are doing wrong. We are not developing economically and otherwise because we cannot get hold of our environment and have not developed tools to tame that same environment.
Now let us take our minds out of the physical environment for a minute. The same definition applies to our political, economic and social environments. How much of innovation is going on in those environments? How many tools have we created for ourselves to solve our own problems beyond buying expensive things from abroad. We are exporting yams and making Nigerians suffer even higher food inflation, while we are still bingeing on foreign-made SUVs, such as the one bought by that recently-suspended NHIS executive. This is a society out of control. People do things with impunity, including land-grabbing and indiscriminate, unplanned building. We may blame the inhabitants of Nigeria’s many slums for not understanding how to do things properly, but those who live in urban areas are even worse. The answer to the flooding of the Island, in the eyes of the super-rich and their government collaborators in Lagos, is to build a billionaire-city where everything is priced in dollars. We just trip. People here forget the children of whom they are once they get into unmerited money.
And so Rodney as far back as 1972 described economic and social progress for a people by how much they can understand their every environment and get prepared for the unforeseen. This will depend on how much they are able to document, how many tests they have performed, how many more experiments they are ready to do, and how they act on their observations and experiments by setting out to think out and produce tools that will protect them from extinction. In Africa, especially here in Nigeria, in spite of all the degrees we parade we are so far behind it’s as if we never showed up. This is a country where people still kill people for money rituals! How old, dirty rituals can manufacture the white man’s money I don’t understand. I am angry; indeed livid!
I am unable to delve very deeply into Rodney’s deeply-thought-out definition, especially the aspect about ‘how work is distributed’ in a country. Suffice to say that we should start worrying about how work is distributed in an Age where humans are getting less and less relevant in the work place. For how long will fraudulent politicians keep employing idle hands and ghost workers into the civil service?
And so I will look at the other quote here. It says “Any person, institution or nation, whose rate of change is less than or equal to the rate of change in their environment, is becoming a dinosaur”. I have quoted this several times and it continues to be apposite. Not only are those who have not studied the areas they built flooded houses tending towards dinosaur-ship, so seems our ship of state. Mind you, learning at the same pace as the environment changes doesn’t help either. You must be ahead of the curve to be safe! For now, we are not safe.