Libertarianism–Nigerian Unwritten Economic Policy

Two weeks ago appeared two interesting articles, the first from a group, Arewa Youth Assembly asking private sector players to join the 2023 presidential race. This is surprising because the call is coming from a region we say have government affairs as its core business. The youth of the region are dropping the toga of government.

The second article was by David Pilling of Financial Times of London, quoting him, he wrote about Nigeria “…. some libertarian tech entrepreneurs want the government to withdraw and leave the private sector in charge.”

In the article, Late Professor Sam Aluko and I, I had unwittingly called myself the only libertarian in Nigeria and am most pleased to see the number growing. What David Pilling brought to our attention I had written about twenty years ago. I had to go into my archives to retrieve it. Here it is reproduced under today’s heading, Libertarianism Nigeria’s Unwritten Economic Policy.

Libertarianism is the belief –albeit a strong one –that people should be free to think and do what they want to without government or state involvement. However, a libertarian is not an anarchist, he just resents undue government control of the life of the people. Since life is lived on many facets, economic, education, health, political, social, etc. it follows that this school of thought will ramificate in all the various aspects of life and living. The present writing considers libertarianism and the Nigerian economic experience.

Nigerian Economic growth makes for an interesting study. The economy grows at near 8% per annum (remember this was written in very early 2000) despite stagnation in power generation and collective monies being siphoned by politicians. The cities and towns are busting at the seams with we the people going about our businesses.

The current growth is propelled by our unwritten but real economic policy, Libertarianism. This is the highest form of capitalism with the free market moderating and disciplining all players. We will have individuals providing all products, social services and also infrastructure. It reduces influence of government in society. At best government is restricted to very few roles like in defense, administration of law and foreign policy.

This unwritten policy began with the departure of the British. Remember Nigerian Railways of yore, rail development in Nigeria was stopped for road development. While no rail line was added to what the British left, massive road construction has continued. This spawned private haulage companies from articulated trucks to luxury buses. In fact, a Nigerian owns one of the largest haulage fleets in the world.

While politicians and economic advisers are yet to embrace this policy as a way of economic life, we the people have embraced it. The phenomenon of okada as part of our public transport is evidence of this. Further embrace of libertarianism is seen in the packaged water industry. In the fifties and sixties regional water corporations were to pipe potable water to the people. This was mere lip-service. Realizing the impotence of government, individuals treated water, packaged it and delivered to nooks and corners of the nation.

Nollywood is another shining example of libertarianism at work. Government had no role in the growth of Nollywood. It is the result of energy and drive in Nigerians. Par chance government steps into this industry, Nollywood would go the way of our football.

Twenty odd years ago, the citizenry expected government to provide for them. It was free this, free that. Health and housing for all by 2000. Now it’s Millennium Development Goals MDG by 2015 and vision 2020. The good news is that only the media that carry these tales of hallucinations believe them. We the citizenry are moving on and leaving the government behind.

My prayer is that libertarianism becomes the citizenry mantra and government or state continue to grow irrelevant in our lives. Individuals are shoving government aside in their traditional strong hold of education and health. We the masses are avoiding government schools and hospitals like we avoid a plague. Vigilante groups and neighborhood watch are providing better security than the problematic Nigerian Police. We have been deceived for too long that government should control the commanding heights of the economy. All that achieved is the commandeering of collective resources into private pockets by a corrupt and inept elite posing as politicians and bureaucrats.

No nation has prospered by the antithesis of libertarianism which is collectivism. Rather national wealth is built by individuals –the Henry Fords, the Daimlers, Benz, Toyoda of Japan and Honda, Tata Family, Gates and our own Dangote. Not Peugeot of Nigerian-PAN or Volks of Nigerian-VON. Not NNPC or Aladja and Ajaokuta steel. These parastatals will continue to fail because they are conduits siphoning monies away from their stated missions into private vaults. I posit that libertarianism would ultimately solve the cancer of corruption so endemic in public affairs (This will be expatiated on next week).

To bring this trend to fruition, I propose a movement that might morph into a political party with the aim of serving as undertakers to Nigerian government as we know of them today, expected to do everything but doing nothing, running down simple things as our football and our obtaining driver’s licenses. The party would gradually limit government to a few roles like defense against external aggression, foreign affairs, police service not police force. Items such as roads, power can be in a concurrent list of both private and government participation.

Importantly government expenditure would be pegged to taxes on the economic activities of the citizenry. So as the people’s economy goes, so does government expenditure and largesse. If the masses prosper, government prospers. In an economic down turn the government largesse suffers. The party would continually pursue a downward review of tax rates. By this policy, more capital would be left to business to provide all manner of goods and services competitively. In libertarianism lies our economic salvation. If left as it is –an unwritten policy- it would take decades to achieve our vision of being a global giant. If helped along and imbibed culturally and as a political policy, the Asian miracles might yet be reenacted in Nigeria. (Written around 2002/3)

Twenty years forward and how have things changed in the Nigerian polity? Has the Nigerian State changed its spots? Yes, it has, it got darker and better defined, making things worse for everyone including the private sector, hence the call by the tech entrepreneurs and the Arewa Youth Group. Quoting someone the Nigerian government has become the most inefficient spender of a nations common wealth in the world.

On the other hand, what has happened in the non-governmental sectors? NGOs have mushroomed to fill gaps of failed government services. The unthinkable has happened, an individual has built from ground up the biggest single train refinery dwarfing the best efforts of Nigerian government in their heydays. This shows what is possible when we drop the toga of government.


Olugbenga Jaiyesimi


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