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Nigeria: What Sort Of Change?

Father Anselm Adodo, from the Benedictine monastery at Ewu, Edo State, reflects on conversations and observations during his stint as an official election monitor.

Anselm was a key collaborator on ARI’s publication “Modern African Remedies: Herbal Medicine and Community Development in Nigeria”.

What motived thousands of men and women in their 60s, 70s and 80s in the rural communities of Edo State – and many parts of Nigeria – to defy the scorching heat and stress of standing for long hours just to cast a vote? What difference do they expect a vote to make? Why do they think their vote will count this time, having witnessed so much election rigging and manipulation in the past? These were questions I posed to locals as I visited polling stations around Ewu, where I have lived for 30 years. A pregnant woman was groaning in what seemed to be labour pain, and there was a general agreement to let her jump the long queue so that she could cast her vote before being taken to the maternity centre, which is some 20 minutes’ drive away. Scores of old men and women in their 70s and 80s steadfastly refused to go home, despite their exhaustion, and waited till 7pm to ensure that their votes were counted. Was this a revolution?

“We want change”, said a group of about twenty men and women I spoke to in one polling station. “Change from what?” I asked.  “Things are not going well for us and our children,” they replied, “and we want a change!” These people may not have known how to articulate what change is, but they surely know what they want.  As I observed the paradox of these old men, women and youth clinging – every one of them – to their cell phones, that symbol of globalisation and the power of the social media, I reflected on the assumptions of what change means for people in the ‘peripheries’.

By peripheries, I mean the economically disadvantaged people of Nigeria and Africa: farmers, artisans, market women, children deprived of education, and the poor in general. Such groups are both victims and beneficiaries of globalisation. While globalisation has made the world into a small village through technology, it is also a platform for the world’s economic powers to project, if not also impose, neo-liberal capitalism, privatisation and trade liberalisation.

For Nigeria, and Africa, is it possible to have a new economic model that is based on an African worldview and belief systems? Has the time come for the continent to develop its own economic philosophy based on glocalisation rather than globalisation? Glocalisation here means development that starts from the peripheries, a bottom-up economic and business revolution if you like. In order to be global, one must first of all be local, not the other way round. This has been the subject of my research and practice in the local communities of Edo State for many years.

If Africa does not produce what it consumes, poverty and underdevelopment will remain endemic. Nigeria, for example, despite her vast resource of arable land, spends over US$4 billion annually on the importation of rice, and twice that amount importing wheat. By so doing, she is increasing the wealth of other countries while promoting poverty at home. The picture is the same all over Africa. Imagine if half that amount was generated by local farmers, most of whom live in the peripheries? This would be a sure path to sustainable, “bottom-up” economic growth.

I believe that the change Nigeria and Africa need will start from the peripheries. This change, I discovered during many conversations, is part of what the recent Nigerian election is about. Addressing the Ghanaian parliament in July 2009, Barack Obama famously said that Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions. I would put it somewhat differently: Africa needs strong men as well as strong institutions to sustain it. Nigeria now has a ‘strong man’ as president-elect. But can he build sustainable, stronger institutions? Time will tell.