In this edition of Postcards From Africa, we’ve decided to go back in time and revisit the wise words of some of our past national founders and builders. Sometimes, the answers for the present and future light we seek, may be buried in the shadows of our unexplored past.
I’d like to advocate that Michael Okpara’s philosophy and leadership principles be taught at schools in Nigeria and in fact made compulsory learning for all politicians, especially those of South Eastern origin. To think he was only 42 when he delivered this address! (Warning: It is a long read and yet so insightful, definitely worth every minute).
“As Nigerians contemplate yet another (new) political season, it is remarkable, even if somewhat ironic, that the vision articulated in 1962 by an astute visionary 41 year-old post-independence political leader, Premier Dr. M.I. Okpara, remains presciently relevant today, 53 years later, in today’s Nigeria – a stunning indictment of our national progress, and our stunted and stalled development as a country. Hopefully, our narrative will not stay the same another half century later.” -Nna Emeka
Disclaimer: [The content below was culled from Adanma Okpara’s Facebook Page and shared with her explicit permission]
Address at the Convocation, University of Nigeria, Nsukka by Dr. M.I. Okpara, Premier of Eastern Nigeria December 17th, 1962
Since assuming the Premiership of Eastern Nigeria in December, 1959, Dr Michael Iheonukara Okpara, 42, has devoted his whole attention and energy to economic development of his twelve-million-people territory.
Building on the rocky foundation of political stability laid by his predecessor, Dr the Right Honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe, who is now Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Federation, Dr Okpara has adopted a statesmanlike attitude and religious zeal to what he considers to be the assignment of the present generation of his country —the economic emancipation of the people.
In this speech, delivered at the Convocation at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, on 17th December, 1962, Dr Okpara sets out in a nutshell the underlying principles of his economic policy which, he sincerely believes, could bring about in Nigeria rapid “Progress Without Tears”
PROGRESS WITHOUT TEARS
The clearest single fact which has emerged since our Independence on the first of October, 1960 is the disparity between our standard of living and that of the more advanced nations. We are all aware of the fact that considerable ground has yet to be covered in the social services, the public utilities and production. Nevertheless the basic infrastructure has been laid. Even so are still a young and developing country. It has been reckoned that a per capita income of about £170 per annum is the dividing line between the developing nations and the advanced ones. Per capita income in Nigeria on an optimistic estimate is about £30 per annum.
When we remember that in America and Canada it is more than twenty times as high Nigeria we can see how far removed our way of life must be from theirs. An important point to remember is that our per capita income is about one-sixth of the dividing line per capita income of £170 er year. In the pre-independence period the importance of this fact was overshadowed by the great exigencies of the day: the winning of the national independence with honour and in peace and unity. This has been the experience of other emergent nations.
The fight for political autonomy has a way of commanding total attention from nation builders, but as soon as this fight is over, these nationalists begin, if they are capable of making necessary mental, reorientation, to think about the economic welfare of the citizens. This re-orientation, then, is the first major re-thinking that must take place. It is not, however an easy change to make, for modes of thought dictated by decades of colonial tutelage are difficult to modify overnight.
But there is another reason why it is difficult to make the change: political controversy is far more exciting than the complicated and painful problems of economic development. Up till today, there is not one national daily or weekly devoted to the problems of economic change. The stuff of politics is their sole daily material and fills every column.
A new mental attitude is vital to the rapid growth of the nation and must be stimulated by all people in a position to give leadership. I recall that while I was in India last year, I found out to my astonishment that the average citizen in the street knew basic contents of the Indian five-year development and his own contribution to it. Many of them would tell you the number of engineers that would be produced and the increase in production in Industry and Agriculture. The contrast between this mental attitude and that of our own people is staggering.
Granted then that this change is possible and is indeed made, we are confronted with the primary question of our generation: How can we pull level with more advanced nations in the shortest possible time while still retaining our freedom and happiness.
It is my intention to state as concisely as I can what I consider to be the additional effort over and above that envisaged in the Development Plan which this exercise must entail. There can be no doubt that the Six-Year Development Plan is a major step in the right direction. It is indeed a source of satisfaction to all who took part in formulating it. Its priorities are unexceptionable —Agriculture, Industrialization and Technical Training.
The sections on the two major basic industries of the plan period– The Niger Dam and Iron and Steel Industries–are very satisfactory. Its aim to achieve a capital formation of 15 per cent. of Gross Domestic Product now estimated at £ 1,183.3 million would, if the calculations are correct and hopes realised lead to a growth rate of 4 per cent. for the economy.
Of course we all know that about 50 per cent of the funds required must come from outside Nigeria. Without this most essential help, the rate of growth envisaged cannot possibly be generated. This constitutes the first major danger to the plan. India found out that outside assistance was not always forthcoming in the volume required, nor were recent word trade conditions favourable for earning much needed foreign currency so necessary for planned development.
It is unlikely that Nigeria’s experience would be different. Under such circumstances we would then have to fend for ourselves as best as we could, to the extent that outside assistance falls short of expectations.
Short of curtailing the size of the plan and therefore failing in achieving the all important growth rate, we must save as a matter of life and death. An attitude of laissez-faire will no longer do . If the anticipated foreign capital does not materialize then compulsory savings for all Nigerians must be the order of the day.
The next major problem is that of apathy to Agriculture. It is not enough to specify the priorities in the plan, they must be also adhered to. More than that, the average citizen must show a new interest in this vital sector of the economy.
Modern Agriculture development is the foundation on which industrialization can be based. It provides raw materials for industry; it is a good consumer of industrial goods like fertilizer and insecticides and power; it provides the food for the growing population; and it also earns, through export crops, the foreign currency so essential to sustained development.
These are self-evident facts, but totally ignored by many citizens especially the elite. How different the picture would be if every educated man had at least five-are modern farm in the village to serve as a demonstration to the villagers.
There are many spectacular things we can do in this country that would not add to our progress, but rapid economic advance would be impossible if this major change did not take place. Our aim therefore must be that every square inch of land in Nigeria must be utilized for some productive purpose.
It is perhaps in the field of Industrialization that the greatest vagueness enshrouds all national effort. Here I must say that the implication of the European Common Market are far reaching. Now that we have unanimously and rightly refused to be associate-members, we must grapple with the implications without further delay.
For instance, I have never understood why Nigeria should export 41,947 tons of raw cotton in 1961 valued at £9.5 million while importing 177, 684, 000 square yards of textiles valued at £19 million. Why should we continue to import such heavy commodities as cement when limestone abounds in this country?
The only adequate answer to the European Common Market with the obnoxious tariff walls is our manufacturing most of what we import from them. With the best will in the world, this will take time. But a start must be made now by deliberately concentrating on those goods which can be easily manufactured here thereby saving foreign exchange.
I have already mentioned two, but I believe that it is possible to concentrate during this period of the plan on three specific fields covering food, clothing, and shelter. The industries associated with food are salt, sugar, beer, liquors, fisheries and fishing oil seed processing, milk production, etc. The aim must be to all intents and practical purposes self sufficiency in food. In clothing we must aim during the plan period at being self-sufficient in all textiles and footwear.
In housing we must aim at being completely self-sufficient in building materials such as cement, aluminum sheets, corrugated iron sheets, furniture, linen, mattresses, sanitary ware, crockery and other household goods like utensils. Unless these minimum targets are set industrialization will lack the direction that it so badly needs today. Nor will there any urgency on the part of private enterprise to establish factories here if it can equally import goods into Nigeria from the factories of Common Market, unless there is a danger to an established market or there is the possibility of quick and very attractive returns on investment.
Of course in trying to mitigate the undesirable effects of the European Common Market, it is customary to recommend a search for new markets. This is sound, but old markets are yet to be completely explored and costly and circuitous channels of trade eliminated. These old markets must therefore not be forgotten.
Thus the exploration of new and old markets should add to new sources of income. Direct negotiations with the Common Market, which should incidentally proceed now, must never blind us to the only adequate long-term answer that Africa can muster— an African Common Market.
I have heard it said that such an arrangement will be ineffective since Africa produces primary commodities with little or no manufactured goods. But a start is being made already with cement, textiles, beer, ceramics, asbestos sheets, footwear, petroleum products, etc., in many parts of Africa. And others are assembling cars, trucks and bicycles.
There is therefore a basis for a market, not, of course, as developed as the market between Europe and Africa since the produce of one were complementary to the products of the other. In another sense, however, it will be possible for the primary producers of Africa to insist on better prices for their produce.
But perhaps the greatest practical value, apart from the psychological one of African Union, is that Africa’s growing industries will have, backing their output, a vast market of about 250,000, 000 people. This will no doubt be a great stimulus to industrial development and Nigeria should now address herself to the realization of this objective.
In all discussions on Rapid Economic Advance one always comes up against the bottleneck of the lack of high level manpower. My views on the role of Universities in the next ten years are conditioned by the fact that the problems facing us can in my belief be most rapidly solved by using the tools of modern science. Indeed, modern science is the main magic of Western civilisation.
If Nigeria were to concentrate on this specific field for a decade, broadening out again later, I believe that the Nation would achieve a major break through in terms of prosperity. I cannot say honestly that the Nigerian Universities are doing anything of the kind. It seems obvious to me that where funds are limited as they are in Nigeria, they must be reserved for the most essential sectors of the economy.
In Western Europe and North America they can of course afford to cover the whole gamut of human learning, but I am convinced in my own mind that in this country such a policy would have to await future prosperity. I am aware that many people usually speak about balanced growth they wish to attack the idea of concentrating largely on science to solve the problem of under-development.
But it is precisely to achieve balanced growth eventually that the new emphasis is necessary. At the moment our educational system in this country pay little or no heed to scientific training. Indeed many people will agree that if the number of lawyers trained by this country already were scientists and technologists, we would have made a more rapid progress. No one is recommending of course that all arts faculties should be closed. Many of these arts graduates would be required in the educational field and administration.
The point that must be emphasized is that a deliberate policy of over emphasizing science is necessary in all our Universities. The longer such a policy is delayed, the later will be the dawn of economic starvation. It amounts to this: that the next one and the half decades in Nigeria must be regarded as a period of economic emergency by the Governments, the citizens, the Universities and all our friends abroad.
Some countries eager to liberate themselves from poverty as quickly as possible have selected the quick sure way of totalitarianism or total war, when enormous sacrifices are taken for granted and forced savings made by all; when all land is commandeered by the state for increased production and when political controversy is reduced to a minimum by the system of a one-party state or coalition Government, and when Universities and industries concentrate on science and technology.
It is said by some experts that under such a system investment can rise up to 30 per cent/ per annum of gross national product. This is the great temptation that is sweeping all over Africa today. Is this the short cut to success? Its inherent danger is in the ease with which people under such a system, without adequate safeguards and checks, easily lose their freedom. If this danger can be overcome then there is every reason to mobilize as in total war all resources of the nation in general assault on poverty.
How can this delicate operation be done?
First, there should be a review of the constitution which should make provision for a united front Government in which all shades of political opinion will be represented, for a period of not more than fifteen years. I use the figure fifteen because I am assuming, as we all did in the development plan, that self-sustaining growth will be achieved after the third or fourth plans.
After this period the nation should then return to the luxury of partisan politics. Of course, adequate distribution of powers between the Legislature and the Executive and the Judiciary is an additional safeguard. Inherent in this crash programme is that all land must be mobilized immediately for modern agriculture, crops diversified, and modern implements, machines and fertilizers introduced. All universities must fall into line with this programme and concentrate on the basic essentials for rapid growth.
The plan also implies that Nigeria will be manufacturing practically all her needs from aeroplanes to pins by end of fifteen years, we all know the weaknesses of an ordinary coalition Government. In point of fact I have always opposed the suggestion in the past as it was only designed to lessen political bickering and nothing else.
But a United-Front Government as a tool for rapid economic growth such as I have outlined is another matter and should be very closely studied by all. It is quite different from the controversial one-party Government.
The advantage of this approach is that we shall not only continue to develop within a framework of democratic government, but we shall develop rapidly within such a system. Such constitution could have written into it safeguards against totalitarianism, thus ensuring the complete return at the end of the emergency of our beloved partisan politics!
No one who has studied the rate of growth of the totalitarian countries can fail to be impressed by their totalitarian performance, but this is usually achieved at the cost of human suffering and the loss of a good deal of happiness, I have equally had a very close look at India.
This is one shining example where a deliberate effort is being made, as we are making, to develop within a framework of democratic government. Herein lies the great importance of the Indian Experiment. But such development always relies on massive external aid. Many people in Nigeria wonder whether we shall be so lucky in attracting foreign aid in such massive amounts.
They may be right, since the dangers posed by communism next door to India do not exist here, and to that extent the West does not feel the urgency of the Nigerian problem. But a temporary modification of the Indian experiment by us is possible and can be achieved, provided we are all agreed and determined to the cut the chains that bind Africa to poverty. The formula that I recommend may be summarized under six heads:
(a) Mass assault on poverty through greatly increased agricultural production and maximum use of land.
(b) Rapid Industrialization with fixed targets.
(c) Raising the battle cry for, and adequate emphasis on, science in all Nigerian Universities
(d) The conscious projection of an African Common Market and other remedies to the ills of the European Common Market
(e) The establishment of a United Front Government for a period of fifteen years after appropriate Constitutional Review.
(f) The maintenance of the Nation’s stability.
It is assumed that we shall, of course, fully use the levers of the Central Bank and the National Economic Council to achieve the first, second, third and fourth objectives.
Perhaps the most controversial suggestion is that of a United-Front Government. This proposal is likely to be of the greatest interest to politicians who would be spared the bitterness of partisan political conflict for at least fifteen years. But I must remind them that this proposal must go along with massive effort in Agriculture, industrialization, science, the realization of an African Common Market and the maintenance of the nation’s security. Indeed the idea of a United-Front Government is the one proposal that is incapable of standing alone.
The effort required to put the whole programme across will be great, but its aim will be nothing other than an extension of the lofty aims of development plan— ” sacrifices now…….for later prosperity”. It is my earnest hope that the implication of these suggestions will be fully considered by expert committees of the National Economic Council particularly on Agricultural Development, on Industrialization, on Fiscal and Monetary problems, on the contribution of Universities and the remedies to the ills of the European Common Market .
Implicit in all my suggestions, of course, is the maintenance of the nation’s security and stability. Economic development is impossible without stability; no pains should therefore be spared in order to guard the nation’s name and stability jealously. I do not wish to dwell at length on our security.
I merely wish to point to the fact that the recent experiences of India show clearly the need for adequate internal security forces to back a policy of non-alignment. In order not to cripple our economy with too large a security force we might take a leaf from Israel where the armed forces are not only for defence but also for production. Indeed, our battalions here are already famous for launching bailey bridges for the villagers. This idea could be extended in suitable cases to productive farming such as in some kibutsm.
I have said so many controversial things today that I ought to be winding up in order not to forfeit the seasonal Christmas greetings of so many of my friends. But I offer no apologies for these views, which I honestly hold as the surest and quickest way to rapid Economic Prosperity in Africa without Tears. Ours is a democracy. I therefore do not expect everyone to agree with me that Agriculture is the key to our survival, but I should love any contrary argument to be carefully stated.
My views on Industrialization and fixed targets might not commend themselves to to all, but I should love to see any alternative argument. I do not expect Universities to agree on the priorities of science in a developing country. No doubt they would come up with beautiful arguments why they should covers most fields of learning now, but they do not feel the urgency of the problem of immediate economic advance.
As they are likely to have the last word, a partial solution is for the Governments to restrict scholarships to Science, Agriculture, Engineering, Medicine, Veterinary Science and Education. I do not expect, either, that the idea of regarding the next fifteen years as a period of economic emergency will be popular, since this will involve yet, more sacrifices.
No doubt there will be warning voices and fears for our democratic way of life. Let me assure people that only rapid economic advance will safeguard democracy in this country. And in any case all such fears will be taken care of by the constitutional review which will spell-out all the checks and balances. I have no doubt in my mind, however, that in the absence of massive external aid, this is the only acceptable alternative to slow crawling growth.
But its implementation will require the highest forms of statesmanship and patriotism if the people are not to gamble away their freedom as in some one-party states. In a nutshell we must all declare war on poverty and prosecute this war as in an emergency. But in all the campaigns of such a war we must remember that the purpose of the exercise is welfare and happiness of all citizens of Nigeria.
But a midwife can, through guidance, make a birth less painful than usual. As the nation’s midwives, the leaders of the country, whether in Government, industry or the Universities, must, deliver the baby safely and on time, so that the citizens’ vigil may end with a happy reward.
Love, Light & Truth!
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[Images Source: Ebony Magazine (Historic Images)]