In a rentier economy dominated by patron politicians feeding off the proceeds of crude oil, Aliko Dangote stands apart as one who is, at least, making his money from actually producing things. A non politician, an industrious businessman making things happen in a difficult environment, a patriotic Africanist determined to do business only in Africa, employing thousands of Africans in the process. That is, until you lift the lid and see the ruse.
Ask yourself: what does the public know about Dangote’s tax records; what do we know about the process by which he has achieved unquestionable monopoly in the sectors his business is operating? What do we know about his very close relationships with past governments? And what will we see if we open up his file on corporate social responsibility? These questions are anathema in the Nigerian public space, which is so often characterised by vertical group-think. This is the ultimate tragedy: the criminalisation of critical thinking. It is not enough that the Nigerian is deprived of basic necessities and amenities. He is also under intense pressure to suspend his reason or risk social sanction. The philistines fronting for Nigerian oligarchs- and there are many of them on social media- will deride the critical thinker as a rabble rouser, as one who is not even fit to lace the shoes of a “successful” industrialist like Dangote, or as one who has not done something to build a classroom in his village. Such is the logic of their philistinic interventions.
But let’s not make this just about Dangote, lest we miss the bigger lesson his latest intervention provides us. For the real message is that Nigeria as we know it exists primarily to satisfy the purposes of the small elite controlling it. They, and their international collaborators. This is why the democratic experiment has turned out to be a joke, a sideshow of sorts. Nigeria is one of the biggest examples of state capture.
For those new to the term, state capture is a phenomenon by which big corporations and powerful interests deploy their resources to manipulate or change the “rules of the game”s. Big corporations, for example, purchase laws by bribing public officials with large sums of money. They sponsor their chosen candidates into strategic elective posts, including legislative ones. And they ensure those “elected” officials remain figureheads to achieve their ends. So while the masses of the people exercise themselves in the illusion of elections, the elite manage the facade, I mean the charade, from the control room. As I write, the nees is just coming in of how one administration official collected a bribe of 500 million naira to help a big multinational telecom firm evade tax.
A state with weak institutions, dysfunctional structures, and a poorly informed citizenry is most vulnerable to elite capture. This is clearly the case with Nigeria, a nation whose democratic experiment has turned out to be one big merry-go-round, where the masses of the people are so beaten down by poverty and illiteracy that they cannot discern, let alone enforce, their rights. A nation where one multi-billionaire can wake up one day and say, in effect: “why don’t you sell me Nigeria?” And it does not even cause so much as a stir. Perhaps because Nigeria is sold already?