The causes of our national maladies are essentially economic

From the lecture entitled ‘Socialism In The Service of Nigeria’ delivered by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chancellor of the University of Ife, at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, on 9th April, 1970.


IF I like, I could now, quite rightly, take the validly logical position that, by the elimination of the capitalist system, we are now inescapably left with the socialist type of solution. But it will be seen that I do not intend in this lecture to rely on this dialectical device alone. On the contrary, I have gone to a considerable length to show that, on its own intrinsic merits, socialism is the only safe and beneficial path which Nigeria should tread in tackling and solving its post-war problems.

As we have noted before, socialisation, or the public control of ‘the commanding heights’ of the economy, is a sine qua non of socialism, and of planning even under the capitalist system. But there are a number of practical problems of a technical and political nature which will beset socialisation in Nigeria. I shall confine myself in this lecture to only two of the technical problems. The first is the mobilisation of sufficient foreign exchange to pay the compensation which wiII be due to foreign investors in Nigeria, on the socialisation of their enterprises; and the second is the efficient management of the socialised enterprises.

With regard to the first problem, we shall need something in the neighbourhood of £500 miIlion to compensate foreigners, for taking over their investments in Nigeria. To those who may be nursing the idea offorcibly expropriating foreign investors, I would like to say that we would only be inviting economic chaos and disaster if we did. The countries affected would not take the confiscation of the investments of their nationals lying low. They would retaliate fiercely, and their retaliation might take many forms, most of which will assuredly hurt us very badly and painfully. The speed at which we socialise, therefore, must depend on the rate at which we mobilise enough foreign exchange to pay this huge amount of compensation to foreign investors. It is my considered view, however, that if we manage our fiscal and monetary affairs with prudence, honesty, and due sense of patriotism, we can raise this amount of money within a reasonable period of time.

As regards the second problem, it must be our resolve, before or all socialising any enterprise, to Nigerianise such enterprise completely, and at the same time to maintain, and If possible improve upon the existing standard of management and control. This is essential if we are to avoid the gross inefficiency which now characterises and plagues our statutory corporations and state-owned companies. In this regard, the first thing to do is to endeavour to ascertain the causes of failure in our public enterprises and remove them. In my view, there are five causes for the notorious performances of our public enterprises, all of which, fortunately, are curable and preventable.

FIRST: In public enterprises, the ratio of senior category of high-level employees to intermediate category is much less than in private enterprises. This is amply borne out by Table 3at page 27 of Manpower Study No. 2 published by the National Manpower Board in 1964, where the ratios of senior category to intermediate category in the private and public sectors respectively are 6:11 and 11:32. The position is much worse in the civil service which is the supervisory organ of public corporations and state-owned companies. The ratio of senior category to intermediate category in the civil service, according to the same source, is 3:11. This factor deserves special attention; because it explains, in a substantial sense, the common phenomenon whereby Nigerian workers, under alien private enterprises, perform much better than under indigenous pnvate, or Nigerian-owned public enterprises.

SECOND: It is common knowledge that, as a result of nepotism favouritism, extreme partisan politics, bribery, and other forms of corruption, a good number of those who are appointed into senior category of high-level employment in public enterprises and in the civil service have neither the academic nor professional qualifications, nor the experience, nor the qualities, requisite their assignments. It is well-known that many of these people would not have been appointed into equivalent posts under alien private management

THIRD: The same evil factors which were responsible for wrong appointments into the senior category of high-level posts, were also responsible for deliberate over-capitalisation of our public enterprises, and the purchase, at inflated prices, of inferior goods and services lor the use of these enterprises.

FOUR: As compared with the private sector, there is a measure of disincentive for high level officials in the public service generally. But I would like to point out, in this connection, that incentive is, to not a little extent, a matter of relativity. If A who works for X earn more than who works for Y, for doing the same kind of work within the same economy, the tendency would be for B, unless he is specially dedicated, to want to exert himself less than A, or at any rate not to give of his best.

FIFTH: The old attitude of mind is still lingering that, in the service of the Government one does not need to exert oneself to the utmost. It was an attitude of mind which was cultivated and which perceived under the British Colonial Administration.

As I have said, these defects can be cured and prevented. To this end, there is urgent need for the proper training of Nigerians, to them for their respective appointments in the public service. There is need or radical reorganisation and improvement in our existing public corporations and state-owned companies, to ensure that their executive are men with the requisite qualifications and expertise. There is a need for re-education and reorientation of all our public servants.