Nigeria: The Economic Consequences of Having Luddites in Charge

This is not the time to rollover and allow a digitally ignorant Lai Mohammed and his pliant collaborators to have their way.

We should worry about the "economic consequences" of the assault on the social media and digital technology by an antediluvian cryptofascist crowd, unfazed by the comatose economy. Lai Mohammed and his gag warriors do not understand, and frankly they do not care, how their myopia affects the competitiveness of Nigeria's economy.

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 19th century England, textile workers (referred to as Luddites) protested mechanisation because they feared machines would replace the jobs they were doing by hand. In their futile attempt at stopping the Industrial Revolution, they burnt factories, destroyed machines and killed factory owners who purchased machines to replace human labour. Did they succeed? No! The Luddites were unable to stop the Industrial Revolution. The progress they fought so hard against birthed even more ferocious advances in the automation and efficiency that we have now taken for granted.

With modern day Luddites like Lai Mohammed, Abubakar Malami and their coterie of partisan chorale, history is repeating itself. By now, we understand the broad aspects of Buhari's planned assault on democracy and free speech. He seemed determined to outdo himself by sponsoring media gag laws and digital emasculation that are more draconian than his infamous Decree 4 of 1984. We should worry about the "economic consequences" of the assault on the social media and digital technology by an antediluvian cryptofascist crowd, unfazed by the comatose economy. Lai Mohammed and his gag warriors do not understand, and frankly they do not care, how their myopia affects the competitiveness of Nigeria's economy.

To them, what they do not understand or what does not fit into their immediate power machinations, must not stand. At every turn, attempts by young people to determine their destinies and fashion a way our of hopelessness and stagnation are frustrated by stifling innovation, paying lip service to the need for foreign and local investments, leading to the forced emigration of Nigerian innovators and creative talents to Ghana and other African countries who want them, by making Nigeria unconducive for business.

It is important to look at the grim realities we face. What margin of error can Nigeria afford, with a largely youthful demographic, an economic "growth" rate of 1.9 per cent, which is lagging behind a population growth rate of about 3.5 per cent? The answer is: There is no room for error at all. My focus on "The Economic Consequences" is a play on the celebrated work and improbable best seller of the economist, John Maynard Keynes. Published in 1919 after the Treaty of Versailles, The Economic Consequences Of The Peace was a foreboding about levying devastating reprisals against the defeated German people after the First World War. Keynes' warning went unheeded, leading to the rise of Hitler and the Second World War.

This is not the time to rollover and allow a digitally ignorant Lai Mohammed and his pliant collaborators to have their way. We must fight the good fight and force them to see the link between openness, deepening of the democratic process, innovation and the creation of jobs. We should remind them that openness is destiny in the information age.

The punitive media bill which Nigeria's Goebbels manqué, Lai Mohammed, champions, will equally have devastating effects on genuine sustainable economic development, as opposed to ephemeral growth without development, which has been our bane since the time of the misinterpreted "oil boom".

Although, a recent report published by Startupblink Ecosystem claims that Lagos has displaced Nairobi as Africa's start-up hub, Nigeria as a whole still lags behind South Africa by a mile, and even Kenya. This is the time to rev up a gear and not to stymie the effort of innovators, creatives and entrepreneurs.

This is not the time to rollover and allow a digitally ignorant Lai Mohammed and his pliant collaborators to have their way. We must fight the good fight and force them to see the link between openness, deepening of the democratic process, innovation and the creation of jobs. We should remind them that openness is destiny in the information age. Mobile telephony has liberated us. Authoritarianism can no longer work. The appeal of authoritarianism fits into their control mindset, based on the creation of a low skills, low wages economy, which fosters a dependence syndrome that allows them to exert total control on people's lives. However politically convenient this is in the short term, it is unsustainable on the long run.

Creating an army of hungry, jobless, young people is a disaster foretold. It is astonishing that the federated control freaks learnt nothing from the hijacking of the #EndSARS protest. Nigeria already unacceptably lags behind countries like Ghana in terms of gaining outsourced jobs. The attack on the social media will widen the gap further. Investments will be hit and that most crucial of ingredients, talents, will flee. If the government is not bothered about medical specialists leaving, the exodus of the most innovative young people is hardly likely to be of concern.

For sure, this odious chapter of Lai Mohammed will pass. We must demand a transition from a semi-democracy into a proper democracy... Like the Luddites, Lai and company will be remembered for their Canutish resistance to technology and the social media culture. It is a futile chase and an attempt at stopping the unstoppable.

Woe betide a country under the jackboot of a self-centered crew frozen in a world, as they conceive it, which existed two hundred years ago. The future for stability in Nigeria is certainly bleak. Lai's odious Bill obviously has an eye on the electoral calculus for 2023 but its effect on the economy will be far more devastating. For a start, the definition and, indeed, nature of work has changed. Many areas of economic participation have become borderless.

Does Nigeria need a Lai Mohammed? One of the key issues we must look at is the Ministry he heads. Of what importance is the Information (propaganda) Ministry in a democracy? The Information Ministry as a state-sponsored noise and propaganda machine, is part of the make up of authoritarian rule, which should have been disbanded, along with the ridiculous National Orientation Agency (NOA), a long while back. After the end of the second world war, all the occupied countries of Western Europe immediately disbanded the Ministries of Propaganda set up by Goebbels as part of the German occupation.

The Ministry of Information set up in Britain, as part of the war effort, was disbanded within weeks, after the end of the war. The Netherlands expressly forbids the setting up of any agency that might be (mis)construed as resembling a Ministry of information. Their Constitutional Courts will rule any such thing ultra vires. Nevertheless, the issue is beyond a transient monkey marionette; the structure and the very concept of a Ministry of information is incompatible with a democracy. It should be scrapped!

For sure, this odious chapter of Lai Mohammed will pass. We must demand a transition from a semi-democracy into a proper democracy. A democratic spring starts with the dismantling of fascist manifestations such as the Ministry of information, the NOA and having proper independent regulators, free of the government stranglehold and regulatory capture. Like the Luddites, Lai and company will be remembered for their Canutish resistance to technology and the social media culture. It is a futile chase and an attempt at stopping the unstoppable.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, "Bamidele Upfront" for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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