Adeshina and Ighodalo: Two 21st Century Daydreamers

By: Seun Addie

For starters, I’ve neither met both men before nor seen them in person, but I’ve got a high level of respect for them. Ever since he came into the limelight in the days of President Jonathan, Dr Adeshina’s performances have caught my attention and fancy; so also Pastor Ighodalo, whose outlook and influence in the Church I’ve come to respect and appreciate. So, this is not an attempt to sling mud at them, but to call attention to the realities of the day, and how realistically to achieve our quest for development, not only in Nigeria but across Africa.

In February 2022, in his celebrated public lecture titled “Nigeria, a Country of Many Nations: A Quest for National Integration,” at the 80th birthday celebration of Pastor E.A. Adeboye, Adeshina spoke glowingly of the Singapore experience at development and hinted at the need for Nigeria to take such a route to development. About four months later, in June 2022, at the Youth Summit organized by Young Adults and Youth Affairs of Lagos Province 19 (YAYA of LP 19) of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Ighodalo too spoke on “The Singapore Success Story On Development,” emphasizing the need for the average Nigerian to take interest in such a success story. Mainly, both men based their thesis on the year 2000 book written by the now late first Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, with the title “From Third World to First – The Singapore Story, 1965–2000.”

Even though the book has been around for over two decades, and it was much popularized at its inception, I’m not surprised that not many Nigerians have read it, even though a free pdf version of it exits online, because it’s been said that the most effective way to hide anything from the African is to write it in a book, he’ll never read it! And I’m yet to be convinced otherwise! Most of the reading around here is geared towards exams, and the rest are narrow religious readings. Aided by the technologies of satellite television and mobile telephone, sports and entertainment are much more important to us than the stress of reading a book, not even a softcopy.

Reading the book, “From Third World to First – The Singapore Story, 1965–2000,” will produce a roller coaster of emotions in any right-thinking African. Initially, you’re likely to be sad, then you’ll possibly become angry, and eventually, if care is not taken, you’ll become despondent. Singapore has no natural resources, she even had to buy sand from her neighbours, yet it’s one of the leading economies in the world. The prosperity in the land is such that, among other things, it has the highest sport-car par capital in the world. Singapore doesn’t have a drop of crude oil, yet she has one of the largest oil storage capacities in the world; all thanks to its leaders, typified by Lee.

A great success story indeed, but I believe that Adeshina and Ighodalo mooting that the Singapore model can work in Nigeria, is farfetched, and unrealistic. Like many models in various aspects of life that have been brought to us, by both foreigners and our elites, which have failed mostly because they were not properly domesticated, the Singapore model cannot work in Nigeria, or any other part of Africa, if critical thought is not given to its domestication. Anyone who has thoughtfully read the book will conclude that the conditions that made Lee and his contemporaries successful in their quest to move their country from Third World to First are non-existent anywhere on this continent. Given the opportunity to do it again, I don’t even believe the model will succeed in modern-day Singapore. Why? Time has changed!

The Singapore of the 1960s provided many conducive factors for the model to succeed. First, the people were desperate. They either survived or perished, there was nothing in-between. Second, though multiracial, they were a small population, a little over a million people. Three, there was a dominant race. Although they all were descendants of immigrants, the Chinese outnumbered the Indians and Malays. Four, tamed religion. The country had Confucians, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, etc., but it wasn’t an identity brandished by any of the adherents, and neither did it confer an advantage. Five, there was no internet. The Singapore of the 1960s was almost closed. Information circulation was mostly by the newspaper. So, the government was able to restrain local subversive elements and restrict damaging outside influence. Six, leadership. Sincere, intelligent, fearless, prudent, sacrificial and humble leadership that wasn’t just transparent and accountable, but also probe-able.

Of these factors, the most trumpeted is the leadership provided by Lee and his team. It’s true that everything rises and falls with leadership, but it’s also true that if the other factors were not in place, the leadership might not have achieved much. If the desperation occasioned by the exit from Malaysia and the departure of the British were not there, would the people have submitted to the kind of leadership that got them out of the rut of the Third World in 35 years? Without any known natural resources, a sizeable portion of their economy was dependent on British military spending on the island. Hence, the abrupt departure of the British forces brought imminent hardship that the people needed to combat as one man. That wasn’t and isn’t the situation in Nigeria, or most of Africa. There’s no apparent desperation here, and so the model already lost a significant input for its success.

At independence, Nigeria was over 40 million people, with no single race able to dominate the rest, at least, in the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo context. What is currently playing out in Nigeria is one of the vital ingredients for the making of a successful country with a large population, even though many don’t understand it, and those that do abhor it. For the making of a densely populated multiracial country to be successful, there is the need for the decimation of the native people, and the structural subjugation of others, by a dominant race. The most successful multiracial country with a large population is the USA. The Red Indians were thoroughly decimated, and the remnants now live in reserves. The African Americans were structurally impoverished, and the process has yet to change, with their racial fabric damaged, almost irreparably. A similar, but slightly different situation can also be seen in Australia. Thus, for the Nigeria of the dreams of Adeshina and Ighodalo to be, the current northern domination and Fulanisation ought to be encouraged and supported, not resisted. Otherwise, the Singaporean model wouldn’t be successful here. The Nigerian natives need to surrender their ancestral lands, a process subtly initiated by the General Obasanjo regime in the 1970s, and be ready to give their necks to the swords, or their chests to the bullets, of the “Bandits.” A dominant race is crucial to the emergence of a successful multiracial country, even though there will be racial tension ad infinitum. But I don’t see how that will happen, not just in Nigeria, but in Africa.

In its quest for development in the 1960 and the 1970s, Tanzania under Julius Nyerere instituted some land reforms that necessitated the moving of natives from their lands. Even though acclaimed by those outside the continent as a bold step in the right direction, the initiative was largely a failure. I once saw President Obasanjo on television claiming that the Nwalimu confessed to him that the policy and the project failed; he told him that the people kept going back to their ancestral land. By nature, man is attached to the land; or else, there won’t have been so many wars in the history of the world. Some races have found ways to downplay the attachment, but no race has successfully eradicated the attachment, especially where ancient history is alive. Hence, the emergence of a dominant race in an African country hangs in a balance. Recent histories in Somalia, Zaire (for those that know), Cote’devoir, and Sudan, are testaments.

Apart from the fact that the people of Singapore were not overtly religious zealots, they were willing to tame religion for the development of their country. In a resettlement exercise to turn a ghetto into a proper habitable neighborhood in 1970, Lee said that it was the Malay MPs, who were themselves Muslims, that helped convince the Muslim community to allow the demolition of a controversial mosque, to pave way for development. Also, religion conferred no advantage in the country. But, that is not the case in Nigeria? Not only has religion been used to deny many their rights, but it has also become an entrenched weapon in national negotiation and discourse. After the pogrom of 1966 in northern Nigeria, religious riot made its debut in the 1980s. Till date, not a single report of the numerous panels of enquiry into the “immediate and remote” causes of the riots has ever seen the light of day. People get killed in their tens and hundreds, but no one gets to face the law! As recently as 2022, the murder of Deborah were captured on video, yet the arrested suspects were brought to court on charges of disturbing public peace, and not for murder. The 2023 election has definitely become a religious battle as the Christians across Nigeria can no longer trust the Muslims as a result of the repeated partiality in favour of the north. But to date, no one gets to escape the full weight of the law in Singapore based on religion. Unlike Singapore, no government has demonstrated the will to tame religion in Nigeria, and I don’t see any government doing it, basically because of the racial association.

Lee and his team were able to control information, especially damaging ones, because the news houses were largely local. With respect to newspapers from Malaysia and other countries, the government made it almost impossible for them to thrive, except on its terms. Newspapers and periodicals that refused to cooperate eventually had to close shop. It must be noted that although the government refused unfettered operations to news media, it was on a fair basis with Singaporean interest as the paramount consideration. Fast forward to the 1990s, commenting on General Suharto of Indonesia’s attitude to the financial meltdown that swept the region, Lee himself accepted that the flow of information was no longer what it was in the 1960s. The convergence of globalization and information technology has made it almost impossible for a country to keep her people informed only on what it wishes. The internet has wiped away the world of the 1960s, such that information is now ubiquitous. Coupled with the subversive agenda of not-so-friendly nations, there’s hardly any sovereign state that cannot be hurt by propaganda.

Since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, the quality of governance has continued to decline from one administration to the next. The progress recorded in the contraction of government under Obasanjo was reversed by the Ya’dua government. Power projects were no longer given priority because power, according to the government, was a southern problem. Then came the government of Jonathan, dubbed clueless by the opposition, with its lax management of the economy and the resources of the land. Hopes were quite high that Buhari will move the country forward, but reality has proved otherwise. Despite its incompetence at running the economy, it has successfully reversed the social gains of the last 60+ years in the country. Currently, the racial fault lines in the country have become more pronounced than ever. Even the myth of a united Northern Nigeria has been debunked, with the nations in the Middlebelt of the country and those in the northeastern axis rethinking their northerness. Even at the state level, the celebrated successes like Lagos and Rivers are nothing but deep pots of corruption. Where is sincere, intelligent, fearless, prudent, sacrificial and humble leadership that is transparent and accountable in any part of Nigeria? Where is the president that acquired his apartments with a mortgage? Not even the Spartan Buhari. Where is the president that travelled, paid state visits, and attended heads-of-government meetings by commercial flights? Where is the much-needed exemplary leadership that Lee and his men provided for Singapore? All Nigeria has are men and women waiting to capture the vaults at the local, state and national levels of government.

The concern for the development of Singapore wasn’t limited to Lee, according to him, one of his colleagues, Keng Swee, told a younger colleague “that every time he drove by a school and saw hundreds of children streaming out, he felt downhearted, wondering how to find jobs for them when they left school.” Where is that one government official that is concerned for the citizens? ASUU has been on nationwide strike for the last six months, and I can’t seem to see that person in government that is concerned about the situation. It’s business as usual. The publicity about the ASUU strike is because the union is known for making a lot of noise. Well ahead of ASUU, all the research institutes in the country have been on strike and nothing has bothered the government. What else should disturb a government like all her research institutes going on strike, not to talk of being on strike for about eight months with no end in view? Without the fear of being pessimistic, the Singapore model cannot work in Nigeria. All the needed factors for its success are absent from the country, and the political class are definitely incapable of bringing them about.

There is no doubt that at least one African nation needs to get things right for the rest of the world to believe that we’re capable of building a modern society. And, the first step in that direction would be to reconsider the multiracial nature of the countries on the continent, given the large populations involved. As presently constituted, these countries can never develop. Their multiracial structure is part of the conspiracy that the African elite has refused to apply himself to. Only after eliminating the tension imbued in the multiracial composition can we start talking about the adoption of the Singaporean model of development, which indeed is a proven and practical one. Anything short of this, we’ll just be daydreaming. 

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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