Prosperity and poverty of nations: Using global models to explain and mitigate underdevelopment in Nigeria

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

Inaugural lecture by Prof. Benedict Bernard Benapena Naanen, BA (Nigeria), MA, PHD (Dalhousie), Department of History and Diplomatic Studies, University of Port Harcourt.

We have seen that colonial Nigeria did not have an economic and development policy until the eve of the Second World War. In order to create prosperity to the benefit of citizens, Nigeria experimented with several development models, starting with development planning in the early 1940s.

Periodic development plans subsequently became the central approach to economic development until the 1980s. While colonial Nigeria favoured the market economy as in the metropolitan country, lack of investment capital and the dearth of an entrepreneurial class to lead the process of economic growth made the state to adopt a mixed economy in which the state became the main economic actor.

Nigeria continued to struggle with the mixed economy until external influence, and following global trends, made the country to abandon state capitalism and moved squarely in the direction of market economy by adopting market-based models such as SAP, neo-liberal policies exemplified by the privatisation of state assets. Market-driven development has not made the country to make the needed breakthrough, not even with the oil boom which has made the country to be afflicted with the resource curse. The country has been more preoccupied with wealth consumption than with wealth creation.

Nigeria seems mired in a cycle of corruption, underdevelopment and poverty.

I have argued that the potential solution to our underdevelopment may come more from the political channel than through a purely economic channel. We need a visionary, enlightened and decisive leadership. We need strong and effective institutions. We need to do first things first in our pursuit of economic development. To apply this equation in order to break the vicious circle means anyone leading the country must adopt a drastic reform programme which may not be painless.

The pain must be borne by everybody, especially the elite, who feed fat on the country and often escape making any sacrifice. To continue to delay such fundamental reform is to invite a breakdown of the nation under the weight of poverty and insecurity. The wave of kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and generally violent criminality we have witnessed in recent years may just be the beginning of worse things to come.

Or the nation could face a revolution. I have heard people say a revolution is not possible in Nigeria. But we have to understand that most revolutions are spontaneous, not planned. When the hordes of educated, unemployed young people of this country reach a certain critical level of discontent no one can predict what happens next. The French Revolution of 1789 was not planned, neither was the Arab Spring of recent. Could a more fundamental “Naija Spring” be the creative destruction that, like other breakthrough nations, our nation needs to create a new order, sustainable growth and a prosperous society?
Vice-Chancellor, Sir, I rest my case.

Citation on Professor Benedict Bernard Benapena Naanen
Ben Naanen, as he is generally known, is a Renaissance Man. He is an accomplished scholar, an environmental and human rights activist, a former politician, and community leader. Born at Bodo in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers state in 1957, Ben Naanen attended Methodist School, Okwale in Khana LGA, Birabi Memorial Grammar School, Bori, also in Khana, passing his West African School Certificate in Division One.

Although he offered science and arts subjects in WASCE and initially toyed with the idea of reading engineering or geophysics at the university, his increasing interest in world affairs made him to read History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka from where he graduated in 1980 in Second Class (Hon), Upper Division.

He subsequently took up an appointment as a Graduate Assistant at the newly established University of Port Harcourt. He took a study leave to pursue graduate studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, getting his Master’s and PhD in 1984 and 1988, respectively. Against the trend of the time when Nigeria was in dire economic situation and many scholars studying abroad chose not to return, Ben Naanen braved the odds and returned to Nigeria to continue his career at the University of Port Harcourt.

He has since excelled in his career as an international scholar, winning several fellowships and consultancies at institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. Shortly after his PhD he won a post-doctoral fellowship as a Commonwealth Scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. From there he proceeded to the African Studies Centre, University of Leiden, the Netherlands. In subsequent years he was to take up fellowships from South-South Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development (SEPHIS), International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; African Studies Programme, Northwestern University, Evanston, ILL, USA , World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, USA., and United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, UNRISD. The SEPHIS fellowship enabled him to do research in several countries in Europe and in India where worked among the Dalits (formerly, Untorchables) in New Delhi, northern India and Mumbai.

Ben Naanen’s inter-disciplinary scholarship is reflected in the diversity and quality of his publications which range from economic and social history to development studies and political economy. His publications include a book, a monograpgh and numerous flagship journal and book chapters. Some of his publications which won international acclaim appeared on reading lists in Universities in the United States.

He has supervised several PhD students who are currently holding positions of academic leadership in Nigerian and foreign institutions. He was in 2014 a visiting Professor on Sabbatical Leave at the University of Uyo. He attracted to his Department an exchange programme between the University of Port Harcourt and Latin American institutions, sponsored by SEPHIS. Naanen was the Director of the Emerald Energy Institute, University of Port Harcourt, from 2009 to 2003.

Ben Naanen has been able to combine scholarship with social action and community leadership. While away at SOAS, the Ogoni leadership appointed him Secretary of the newly formed Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in which capacity he became active in the advocacy of minority and environmental rights in Nigeria. The campaign frequently took him to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva and other centres of international diplomacy in Europe and other parts of the world. He founded Niger Delta environment and Relief Foundation (NIDEREF) in the 1990s, an NGO that has been involved in environmental and development advocacy and research.

He is currently a member of the Multi-Stakeholder Consultative Committee on the Implementation of UNEP Report set up by the Federal Government in 2014. He has also been a senior member of the Bodo Community Delegation to the Bodo Mediation Initiative set up under the auspices of the Government of the Netherlands to mediate in the dispute between Shell and the community in respect of massive oil spill in Bodo Creek. The mediation has produced a record compensation in which more than 15,000 people received direct cash payment, the first of its kind in Nigeria, while the clean-up of Bodo Creek will soon commence, also the first of its kind in Nigeria.

Prof. Naanen’s international assignments include leading an international mission by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) to monitor the first multi-party election in Zanzibar in 1995, membership of the World Council of Church’s (Geneva) Working Group on Ethnicity, Racism and Indigenous People (1995-1997). He was Vice-Preident of UNPO from 1994-96. He is a member of the Governing Council of the Nigerian institute of International affairs.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is also my pleasure to introduce to you the committed family man, a loving and God-fearing husband and father that Ben Naanen is. He married his heartthrob, Virginia Vibele, and both of them travelled abroad to pursue their studies. The marriage is blessed with four children. He is the chairman of the Welfare Committee of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Life Sanctuary Parish.


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